Celebrate Life Moments
What happened when I moved in with my brand-new boyfriend
Modern Money Matters is Refinery29 and Chase's exploration of what the modern American family really looks like—from starting a family to moving—and what it actually costs to make it all happen. In 2016, a record 4.2 million unmarried millennial couples were living together. To find out more about how women are taking control of their financial power, click here.
It's a universally acknowledged truth that a single person with an affordable two-bedroom apartment in New York City would be a fool to give it up. Which is why, when my post-college roommate moved out and I found myself no longer able to afford the rent, the guy I'd been casually seeing for just six weeks moved in.
Let's rewind a bit.
When I first moved into my two-bedroom in 1999, I didn't realize what a truly amazing deal I'd scored. At the time, I was an undergrad whose primary housing requirement was something that would get me away from my university-assigned roommate that I didn't get along with. The second-floor walk-up had just what I needed: doors on the bedrooms, a brand-new roommate who valued privacy, and an affordable (by New York standards) rent of $2,000 total. It became my home for my final years of college, and I ended up staying after I graduated—there weren't many apartments that I could afford on my bartending salary alone.
I actually made great money as a bartender, yet in typical 20-something fashion, I also found lots of ways to spend that money. Temptation abounds in Manhattan—that's how I found myself with no savings and no backup plan when my roommate announced that she was moving out. I determined that my spending habits, combined with the annual rental increase of 1.25 percent, meant there was no way I could afford the apartment on my own. Once again, I found myself having to find a new roommate.
You'd think that when one's standards for roommates are as low as mine were—someone vaguely likable, and who didn't smoke—it would be relatively easy to find someone to live with. Unfortunately, you'd be wrong. I'm almost positive that I met every woman in New York with eccentric proclivities who needed a place to call home.
In the middle of my apartment drama I started dating David, who was in the middle of a messy divorce. In addition to his charming personality, I was wooed by his beautiful apartment inside a brownstone (with a garden!). One night, about six weeks into our "relationship," I mentioned to David that I needed a roommate. He shared that he'd been considering moving out of the apartment he'd shared with his ex, mainly to save money (his rent was $5,500 a month), and suggested that he become my new roommate.
Maybe it was the wine—or a very youthful decision to ignore the potential consequences of my actions—but despite not knowing his last name or his favorite color, I said yes.
When David moved in, he brought a few boxes and a freshly signed divorce agreement. Navigating a new relationship with a divorcé is complicated enough without throwing impulsive cohabitation into the mix. Somehow, we managed to cram all of his stuff into the apartment. We also got a crash course in each other's foibles.
I'm a neat freak, and he left his dirty socks on the floor each night. He often forgot to sort the laundry by color, and I ended up with bleach stains on my pants. One of the ways in which we were similar? Our terrible financial habits: We may have saved thousands of dollars on rent by moving in together, but neither one of us was responsible enough to actually hold on to the money.
As the years went by, the apartment remained the one constant in our life together. David's business went belly-up and left us struggling to make ends meet while he regrouped. Without any savings (again), I found myself working to support both of us on my bartending salary, which only provided enough for the necessities. Our lack of disposable income meant that we spent most of our free time cooped up in our apartment, fighting about not having any money. The more we fought, the smaller our apartment began to feel.
One freezing April afternoon, while watching it snow, I realized that I no longer loved my apartment. It didn't feel "amazing" anymore—it just felt like a place where my boyfriend and I did nothing but fight. It was time to let it go.
In another fit of impulsivity, I decided to move to California. We talked about David coming along, but he wasn't ready to leave New York, so we agreed to "take a break." We gave up the apartment, carefully packed all of our belongings, and loaded them into two separate trucks. When I went back into the apartment for a last goodbye, I realized how small and dingy it was: Without our furniture and the mementos of our life together, the apartment didn't feel as romantic as it once had. My love affair, both with my apartment and my boyfriend, was over.
In Los Angeles, I rented a converted garage with a lush backyard for $850 a month. I loved not having to stress about affording rent, and I reveled in the warm weather. I also dated other people, not one of whom I deemed worthy of putting up with dirty socks on the floor.
A year later, David made the move to California, too. He rented his own apartment—a huge one-bedroom for the same price he'd paid for half of our New York place—and we found our way back to one another. Despite spending almost every night together, we maintained our separate apartments, largely because we could finally afford to. Given the financial freedom to finally take things slowly, we discovered that we really were a great match.
I often joke that David spent the money that we should have saved all those years ago on my engagement ring. After all, it was only impending matrimony that eventually motivated us to officially move back in together. I suspect that if we hadn't gotten married, we'd probably still be living in two separate apartments, enjoying the benefits of L.A.'s ocean breezes and rent stabilization laws.
We're approaching our 12th wedding anniversary. My bartending days are behind me, and I make a living as a writer. David has a new thriving business, and we've added two kids to our partnership. We've finally gotten smart about money and have managed to squirrel away a small nest egg. He still leaves his dirty socks on the floor, I'm still an avowed neat freak, and we've managed to nab a three-bedroom duplex with a beautiful backyard way below market rent.
I like to tell people that David and I were set up by an apartment. If I hadn't needed a roommate and if he hadn't volunteered himself, we probably would've remained a short-lived fling. Moving in with a guy I barely knew was impulsive and risky and yet, it somehow ended up being one of the smartest decisions I've ever made.
Anna Lane is a writer and editor with a focus on humor. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, Playboy, The Week, Domino, and Hunker, among other publications.