“Hills over Tills” or “Ending my discontent”
Why I’m writing this.
Back in October 2020, four of our dearest friends and their 10 children packed up and moved away from us to Tennessee, in what seemed like an extremely rash, hard-to-understand, frenzied pace. It’s now been over a year and half, and yet I still experience daily negative emotion, confusion and general frustration and sadness over the event. I’m a little possessed, obsessed, clingy and mentally hurting despite it doing absolutely no good. It’s been too long and my thinking about this is hurting me. I may be ruminating the same thing by habit at this point, not even out of a sense of real ongoing sadness.
I have a pang to resolve this in a way where the past relationship is restored. I want to fix it. Go back to how it was. Restore. That can’t and won’t happen. It’s over permanently. Probably forever. The only way through is to stop thinking it can.
I also don’t understand why it happened or why anyone thought it was a good idea. Either I haven’t heard the proper explanation, it wasn’t truthfully shared with me, or I did and just didn’t like it.
Either way, I just need to kill this bad and painful mental loop in my head.
So, I’m going to attempt to write my thoughts out in hopes that I can stop thinking about them on a daily basis. I’ll write them down and then burn this document. Or bury it somewhere I can visit again, like in a hidden place on the internet. If this doesn’t work at least a little, I’ll hire a therapist.
Moving South and our greatest concern
Back in Winter of 2011 or so we decided to move from Amesbury, MA to Mount Pleasant, SC. It was a big decision, but I was desperately hating the Northern winter and wanted to move south. After extensive research, Charleston and Mount Pleasant were the clear choices for us. The big criteria, or deal breakers so to speak, were warm weather year-round (no snow), being on the coast, and moving to a city that could offer perks such as history, architecture or a restaurant scene. We also were a family with three young children who would start homeschooling and/but needed a family-friendly area. And we needed to be able to be reasonably close to Jen’s family in terms of a reasonable flight.
This quickly cut out places. Overseas and the islands were too far away and too onerous a move. The west coast and Mexico were out for the same reasons. Anywhere too far inland was out. Anywhere that was too old, not for kids, or too poor was out (so went most of Florida).
BUT, what a gem Charleston was, at least in the researched analysis. Charleston, and later Mount Pleasant, would offer:
- Mostly lovely weather, with snowless (but still a little chilly) winters and brutally hot summers with extending swimming/summer seasons. Not quite perfect, but I could swim/walk 12 months out of the year without it ever freezing.
- On the ocean with great beaches.
- A beautiful historic city that rivals most in its history, architecture and beauty.
- Fully articulated, top-10 in the country restaurant and culture scene.
- The beautifully constructed, clean and safe Mount Pleasant ‘gated’ style neighborhoods, complete with resort-like amenities (like pools everywhere, huge parks and rec facilities) that would be unheard of up North.
- A town with mixed ages and plenty of families.
- Plenty of upscale infrastructure and wealth.
- A reasonable direct flight up to Boston to see the family we left behind.
A disappointing part of the initial analysis was that homes weren’t going to be given away for nothing. I expected 4,000 SF homes going for $300K, but that wasn’t the case. But, the homes were still feasible and property taxes were much better. There were also some downsides:
- Not knowing if the Southerners, with their evil reputations (a product mostly born of Northern sentiment), would accept us or if we’d be seen as atheistic yanks who didn’t belong. Or maybe we wouldn’t like THEM at all.
- Our biggest fear was moving away from our family and friends, pretty much putting us at risk of knowing nobody, no social life, and no family to celebrate holidays and such with. We might be orphans.
o After all, our family wasn’t happy at all with us leaving. We were abandoning them.
o Our friends thought we were nuts too. “The South? With those hicks? You’ll be miserable! We’re sophisticated and smart here in the North!” they all but said out loud.
o The point they did understand was that some people really hated snow and I was one of them. I wasn’t leaving Massachusetts or them, I was leaving the winter.
We’d visit the area a total of four times to tour the city, go to the beach, visit neighborhoods, meet people and go to open houses. After this much research, we felt great about the decision.
