You changed, and so should your dreams!
When you recognize that it’s time to reinvent – whether it’s your own choice or it’s forced upon you – you’ll inevitably need to make some shifts in the way you view success, contentment, and life dreams. When my husband and I decided to divorce, our dream house no longer matched our reality. This is my story about how I transitioned from one life vision to the next, the bumps I felt along the way, and how I’m better for the bruises.
“We got yer future plans right here!”
I grew up in the 1960’s and 70’s and, like so many young women of my socioeconomic class, I was handed a template for my future. It will probably sound familiar to you if you came of age during this time since we were bombarded by images of our potential selves when we watched television or read magazines. Likewise, the message was reinforced when we spoke to our friends or listened to the advice of well-meaning family members. The path to happiness looked something like this:
- Go to college.
- Choose a field of study/career that will allow you to also care for a family.
- Find a husband (preferably while in college).
- Spend some time being a couple and a career-woman (but not too much time).
- Buy a house in the suburbs.
- Have your children and balance motherhood with a career.
- Live happily ever after.
I carried around a mental version of that path-to-happiness, but the years flew by, and I still hadn’t checked many of those boxes. When I did finally meet the man who would become my husband, I was in my late 30s, which didn’t give us too much time to spend alone as a couple (#4 on the list). But we were older, had some money, and were prepared to buy real estate. I was more than ready to get started on my “path.”
Now, the specifics of a dream house are as different as the people who search for them. But for my fiancée and me, we could define our dream house by one important factor: a dwelling that neither of us could have expected to own when we were growing up in modest, middle-class homes.
We made a down-payment on that dream in 2001. It was a spacious, newly built house with modern appliances, 3800+ square feet, and on a huge lot with many trees. Now that we had settled into our house, we were ready to expand on our dream: Shortly after getting married, we would start our family in this sweet, little village located just far enough outside of the big city and situated in a highly-rated school district.
[Cue the melancholic music that starts to fade under as the solemn voice-over begins]:
“Fifteen years later, we put that dream house up for sale.”
We separated in 2014, and my then-spouse moved out immediately. When he left it wasn’t clear when we would sign divorce papers, but after twenty months of paying for two residences, it became more difficult to afford that scenario.
So, in the winter of 2016, I consulted three real estate agents. My dream home was suddenly scrutinized for its ability to become someone else’s dream.
Since I was living in the house, I was the one who was tasked with project-managing updates to ensure top dollar for our home. I spent weeks purchasing lighting fixtures, buying new carpet, interviewing painters to cover nearly every inside wall, and getting rid of the massive amount of clutter that accumulates in fifteen years.
Turning my house into a fixer-upper when the goal was to sell it wasn’t much fun since I was prettying up the home with the knowledge I would have to leave it. I began to resent the house that was now redefined as a source of financial insecurity instead of a haven in an affluent suburb.
The work winds down and the anxiety ramps up
The house projects were complete, but my anxiety increased once the sale of the house went live. Here are some of the things I worried about:
- How long would it take for the house to sell?
- Would we be able to afford to pay for it if it didn’t sell right away?
- How was I going to keep the house clean with two pre-teen boys?
- How would I be able to clear out all of the clutter once the house did sell?
- Would I be able to find a new place to live within the school district that I could afford?
- Would I be able to get a mortgage after not having worked for so many years?
- Would I be able to find a job after not having worked for so many years?
We accept a crummy offer and the hard work begins again.
We listed the house during a “cold” market period. What rotten fate! All of the money and work we put into our home didn’t pay off, and we delved lower than I thought we ever would on price. We received a disappointing offer, but we were desperate and we accepted it. And now the hard part was over.
BUT IT WAS NOT! I had to find a new home – and a way to pay for it – in 45 days! Since I had been scanning the real estate web sites/apps for months, I found a reasonable property in two days. Ah, but then I had to secure a mortgage.
Here is where I see that a not-so-quick sale of my house was actually a silver lining in the storm cloud. My ex and I were not officially divorced while the house was on the market yet, serendipitously, he had begun to pay spousal support exactly six months before we were to close the sale. If you don’t know already, lenders need to see at least six months of support payments if there isn’t another source of steady income.
However, I still had to gather enough cash to afford a sizeable down payment. I cashed in savings bonds and other investment accounts and was able to get my mortgage. That news was a much welcome relief.
So close, but still so much to do!
But hold on! There was stuff to be thrown out or sold, and items to be packed! I don’t think I used my brain for anything other than logistics during the two weeks before the close. I was almost completely running on auto-pilot and had given up nearly any sentimentality about tangible items.
In a last ditch effort to clear the house and walk away with a little cash, I enlisted the services of an estate sales firm. Most of the items were leave-behinds that my ex didn’t have room to store, and there were plenty of ‘em!
To this day, I can’t recall why I made the decision to get rid of particular things. Yes, I was living in a fog of exhaustion but I also like to think it was some kind of cleansing process. My kids like to think that their mom was cruel for purging so many of their toys, but I was just trying to find a way to keep moving forward in the process.
The Deal is Done and a New Dream Has Begun (No, those are not Disney lyrics)
It’s easy for me to see why I was all business and no sentiment during that nearly nine-month sales-process. I experienced a fight-or-flight response directly related to being able to keep a roof over my family’s head.
But I’ve lived in my new home for nine months and I still haven’t fully mourned the loss of my former dream. I wonder if I will, or if I was simply able to psychologically understand the need to leave that dream in the past.
My current house is a lot older than my last one. Built in 1976, there are many obvious flaws, and I can’t easily fix most of them. While I sometimes feel envious of the other homeowners in the community whose homes resemble my earlier dream, my newfound sense of empowerment and freedom help to deaden that twinge.
I see my current house as a symbol of my strength and persistence, and it is most definitely mine. I never felt that way about my former house, even though I did contribute to it financially. Truth is, the former house represented a “past” life, so to speak. I’m no longer the woman who lived a timid and insecure existence in a fancy abode. That woman realized that she had abilities and talents and that she could survive as a divorcee. It was necessary for her to wake up from one dream and start building another.
That’s where I am now, in the messy dream-building business. The end result will be more satisfying because I’m constructing it myself, with my own needs and desires in mind.
Are you working on rebuilding former dreams? How is that going? I’d love for you to share your story in the comments.