We’re Anxious Decision-Makers Who Bought a House and Got a Dog

by Christian Brown

I come from a family of anxious people. I didn’t realize this when I was smallish, obviously — under a certain age, you just assume your family is like all families except maybe with different numbers of siblings. But now I know that our tendency to over-plan decisions and then execute on a whim is a hallmark of the anxious. You spend six months researching whether you want to buy a new TV, and then do it at 7 a.m. on Dec. 23 when the old one breaks and you have relatives coming to visit soon. If I were not scared of heights, I could confidently claim it’s like skydiving: you pack your parachute, you check and recheck it a thousand times, and then jump out of the plane with your eyes closed and scream silently.

Which is, basically, how I bought a house.

It was February, and my wife and I had just found out that she got the grad program internship she wanted in L.A., and we wouldn’t have to change cities for a year. We’d already been looking at houses on Redfin for months — “Just in case! You gotta know what the market’s like!” But the idea of the house was like a ghost visiting us from the future. Something to do eventually.

And then the perfect house appeared. Angels descended from the heavens and played trumpets over it. We had no idea what to do. Do you just … go to the open house and ask them for it? We said to ourselves: “OK! Paperwork! We’re smart. We have a good amount of money. I would even describe ourselves as ‘upper middle class.’ Let’s give it a shot!” The angels flapping around trumpeting winked at us encouragingly.

It turns out that getting pre-approved for a mortgage was a lot easier in the heady ’90s, when CDs got a 9 percent return and you could buy a house with a firm-ish handshake and a promise to get a job one day. Now, you need 20 percent down and actual, verifiable income, which, as a freelancer, is hard to provide. But we jumped through hoops and we provided a LOT of tax documents, and right as we got our pre-approval letter the house was sold to someone else. The angels laughed at us and played the Price is Right Loser Horn.

But once you have a pre-approval letter, it gets a lot easier to look at other houses. So we did. We researched, we hunted, we argued about the merits of neighborhoods and gentrification in L.A. It turned into a multi-month process that we always described to people as “just checking it out.” Until, suddenly, we went to a house that we loved, and the next day we made an offer, and three days after that we were under contract. Screaming silently as we fell out of the airplane of our decision-making.

This has become a pattern. I over-plan in advance, then have to throw myself into the decision before I can back out. I’m not going to claim this is a “good decision-making system,” but it uses my anxiety as a tool instead of an obstacle.

Most recently, we went from “talking about getting a dog for over a year,” to “oh shit there is an actual alive dog in this house” in less than two days. We talked about breeds, we discussed the practicalities of dog ownership (“What if the dog likes one of us more? Will we forgive it?”) and then, when a dog presents itself, you can jump out of the plane after it.

(In this metaphor, the dog is falling through the skies and you need to chase after it, like James Bond in Moonraker.)

So far the dog has been equal parts pain in the ass and amazing snugglefriend. He likes the cats, he likes us, he likes strangers and children, he likes pooping inside and then looking real ashamed about it. But I can’t really imagine a dog that would be better for us — he’s already a member of our family after less than a week. Which is good, because on the fourth day he stayed with us, he chewed through a water line and flooded the house.

And yet our first response was not, “oh holy shit hell no, get this dog out of here,” but to make sure he was not too scared and dry him off. (And then to call the insurance company.) One thousand dollars is a lot to spend on fixing your dog’s mistakes, but it’s a not too much to pay to realize you made the right call to adopt him, and to not let the perfect be the enemy of the good boy. The bigger and more life-changing a decision is, the less likely that you’ll be able to make it perfectly. Better to do something than be paralyzed by fear of doing the wrong thing.

People like to say “there’s never a good time to have kids,” as though there is a good time to make any decision. But all decisions are TERRIBLE. There’s never a good time to decide anything. The best you can do — or, at least, the best I can do — is make sure you’re ready to jump.

Postscript: As if to prove my point, our dog situation has changed a little more. After seeing the dog get more and more lively and energetic as he spent more time out of the shelter, and seeing how much he lights up when playing with his foster dog friends, we decided that our home is not the best place for him. His foster mom will be adopting him so he can have more exercise and a dog to wrestle with. This is tough, and it’s sad, and at first it was easy to feel like we’d jumped the gun and gotten too invested too quickly. But then we realized — without our excitement and without our aggressive attempts to adopt him, he’d have died in a shelter. We served an important role in getting him to the place he needs to be — and if that’s not a good outcome of a snap decision, I don’t know what is.

Christian Brown lives in L.A. He took the above picture of his dog.

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