David’s Articles

David has been writing and publishing since 2006.  

80% of people live 100 miles from home

Apr 24, 2024 | Reflections

And how the Romcom Sweet Home Alabama explains why

brown and beige house and path
Photo by Lukas Kloeppel on Pexels.com

Holiday travel is unsufferable.  No matter the mode, the airports are crowded and the highways are full.  Memorial Day weekend might possibly be the lone time of the year that the average Buccees is stretched to capacity. (If you don’t live near a Buccee’s – explanation here). 

The logical explanation for all this travel is clearly that we live in a more mobile society.  A natural consequence then is of course people live further from home and will use common holidays as a natural window to go see family and relatives.

Except of course that would be wrong.  The Average American only lives 18 miles from their mother.   The US Census bureau highlights that 80% of young adults live within 100 miles of home.

Home, whatever our conception of it might be, has a tremendous gravity in our lives.  For those of us in the 20% who are far from home, our relationship with it is more complex.

To understand this, let’s take a brief diversion and contemplate the greatest of the late 90’s / early aughts romantic comedies, Sweet Home Alabama.  I have seen this movie more times that I would care to admit in polite company – and in our household, it is quoted weekly, if not daily. 

The film tells the story of an on the rise New York City based fashion designer who has fallen in love with the mayor’s son.  After his proposal, she has to return home to her roots to finalize a divorce with her high school beau from a shotgun marriage.   Yet, what quickly unfolds is that the love story that we thought we were to watch is not the one that emerges.  Sorry McDreamy…

Despite all that, I don’t believe Sweet Home Alabama is primarily a love story.  Instead, it is a deep exploration of a person’s relationship to home and it looks at three reasons why we leave, and three reasons why we may return home.  We will unpack each briefly below.

The first reason why someone may leave is about access to greater opportunity.  For those from smaller or more rural geographies, there simply may not be the sort of economic or educational opportunities necessary. 

This is similar too, but definite from the second reason, the need to create oneself.  At home, it is both blessing and curse to be known and seen as just someone’s son or daughter.  This sort of familiarity can be constraining – after all ‘no prophet is respected in his home town.”

Finally, we may leave home to escape mistakes from our past.  Whether a romantic partner that is proving too hard to move past or a screw-up that is forever linked to someone’s reputation, the chance to begin again fresh is often a compelling reason to escape.

For many, opportunity, self-creation, and escape are compelling reason to never return home and as a consequence they leave and don’t.   These reasons see all the more compelling when young.  And yet, how do we reconcile this with the statistical reality that the majority of the population does return home.

This is where I would argue that there are three reasons why we return – help, nostalgia, and rooting.

First, help.  Living apart from the support infrastructure of home is not easy.  Not having ready access to childcare is a significant burden on parents of young children.  Proximity to a know quantity provides psychic security regarding the children’s well being, and gives the couple the chance to balance the time burdens of parenting with the time apart.

Second, nostalgia is a powerful force.  The sands of time often have a way of smoothing out the imperfections of home, leaving memories that factually or not have a sepia-tinge that is compelling.  Favorite people, places, experiences have a way of calling us back to world’s we have known before.  When the world is not working out as we expected, home calls with the chance of a better life.

The final reason why we return home is best described as rootedness.  While nostalgia is all about the positive memories of the past, rootedness to a community is about stability in facing the future.  Having a secure anchor point with traditions and generational continuity creates a powerful sense of stability from which to navigate life.   An absence of relational and cultural gravity can prove disorienting and for many limits a satisfying life.

Home is complicated – with good reasons to leave and good reasons to return.  None of the reasons are good or bad per se in themselves.  Instead, they integrate into a complex tapestry, as we consider and build our lives. 


Subscribe Today

Join 5,000 other followers of David's thinking and insights


Nashville, TN