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Can You Have a Love Affair With a House?

A family leaves their home of 10 years and must learn to love their new house.

Can you have a love affair with a house? I mean truly love it? After all, the kind of nurturing we give our houses isn’t that different from the nurturing we give our children or families – patching wounds, healing hurts, laying careful work to guard against future catastrophes, investing time and energy and hard work (not to mention money). How could anyone not get deeply attached?

Last month my husband and I left our first house, our home of 10 years, and moved 3,000 miles across country, from Portland, Ore., to northern Virginia. Like many homeowners, we had worked on our old house (a beautiful 1938 Cape Cod) endlessly from the day we bought it. We painted the exterior a soft butter yellow, added deep green shutters, planted pink climbing roses along the white picket fence and put on a new roof. We also scraped, sanded, re-plastered and painted every room inside.

We brought our babies home there, shared gossip and laughter and heartbreak and hysteria with our closest friends there, and scrubbed the worn brick on the kitchen floor there at least 1,000 times. It was the only home our daughters, now ages 10 and 7, ever knew until the move.

We have a lovely house in our new location, but I miss my old house so much I feel as though I've lost my best friend. It doesn’t help that the new owner loves the house so much that she can barely contain herself. Selling the house was so emotional for me that I took care not to meet the new owners, letting my husband and our realtor handle all the transactions.

But she was so crazy about the house that she popped up unexpectedly at the back door one day to reassure me that she’s going to love the house until the day she dies. She plans to remodel the kitchen, finish the basement, polish the hardwoods and paint every room according to her own exquisite taste. I felt absolutely devastated. Imagine getting a divorce, then listening to your husband's new wife discuss how she's going to fix him up and love him and make him happier than he's ever been. I really just don't want to know.

I sometimes wonder if that house, our little yellow Cape Cod, was the great love of my life as far as homes go. Or maybe I'll find that I'm a serial monogamist and can love several houses passionately, albeit one at a time. I am not yet in love with my new house.

We went searching for our next home in an insanely competitive and high-priced market. Adding to the fun was the fact we didn't have the luxury of unlimited time to find the perfect place. We settled on a rambling three-story 1957 brick kind-of Cape Cod.

So we found a good house in a good school district for our daughters. But my heart doesn't leap whenever I turn into the driveway as it did at my old house. The rooms are painted and wallpapered in dark colors that are definitely not my taste and the giant boxwood hedge that's planted along two sides of the house makes me feel claustrophobic. Overall, I always have the sense that even though I live here now, I'm really wearing somebody else's clothes that aren't my style and just don't fit.

Yet I know that the woman who left this house, the house that I can't imagine loving with all my heart, had spent 30 years here and actually burst into tears in the parking lot after signing the closing papers. She is a gardener and obviously devoted countless hours to planning and planting an exquisite landscape. She built a little pond with a fountain just outside the screened porch. A neighbor told me the fish used to swim up whenever she knocked on one of the rocks. This house was the great love of her life, it seems.

So now I'm moving ahead and trying to make the best of what seems to me like an arranged marriage. It's not the house I might have chosen, given all the freedom in the world to choose, but it's a good one, and I can work with it and maybe, just maybe, learn to love it a little.

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