Washington's a hard town to call home.

When Sandy phoned last month to tell me she and Al and the baby were moving again -- this time to Pittsburgh -- I wasn't upset. In fact, I wasn't even surprised. Even though they had moved from Northern Virginia to Baltimore only a year and a half ago, I always supected they would move again.

After all, my old college roommate took off for California after graduating from law school, another former roommate moved away two years later, and my next-door neighbor was recently transferred to Germany.

I was well prepared for Sandy's news. Over the years I had come to realize that in Washington, friends don't stay around very long.

Nor do relatives.

My aunt and uncle used to live in Alexandria and were the only family I had in the area. Although I never saw them regularly, I always liked the fact that they were living only 10 miles away. Just in case of an emergency, as my mother often reminds me.

I liked being able to call on someone older for advice -- on shopping, recipes, doctors. And when we did get together, usually on holidays or Sundays, and I listened to my husband and uncle unabashedly argue politics for hours, I felt at home, comfortable.

But my uncle retired two years ago, and he and my aunt moved to Florida.

To make up for the absence of relatives in the area, I began to spend holidays and weekends with friends who also found themselves temporarily "homeless." But it was never quite the same.

I spent last Passover, a family-oriented holiday, with two other couples and a single woman whose families also lived out of town. As we conducted the traditional service before dinner and listened to the complaints of two hungry children, their mother said, "My grandfather never would have put up with this. When I was a kid, we all sat quietly for the entire service, or else. . ."

Looking around the table, I realized that no one in the room was over 35 years old. And I remembered how different the seders were that I had attended years ago in my grandparents' apartment in Chicago. The people there were always older, quieter, and closer.

No, I thought, when Chicago was home, it wasn't like this. In Chicago friends and relatives stayed in one place and holidays were always spent with the family. And I began to wonder when, if ever, Washington would feel like home to me.

I am 30 years old and my husband and I have moved four times in the past six years. We have rented two apartments in Northern Virginia and owned two homes, not an unfamiliar experience for people our age living in the Washington Metropolitan area.

My parents have lived in Chicago for over 40 years. Since they have been married, they have rented one apartment in the city and owned one home in the suburbs, recently completing their last payment on a 25-year mortgage.

Although they often become tired of the snow and the blustery winds, they -- like most of their friends -- have no plans to move.

I attended colleges in Ohio and Michigan and worked for two years in Boston before marrying and moving to Washington seven years ago. Since moving, I have worked in four different locations. I have friends (perhaps only acquaintances now) scattered from San Francisco to Denver to Atlanta. Most of my family still lives in Chicago and my husband's in Cincinnati.

My parents attended school in the Chicago area, married and raised a family there. My father has worked in the same office at the same job for 35 years.

My parents have played bridge with the same bridge club for 20 years, and many of their friends date back to high school. My grandmother lives in the city, as do my sister and brother-in-law, cousins, aunts and uncles.

Although from time to time my parents complain of boredom and of the need to get away, they are happy in the city they can call home. The have roots in Chicago and belong there. Living in Washington, I often feel alone, detached.

I never thought I'd feel this way. Most members of my generation prided themselves on their independence, their individuality. We were the generation that sang protest songs, attended rallies, and marched in demonstrations (much to our parents' chagrin), traveled, and tried to "find ourselves." And we were convinced that we could do it all on our own.

And in most ways we've succeeded. My husband and I work at jobs we like (at least some of the time). We make enough money to enjoy what Washington has to offer. We own a comfortable house, go to movies, plays and concerts, and eat at expensive restaurants. In most ways we're happy.

But lately, I find that there's something Washington doesn't offer -- an intangible feeling of belonging, a feeling that you're part of a larger group, a group that won't change or move away.

And until I can establish -- if ever -- that feeling of permanence, Washington will remain for me a town that is nice to live in, but very hard to call home.