Here's some advice you can take to the bank: Don't move to a place solely because its charming. Charm is for the town you go to on weekends, the retreat from big-city neighbors or high-stress jobs. The place where you relax with Prairie Home Companion on the radio and dinner slow-cooking in the oven.
How many of us, looking to chill out, save money, start over or all of the above eye that weekend house as an answer to prayer. You've heard Main Streets siren song when you get your morning coffee from that nice Mr. What's His Name. You think idly, If only I could settle down in this community, which, stories in the local paper notwithstanding, couldn't possibly have fiscal issues or an arsonist in its midst.
I was one of you. I never walked the streets of the town where my partner and I have a small place without the what-if-we-lived-here dream. The difference is we didn't allow our sanity to return when we got back to the city. We convinced ourselves, naysaying friends be damned, that we could make a go of it in paradise. (Word of caution: Few places referred to as paradise are.) As Thomas Parsons, a Washington state psychologist, notes, we don't escape our fundamental selves when we change addresses: Think about expats who move to idyllic places only to be overwhelmed by culture shock.
Its a sensible reminder we could have used as we cut our possessions by a third so they'd fit into our new digs. We who could barely pull off a dinner party without Armageddon ensuing would go into business together. We'd open a shop in that vacant space on the wharf. Or create a website. Our interconnected world would allow us to work from anywhere.
For non-cyber travel, we'd need a car, something we did fine without in the city. Our automobile has become a source---one of many these days of testy exchanges-- between the two of us. I'm not comfortable ceding the wheel to someone who could fall asleep at a Marine-band concert. So I do most of the driving, sometimes for an hour just to see a movie. And then you can only have one glass of wine afterward because you have that drive back. In pitch darkness. (Note to self: Have the night vision checked out.)
Night seems the prevailing condition in my new location, what with the winter sun setting around 4 p.m. Who cared about such things during those rare winter visits here back in the day? The earlier to pour the Merlot. But when your home now doubles as your workplace, slurred speech is not an option on a professional phone call.
We just keep saying we need to make some friends. And we have. Well, one. Of course, to get invited, you have to invite. And we've done our share of pouring Champagne for guests in our tiny living room. Then waited for the bubbly to be reciprocated. In fairness, we've been repaid once or twice. But all those friends we were sure we'd make have been rather illusive. In our haste to change zip codes, it hadn't occurred to us that they already had friends. People they'd known for years. As companions, we were untested. (And on top of that, this is New England, where even a resident of 30 years can be called a wash-ashore-its, considered a term of endearment.)
Now when we walk through town, no longer enchanted by its street musicians, we no longer breathlessly discuss running for local office as the fast track to acceptance. What we talk about is moving back to the city we abandoned on a midlife whim. Psychologist Parsons advises those hell-bent on making vacation mode permanent to slow down before slowing down: Look for your true intentions. Do you just want more of the relaxation you associate with that place in the country? Is it possible youre running away from something, or are you running to something?
Right now, we just want to run back to our old home. From here it looks, well, charming.
About the author: Longtime magazine writer and talk-show host Jim Brosseau edited a popular book on civility. His blog CivilityInc.com is set to launch in February.