The Hamptons are a place of aspiration and longing, where tidy lawns and 19th-century mansions inspire envy, and the beach crowd can look like visitations from a Ralph Lauren catalogue. People buy houses there to signify that they've arrived, and for couples, a place in the Hamptons is a place to arrive together, for as many warm weekends as their work schedules will allow.
What happens to the house, though, when the relationship sours? Houses can't be split in half, not easily anyway, and not everybody sells the minute their partnership goes south.
[Editor's note: This story was originally published in September, 2017]
We talked to one New Yorker, a lawyer, who is still grappling with this question several years after the acrimonious breakup that ended a nearly three-decade-long relationship. Speaking on the condition of anonymity, she walked us through the challenges of sharing a vacation house with her ex, which include intrusive repairman scheduling, games of keep-away with the beach parking pass, and calendaring out the summer. What follows has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
She started by saying:
I don’t think there is a way to avoid what ended up happening. A lot of people find themselves in this situation, actually.
What it's like sharing a house with her ex
It’s stressful. It’s difficult to navigate with somebody who is accustomed to getting their own way. That was partially my fault because when we broke up I spent much less time at the house. Because in all honesty we used to spend every weekend there, and I didn't want to. I was happy going out a couple of weekends a month and not going out in the middle of the winter half the time and doing stuff in the city.
And as I started to see people, I went out with two different people who did not like being in my ex’s house, because there were pictures and stuff, and they would be told things like we have to replace the wine, or we have to do this, we’re leaving it exactly as we found it.
Which we both did. In terms of respecting each other, I think both me and my ex are really good at making sure that that stuff stays the same. But it makes relationships with other people difficult, because you’re in a house that isn’t theirs that they know you own with someone else, and something always comes up where you end up saying something negative about the person you’re with. Like he would always have service calls on the Saturdays that I was there, so I’d end up stuck there not going to the beach. So I would curse him, and the person assumes that that’s just the way you deal with a relationship.
What she would have done differently if she could go back to the time of the breakup
I should have addressed the amount of time that each person was spending in the house, and I should have made sure that I was spending more time than I actually ended up doing, for a number of reasons, including the fact that I didn't want to spend winter weekends in the house by myself. I was always afraid I’d get stuck in the driveway and not be able to get the car out or get out of the street if there was a lot of snow, which happens out there quite a bit.
I wish I had spent more time there, because what ended up resulting was he just basically assumes it’s his house and doesn't tell me if he’s not going to be there, or make it easy for me to use it without me developing a schedule. I have to contact him about when I’m going out.
What she would have done differently if she could go back to the time of the purchase
I’m sure it would have been lovely to get something in writing, but it was a 27-year relationship. We bought the house in 2002. I think realistically when people are together that long they’re not really expecting to break up.
I did get it in writing, after we broke up. It says that he can’t sell or do anything with the house unless I agree. I hired a divorce lawyer. I get his apartment when he dies. I get the house when he dies. We can’t transfer our interest to another person.
What I would have put in writing initially—the end result would’ve been the same. We keep it or we sell it. Or one buys the other out.
My name is on the title, so even if he had bought me out in 2011, the house would have been worth a lot less because of the financial collapse. The house actually went down to what it was originally worth when we bought it, and is going back up. And the neighborhood is getting better and better as people put money into their houses. It’s worth more each year, so it ends up that keeping it has been a plus.
How they schedule time at the house
I do a shared thing each year where I’ll email that I want these weekends. I do it in the beginning of April for the summer. And during the winter, I’ll say what weekends I want to go out. But he always comes up with reasons that certain things are problems, or why he should get holidays. And then we get into the texting part of it.
I do a schedule for May, June, July, August, through mid-September, which we then argue back and forth over until we get to the point where it’s starting and I say I’m going. My favorite months are September and October. I’ll go out usually once in October with the kids and they do pumpkin crap and stuff.
In the winter I don’t really go out. If I had a dog I could see going out to the beach, but otherwise there’s nothing really to do besides go to the movies and go out to eat. If I'm not in a relationship with someone who wants to spend a weekend after a four-hour drive at the beach—and you’d be surprised that the number of people who aren't excited by that idea—I don’t do it.
On splitting up the rooms
I have a clear room. He didn't want to move out of the bedroom for like a year and a half, and I finally just told him that I was bringing somebody with me to sleep in the bedroom and I needed him to do that. Meanwhile, he’s the one having an affair with a woman half his age.
I actually went to Ethan Allen and took pictures of furniture for him so he could go buy that furniture, which he then put in the other bedroom. All the pictures, there were no pictures of us together anywhere. Any picture in my part of the house is of my niece and my nephews and stuff.
On sharing beach parking permits
There’s a limited number of beach permits because the town doesn't want to encourage summer shares. You can only get two per house. He always got the beach permits, and we leased the same car. So one was on the Hamptons car and one was on the city car. I didn't drive in the city, so I didn't care, but at the point that I got a car, it became an issue. Because I didn't have a beach pass and he made it much more difficult to have access.
Last year I just assumed he would have the same Hamptons car and it would just be on the car and I didn't care. He was purposely a douche because he knew I got a car and could go out when I wanted, and he decided to change cars and not have a beach car there for like half the summer, because he has a sticker on his car in the city. So he can just drive out and go to the beach, whereas I couldn't.
Without a pass, you can go to the public beach in Montauk and park at the supermarket, or you can ride your bike to the beach. But then you’re definitely not bringing an umbrella and a ton of stuff. Or a couple times I drove the kids to the beach, dropped them off with the stuff, and then went back and parked and called a taxi to go to the beach.
I’m considering being bought out. It’s difficult to deal with. It’s difficult to arrange weekends. We used to have a car together that was part of paying for the house. And a joint account that paid for the house. And he made it more and more difficult to use the car. There were always reasons why it wasn't a good weekend for me to use the house. I mean, he basically tried to foreclose me from using the house and make it his as a control issue. That’s a problem. That’s a constant battle.
Eventually you just feel like saying, “Enough.”
I’m surprised that someone who seems to have gotten what they wanted can be so vindictive and petty and angry about stuff and not generous in terms of dividing a property or being generous in general. That I don’t understand. The amount of anger and pettiness, I don’t get it. I never thought of him as a particularly petty person. Or he never was with me. But there’s nothing I can do about that.
I also, to be realistic, I wasn't always warm and fuzzy. There were a couple of screaming phone conversations. But once we broke up, it’s been mostly by email and text.
I think that you can love someone for a really long time but not necessarily know truly what they’re like in terms of becoming an enemy. Or becoming someone who feels somehow that you cheated them out of something. You kind of expect better.
I was the one who wanted a house in the Hamptons. He didn't. I was the one who decided to go out and get a house instead of an apartment first. I was the one who started looking at property in the Hamptons. And I was the one who saw the bones of this house—it was still under construction—and decided that was the house. It was all me.
So, for someone to constantly say it’s theirs and try to cheat you out of it or cheat you out of what your share should be worth is incredibly annoying. Especially in a city like New York City where there’s no space. You work for years and you have a small apartment. The house is what you have to show for what you’re doing. To have someone think they can just take that away from you is really disturbing. It is.
It’s deeply disturbing. It kind of makes you think you worked for nothing.
I do think, as much as I love the house, it would be good to be away from the whole situation because I just want to be done with it. I want to not have to ever talk to him again, and just be left alone. Because it makes it really hard to move on if you’re always arguing over all of this crap.
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