Friday, October 21, 2011

Adult problems

At the risk of airing our dirty laundry, we're having a hard time right now. It's been difficult for Greg to feel ownership in the house. He doesn't feel like the house is ours, mostly because it's mine. He misses living in walking distance from a coffee shop and his bus commute is not ideal. He'd rather live in a house that he helped pick out. And I totally get it. If the tables were turned I'd be in revolt and he'd be putting the house on the market. I've been a house dictator and he's been a total champ about it.

I have always said I wouldn't sell my house unless I got married. And I probably wouldn't sell it even then. This is my nest egg, something I was barely able to do on my own (and my parents helped me so I really didn't do it on my own). I've seen so many women get screwed over in divorces/breakups, downgraded to apartment living and a dramatically reduced income because their earning power (which is still only 78% of a man's to begin with) diminished while they were raising children. I don't ever want that for myself.

When I bought my house I was in a job I hated. After going to grad school for three years for what I thought was my dream career, I found myself in a job that I took no enjoyment from. I felt like I completely lost my personality in the two years that followed. I was very, very down. And then I bought this house and I feel like I got my mojo back. All of the sudden I had the creative outlet that I was missing at work. And solving my own problems in the house (like a clogged pipe or a broken bathroom sink) made me feel capable. Every time I was able to do something on my own I felt less adrift and more empowered. And I started writing again, in the form of this blog, and I found this fantastic network of supportive people. (And after four terrible years I finally got a new job!)

I don't do well in shades of gray when it comes to property. I won't sell my house or put someone else on the title unless we have a binding contract, like marriage. But I'm not ready to get married anytime soon and Greg isn't sure he ever wants to get married. So we're left in this weird space where he doesn't want to drop money into a space that isn't his, and I don't want to sell (let's not even go into the fact that the economy tanked and I'd probably lose money selling the house), and HOLY SHIT how do same-sex couples deal with this bullshit when they can't legally marry?

When I suggest painting a room together or rearranging furniture or something he's only interested in painting the basement black, which . . .  dude. No. Just . . . no. See? House dictator.

I'm happy to limp along and worry about this stuff later but it rears its head frequently when you live in a fixer. The house needs to be painted and the floors need to be refinished. Should he pay for half or should I pay for all of it (which means it won't happen any time soon)? Should he get input on new curtains if he's not paying for them and he doesn't really care? I try to tell myself that this is all just stuff, that a fire could wipe out my house and then wouldn't I realize that relationships are more important than the box you live in? But this box is all wrapped up in my financial future and my sense of worth. So, yeah. Does anybody have any insight? Am I being stubborn or selfish? I find myself thinking how much easier this would be if we were poor and in our twenties. But we're grown-ass adults, with investments and life paths that we started without each other. The whole house feels like a wagonwheel coffee table right now.

The upside to all this moping I've been doing? I bought myself that climbing hydrangea 'Moonlight' to make myself feel better. Would I have bought it anyway? Probably. Shut up.


  1. I could write you a book about the problems S and I had this summer, while I was living in his condo. Feeling like I had to put the mustard a certain place in the fridge, or I had too much lettuce, or my stuff should be in this cabinet, not that one. I often reminded myself that I would literally have been EXACTLY as much of a control freak as he was, had our roles been reversed -- but that didn't really make it easier.

    I don't have an answer to this problem, seriously. What I do know is that everybody kept saying to me, "it shouldn't be so hard, maybe your relationship is the problem," and I had just one friend who said to me, "No -- it IS that hard. You are two grown adults with lives of your own, and with fully formed personalities. Sometimes it's really hard." And in retrospect, I think she was right. So I hope you don't feel like something's the matter with you. (You haven't said so but I'm just throwing that out there pre-emptively).

    In other words: I have no advice but 100% sympathize. And although I don't think the two of you are close to splitsville or anything, let me just say out loud for the record that I think if S and I had found a way to deal with some of those issues related to one of us living in the other's space, we might still be together. If I could do it all again, I would ask myself, "Is having the colander on that shelf more important than my relationship?"

