A Home of One's Own

For 20 years, she yearned for her own plot of land. Then she saw a little country house and decided that a single woman really could settle down solo.

By Lisa Schwarzbaum

Single Occupancy

For someone who has dreamed of owning a home for two decades, I’ve come up with some creative reasons over the years for why I shouldn’t. For instance, I live and work in New York City, but the house I want is a retreat in a rustic river valley, and really, who needs the aggravation of upkeep on a place you can’t get to by subway? I’m secure in a rental apartment, and really, who needs the aggravation of a mortgage and a driveway that requires plowing whether or not you’re there to admire the snow? Or how about this one: The deer that look so atmospheric when poised in country woods are purveyors of Lyme disease, and really, who needs the aggravation of chronic illness when you’ve just gotten your sun-shunning skin regimen in working order? Why go out of your way to live in a place that’s out of the way?

These are all practical and reasonable considerations, inventoried over the years as I have obsessively studied real estate listings while traveling north by train to visit friends.

But while I occasionally toured a house or two, I always found reasons why being a houseguest was preferable to being a house host. On my friends’ couch, I’d look up at the starry Hudson Valley sky and think of Laurie Colwin’s short story "The Lone Pilgrim," in which she says, "You cannot be a good houseguest and be married. Single, you carry only the uncluttered luggage of your own personality, selected and packed by only one pair of hands."

There it is. I’ve buried my biggest reason why not: I, a single woman, pack my own luggage with my own hands. I’ve been terrified of home ownership by myself. Shouldn’t I be hoarding my savings, following a conservative financial plan as a bulwark against bagladyship? What if I meet a man who changes the geographic contours of my life? Shouldn’t I remain unencumbered and flexible? What if I’m lonely in my country house — or become too self-sufficient, putting up a barrier against future love? What if I’m ambushed by bank-account-wrecking expenses brought on by catastrophes of plumbing and wildlife? What if a tree falls — on the house — and there’s no one there to hear it but me?

Home Alone

You already know where this is going. A survey from the National Association of Realtors reports that single women represented 21 percent of all buyers in 2005 — and they bought at twice the rate of single men. Nearly half of those women are over 40, including my friend Leah, who fell for a house on a lake two years ago.

I didn’t know these stats when, about 18 months ago, I felt the call of the semi-wild once again. The leaves were turning and the Catskills glowed. I picked up a home magazine — which I am, not surprisingly, addicted to — and fell in love with a photograph of a porch, framed by the nodding heads of late-summer hydrangeas. That old tickle of interest in perusing Realtor.com was back. This time, though, I decided to stare down anxiety: What was I waiting for? Prince Charming, a lottery windfall, a sense of security not likely to return anytime soon to my city, my country, or my planet? The only antidote, I decided, was taking action while I still had the means.

Which is how on a raw November day — the kind how-to books recommend for clear-eyed home shopping, when landscapes are stripped of foliage and charm — on one of many visits to my friends Steph and Paul, I saw A House. And it spoke to me: a dollhouse-small, 140-year-old charmer, cute as a velveteen divan, set at the end of a side road in a rural village by turns guileless and funky. The house had been saved from dereliction by two tasteful gay men, and renovated with thoughtful simplicity. There wasn’t much land, which was fine with me. Turn left and left again for acres and acres of protected woods, none of which I had to weed. But there was a big, bowing willow tree in the backyard and houses down the street, which was also fine with me: I wasn’t looking for the kind of isolation that Jack Nicholson had in The Shining. I could walk to a post office, a tiny grocery, a bakery, and the Hudson River itself. I could see myself living in this house, in this village, no matter who else happened by in my heart, or what else came to pass in this lifetime.

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