Buying real estate forces Audrey to internally face some questions.
Hoo boy, things have been a little heavy around the old Ference-Smith house of late. See, I've come into some money. Which is awesome. But it has changed the conversation about buying an apartment from, "I'd really love to buy someday when we've saved enough for a down payment" to, "OK, now, what's this whole mortgage thing again?"
Which is a little scary. I mean, I do want to buy an apartment. Like a lot. After this spring's getting kicked out of our place debacle, I look forward to living somewhere that I am in control of. And unlike many of my friends, the commitment of home buying doesn't seem scary to me.
I guess because we can't afford to borrow a lot—our mortgage payments wouldn't be much more than we pay in rent—so it's not like we'd take on some huge financial burden. And if we wanted to live somewhere else for a while, we'd just rent it out. The New York rental market being what it is, I don't think we'd be "tied down" just by owning a place.
It's just that, well, I didn't think this time would come so quickly. Frank and I have been saving money, but since I'm a nonprofit employee by day and a writer by night, and he's a copyeditor by day and a writer by night, we are not exactly big earners. I sort of figured it would take us a good five or so years to save a meager 10% down payment.
And now suddenly we (well, technically I) have 20% ready to go. Which again: yay! But also: holy shit! Because there is a lot of stuff to figure out when you are thinking about buying an apartment with someone. Obviously, there's a lot to learn about the process, which is pretty overwhelming at first: lenders, points, property tax, first time home buyer programs, closing costs, inspections, timing the market, all the mazillions of things renters never think about. Those things are learnable, though scary.
Second, there are the sorts of preliminary decisions you have to make as relatively non-rich people buying property in a relatively expensive area. Basically, deciding what compromises you are willing to make. Is it better to buy a small crappy apartment in a fancy area? A great place in a farther away area? A neighborhood that is much less cool but close to an area we like versus an area that is clearly going to be cool in a few years but harder to get out of?
And discussions of those questions, the"what do have to have, what can we live without" discussions, are the ones that lead into really deep waters. Because suddenly we need to talk about stuff like whether or not my assumption that we'll be a childless couple is shared (no, it turns out.) How sure both parties are that we're in it for the long haul (pretty sure, to my surprise.) What kind of contract we'd need to get drawn up for this thing, whether we'd just share it all 50/50 or work out some kind of weird plan where I own more shares of the house because I'm paying the down payment. And from there, how exactly we're thinking of finances and sharing in a larger sense these days.
Conversations that draw tighter and tighter circles around the Big Question neither of us really are sure of the answer to yet: should we just get married? And if not, what?
For so long we've kind of gone happily along, committed but not in any official sense. And I like that because it feels organic and genuine. But these conversations have made me realize that by not directly addressing the uncomfortable issues of what exactly our shared future might look like, and exactly how shared that future even will be, I've made a lot of untrue assumptions about what Frank wants out of our relationship. And, well, life, I guess.
It's hard for me to bring this stuff up, because it is so stereotypically a "girl" thing to do—pressuring a guy about commitment or future plans. But I am also by nature a planner aheader. I don't want to be 35 and living in a one-bedroom apartment when Frank suddenly turns to me and says, "Hey let's have a kid!"
So it's strange to talk about it and it's strange to bring it up. And it's strange to be in a place where if we're going ahead with this house thing, we actually need to know where we stand with money stuff and legal stuff and future stuff.
Even stranger, I guess, is that I'm not even sure what my answers to these questions are anymore. I have been such a staunch hater of marriage and children my whole adolescent/adult life, and have absolutely reviled the idea—often shared with me by wives and mothers—that once I find the "right" person, my opinions will change.
The concept annoyed me because I hated the idea that there's one magical perfect person out there for everyone; I hated the idea that ultimately the man has the transformative power in all heterosexual relationships; and I extra hated the implied notion that my hormones would overpower what my rational mind had decided.
Suddenly, though, I don't know what I think any more. I've realized that most of the scary commitment stuff, like knowing you'd be devastated if your partner left you, or the combining of finances and families, happens in a committed relationship whether you marry or not. It's not something you can magically stave off by not wearing a ring.
Also, though, it is very Frank-based. I don't want to get married. If I were single, I wouldn't long for it. But I would love to be married to Frank. I don't want kids, but I would consider the idea (internet, this is not a solid yes) of having a kid with Frank. I don't want that stuff for itself, but only insomuch as I like Frank and whatever sorts of things need to be done to build a life together, I'll do them. Which is of course what those women were trying to tell me, I was just too dumb to understand.
Talking with my sister and me recently about marriage and families and all that stuff, my mom said something along the lines of how things were simpler when she was making those decisions and even though she had no idea what she was getting into, she just did them and learned as she went. And how she wasn't sure if our way—the neurotic, over-thinking and over-planning way (my words, not hers)—was better. It's a tough call, Mom. I'm not sure either any more. About anything.