Setting the Stage

Once upon a time, a single gal graduated from college and set off into the world. After landing the first appropriately sucky job and tiny, overpriced apartment, she set her sights on bigger and better things. But the nebulous “bigger and better” wasn’t enough to drive her to the better job and better life. She needed to qualify and quantify her ambitions.

“I know!” she thought to herself, daydreaming while answering phones for an association of specialty nurses. “I will own my own home by the time I turn 25.”

It was a tall order, given her debt and paltry income. However, she had set high bars before and hurdled them with the right mix of planning, strategy, sacrifice and a bit of luck.

With time, the gal got promoted, which lined her up for an even better job with slightly more money. She moved to a slightly less overpriced urban apartment and brought her lunch to work. She clipped coupons and logged her grocery savings, transferring the savings into her house fund every month.

After a false start at age 23, when her potential mortgage lender fought back a chortle when presented with her financial situation, the magic age began to loom larger. The dream had evolved, though, from a condo in the city to a suburban house with a yard. Pouring over hundreds of listings online, the dream evolved further as far as size and scope.

Finally, ten weeks before my 25th birthday, I closed on my slice of the American dream: a three bedroom house on a quarter acre of crabgrass, built in the 1920s, loaded with charm, character and a new kitchen. To make the financials work, trade-offs were made. I’m forty miles from my job in downtown Chicago, but within easy walking distance of the train that can whisk me there in an hour.

In the twenty months since I closed on my house, I’ve had my fair share of joys, triumphs, mini-disasters and frustrations. I’ve known the satisfaction of figuring out how to properly wield a caulk gun – and proudly noticed the ensuing disappearance of a draft. I’ve bawled at the fourteen inches of icy snow that took two days to shovel. I’ve almost killed myself, slipping on ice while hauling my very first Christmas tree from the car to the house. I’ve climbed up a ladder to clean my gutters, only to realize that maybe doing so while alone wasn’t such a good idea. I’ve shooed various species of insects from most rooms of the house, chased a bat out of my enclosed porch, and am in the midst of an on-going staring contest with the raccoon that poops on my garage.

At the same time, I’ve reflected about buying a house in general. It’s a big process and a big step. Several of my friends have taken the same plunge, some as married couples, some as singletons, and some in between. But in the course of our conversations, the singletons have all observed that this would not have been possible decades ago.

Back in the old days, girls typically went directly from their parents’ house to a household with their husbands. There was no in between. That gap has evolved from dorms to apartments to full-fledged home ownership. No longer do women feel the need to wait for Prince Charming to start building their own home equity. Indeed, with women marrying later and making enough to afford a home, especially in the recent buyers’ market, it’s more common than ever for single women to buy.

Home ownership is one of the largest declarations of independence a single woman can make. In my case, it affirmed that I wasn’t going to wait around for a boy to make up his mind about me and a future; rather, I was taking matters into my own hands. Though I had a lot of support, I did hear rumblings that making such a bold move might dampen my prospects for a future marriage, since a man might be intimidated. I haven’t found that to be the case, but it’s an interesting theory worth considering. How does a modern, working woman balance her need for independence with other, more traditional needs? Deep down, do women want and need to be protected and taken care of?

In 1982, Colette Dowling published The Cinderella Complex: Women’s Hidden Fear of Independence, theorizing that women inherently want men to take care of them, sometimes sabotage their own success to achieve a more traditional gender role balance.

So how does Cinderella having a mortgage affect this dynamic?

This blog will serve as my forum to further flesh out and explore these ideas, as well as recount the growing pains of home ownership. Comments and feedback are very, very welcome.


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