We had hoped that Jen’s parents would come with us but they didn’t like the idea at all. They rashly moved out of Amesbury to move to central, southern Maine to live on a mountain side next to Jen’s sister. (This has its own depressing story). Arguably, we could’ve handled the move differently, we probably should have involved them in the research instead of plopping a conclusion on them. They remain there now and don’t like it, and I personally believe they short-changed their last decade of life by doing so.
It took us two years to sell our home up North. We took a $140K loss to do it. It happened slowly, then suddenly. My mother dies of cancer on October 26, I’m flying to her funeral by the 28th. We get a low but viable offer on the house while I’m at the funeral. We accept. We now have until December 12th to find a new home, pack and arrange for moving. It happens. We find a lovely rental in Mount Pleasant and the adventure begins.
We arrive at 1516 Red Drum Rd. on December 17th, 2013 after some hassle of driving South for a few days and then waiting for our stuff to arrive. It’s a nice, spacious house in a very handsome neighborhood with some pretty cool views of the marsh. We have like a week to move in and put something together for Christmas for our kids (aged at the time 8, 5 and 2). Thanks Walmart!
Like wandering dopes, we start walking around the neighborhood waving at anyone who will look and explaining that we are new to the areas. This pays off. We’re very quickly invited to some parties in the neighborhood and we meet many neighbors.
But the big payoff was meeting homeschoolers on Facebook and soon going to a Facebook meetup at the big toys park. We meet HM, AM, and a few others in like January 2014. Something like a week later I decorate my new office with posters of famous libertarian economists. Jen posts it on Facebook. HM declares that her husband is all into that. Not only are they the right breed of libertarian, they have kids our age. They are homeschoolers and critics of education. Transplants from Michigan who didn’t care for winter. Entrepreneurs like me! Science-fiction twins.
A dinner date is set, and the MH-Till friendship starts.
For the next seven years (2014-2020) our three families would socialize heavily and become some of the best friendships we’ve ever had. Our lives integrate to some level, transporting children around and the like. There’s the roughly bi-weekly or monthly dinner parties with lots of games and yuks. The nature walks. Trips to the pools. The movies. The beach. Holiday dinners. Pop-ins. Football games. Jen and HM would talk via Voxer every day at the most mundane level of household detail.
Not only did our primary fear of not having friends or family disappear with a matter of weeks, we actually had better, closer friendships than before. Not only was South Carolina excellent, but our social situation was the best it’s ever been.
We loved them. We felt loved. It was great. Surely, we can’t throw this away lightly.
Okay, AM didn’t care for it here and was vocal about it. Didn’t like the weather and maybe the people and didn’t like living in a neighborhood. She’d later say, as if it just occurred to her, that she would miss our get togethers. But not like it entered her mind before she insisted on moving. We’re an afterthought, at best.
In somewhere around September 2020, maybe August, AM and LM announced that they were moving to Tennessee. AM said she couldn’t live in her neighborhood anymore (I took this to mean any neighborhood, but I was wrong). She had visited there during childbirth and had a good sense of the community and people, per her report. LM and the children did not want to move, according to their own confession, but apparently this didn’t matter.
Within days IM and HM went on a trip to Georgia that would later be revealed to a reconnaissance mission of some sort. A week or so later they announced that they were moving to Tennessee as well, completely independent of AM/LM’s decision (although the timing and shared location surely made the decision earlier).
Jen was devastated and was in tears for the entire weekend it was announced. I was shocked to the point where we both just laid in bed the entire weekend. It would possess our thoughts – like all day – for weeks.
IM came to drop off his daughter who had slept over and gave me the justifications for their move: It was HM’s turn to pick where they live, after all she had deferred to his preferences when they moved to DC and later SC. (I would argue that if you are a single income family, then moving somewhere for a job isn’t really one person’s choice, but a family choice). She wanted hills. Hills hills hills. They wanted to try out an agorist/farmstead type of life with multiple acres in a rural situation. South Carolina – replete with ruralness – wouldn’t do: too hot, too flat. No hills. Losing the beach was unfortunate, but they would gain hills. The scenery would be better. The weather is better too, less hot summers that don’t last as long. Besides, the traffic and congestion were getting bad in Mount Pleasant.
