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My Messy Love Life Has Cost Me Plenty

Stefanie O'Connell  |  September 29, 2018

The first time I thought about moving out I poured myself an oversized glass of red wine and spent the evening browsing through short-term rental listings.

The first time I thought about moving out, I poured myself an oversized glass of red wine and spent the evening browsing through short-term rental listings.

By the second glass, I had messaged a few prospects.

I didn’t want to leave. I loved my apartment. I loved my boyfriend. I loved our life together. But it just didn’t work.

Individually, we were pragmatic and productive. Together, we lived in extremes — euphoria and despair — the cycle of which had become simultaneously unsustainable and addictive.

We didn’t need euphoria. We needed contentment. As two ambitious individuals committed to getting there, we had to be capable of it, right?

By the time the responses to my apartment inquiries came in, I’d decided to stay. But a few weeks later, I was ready to leave again.

We’d been together nearly four years. We’d recommitted to our relationship, to compromise and to communication more times than I could count, but we were still coming up short — short enough to motivate my search for a new place once more.

But running around upper Manhattan, checking out spare rental bedroom after spare rental bedroom, I couldn’t bring myself to part with the life I already had. So, I abandoned my search.

It wasn’t long before the cycle of discontentment caught up with me, and I decided to take a big risk. I was going to get my own place — no roommates, no boyfriend. Just me.

High Costs of Living Alone in New York

It might not sound like much for your average 30-year-old woman, but there’s nothing average about living alone in Manhattan. It means that there’s no one to split the astronomical bills with, and there’s no guaranteed help with the little logistical issues that make life in the big city exhausting, like installing the window air conditioning unit in the summer. But most importantly, living alone means you can’t list an additional income stream on your rent application to help you qualify for a place. And to qualify, many places requires that you earn forty times your rent.

That’s right, to rent an apartment in Manhattan, you have to meet stringent earnings requirements. You basically need to be making six figures to qualify for a studio the size of a shoebox. While I made “enough” by the standards of New York City brokers and building managers, renting my own place still felt like an irresponsible stretch. But staying in the same cycle of relationship unhappiness didn’t feel responsible, either.

So, after crunching the numbers and piecing together the mountains of paperwork to prove my sporadic self-employment income, I started the search.

Meanwhile, back home, my heart was tearing itself into pieces, simultaneously eager to move forward while not so secretly hoping the relationship cycle would finally break into happily ever after.

Paying the Price of Staying in a Relationship

And then it happened. I was approved for my own studio on the Upper West Side. I felt sick to my stomach. I crossed my fingers, hoping my boyfriend and I could finally commit to being our best selves before I had to commit to signing the lease.

But we didn’t make it. I signed the lease and started moving things piece by piece from our shared haven in Harlem to the Upper West Side. By the time I got the apartment staples situated, the utility bills transferred to my name, and the new internet connection set up, the cycle of our relationship had reached a new high, and though I’d moved my things, my heart refused to follow.

And so, again, I stayed.

But this time, I had another rent I was responsible for, a broker fee I’d just paid, furniture I’d just purchased, new bills I’d just transferred to my name, and a one-year lease in my name.

I know I sound totally incompetent. I’m embarrassed by my own recklessness. It’s so uncharacteristic. I’m actually really good at managing money. I don’t spend what I can’t afford, I save, I invest, and I’m even debt-free.

But when it comes to relationships, all that financial savvy doesn’t do me much good. I can’t track the ups and downs of my relationship cycles in a basic budget. I can’t plot out the future of my love life the way I’ve planned out my retirement. I can’t graph the day-to-day changes of my heart with a simple tracking app.

As much as I’d like to build relationship security in the same ways I’ve so diligently built financial security, my messy love life doesn’t organize itself neatly into spreadsheets, and it doesn’t follow natural patterns of growth and loss.

So, I focus on damage control. I can’t afford to stay and pay two rents for a year, so I sublet my new rental to cover the costs.

It’s not perfect. It’s not easy. It’s not simple. But it’s life.

And it’s following my heart (in all its fickleness) while working to prevent my love life from taking a toll on my financial future.

 


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