Get married Yes. Share a mortgage No chance!Thought tying the knot was the ultimate commitment For many women today, there's a far scarier step…



18:20 GMT, 3 September 2012

Every month it’s the same. On the last day I will often be caught musing on the same ‘what if’ thoughts I have every four weeks. That day is rent day.

Once my husband, Cornel, or I have checked that the money has left our account, I’ll start dreaming of what it would be like to have our own chosen colours on the walls, our own hand-picked furnishings, a vegetable patch in the back garden… our own home, in other words.

Then, cartoon-style, a comedy record-scratch noise will occur in my head and I’ll shudder and shake the thoughts away. Buy a house Us No way!

Some people see sharing a mortgage an even bigger commitment than getting married

Room 101 A man and woman sitting in a very small living room, looking
depressed. Some people see sharing a mortgage as an even bigger commitment
than getting married

It’s not because we can’t afford it (not really). It’s certainly not because I don’t want to be with him for ever (I do). It’s because… buying a house together just seems like an enormous, dangerous, commitment. Much more so than getting married.

According to research from Halifax and the National Centre for Social Research, only 14 per cent of British non-homeowners between 20 and 45 are actively saving for a deposit.

Dubbed ‘Generation Rent’, this is partly down to the recession, partly due to worries over job security — but also because for many British couples in their 30s and 40s, the very idea of a joint mortgage has become terrifying.

Cornel and I have been married almost three years and have a son, Alex, three, together. It may sound far-fetched but I knew Cornel was the person I wanted to be with for ever the moment I laid eyes on him, and I can’t imagine life without him at my side.

Cornel is my second husband — my first marriage lasted three years and ended in divorce. But despite this, when Cornel dropped to one knee and proposed, I didn’t think twice.

You might have thought I’d have been once bitten, twice shy, but no; not even a frown crossed my face. ‘Yes!’ I screeched.

When we decided to try for a baby, there was no anguished discussion about whether we had the space or if we could afford it — it just felt the right thing to do.

So why, after six years renting together, after marriage and a son, does buying a home strike the fear of God into us

If we’re prepared to commit to raising a child together, if we want to spend the rest of our lives together, then how can the idea of signing up to a 30-year loan for a house together seem so hideously, spine-chillingly scary

I wondered if it was just me. But then I looked around and realised that more and more of my friends who once owned property are renting after break-ups or divorce.

Ask them about marrying or cohabiting again and they’ll nod wistfully. ‘If the right man came along,’ they’ll sigh.

Even if they have children from previous marriages or relationships, they’re not averse to having another if someone of father-material arrived in their lives. But suggest signing a legally binding document to buy some bricks and mortar with another man and they’ll suddenly look terrified and shudder dramatically. ‘No way! Never again,’ they’ll hiss.

A couple look entirely content with their newborn in their arms (posed). Today some find a 30-year loan even more scarey

Committed A couple look entirely content with their newborn in their arms (posed). Today some find a 30-year loan even more scarey

It’s as if the old fear of marriage has been replaced with the fear of something far more rigid — house-buying.

Francine Kaye, relationship expert and author of The Divorce Doctor, believes that if you’re in a happy relationship, there should be no issue with buying a home.

‘It is a final bastion of commitment,’ she agrees. ‘But if you are in a totally committed relationship there should be no problem, particularly if you are married. It’s those co-habiting who need to be careful because the laws don’t change until you are a married couple.’

Older people, of course, sometimes think not buying a house together is a way of ‘trying to put off growing up’. My mother and father bought their home in their 20s — that’s how it was. You met, you married, you bought a home.

Nowadays it’s more: you meet, you marry, you buy a house, you break up, sell the house, meet someone else and think . . . hmm . . . can I deal with all that financial risk again

A divorce, although of course sad, upsetting and difficult, can be finalised within a few months

I owned a house once but, after breaking up with my ex, we decided to sell. Back then it was 2007: the height of the housing boom. Our house — a nice, three-bed terrace in Hampshire — sold within a couple of weeks and, although it was painful leaving our memories — and relationship — behind, the actual act of selling and moving was relatively straightforward.

A ‘for sale’ sign went up, some buyers came to view the house and, a few days later, a ‘sold’ sign was stuck in the front garden.