You could shoot more guns there and it was reportedly more conservative.
It wasn’t clear if IM wanted to go or not, but he wasn’t going to put up much resistance. It was HM’s turn to pick and, maybe, after 10 years on the farm it could be his turn to move the family elsewhere that would have sun and water. Or maybe not.
Plus, houses were selling fast – like in a single day fast and at huge price increases. IM would say that he was capturing the value of the home in the market. (In the end, I believe he walked away with something like $30K in profit, all to be eaten with the move and the more expensive house they would purchase.)
I didn’t get it. Why move somewhere so unexplored, so undifferentiated? It’s the middle of the country, in the South. No ocean. No historic city. Like, why there vs. Indiana or Michigan or Appalachian Ohio or anywhere cheap/poor/undifferentiated? All places without beaches that have winter and the vanguard of culture is Applebees/Wal-mart. The cost/benefit analysis did not make sense to me.
You move because there is something badly wrong with where you are (like the weather). Or you need to move because of an ill parent. Or a new and exciting job opportunity. Not just leave to go anywhere unseen for barely articulated reasons.
And what of us? Was I mistaken that we had a deep and important friendship? Was I mistaken about how connected we were? Did they not realize that having friends you like is hard to come by, like a 3-4 times in your life type of thing? Had HM ever made a great friend as an adult she wasn’t related to? Wasn’t ditching us expensive? How did I understand our relationship so poorly?
But it was just us they were leaving at this point. And maybe the beach.
HM would stop by the next day to give us her story. Jen wouldn’t see here as she was too torn up emotionally. I didn’t let her in. In hindsight, I would’ve liked to talk to her about it. Although I would’ve liked to strangle her just as well.
SIDEBAR: COVID-19 and the project of happiness
IM and likely HM would insist that the move had nothing to do with COVID. But some context:
- We’ll forget, and maybe have to an extent, but COVID made life here really shitty and mean and hopeless for a good long while. Beaches were closed, stores were closed. Mask requirements. Schools closed. The funky parking restrictions.
o I was yelled at by a stranger in the grocery store, for example.
o Or I was reprimanded by the police for going outside to the park that is adjacent to my property (!).
- People’s real personality and nastiness came out everywhere. Nasty nitpicking about masks. You could see people’s irrational fear and hate on their faces. They said stuff to you. Everybody’s horrible nature was revealed. In a usual environment, you don’t know how terrible your neighbors are because they keep it to themselves and act like normal people. In the pandemic it gets worse and everyone’s true nature is revealed. It didn’t matter whether you were for or against the restrictions or were fearful of the sickness, the other side made you upset. Everybody was a shitheel in half of everybody’s opinion. No exceptions.
- The nastiness would even show up at home. During 2020, if we had a get together, we’d have to hide cars and be quiet and be fearful that our neighbors might call the police on us just for getting together.
- LM’s office was permanently closed. Does even the thought of moving happen if he still has a staff and an office in Charleston? Probably not.
- The real estate market goes bananas from people relocating (see above).
- Cam and Mitch, IM’s left- and right-hand men and friends, move from the area in mid-2020 (I don’t exactly remember, but our last poker night is in May 2020 according to the calendar, but maybe Dec 2019.) Most of IM’s other employees leave the area. That office is closed right before the pandemic starts (like Dec of 2019).
Did COVID contribute to the decision? Well, the people were revealed, it’s nasty here (for now) and the ties that the office space/company secured are now gone. If there was ever a time to grow a festering dislike of your neighbors and community, the summer of 2020 was absolutely the worst in several generations.
A note on happiness: I discovered during COVID that it doesn’t take much to be satisfied. Through normal life, small bits of positive progress happen: you take a vacation, you buy a new couch, you have some landscaping done, you get a new client, get a raise, you have a dinner party with friends, your child accomplishes X, etc. Just small little signs that life is progressing and getting better. What happens when none of those little things happen? What if it goes backwards, like in the pandemic, where business is in peril, there no new purchases, no little vacations, no getting better. This would happen to me even worse in 2021 where I saw my business lose money daily and nothing was getting better. This was happening to everyone – at scale.