  2. Thank you, Jess! And I often feel like there's something wrong with me, so thank you for that. <3

  3. Although Brad & I bought our house together, because he is an architect with fancy degrees in art & historic restoration, and, well, architecture, our big problem is that my house desires are often dismissed as not coming from the expert. Obviously, we work through this (with fighting, natch), but I think that even when you're married (we are), and bought the house together (we did), there can often be unequal house rule.

    The best I can say is that, in terms of expenses at least, try to work out some kind of share - like 60/40 (and the financial share = input) and remember that it would never be easier if you were poor. Then you'd live even further away from coffee shops and on crappier bus lines. :) (Like on Tillamook & 82nd, where we accidentally lived when we first moved here - the only thing that was convenient to was hookers and drugs.)

  4. Oh god, I accidentally lived on 80th and Powell when I first moved here! It was terrible. And you are completely right--poverty never ever makes things easier. Do you at least get full reign over the yard?

    The easiest solution for all of this would be a new coffee shop opening nearby. And to somehow make my personality more laid-back. Thank you for your input!

  5. Hi! Here's your same-sex reader responding! It IS hard! Period.

    Here's the deal: my girlfriend has a house in the 'Couv. We live in my house in NE PDX. We've each owned our separate houses for over 15 years, so, yeah, invested in our spaces. Since my house is paid for (did I mention that we are much older than you? 50's), there is no need for her to contribute financially to the retaining of the house. But, she feels that since she doesn't have to pay rent/mortgage here then she should contribute in kind. Because she is basically living rent free. The big bonus is that she is in the building trades. The downside is that she is severely underemployed. The upside is that she can do lots of stuff and likes doing it. But has very little spare cash for projects. It's all yin and yang all over the place.

    BUT, it's my house. She will make a suggestion and I get to have the final say. If it were her house we were living in, yeah, she'd get the final say. Surprisingly, it's over the gardening that we've had more arguments. "If you prune that Philadelphus one more time I'm going to cut your arms off!" That would be me. On the plus side, if I say, "My idea for this area is... ", I'll come home a couple of days later and it will be done. Nice!

    It's a balancing act. We try to be considerate of each other's feelings and respect the fact that the other person does actually own the property. That matters. And sometimes I just say, "Oh do whatever you want, babe." And it usually turns out just fine.

    However - and this is big - a woman must always keep her property and investments. It's okay to be stubborn about your financial health and self worth. If he had a property and you both sold your houses and invested in one together, equally, that would be a different matter. As it is, you did this on your own. Good for you! Be confident that this is yours and yes, you get the final say.

    Btw, does he pay any rent?

  6. Heather, I know we discussed some of this before, but it was more in the form of bill and mortgage paying. I have a bit more insight now that Nick and I are embarking on a kitchen remodel together.

    First though, let me back up and say that certain issues just come with living together, no matter who owns the home. If Nick and I were renting an apartment, we would still need curtains and bedding and furniture. And while I likely will care more about the style (and trick him with some big designer words), Nick will definitely have an opinion. I would say that the decisions on these sorts of things usually sway more in my direction, but I've really tried to make a conscious effort to include several of the things he wants too. Fortunately, our styles are not too dramatically different.

    When it comes to more of the brick and mortar issues though, the majority of the financial responsibility is on me, because it is my investment. And I'm fine with that because he owns his own home. But we also want to enjoy the perks of our dual-income-no-kids status. And we both want a new kitchen. So Nick is actually making an "investment" in my home. We are drafting up paper work that shows he will get the same percentage of investment back if I decide to sell, or if, god forbid, we break up. I know it is so much more of a business relationship than a romantic one, but it'll be plenty romantic when we are making out in our new kitchen:)

  7. e, thank you for your insight. You've simultaneously made me feel better and also grateful that we don't have a second house thrown in the mix! That sounds like a tightrope act, albeit one you're acing. He does pay rent, half the mortgage, which is considerably less than when he rented.