But now, with a stagnant housing market in a deep recession, and with thousands reportedly stuck in negative equity, moving on when a life-change such as divorce occurs is not so simple. Take some friends of mine who, for argument’s sake, I shall call Dave and Liz. They’ve been married for four years and have no children — thankfully — but Liz met someone else at work and now wants to end the marriage and to move away with her new lover.

A divorce, although of course sad, upsetting and difficult, can be finalised within a few months. Yet despite this, Dave and Liz still live together in their marital home, sleeping in separate bedrooms, circling each other miserably at breakfast. It’s not the contract of marriage that is stopping them moving on — it’s their house.

Dave and Liz bought their home near
the peak of the housing bubble in 2006 and took on a huge mortgage in
order to do so. On their wedding day, as we all toasted their union,
they could no more foresee themselves splitting up any more than they
could imagine Boris Johnson one day dangling on a zip-wire, 20ft in the
air and waving a Union Jack flag. The trouble is, life throws things at
you unexpectedly.

Boris did dangle from a zip-wire — and Liz met a strapping younger colleague at work.
marriage may be over, but Liz can’t leave — not physically. They’re
trapped in negative equity with a huge mortgage and can’t sell their
house. And the situation is just making everyone miserable.
The sad truth is that it would have been better for them both if they had never bought a house.
course, when anyone walks up the aisle, they expect their marriage to
last for ever. I certainly can’t imagine a life without Cornel. Far from
it — I hope we’ll grow old together and sit bickering side-by-side in
our armchairs.

buying a place together That’s different. There are no early repayment
penalties on a marriage vow and if you fall into arrears in love, no
Bank of Romance will come knocking on your door demanding payment.

Getting a mortgage with someone is just the opposite.

Today, the life mantra seems to be: 'you meet, marry, buy a house, break up, meet someone else and think can I deal with that financial risk again

Take two! For sale signs on a residential street. Today, the life mantra seems to be: 'you meet, marry, buy a house, break up, meet someone else and think can I deal with that financial risk again'

Francine Kaye says: ‘In this case, divorce is not the get-out clause, the rented accommodation is the get-out clause — and it can be an indicator of whether or not you’re meant to be together.
‘You need to be “both feet in” to the relationship, and if you are not, then perhaps you need to sit down and talk about why.’

Some friends who own houses think I am insane. ‘How can you rent’ they ask, stroking their beautiful leather sofas, a glass of wine resting on their mahogany coffee tables. ‘Don’t you wish you had your own home’

And sometimes I wish we did. Renting can feel rather soulless — especially when you have a child. It would be lovely to know that Alex would one day inherit our home.

And I’ve lost count of the evenings I’ve watched house-buying documentaries or afternoons I’ve flicked through interior design magazines in the hairdressers and thought: ‘Wouldn’t that be nice . . .’
It’s not that it would be financially impossible either — we have a savings fund for a deposit (just in case) and we’re for ever surfing websites such as Rightmove — but it’s a bit like someone on a diet ogling recipes for chocolate cakes.

So why does house-buying sometimes seem scarier and a deeper commitment than saying the marriage vows

Renting can feel rather soulless — especially when you have a child

Francine says: ‘If it’s a case of someone who has divorced and had to sell a house before, that fear of feeling trapped could actually not be related to the present partner at all but could be from an old wound from a previous partner — an old wound your new spouse didn’t inflict upon you.
‘Maybe you fear being hurt or let down again and are planting that on your new spouse. Again, if that is the case, you really need to be honest and talk about it.’

But attitudes have changed to divorce since my parents’ time — and, for good or ill — it can be considered a get-out clause if things don’t work out.

Bricks and mortar, on the other hand, are inflexible. If you cannot sell your home, or if one of you wants to sell and the other doesn’t agree, you really are cemented in together.

So, next time it’s rent day and I begin my wistful dream of the peachy interiors of our dream home, the exposed wooden beams, home-grown veg and — heck — even some free-range chickens thrown in for good measure — I will, of course, come back to reality with a thud as usual.

The old retort thrown about when someone had to defend their choice not to commit fully to their other half used to be: ‘Why get married It’s only a piece of paper.’

Now I’d argue that today’s retort might be this: ‘Why get a mortgage — it’s only a piece of paper . . .’
n Francine Kaye’s The Divorce Doctor is published by Hayes House.