As an out-of-state student, my grossly inflated tuition isn’t the only difference between my home state and the one I call my hoMe for eight months of the year. I’m a native of Northern California. Four years ago when I stepped onto the University’s campus, the Midwest might have well been Mars for all I knew about it. The longer I live in Michigan, the more quirky and contrasting characteristics I notice between my two homes. And, like any college student, those differences are described perfectly by my love life.

My junior year, I fell for two guys, one from my home state of California and one from the Midwest. Both good guys. Both fun guys. Both broke my heart and both were the embodiment of their home regions.

I met Midwest at my job. And like any self-respecting Michigan Man, he knew exactly what he wanted to do with his life. Every free second was devoted to advancing his career. Internships, extracurricular activities, summers and classes all fervently dedicated to giving himself the best opportunity to succeed in his chosen profession. Every second he wasn’t watching the Tigers or football, that is. He seemed to have his whole life figured out. If he didn’t, he faked it pretty damn well. And not just school- or career-wise. This kid knew he wanted to marry a Jewish girl, live in the Midwest and take his kids to Michigan football games after Little League practice. He was ready to be a middle-aged man at 21.

At Michigan, everyone around me seems to know what they are going to be doing in 10 years. The ones who don’t have still memorized one-liners to give to people who ask, “and what are you going to do with that major?” even if they don’t believe in what they are saying at all.

California was directionless, and completely up front about it. He took general education requirements at his college and that was the only career choice he had made. He didn’t have a 10-year plan — he didn’t have a five-month plan. He loved playing the field when it came to girls and didn’t have the word “marriage” in his vocabulary, let alone in his 10-year plan. He didn’t pretend he knew what the hell he was doing. His absence of life choices was refreshing. It was like his life would sneak up on him. Tricking him into the choices he made. He lived in the present, because that was honestly all he really had.

The people in my hometown maybe have some idea of where they would like to end up, but it’s hazy at best and usually more like an abyss. But they own this fact. They don’t feel the pressure to fake a life plan, something I see often in Michigan. Of course they have moments of doubt where feelings of purposelessness overwhelm them. But they smoke a bowl and have friends remind them they’re only 21.

Midwest was obsessed with social media and it fueled my obsession with him. Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. If I really wanted to, I could “accidently on purpose” run into him every day. His every movement was posted online. I have to admit he might have been an extreme example, but it does seem like the state of Michigan is much more intent on sharing their lives on the internet than my home town . (Ironic since my home town is Palo Alto where most of those networks were created). My friends at Michigan desire to become insta-famous. Every holiday, birthday or anniversary has a photo collage posted on both Facebook and Instagram. Yik Yak is infinitely more popular, and better, on campus at U of M than at Stanford.

California made fun of me for having a Twitter even though “I only use it for news, I promise.” He rarely posted to the one social network he had, Facebook, and had a total of 134 pictures. (Midwest had around 1,000). While I love that the Northern California region is less likely to live their lives solely online, it was frustrating because he took forever to answer Facebook messages.

The Michigan and the Midwest region had a reputation for being the nice and polite part of America — as rude as New Yorkers are is how nice Midwesterners are. In my experience, Midwesterners are nice, but more than that, they want to avoid confrontation. Midwest couldn’t be honest with me if he thought it would make me upset or uncomfortable. He had difficult or uncomfortable conversations over text, not in person.

California liked to sext. And text about “How I Met Your Mother” or about pretty much anything. We texted a lot and most of it was about nothing at all. But when we had to have those hard conversations, I was the one running away from confrontation, not him.

These guys had similarities that I loved just as the Midwest and California do. They were likeable people who were easy to talk to. I have never had a hard time making friends in California (once out of the horror of high school) or Michigan. People are open and genuinely interested in the people around them in both places.

They were both chivalrous. Midwest wouldn’t let me walk home if it was past midnight, insisting on driving me the two blocks to my house. California always walked on the car-side of me when we were walking down a busy street. So moms of California and Michigan, you taught your sons well.

While different in many ways, neither was better than the other, both of the boys and both of my homes. Every time I go back to Palo Alto I think, “This is where I am supposed to be. This is where I fit in.” Then two months later I’m craving to go back to the Mitten. I arrive at DTW and I think, “Now I’m really where I am supposed to be.” And by Thanksgiving I am sick of my roommates and ready to see my high school friends. The cycle continues and has continued for four years. I have finally accepted that both places are exactly where I belong.

Jesse Klein can be reached at

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