I bought a house and now I’m crying every day

Write for Advice
 Cary’s classic column from FRIDAY, JAN 26, 2007

I think I made a big mistake. Home ownership isn’t what I thought it would be.


Dear Cary:

I am 35 years old, and we recently bought our first house. I have cried every day since. Our house is an older fixer-upper. All I could see when we looked at it was lots of potential. Most of my TV time is spent watching shows like “Flip This House” or “Designed to Sell.” They make it look so easy. There were so many red flags, but for some reason I persisted. I was determined I could do it, and now I am consumed by guilt and regret. My fiancé did not want to buy this house but agreed to because he wanted to make me happy.

We were able to get a mortgage, with no money down, that covered the closing costs. We have no savings and love to spend money. I had it in my mind that this would be a good way for us to get our finances in order, as we would have to start saving money. I know this sounds ridiculous, but I was so consumed with the American dream of owning a house to raise my son in and having the dog, garage, etc., that I lost sight of the true picture.

This dream has turned into a nightmare. I think too much emphasis is put on the ultimate dream of being a homeowner. Along with being a homeowner comes great, great responsibility, and this is a very scary thing. I now feel that maybe I am not cut out to be a homeowner. I doubted myself along the way, but everyone kept saying, “You will be so happy,” and, “It is the best investment you will ever make.”

We have the finances to make the payments and start saving, but I still cannot get past the sadness I feel. Looking back, I never had a great feeling about this, but I blamed it on the amount of work we needed to do on the house and the overwhelming task of moving.

I think we could sell and make what we have put into the house so far, and at this point, I am even willing to take a loss. This is a heavy, heavy burden that has left me feeling so empty. Is this something that will pass, or should I try to get out now so I can get my sanity back? I know I used poor judgment and made a mistake that will not be easily fixed, but I don’t want to spend the rest of my life in this lonely, sad place that I am at right now. Please help.

Sincerely,
Melissa

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Dear Melissa,

If you are crying every day and you feel much guilt and remorse, I would suggest getting checked out to see if you are having more than just the usual “I just bought a house” jitters. Do you have someone you can go to — a psychiatrist or clinical psychologist? It might be nothing, but it might be biochemical in nature. It’s always best to find out.

I’m no doctor. That’s why I’m suggesting you see one.

I’m no paragon of emotional stability, either, and I do recall feeling Oh My God What Have We Done after my wife and I purchased our first — and only — house in 1997. There was some feeling also of letdown after intense drama. Houses act powerfully on the psyche, that’s for sure.

So check in with somebody, a psychotherapist or psychiatrist. It may be something as simple as a hormonal letdown after months of anxiety and adrenaline-fueled highs; you may just need to spend a month eating three square meals a day, exercising and getting eight hours sleep.

Barring anything biochemical, perhaps things in your psyche have come together in this house-buying experience in a kind of perfect storm. Houses can bring all our insanities together within four walls, consolidating all our emotional debt into one huge monthly freakout. And maybe that’s what it is. The house could also be a metaphor for your ambivalence about commitment versus staying free, and all your fear about being tied down and not having choices — and you have a son and a fiancé, which indicates you may also be teetering on the brink of marriage/not marriage. Perhaps you’ve avoided this kind of panic before by not pulling the trigger.

But you wanted to see if you could do it and you did it. Good for you. I do that too. I want to see if I can do it because I’ve never done it before and always wondered. Like doing a remodel: Wonder what that’s like. Now I know. It makes your house pretty. But you go insane.

We adults do these things. We move big sums of money around. We make debt. We have kids. We do big adult things that that are hard to reverse. It’s not play. Maybe that’s what makes it scary: Play is reversible; you can start the game over again; you can knock down a Lego house and build it right back up again. But a real house is a house is a house is a house.

Up to a point. You do have a choice. The house is the house is the house — but only if you let the house be the house be the house. You can always sell the house sell the house sell the house. (Is there an editor in the house? Will somebody please stop me stop me stop me?)

The house can go away is what I’m saying, and you will still be the same person. You may be right that home ownership is not all it’s cracked up to be. You can say, You know what, I’d rather rent. Who needs all this responsibility? (Personally, I give serious thought to the joys of carefree apartment living about once a day.)

So take a deep breath and say out loud, I can always sell the house. I don’t have to do this if I don’t want to.

Say out loud: Either way I will be OK.

The house is not going to kill you. It’s just a place to sleep at night.

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