    I'm now a little jealous, too. My Philadelphus never got big enough to require pruning. :)

  8. Thank you, Krissy! Did you have to hire a lawyer for your paperwork on the kitchen? I'm really interested in this idea, though it makes me nervous too. What if we broke up and all of the sudden I owed him a bunch of money? I suspect you have been better with your money than I have, though. :)

  9. The Husband and I have been together since I was 18 so we didn't have any "adult" responsibilities to contend with when we decided to move in together and then get married after college. For that we were extremely lucky because even though we acquired everything we now own together there was a huge disparity in our incomes and that caused a lot of fights, so on that front I can relate. I won't get into specifics because our situation was so much different than what you're going through now, but I'll say the thing that kept us together was open and honest communication, even when one of us (not me!) was being petulant or domineering. We had to hear each other. We could scream and pout and call each other names (that'd be me) but we made sure that we always took the time to talk and understand where the person was coming from even if we didn't like it. And then we had to compromise. Regardless of what the specific dynamics are in any relationship, compromise, I think, is at the heart of harmony (provided it's not the same person doing all the compromise - give & take is good). Good luck!

  10. Thanks, Becky. We're pretty darn good communicators but these financial issues are *so* sticky. Lucky you to have been with your husband for so long!

  11. After nearly 10 years of marriage the thing we fight most about to this day is money. Our incomes aren't so disparate anymore so I yell louder. :-)

  12. Oh, I'm not so sure I've been better with my money. If so, I'd be doing this remodel all on my own without compromise:) We are actually looking into all the paperwork now, and we may end up hiring a lawyer, but so far it looks like we should be ok with just getting an appraisal and using legal documents we found online.

    This should make you nervous!! Just as nervous as any new level of commitment would. I think I told you about how we weren't getting rid of any of our extra stuff for 1 year?? Well, we celebrated a successful year of living together by selling all of our duplicates at a garage sale and making over $300. It has also taken that 1 year+ to make me feel comfortable with this financial commitment. Yes, it's a risk. And yes, it will suck big-time if I have to take out a loan to pay him back. But like Greg, I'm not so sure that marriage is the path for me, so this is just one of my ways of committing.

  13. Loree/ danger gardenDecember 23, 2011 at 9:46 AM

    Oh my, I feel your pain. When we started dating I owned my home and he was renting an apt. Then he had a great job offer in another city (Portland) and the boss wanted him so bad he paid to move both of us (and all my stuff, his would have fit in his it was we ended up with the largest uhaul and towed his car full of plants with me driving behind), we had talked about getting married but didn't get engaged until a week before we moved. We rented for a year in Portland and then bought a house together. The down payment came from selling my house, but now he's making the mortgage payment and I'm unemployed. It was really tough to leave my house behind, and to sell. That first year I would cry off and on for what appeared to be no reason but made perfect sense to was mine and I left it behind! Of course now I wouldn't want to go back (I'm gardening in zone 8 and left behind zone 5) but it was really hard for a long time. He could have never ever moved into my house, he would have always felt like a visitor...and I'm afraid I wouldn't have helped....

    I realize I'm not offering any words of wisdom...just saying I understand your position. Maybe something unexpected will come along that changes things for you!

  14. Would it help him to have a space of his own that he's free to do with what he pleases? I love me a black room my the way. It seems drastic to sell your house based on proximity to a coffee shop etc. Regardless of whether you stay or go somewhere new it always takes time to make a home 'ours' as opposed to 'mine'.

    Wagon wheel coffee table... I may need to revisit that wee gem of a movie.

