MaryElizabeth Williams, author of Gimme Shelter, shares how her search for the perfect home (in Manhattan) changed her perspective on love, life and happiness.
Q: Why made you want to buy a house?
A: There were a variety of factors. I had my second child at the peak of the housing bubble, and the desire to give my children something that didn’t feel month-to-month, along with the relentless message out there of what George Bush called “the ownership society,” really got to me. I was very swept up in the feeling that this was something I had to do.
Q: What did you want in a home? Did you have a long list?
A: Buying a home is a lot like falling in love – you have your list, but it goes pretty far out the window when you see something that captures your heart. I was very adamant about not buying beyond our means, no matter how much we wanted the place or how tempting the deal. And I was firm about staying in the city. It’s true what they say, the three most important things are location, location, and location. I cared more about being in a great neighborhood with a good school than getting a lot of space somewhere I didn’t want my family to be.
Q: Did searching for a house change your perspective on what might make you happy?
A: The search – and the acquisition – definitely changed my perspective on a lot of things. I thought a home would give us a measure of security that I hadn’t felt myself growing up. Instead, my husband lost his job the same week we closed, and my marriage went on the rocks. I still love my home and feel very happy to have it, but it didn’t give me a magic happily ever after.
Q: What was the toughest part, emotionally, about trying to find a house?
A: The demoralizing experience of looking at dozens of miserable places was pretty bad, but the conflict it brought to my marriage was the real sucker punch. My husband and I had never been so opposed about what we wanted and how we wanted to get it as we were about ownership. Home ownership forces you to look at a lot of hard stuff – money, security, community, what you want for your children. The whole process drove a huge wedge between us.
Q: Were you able to find something that works?
A: It look a long time – three years of searching – but yes! Our place is very small and it doesn’t get much light. But it’s really charming, in a beautiful neighborhood, and I absolutely consider this my home. It’s the classic relationship story — it isn’t perfect, but it somehow works, and I can’t imagine being anywhere else. Well, at least for now.