Mortgage: The Scary New 'M' Word for Couples?

In which the author learns that buying a house can be the fastest way to lose a man—in five easy stages.

It was Love at first sight: A 1918 Craftsman-style cottage, with shiny, caramel-colored hardwoods and stained-glass built-ins; a big, well-lit eat-in kitchen; three bedrooms; an office; two bathrooms; a deck; a small fenced yard with fruit trees and roses. I could afford it. I could afford it because it was in Delridge and because I had been saving up, skipping vacations, and driving a beater. I could afford it because my late mother, bless her, had a petite estate. What I saw when I saw the house was a reward, the culmination of a journey that had begun four years earlier in Manhattan, when it first occurred to me that if I left the big bad city, I could radically change my life.

But what my then-boyfriend, David, saw when he looked at the cottage was Kryptonite. He still thinks we broke up because I chose "a more suburban lifestyle," so to speak. "We didn't break up because you bought a house," he says. "There was other stuff."

Other stuff, in my opinion, relating to the house. Regardless, mine is a cautionary tale for single gals everywhere who want to invest in real estate. Your friends will say it's great, your accountant will say it's wise, your parents will be proud. But when you break it to him, Mr. Supportive might surprise you. You might reason that if things get serious down the line with your guy, he could either move in or you could sublet your home, right? But some men don't see things this way—and David was among them.

Looking back to last winter, I'd say that there are five stages of house conflict that arise when a woman is house shopping against her man's wishes. The first is his denial. I would try to tell David about neighborhoods that interested me in an effort at inclusion—so he'd know that, no matter where I bought, he would be welcome. But it didn't sit well.

"Whatever," was a typical response. "I don't think you're really ready financially for this." He'd tell me his take on the market as if that ought to settle things, which, of course, it didn't. I continued to look anyway, but since I wasn't making any offers, I didn't have to discuss it.

Then I found a place I liked, leading to stage two: advice. Here, a guy's general doubts about your ability to buy give way to specific doubts about your new beloved. He'll say it's not in a good area, you can't walk anywhere, you should sit this one out and keep saving.

Resistance to this advice creates conflict, stage three. This is where he summons troops. All guys have a contractor or realtor friend who materializes during your transaction, and this friend's voice will, of course, be channeled— objectively—through your beau. David had "my friend John," who lived in West Seattle, supposedly making him an expert on the area. "John says home values will never go up over there because there's so much government-owned land," David said. "John says he knows subs who like living in Delridge because it's so easy to get drugs."

The two-pronged advice stage is crucial in your boyfriend's case building against your home purchase. You can ignore your guy's advice, but if you ignore both your guy's advice and that of My Friend John, you are ignoring two people's advice and are officially stubborn. Single and stubborn makes you officially, well, a spinster who is uppity, independent, headstrong. This is the part of the relationship where you spiral rapidly toward stage four, the ultimatum. Now your guy is saying this: You buy that house against my advice, and I'm going to hold my breath till I die.

The problem with the ultimatum stage, of course, is that by now he's become such a pain in the ass that you don't care if he leaves. You just wish he'd get the hell out of the way so you could take a call from your broker. The week I was frantically copying pay stubs and tax returns for my lender, David was covertly polishing his old Internet personals ad, the one that got funny replies from married housewives with kinks—and, once upon a time, me. While I was scheduling closing, David was secretly scheduling a date for when I'd be away on a birthday-weekend trip he'd opted to skip.

Our breakup, aka stage five, was a bit on the Springer side, what with my discovering his surreptitious online dating efforts just as I was about to move in to my new pad. In my own dim, "suburban" way, I had hoped he'd see that home ownership was a good thing. Love me, love my cottage—right?

My tale ends well, though. I have a great house in a neighborhood with a vibrant mix of residents, a new library, well-groomed P-patches and trails. Forthcoming are an arts center, the monorail, and Home Depot. Neighbors are giving me landscape advice, while investors planning to sell on my block (at prices north of what I paid, ha!) are inviting me in for tours.

If Delridge is the suburbs, give me more. After David departed Seattle to pursue a grad degree (in a rural red state, no less), two of my friends set me up with a fellow happy homeowner—a nice Shoreline guy who has no problem with yard work or snaking a clogged drainpipe. He even helps me navigate Home Depot. We've been dating ever since.

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