  15. Laura btw not chevron. Just got this iPad and it's messin with my words.

  16. Loree, you're awesome. Thank you!

  17. I love that movie so much! I should probably just give him the basement to paint as he pleases. The funny thing is that he would probably never do it, since he hates painting. :)

  18. Lucky girl! Now please post more photos of your yard.

  19. I bought my first house as a swinging' single gal, so it was totally my own. I had a succession of boy and girlfriends while I owned it (I had a pretty short attention span for most relationships) and I accepted input and help from them, but it definitely came down to me to decide what actually happened. We decided pretty quickly that we were ass-over-teakettle in lurve and it was only a matter of months before he moved in. At that point, I mentally made a leap, that I was cool with him having an equal or nearly equal say in house projects. We ended up deciding to move (I got a new job in a different part of the state) so then all our house projects were motivated by needing to sell - not to either of our personal tastes -so it was pretty easy. Then we bought a house together, so we're both on the mortgage. But I remain the primary breadwinner, so I do feel like if something horrible happened, I'd be okay. But anyway, for house projects now, we make most decisions together, and we have pretty similar tastes, so it works out pretty easily.

    Now that I've bored you with all that detail about me, here's my take on your sitch. If it were me and I thought he'd be around for the long haul and he's contributing to the payments and projects and has committed to doing so for the long haul/foreseeable future, I'd give him half(ish) say, subject to discussion and agreement (same as K and I have now - we don't do big projects without talking about it first, even though we have an equal stake in the property). I admit I'd still feel some sense of mine-ness about the house since you bought it on your own, though. But I think that would be easier than trying to sell and giving up all you've already invested.

  20. Oops! Missed a sentence there before the falling in love bit - there should be something about meeting my now-hub there.

  21. I think it's totally fine for you to have deal-breakers. Black paint seems like a really reasonable one, too!

  22. I have absolutely no helpful advice and for that I'm sorry but I just really hope everything works out for you!!

  23. Hi,
    I've been lurking around your blog for awhile but this issue struck home so I thought I'd actually comment. My ex and I bought our first house together about a year before we got married. The downpayment was entirely my money. Once we were married my ex wanted to make sure that that he got equal say in house matters. He was afraid I was going to feel it was MY house since I made the downpayment . He thought that married couples should stop thinking of things as yours and mine, but instead think of them as ours, no matter who paid for them originally. I was the primary breadwinner for most of our marriage, but we always tried to come to agreements on house issues. This always bothered me a little. After all, it WAS my money we were spending. Shouldn't I have more say? But it seemed hard to fault his logic.
    Fast forward seven years. We are divorced. The ex took half of the contents and proceeds of the house which includes half the original downpayment. I just bought a new house ( a 1928 fixer) and this one is mine, all mine, mwhahahahaha! If I ever end up in another long term relationship, the final house decisions will remain with me unless the new man puts in an equal amount of money, meaning he buys half the house from me.
    Long story short (too late), I would advise that you maintain control over that which you own. You worked hard for it. Any reasonable person would understand completely were the tables turned. That said, good relationships need good communication. Listen to his opinions and let him know they are valued. Let him make some (non permanent) decisions like basement paint or curtains, but don't turn over your control or your dollars in the name of love. You may regret it.
    Sorry for rambling!

  24. Audrey, thanks so much for giving me your two cents--this is so helpful! This is precisely what I worry about, and I think you bring up a really good point about putting in for half the investment. I'm sorry you lost your first house but congrats on your new one! 1928 is a great year :)

  25. Similar situation here. Librarian. Unmarried to the guy. House dictator.
    Uhhhh, until you're married you DO get to be the House Dictator. But I'd call it the House Goddess. We have a sign in the kitchen: Be reasonable, do it my way!
    Really, I bought it. It's mine. There are a lot of arguments about if he rents, la la la. Doesn't matter. I can soft-petal it, but the facts are the facts. It was my money in the downpayment, my money on the mortgage. My money for all the improvements, regardless of sweat equity. Doesn't one put in sweat equity in any home one lives in? Didn't I do that too?
    That's not much help, but there ya go. I think I would be different were the tables turned. Hm.