IM’s business wasn’t/isn’t doing well. Does this play in? What about LM’s business that would have him ousted within the year? Having progress slowly move backwards takes a toll.
SIDEBAR: Is Charleston a serious place? (I’m not sure if this is relevant)
I don’t have a formal trend line or data set, but it seems that younger people, like the sorts that attended or worked for Prax-is, don’t last long in the Charleston Area. My Northern friend Brent had told me I’d never would’ve gotten good as a musician or song writer if I lived in the South, mostly because the misery that drove us into our basements to practice existed in the cold and ugly environment of the North.
The North – places like Boston, or DC or NYC or Philly, and presumably the mid-west and other destinations are serious places where a young person can get traction and success. Boston is serious:
· They have some of the most important universities in the world.
· It has major business sectors in such serious industries as Pharma, Finance, Tech and Education.
· It’s cold. There’s winter. Going outside is somewhere between tolerable to miserable for nine months out of the year. There’s not a lot of summer stuff like pools or beaches that you’d swim in for more than a couple of months. You stay inside and do serious stuff, like read. They don’t even bother to build the swimming pools and the golf courses are packed for the six months you might play.
· It’s relatively wealthy with staggeringly high costs of living, expensive houses, expensive taxes, etc.
· The traffic is terrible. You’ll be seriously unhappy in the car.
· People will let you know it is a serious place. It is the hub of the universe.
It’s a serious place.
Now, Charleston? Charleston is not serious. Its industries are middle class (manufacturing, tourism). There’s practically no universities and the state’s biggest schools are best known for football. The weather’s basically nice all the time, with a downside of hot summers, forcing us dummies into all the swimming pools and beaches. People come here to golf, boat, fish, swim, drink, eat and see beauty.
Really, Charleston isn’t a good place if you are young, eager to develop yourself and ready to do some serious living. You aren’t building a killer career here. It’s unserious in its fundamental construction. There’s no meaning from suffering and sacrifice.
It’s a resort for rich people who are here to relax and maybe party. They are outside all the damn time, not learning business or reading philosophy. It’s for old, wealthy people who want to live on the beach of being happy and mindless.
What does an affluent population of resort-folk look like? Act like? What if they used to be from some serious place where they ground out a serious career? Are they arrogant and uncaring now? What does New England-style ambition and brains look like when he/she has decided to go boating in October and golf in January? What of people who are decadent/finishing/optimizing vs. disciplined/growing/learning?
The people here
After the move, at least from what Jen heard, the reasons for moving like hills and weather soften considerably. What turned off (repulsed?) HM and AM from Charleston was the people. I presume the content of their character, their manners, their political beliefs, and other bad qualities. To many obedient lefties? Too few libertarians? We’re these the people they talked to or just the rabble that they didn’t speak to? Like the people at the grocery store or neighborhood pool? Or maybe this is the point – we aren’t talking to the people because they are bad vs. ignoring people we don’t talk to (this make sense?)
Did they mean us? (we’re the people they most talked too). We’re people.
Or was it the character of people as revealed in all their nastiness during the summer of 2020? Was it the people sneering in the grocery store at the unmasked? The jerk restaurant clerk refusing service an outdoor bar because of terrible Covid rules?
Were we supposed to think the people terrible as well? I didn’t see it. Whatever gut or rational reaction to the people existed, was I wrong not to feel it too? Why weren’t we infected with this idea? Am I the dummy? Before HM left, she asked where we would move, as if it was obviously the clear and smart thing to do. I believe she even asked if we would head North of all places. North!
And, how did they ascertain the character of the people of central Tennessee? They hadn’t visited there before for the most part. They hadn’t even seen their homes or towns and completely miscalculated the weather, all things available with onsite research. But how can one not know those things and yet have a compelling understanding of what was in strangers’ minds unexamined. Uncanny. Assuming that inland, deep-South, poorer people would be more conservative and Christian than the affluent leisure crowd of the coast is easy enough to guess at, and there would certainly be more people overall, but hardly an assurance of things getting better.
