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{This is a guest post by my sister Ceara Donnelley.}

A few months ago, my younger sister Ceara (a.k.a. Sister C) and her family moved from NYC to Charleston, South Carolina. Ceara and I are very close and I miss her a lot. I was thrilled when she said she'd write something to publish here. What follows is that (wonderful) something. {Happy fifth anniversary, C & N!}

Five years ago, in a South Carolina turkey field dotted with hay bales and swarmed by sand gnats, I married N. We could not have chosen a better setting for our wedding; four years earlier I had invited N to the family property in which this field sits for a week of turkey hunting, designed to dispel his impression that I was all city girl. It worked. Within 24 hours of his arrival, N met my father, bagged a turkey, crashed a suburban, and snagged me, pretty much in that order. I’d like to think I went into this week with my eyes wide open, but at 20 years old I wasn’t thinking about husbands. I wasn’t worried that this boy would take me from—or from me—another place woven into the very fabric of my being: New York.

In retrospect, I should have known. He was a hockey player from northern Minnesota who grew up hunting deer and ice fishing (ice fishing!) for walleye.  He drove a beat up red pick-up truck called the WT. I was attracted to N precisely because he was so unlike the boys I knew from Manhattan. After college, N followed me to New York, and I found myself lulled into the fantasy that I had successfully transformed this country boy into a city-dweller. He still had plenty of country in him, but in many ways he became a natural New Yorker. He could weave in and out of pedestrians like a native; he always knew exactly where to stand on the subway platform to make his trip as efficient as possible (a trick I never mastered); he was fine with takeout every night. When we got engaged, we struck a deal. N could live in New York as long as we spent as much time out of New York as possible. A country house was mentioned, and later bought. Frequent trips to South Carolina and Minnesota were a given. I thought we were good.

But we weren’t. It became clear somewhere along the way that our New York life wasn’t working for us. There are so many reasons why—I could write a post on each one of them—but I think all of the reasons come back to a simple fact: this New Yorker fell in love with a country boy.


At some point in our first year or two of marriage N started whispering “Charleston,” in a laconic southern drawl, whenever I complained about something. “I’m tired.” “Challlston, babe. Challlston.” “I’m hungry.” “Challlston, babe. Challlston.” “I don’t know what I want to do with my life.” “Challston, babe. Challlllllston.” It became a joke between us, a pipe dream promise of a panacea that could fix all of the imperfections and frustrations of our lives, both separate and together. Then sometime in the third or fourth year of our marriage, he started saying it. “Charleston. Let’s move there. Let’s go.” I acknowledged the possible benefits of living there: (somewhat) cheaper real estate, natural beauty, a calmer life. But still, I demurred. My reasons for doing so shifted and were a moving target: They hate northerners there. I don’t drive. There are no good schools (we had welcomed Baby Bulldog to our world by this point). I’m a New Yorker. We can’t just decide to move there. What am I going to do there? It’s too hot. It’s too pretty. I’m a New Yorker. My family is here. My sisters are here. I’m a New Yorker. I don’t drive!

But even as I recited (and sometimes shouted) this litany of reasons not to go, I knew the biggest reason to go: we weren’t happy in New York. I could be happy in New York, I knew, but N couldn’t, and that meant we couldn’t. Finally, N broke me down, and we reached a tentative agreement—if he could find a job in Charleston that would be a compelling career move for him, I’d try it. I thought I was golden; jobs aren’t easy to come by these days, and Charleston isn’t exactly a hub of industry. It is, though, a bit of a hub in N’s industry—land conservation—so I shouldn’t have been so cavalier with my promise. Last January, he got a job offer here. He made it happen. I was out of excuses.

So, fast forward a few months, and here we are. Though at least half of the people we’ve met down here are recent transplants from northern cities—New York, Chicago, Detroit, Seattle—the ones who aren’t want to know why we moved. Why Charleston? I mumble and stumble through my explanation—“Oh, my husband got a job here, but also lifestyle reasons, and I grew up coming down here, but we’re just trying it, it’s a trial, we still have our place in New York, ummm, errr, hmmm.” But the real answer is this: I love New York, but I married someone who doesn’t. I married a country boy, a country boy who is willing to live in a city (I’m told Charleston is, technically, a city), as long as he can be in the country in an hour or less and at least a few times a week. New York wasn’t working for us. I had to choose: my marriage or my city. I chose my marriage.

The jury’s still out on how Charleston will treat me—so far, so good, I’m happy to say. But one thing has become clear in the almost-three months we’ve been here: N’s happier, and so we’re happier. It certainly isn’t the panacea we pretended it might be, but I can envision a wonderful life for us here. I can even get really excited about that life—until I think about New York. It’s tricky to articulate what I am feeling about New York. I don’t miss it as much as I thought I would, but I am, somehow, mourning its loss. Not the loss of the life we had there; have I mentioned that we weren’t happy? But I am mourning the loss of the life I might have had there. In truth, I sometimes think wistfully about the life that Aidan has there, because let me tell you, she has New York living figured out. But the reality is that I made this choice nine years ago, when I fell in love with my country boy.

Now my job is to fall in love with Charleston. Can you love two cities equally, but for different reasons, and at the same time? It doesn’t work with boys, but it might with cities. I think so. I hope so. We’ll see.


Have you made geographical leaps because of the relationships in your life or in pursuit of greater family happiness? Do you live where you were born and raised? Are you more of a country or city creature at heart? Would you like to see more of Ceara's (beautiful) words here on the blog?

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