After my new husband and I looked at the house we would eventually move into, I was stoked.
"We can put the green couch facing the door," I said excitedly. "And that big palm would go great in the corner. Do you want to put the straw shade on the front window?"
An unfailingly kind man, Bill turned to me in exasperation: "Those are details, Kathy. We'll get lost in the details."
"What lost?" I thought. This is the fun part. While my heart was soaring with decorating schemes, Bill's mind was laden with "the important stuff": Can we afford the mortgage? Is the foundation solid? Will the garage hold all the power tools?
Welcome to home buying with an alien--a Martian, to be precise.
As John Gray wrote in his best-selling "Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus," "your partner is as different from you as someone from another planet."
Rarely do those differences swell up more tsunami-like than when a couple shops for and buys a house, the largest, most stress-filled purchase most of us will ever make.
In my case, I relished the process of creating a home while Bill was focused on the goal. According to Gray, our vastly different ways of looking at home buying are normal.
"There really was a difference," said recent home buyer Jenny Connelly, 26, marketing director for the New L.A. Marketing Partnership, who bought a house in Century City with her husband, Bill, 34, an entrepreneur.
"I'm much more visual than Bill," said Connelly, who acted as the scout in the house hunt, scouring desirable neighborhoods with a real estate agent.
Once Connelly found a house with enough of their required qualities--two stories, separate master bedroom area, quiet neighborhood--she would bring her husband over for a look. But while Connelly could easily imagine modifications in an imperfect home, her spouse could not.
"Are you crazy?" he said at one house. "We can't live here. It has green shag carpeting."
"Oh, honey," she replied. "Let's pretend."
Actually, the Connellys are atypical, in that men are often adept at visualizing changes to a home.
The point is, like two poles of a magnet, opposites attract. The conflict comes, Gray writes, when men and women forget "they are supposed to be different."
By the time the Connellys had looked at dozens of properties--many that Jenny adored and Bill decidedly didn't--the couple were well aware of their differences. Ultimately they found the perfect house, which, in accordance with Bill's needs, was "in sparkling clean, move-in condition," said Jenny, who said she found a sense of humor to be critical in house hunting.
Here the Connellys displayed what Gray considers the key to relationships, which is not to change your partner, to make him/her more/less emotional/practical, but to understand how your partner reacts and to "relax and cooperate with the differences."
Of course, once the Connellys' dream house was found, the couple had more diametrical reactions. "When we put down the offer, Bill was nauseated," Connelly said. "I was thinking: How fun! A house! He was thinking: Debt. Debt. Debt."
While their wildly opposite reactions are surprising to couples during a home search, these scenarios are all too common for the agents who witness them.
"We're programmed differently by God. Isn't it self-evident?" said Michael Cassell, an agent with Gilleran Griffin Realtors in Westwood who helped the Connellys find their home. "It's, like, obvious."
He said the Connellys' case was pretty standard fare for him.
"She was romantically in love with the house. He was detached," Cassell said. "Men don't generally fall in love with a house. He's not so concerned about how beautiful it is. He says, 'It suits my purpose. It's a good deal.' He's cold-nosed about it." Plus, according to Cassell, Bill Connelly's difficulty in choosing a house displayed that most Martian of traits: commitment anxiety.
"A man doesn't want to get tied down," Cassell said, whereas a newly married or engaged woman "is usually more keen to get the house. She wants to get the nest."
Al Keys, a licensed marriage, family and child counselor as well as a real estate agent with Prudential Jon Douglas in Santa Barbara, has found the same to be true.
"Most guys have a commitment problem. They don't want to get tied down," Keys said. "They want to see everything and they can't decide. We do it over suits. We do it over vacations. We do it over cars."
In one incident, a couple approached a home where Keys was holding an open house. Just past the threshold, the woman gushed: "This is my house." The husband was shocked: "You haven't even seen it. We've only been looking for 20 minutes."
In this case, the left-brain, logical husband and right-brain, intuitive wife were both "correct." While he needed more facts and figures to make a logical decision, she was sold on the feeling of the house, using her lightning-fast intuition as a guide.