Last night I went back to the suburbs to have dinner with my niece. The suburbs where I lived for more than 30 years and raised my children.
She picked the restaurant, one I was very familiar with, and off we went.
We had to walk through the front bar and the entire restaurant to get to the back bar area. An area that is considered more casual than the dining room.
We grabbed a seat at the bar, passing two perfectly good seats being held by the hostess for someone who wanted to sit with a specific bar tender. Okay, the other seats are fine for us. Whatever.
We ordered some appetizers and I looked around.
"This bar looks SO different than a city bar."
"What do you mean?" my niece asked.
"Just look at the people. What they're wearing, how they look, and how homogenous the crowd is." I said quietly.
She took a minute and looked around. "I don't know what you're talking about. It looks fine to me."
"Because you're used to it. It's become your normal! Remember what city bars and restaurants looked like."
I could tell this wasn't a conversation she was interested in. Our food was delivered and we went on with another conversation.
After appetizers were finished she headed off to the bathroom.
On her return she mentioned "Okay, I see what you mean about the customers in here. They do all look the same. Same kind of clothes, hair done up, lots of makeup and wow! The botox in here is incredible!"
It isn't just the look of the bar. It's also the atmosphere. So different than a city bar/restaurant.
Of course it depends on what bar and/or restaurant you're in. This was an upscale restaurant. It was quiet and reserved, like everyone was telling secrets to one another.
"This is what I like so much more about being in a city. The conversation seems more lively. Everyone looks different, with exception of course. People at the bar talk to one another, their backs aren't turned to preserve their little group. It's more of a community atmosphere. It feels friendlier and the people feel more open to one another. I don't know, it's hard to describe."
"Interesting. I never thought of it like that." she replied.
I took a huge risk moving to a big city when I became an empty nester. I wanted culture, more things to experience by foot, and the ability to go somewhere by myself and not be looked at as a pariah.
Maybe that's my own issue, I understand that. However, in cities there are ALWAYS people walking around alone. Eating alone isn't unusual. Women sit at bars and have actual conversations with other humans, it doesn't seem an open invitation to a one night stand. It's simply easier in a city where the rules adapt to the environment. Cities have more people. Suburban rules of judgement aren't as obvious.
Just my opinion and observation.
Growing up in the suburbs, everyone looked like me, dressed like me, thought like me, lived in basically the same kind of house as me, the decorating only different by material choice. It felt safe. It felt comfortable. Conversations were easy because we all thought along the same lines of life. Diverging opinions were rarely a thing. And when you were different, you stood out.
It was a picture of conformity.
And life seemed easy.
And I liked it like that.
I raised my children in this idyllic place where life seemed safe. Our kids went to the right school, the right church, we were seen in the right restaurants, we drank the right wine, we smiled often and in the right way, we drove the right cars, we all, or most of us, submitted to this right lifestyle.
Of course, from the inside of this life, everything wasn't idyllic. It's the same mess in suburban homes that we all see on the nightly news. But the news isn't centered in the suburbs. And unless we left the confines of our sameness for long periods of time, we were rarely exposed to the vast differences that make up the rest of the world.
For me, once I could make the break, I needed to get out of this confined space.
For more than 5 decades my life had been self directed and guided to be right, to feel safe, by my guardians definition. And there's nothing wrong with that. We all want and need to feel safe. No one verbally defined right, and though I often felt restless with this rightness, I never asked myself why I felt that way or tried to define right. I just kept on going in the right direction, as defined by those leading me.
When I got to the city I noticed that very few people looked like me, dressed like me, and the housing was downright extreme compared to the suburbs. How could anyone fit all their stuff in these small spaces?! Women wearing make up to the convenience store wasn't a thing (yes, that's a thing in some suburbs).
At first it was scary. Everything I knew about cities I learned from watching the news from the safety of my secured, fenced and armed home on a few acres of silent and pristine woods. According to the news, crime was everywhere. People seemed to get shot just walking down the street. Fires broke out everywhere! What had I gotten in to?
I'm not one to cower from fear and have been around long enough to know that news channels sell it. Fear creates a path to control. So I fought that control and ventured out to walk down the dangerous street.
And nothing happened. So far I haven't been shot.
Of course there is crime in the city. Simple math explains that. And there are *fires* everywhere, just not sure they all contain flames.
From my perspective, living in the city is not what I believed it to be and it is not what is portrayed on the nightly news.
Cities exist as examples of the paradoxical juxtaposition of the true living experience. There is good. There is bad. And there's a middle ground. All mixed together.
In the suburbs I could hide from this paradox because it's hidden behind the 6' fences that box in our homes, giving the false illusion of happiness with the manicured lawns and sparkling swimming pools.
Everything "looks" perfect. But I always wondered whose definition of perfect decides how the lawns should be cut, what color plants should be planted and what behavior is deemed perfect?
The confinement of pretending life is only beautiful plays out in the stories we watch on Dateline. This manufactured life that from the outside seems perfect, plays out in school violence we all can't hide from. Our troubled youth are as prevalent in the quiet, lovely suburbs as they are in the cities.
But in the cities youth are more apt to play out and expel or live their emotions, making tv networks happy. That's not visibly allowed in the suburbs where perfection is expected. If perfection isn't achieved, it's often sent away, or hidden from view.
In the city people seem to be more used to behavior that pushes the boundaries of what the suburbs define as normal. City living puts the actual paradox of life right in your face. You can't hide from it.
It's real, and I'm learning to like the complexity of reality.