Starter Home, Starter Marriage

Filed under: Opinions

starter home

Illustration by Dori Hartley


Apparently, my house has realized that the girls and I will be leaving it sooner rather than later.

Within the past 24 hours, the toilet has begun leaking copiously from its base. In addition, the washing machine -- my go-to appliance, the appliance I clung to while in labor with my second child, the appliance I use more often than my stove -- now refuses to drain.

They are in cahoots, clearly, my toilet and my washer. I am holding my breath, just waiting for the dryer to get in on the passive-aggressive shenanigans.

As I mopped up water from the bathroom floor last night, I found myself muttering, "Dear Old House, let's work on some productive coping skills, please?" Neither the toilet nor the washing machine answered. Silent treatment.

They are not happy, not at all.

I moved into this house with a husband and a 2-month-old in the summer of 2001. In realtor-speak, it's the quintessential "starter home," a term I despise. True, it's nothing fancy, not even close.

Built in 1903, the house looks like most of the other modest homes that line the streets of our New England town. Bland, vaguely gray aluminum siding. Two floors. Inside, two-and-a-half bedrooms. One-and-a-half baths. Splintering pine floors. Cracking plaster. Terrible paneling. Always-damp dirt and stone basement. Unusable attic full of pink insulation and, occasionally, mice.

At barely 1,200 square-feet, our home was small by plenty of people's standards, but in 2001, it was just right for us. We were fleeing the astronomical prices and exhausting bustle of Manhattan, after all. We couldn't believe our luck: A home in the country!

Compared to our $1250-a-month New York City apartment, this was a castle. We were two adults, two dogs and a baby, and we'd managed to snag this little house for a song. Life was good. We'd find our way, we figured. We'd find work, eventually.

Love would conquer all.

We worried about surprisingly little, in retrospect. I marvel now at the sweetness of our hope, our optimism.

In the decade after our move to New England, we watched many of our friends move up, trade up, to bigger homes, with big-ticket home renovations. But we stayed put -- certainly there was no choice, financially. Still, I had high hopes, grand hopes, for this decidedly un-grand little home.

I imagined we would live in our hillside cottage for decades, getting by, making do with less space as we slowly restored the house to something resembling its original state. I longed to tear down the aluminum siding and repair the mustard-gold wood beneath. "We'll get there," I kept telling myself. "We'll get there. It's just not the time."

We did not get there. We will never get there, because there is no longer a "we."

I did not expect my washing machine -- or my mortgage -- to outlast my marriage. I remember years ago coming across the phrase "starter marriage," and thinking it was one of the most crass pairing of words I'd ever encountered. "Starter home" and "starter marriage:" I hate both concepts, because "starter" negates the goodness, the hope, of both ventures. "Starter" implies, "I know I'll be done with you eventually."

I never felt that way, about my husband or my house. I would never want to feel that way, about any home, about any partner. I want to see the possibilities for growth, for expansion, for evolution -- always. People and places are beautiful, profoundly so, and I have no intention of forgetting why, not ever.

I don't mind if that makes me a fool.

I do mind, however, if all of my appliances mutiny before I can move on to the next place, the next beautiful possibilities.

House, I will always love you. Now behave.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.