The move is on come September. I’m not even sure what to believe, but they, for some reason, need to move fast. I don’t know why it was so urgent to move so quickly, to the point where they couldn’t really figure out precisely where they were going the way most people moving across country would. Like actually visiting the places they were moving to in order to see if it was any good.
IM/HM make some attempts at contingent house offers (buy first, then sell) but the market is so fast, hot and overpriced that cash offers beat them out. They both decide to sell first, giving themselves very short runways to find new homes. LM/AM would luckily find a home that wasn’t moving quite as quickly in Franklin (and, in a neighborhood). IM/HM buy a house sight unseen in a town they’ve also never seen or been too. War refugees are typically more discriminating in regards to where they are moving and how fast they go. Maybe they aren’t actually going somewhere as much as they are escaping here.
We never, in my opinion, get a remotely satisfying explanation for why they are leaving. Turning down HM’s first visit may have been a mistake. The real explanation either isn’t that compelling or they don’t want to share the reason because we are remaining in the now-undesirable locale and it would be hurtful to say so in our presence. Like: “why are you so stupid to stay here?”
Or, maybe they don’t think it’s much of a big deal. “It’s an adventure. We like novelty. We’re still friends – if you miss us, you can give us a call, but the 30 or so live interactions really don’t mean that much. We’ll find new people and so will you. We’ll visit sometimes. You can visit here.”
Do I need a satisfying explanation? I guess not. The move away is forever and irreversible. Whatever software malfunction that went off in HM/AM’s head has surely poisoned this area to them. Now it is too expensive.
Had they died in a car wreck or turned into pure energy or otherwise disappeared, I wouldn’t have my explanation and the outcome is all the same. Maybe it would’ve been easier to understand (tragedy aside).
On October 14th or so IM/HM and family closed on selling their Colonnade house and moved to temporary VRBO housing for a month. Then they would finally get to see their new home and town, sight mostly unseen.
LM/AM and family move about two weeks later, this to a house in Franklin that LM had seen during inspection.
We never get too much more on why.
And that was mostly it.
Aftermath: Some good for them
After they moved, us Tills were still very emotionally devastated. For me, it was probably a top-3 life event in terms of sadness and frustration. Maybe somewhere between the year of my mom dying but maybe more than my college girlfriend dumping me.
We don’t exactly know what level we are supposed to be interacting with them going forward. Are we still the tightest of friends? Jen was speaking to HM pretty much daily about everything from immediate shopping plans to gripes about traffic. Surely she’s not going to vox daily now and talk about the state of the grocery store and how annoying the bugs were last night.
The young girls keep on Facetiming for several months, waning off as maybe a year goes by. For a long while this is Vy’s only social interaction of kids here age until she starts Crown months later. I don’t know what the Facetime meant to them in terms of importance.
LM/AM move into a very nice house in a very nice neighborhood in the very nice city of Franklin. Their house is very large and cost less than the one they had here. All their kids get a room and the finished basement adds tons of space in an already giant house. The downtown is very cute and features one of the best restaurants I’ve been to in a while.
IM/HM move into their 20 acre farm property. It also has a big (albeit a bit plain, maybe ugly) house with a finished basement and ample room for their large family. It has outbuildings and pool. There are some complaints about the highway they are on, persistent train noise, and the aesthetics of the property, but overall they enjoy gardening and outdoor projects. Chickens and raised vegetable beds and such. IM buys an expensive lawn mower* and a truck.
* Some people think they are cool to have a big lawn mower and other people think they are cool because they don’t own one at all.
They also enter a fresh and novel new area to explore with new people. Perhaps like us when we first waved at neighbors in our new hood, they too joined homeschooling groups and new churches and quickly made new friends. They even have a 40+ person New Year’s Eve party, killing our perception that they were incapable of hosting an event.
“I’ve found my tribe” reports HM. Their gambit on finding the right people apparently paid off, despite all the costs and not really knowing their character. Good for them. They could trade us in for the much better apparently. I imagine they are pulling from a massively larger geographic footprint (like 50 miles radius) than here, but fine, we don’t have that big of a population to even cast such a large net.
I assumed IM would be miserable there but he seems to be doing fine. I was wrong.
