August 21, 2003
My ex-boyfriend and I had been engaging in some very dangerous activities lately. At first it started out as a rekindled friendship.
And then it grew into dinner dates, late nights and long talks. Then we crossed the "just friends" boundaries and got intimate. But the most dangerous activity was yet to come.
Mr. Ex had just sold his condo, and was shopping for a new house. I had just bought a place and considered myself a bit of a pro at the whole house-hunting game, so I offered to help him look for houses -- you know, be his "second eye" and "sounding board." He gratefully accepted my offer. Armed with the Saturday Real Estate section, a vague list of requirements and an even vaguer price range, we headed off to find him his perfect home.
I am a Fixer-Upper. I like to find a home that has some unique charm and character, whose exterior is a little bit shoddy. Then I can put my personal stamp on the property, gussy it up and make it my own. Mr. Ex explained that he was looking for something that was already "Perfect," and even though he couldn't articulate what "Perfection" was, he would know it when he saw it.
The first few houses we looked at were absolutely dismal -- complete teardowns. But then we found it -- perfection. It was a two-story Cape Cod with a big backyard. Every room was bright and open, the kitchen was huge and inviting and the layout was planned with such precision that not a single cabinet was out of place. The instant I walked into the house, I fell in love.
We spent nearly two hours in that house, waltzing from room to room, getting acquainted with it, feeling it out. He joked that we would have to expand the closet to fit all in all my shoes. We talked about puppy proofing the yard. We discussed which of the four bedrooms would be his office and which would be "guest rooms." But I started to wonder: Did he really intend all of those guest rooms to be guest rooms forever? Was he thinking that they would eventually serve another purpose -- for say, children? I brushed these foolish thoughts out of my mind.
As the real estate agent raced over, my heart started giving me unusual and unprecedented signals. I felt, well, giddy. First off, I was potentially watching someone spend a boatload of money, which, as a shameless shopper, I found quite exhilarating. But then I wondered if I had misjudged what kind of person Mr. Ex was. Why was he buying a "family" house? Was he the "family man" type? The swirl of the domestic fantasies made me hazy.
I went home that night and came down with a serious case of the crazies. And I knew why. That afternoon, part of me started to think: "If 8,000 highly unlikely things happen, things might actually work out with this guy."
And that night, the other, more reasonable part of me told the other half to shut up.
The next morning, I got on the phone with Mr. Ex and asked, "Well?"
"Did you get the house?"
"Nah," he sighed. "I decided not to get it."
I was seriously shocked and almost affronted, even though I knew in my heart it was never going to be my house to begin with.
"But why?" I asked, "It was perfect!"
"Was it though? Was it really?"
"What were the flaws?" I implored.
Well, he couldn't name any flaws. He admitted it was a) what he was looking for b) in his price range c) in his neighborhood and d) a flawless layout. So what was the problem?
"I don't know," he said, resigned. "How are you ever going to know what house is really ever going to be right?"
Realization struck. He had the perfect house. He grasped perfection -- and then he let it go. Somehow, that house seemed really symbolic -- and it seemed to symbolize me.
"I just don't know if I'm ready," he said, still talking about the house.
I had to agree.
That day, I took a tour around my new house, an airy and ancient Spanish cottage, with an antique fireplace, arched entryways and refinished wood floors. I stepped outside and took a good look at my backyard, gazing at the torn-up concrete, the half-finished deck and my uprooted shrubs. I like being a Fixer-Upper. But there are some projects that are too daunting, even for me. And I had a feeling that Mr. Ex was going to be one of them.
Lilla Zuckerman is the co-author of "Beauty Queen Blowout: Miss Adventure No. 2," which will be released by Fireside in September.