Love is the word on our lips this week as we approach the oft-debated and sometimes eye-roll inducing holiday celebrating Saint Valentine.

Last year, I wrote about loving oneself. This year I want to talk about something that has been on my mind a lot lately: the love of our places.

Why do we love the places we choose to live so much? Why do we, even when we leave our hometown, always feel pulled back to them like a first love that still has their hooks in our hearts?

Personally, my relationships with places have been a lot like my relationships with women (until now, Maya!) — sporadic and sometimes whimsical, varying drastically in duration, and of all styles, shapes, and sizes.

(Maybe that last bit should just apply to the places.)

I always felt like I was running from committing to anything of them, but still somehow wanted to be connected to all of them.

Little Washington was my first love. She made me the man I am. We parted ways long ago; we were on two separate paths. But we became great friends and there is a familiarity there when we visit that makes me at peace. She will always be home.

Raleigh was a college girlfriend and our relationship is a bit cloudy, to be honest. I was in a weird time of my life and so was she. We still wish each other “Happy Birthday” on Facebook, though. I’m proud of how she’s grown and she has a beautiful family. She was home, once.

Chapel Hill was and still is the longest relationship of my adult life. Man, we went through a lot together. She was there when I started my first business and bought my first home. She was also there when I lost my dad and had to somehow host a birthday party for myself five days later. I still get sad when I think of leaving her for New York City. But it had to happen. We weren’t right for each other anymore. She was a home that I had built for five years and then made the brutal decision to leave.

Oh, New York. I don’t know if I’ve ever gotten over her. She changed my life and lit my soul on fire like it never had been before. We’d spend the days bouncing back and forth from amazing experience to amazing experience. It felt like a dream. The energy pulsing through the streets and into our veins was addictive. But we all know how addictions can end. I still sometimes fantasize that we are together. She was a home that showed me new parts of myself — some I liked and some I didn’t. But I think I will always love her and nothing will change that.

Then, there was that spell when I traveled the world for a few years and never stayed in one place longer than three months. It was fun, I can say that. And it changed my life. But it was exhausting. They were a lot of short stays in beautiful places, but none of them were home.

Afterwards, I ended up back with Chapel Hill, because she was there. I went back to the home I had once left and thought it would somehow be different this time. Her place in my history is beyond important and can never be taken away, but she just wasn’t the same. In reality she was, and I just wasn’t. This was a dark period I had to dig my way out of, but I can’t deny that she was there for me when I needed her. I’ll always love her for that.

Now, I’m in what I feel to be the most stable relationship with a place in which I’ve ever been.

I say that because I find myself not feeling pulled away and running for something new, but rather I’m excited to plant the roots. I’m excited to build the jungle gym in the backyard for my daughter. I’m excited to walk to work downtown and see people I know on the way. And I’m excited to watch my family grow with my new home and my new partner.

I wanted to learn a little bit more about why I now felt this way.

So last week on my podcast, I talked to Dr. Katherine Loflin, known as “The City Doctor.”

Besides being an awesome North Carolinian, Katherine is a globally-recognized expert in the field of Placemaking. She runs a global consulting agency where she helps communities better understand the dynamic relationship we have with our places, focusing on the importance of thriving in the cities and towns where we feel most at home.

She told me that “when we are in the place where we know we belong, we are better humans.”

That struck me because it’s exactly how I feel right now. I’m not sure if the place I live is the cause of it or if it’s just correlated, but life seems to be clicking on all cylinders for me right now — and I feel like that is because I’m striving to be the best human I can be.

What has allowed me to focus on that is a true commitment to being a part of my “place.” Instead of just living there, and seeing what it can provide for me, I’m showing up to see how I can be more connected and what I can provide for my place.

If I want to change the world, and I do, then what has become clear to me is that I must start local — with my community.

I’ve studied all kinds of storytelling, especially lately, but I’ve never studied the story of places until I met Katherine.

Now I get it.

I understand why our relationships with places can be just as vibrant, tumultuous, and influential as our relationships with people.

It’s because they become a part of our stories.

To be part of our stories means to be part of our identities. And our identities are everything.

So take a look at where you are with your place. Is it love? Is it true love and not just lust or infatuation?

Because true love makes you want to be a better human.