For us, things remained largely the same except for the glaring absence of our friends and the end of all the things we did together. For better or mostly worse, we’re established in our circuits and haven’t found ‘replacement’ friends, not even the type that one doesn’t like*. We’ve were sad for months, and per this document, I’ve not gotten over it yet to date.
* Finding friends you really like doesn’t happen often. We can hope to find ones we enjoy hanging out with enough to do a dinner or something but not somebody we deeply care for.
Feelings for the MHs’ in general aside, we’re back to the initial fear that we wouldn’t have friends, family or other social support here.
This is important: The MH’s don’t owe us anything and didn’t transgress against us. I’ve read my Ayn Rand and understand that obligation works, and there is no obligation to us or anybody in this situation. It felt betrayal-ish and people said that out loud (including AM) but it wasn’t a betrayal. They may have made a mistake (or not) in hindsight, but they don’t owe us anything.
I was firstly confused by the whole thing. It was expensive in terms of money, hassle and sacrifice. On paper, there was so little upside and so much to give up. On a paper analysis, Charleston > Nashville. Why?
My best guess and analysis was that it was never about moving to Tennessee as much as it was leaving here. That’s why the upside-down benefits comparison is nonsensical and irrelevant. It doesn’t matter that the ocean exists, the weather is better, the scenery is prettier or their great friends live here. There was a revulsion to here, mostly felt by AM and HM, that had to be escaped.
It didn’t matter where they went to. Central Tennessee. Indiana. Appalachian Ohio. Texas. All the same undifferentiated place, but all equally not here. That’s how they could not even visit the areas that they were moving to and still be confident that it was an upgrade with better people. Because here was no longer desirable and those places weren’t here.
While COVID may not have been the primary stated reason, it was the summer of 2020 where anybody could’ve learned to hate their community and neighbors given how terrible everyone was. Add in the office closing and friends moving away and HM/AM’s push to leave gets a lot easier. Plus houses were selling at a premium in incredibly short times. Covid may not of been the first driver, but it primed the decision.
At this point, what resistance would IM/LM have put up? It didn’t matter that they didn’t want to go nor did it matter that the kids hated the idea. We’re they going to tolerate their wives nagging and complaining to them for all eternity. The move would not only shut them up about Mount Pleasant, but probably get the nagging ladies off the men’s back for a few years. Not much to give up and lots of mental peace to be had.
Will this turn out to be a mistake in the end? I think it might. I don’t think it can be reversed. The area is poisoned in their minds, it’s become too expensive, and who would look back anyways.
They are gone and gone forever. Permanently. Bye.
Do I wish them happiness? I mean, I’m a friend. I should. I wouldn’t mind being right either. It would be a pretty expensive transaction if I ended up unhappy and everyone else did too. Their happiness would certainly justify a lot.
All about us
The real impact: It has to be about we do, not fixing or restoring the past. And the future is largely MH free.
Continuing to ruminate, blame, be sad, etc., is completely pointless. The Tills need to fix the Tills.
Firstly, we have a new relationship with the MH’s to get used to. Gone are the days of doing day-to-day. Our next conversation won’t be about the bad trip to the grocery store or kvetching about the weather. They go from close, local friends to old, faraway friends you see once a year (or less) and talk about the vacation you took and how your business changed. This is still confusing to me. Do I call IM and see how’s he’s doing? Does he care? Probably can’t think about this too seriously.
Our new problem is to socially reset ourselves here. We aren’t moving as we’ve already done the analysis and - short of a Caribbean Island - we’ve found the right mix of amenity, weather, water, culture, etc. There’s nothing in the middle of the country for us. The other places like Savanah or St. Augustine or NOLA are just the same or maybe less.
We need to open new circuits in town like we did when we first moved. Then we can find a scene or tribe or a few friends. We don’t need many, and still retain Mitch and Tom, but we could use say about four more.
So we’ll have to get out there and re-socialize. It won’t likely be as good, but maybe good enough with a thin chance of being better. It’s been 18 months and we’ve done shit to date. We’ll have to get better. Open those circuits and say “hi” to a few new people.
I guess that’s the end.