I must have said, “This was a mistake,” and “I want to go home,” to myself at least 50 times the first time I saw a house as a potential buyer. This is impressive considering the fact that my real-estate agent, Theresa, and I were inside no longer than four minutes. A thin layer of cat litter coated the floor and the house was strewn with unused furniture and broken Playskool toys — not what I was expecting from the quaint but tasteful photos I’d seen of the homes in Hudson, NY. The current renters were not told we’d be coming and eyed us as intruders as we tried to take a quick tour of their disaster and make haste to our next destination. I breathed a sigh of relief when we left, then braced myself for further misadventures: six more houses to go.
Several days earlier, I had impulsively sent a form email through a real-estate website about my intentions to purchase a home in the small, arts-oriented town upstate. The words had felt foreign; I surprised myself with my own expansive knowledge of real-estate jargon and of the particular features I sought in a home I had never voiced more than a passing interest in until the last week. I was connected to Theresa, a savvy and warm real-estate agent, who promised to pick me up bright and early for my tour of Hudson’s available homes. But when I disembarked on the single platform at the Amtrak station in a town I’d seen only in photographs, I wondered what on Earth had possessed me to take this journey.
Popular wisdom says buying a home is the last step in a series of three milestones that I have not yet achieved. First, you find someone to marry. Second, you have a baby. Third, you buy property in which to house the two treasured creatures you got in the first two steps (and yourself as a bonus). But another kind of popular wisdom tells me to make investments, save money, and look out for my financial future. And still another tells me that unmarried women without children are doing all sorts of wacky shit these days and that buying a house before I know the details of my romantic and filial futures is nothing out of the ordinary. I find more comfort and truth in that wisdom than the wisdom of milestones. And so, in the perfect storm of a rent hike on my Brooklyn one-bedroom and hitting a round number in my savings account, I opened accounts on Zillow and Trulia to see where my money might be better spent.
For most of my life, the rare occasions when I thought of owning property were always in the realm of the ultra-fantastical. Such thoughts were of castles and penthouses facing Central Park. They had libraries and tasteful indoor pools and a closet the size of my current bedroom just for my coat and cape collection. It was not a fantasy rooted in true longing or ambition, but in entertainment and imagination, like having sex fantasies about a celebrity. Knowing these fantasies won’t ever come true doesn’t make engaging them any less pleasurable. But in recent years, the fantasies involving home ownership began to downsize to cozier spaces, entering the realm of possibility — opportunity, even. A home of my own got closer to my reach with every major deal I brokered and with every transfer I dutifully made to my savings account.
In the days leading up to my first excursion to hunt down a house, I was met with several cautious variations of, “Oh. You’re really doing that?” while a few bolder friends asked flatly, “But how are you going to meet someone up there?” I’ve been bombarded with an array of questions that could be considered invasive, but that I’m taking as opportunities to evaluate the decision myself. How much are you willing to spend? How much will your mortgage payment be? Have you factored in utilities and repairs? Are you going to keep a place in the city? Won’t you miss the city if you don’t? What if you meet a man? What if he doesn’t want to live in it?
In fine-tuning my responses to these questions, I’ve come face to face with several fears I have about money, regret, and loneliness. Instead of letting these fears paralyze me, I’ve closely considered what would happen if I encountered them: I would get over it. If I feel weird not having my savings anymore? I start saving again. If I miss the city? I move back to it. If I meet a man who doesn’t want to live in it? I don’t ask him to. We often mistakenly assume decisions become less and less reversible as they get larger and more expensive. Anyone who got divorced within a year of a fancy wedding or left a high-paying job they hated for a less stressful one at a lower wage can tell you that it simply isn’t true. A house is a possession, not a blood oath. It could turn into an investment property, a second income as a rental, a home for a hypothetical family, or even the home that I grow old and die in. I won’t know until I have it, and I won’t have it if I keep scaring myself off with questions based on the assumption that I couldn’t possibly be making the right decision. And the “what if” that scares me the most is one that no one has asked yet: “What if you don’t do it and never know?”
Fate being a tricky minx, I recently entered into a relationship with the first boyfriend I’ve had in years, so now many of the hypothetical questions are becoming more rooted in reality. Popular wisdom says there are milestones in a relationship that happen on a particular timeline, that discussing the future is ill-advised before six months of exclusive partnership, and that co-habitation is strictly forbidden in the first year. I have thus far abided by that wisdom mostly because I have yet to find a house that I actually want to buy. When I do, I will have to confront difficult questions about fear and money and loneliness with another person in a way that I am still getting acclimated to after years out of practice.
My long-standing single status has made purchasing a home seem unusual, but it’s also precisely what has facilitated my financial and personal capacity to do it. Much of my writing has focused on the world of dating and my comically numerous failures to secure a relationship. I spun a lot of income out of my loneliness. Now I want to pour into something with a foundation rather than burn it into the ether on rent.
More importantly, perhaps, being single afforded me huge amounts of time and energy to devote to my career: Not being accountable to a partner meant I could live with minimal sleep, strategic time away from my laptop, and eating peculiarities that I’d never foist upon another living being. These are sacrifices I’m grateful to have made, but that I would never expect anyone I’m dating to tolerate.
Buying a house feels like giving a gift to that tired, restless, and desperately single woman I was only a short time ago. It feels foreign to be kind to her even as I come to appreciate all that she gave me and continues to give me. Even if my most substantial gift to her ends up being a larger structure in which to endure yet more solitude, it will be worth it. I will experiment on it with décor, scents, and sounds until I find ones that feel most like home. I will learn, for better or worse, how far my money can go. And instead of a life characterized by chaos and motion, I will have my own little piece of the world.