In my first real relationship in New York (the semi-first one doesn’t really count), I was adamant about what I was looking for and what I was willing to sacrifice for it. After an exhaustive, depleting search filled with disappointments and unbelievable frustration, I finally found something adequate that met my requirements. When my parents eventually encountered my decision they were shocked. “Is this how desperate young New York women get? Is this how our daughter lives, after all the sacrifice made?” The relationship lasted a year.
My second has, thus far, been a tremendously better experience. In fact I’d say our affair is going splendidly well. We are set to definitely make it to the twoyear mark, and the parents do approve. But bitter sacrifices have and still continue to be made.
It is inevitable with these kinds of relationships, and most adult New York residents have a similar story to tell. Furthermore, if there is one thing that everyone who has been through the experience can attest to; on your first solo mission searching for the one you will eat a generous slice of humble pie, filled with a healthy portion of dirt and disappointment, and gratuitously topped with extra layers of frustration. Consider it your welcome to New York present.
Welcome to a twisted universe where there are few things as debated, as treasured, as maligned and as ultimately desired as The Apartment. To speak of your NYC apartment experiences is akin to recalling lovers past, dealing with lovers present and dreaming of lovers future. Discussions are filled with stories of nostalgia, unrequited love, hatred, regret, begrudging acceptance and the never-ending quest for something better. In this city, where you live, how much you pay to live, and whom you live with is, to many, a much stronger depiction of your personality than what you do or who your friends are. Call it ridiculous, irrational or superficial; it’s simply reality.
New York is defined by its conf lux of neighbourhoods that create the engulfing symphony of the city. Note that each of the city’s five boroughs: Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx and Staten Island form the symphony’s overlapping movements, and within each borough the twentyfive plus neighbourhoods contribute unique tonalities to the city’s endless cacophony. By staking claim on a section of square footage within a certain location you are inheriting an identity badge, adopting a specific sensibility that shapes you, for better or for worse. Meanwhile the inf lections of that neighbourhood are shifted, however minimally or transiently, by your presence. And when you meet someone with the stamp of a shared neighbourhood experience you can communicate in the same unspoken dialect. And believe me, though neighbourhoods may lie a block from each other, each dialect is understood and interpreted in very different ways.
Your NYC apartment is not the place you call home, but a place that captures and defines, however comfortably or miserably, your current perspective of New York. The good news is that all the experiences and emotions are communal, and are constantly in f lux. You know that however horrifying your current experience you will always find a) someone to commiserate with, and b) someone who has had it much, much worse.
And you will always be able to find something better. And no matter how wonderful you have it you will always find a) someone to celebrate with and b) someone who has it much, much better. But also know if what you have is really that good you had best be holding onto it. Tightly.
For most residents of this city the decision to live here is all a matter of compromise. We sacrifice greenery for energy, visible stars for constant nightlife, satisfaction for momentum, and long-term financial savings for, well, just living. And The Apartment is perhaps where the most serious compromises are made, especially as a young adult. Whether it’s spending relatively absurd amounts of money for a shoebox, or spending a little less absurd amounts of money to squeeze three people into a little larger shoebox, the compromises made are often somewhat extreme.
Do I take this affordable, large one-bedroom, but invest in a bulletproof vest and accept the one and a half hour commute? Or do I relinquish 60 percentage of my paycheck for a closet closer to work? Can I bear to share a bathroom with three strangers and their cat, in order to have money to spare for the weekends? Or is my personal space more important than Saturday night festivities? Is having a proper bathtub that important, or can I live with a shower right next to the toilet? Is a shower above the toilet really that bad? Does having a kitchen really matter? Actually, is having a proper bed really all that important?
Crazy? Yes. Reality? Unfortunately, sometimes yes. So then the question becomes, what are you willing to compromise? Why? Or, rather Why Not?
Certainly when making significant decisions such as where to live is never as simple as why you can or cannot compromise something. But in my time here thus far I’ve encountered all realms of compromises made and people who embraced the question from either side of the coin.
From the friend who transformed a bunk bed into her living room and upstairs bedroom, because at least she had a big closest, to the permanent ‘house-sitter’, because why not live in a different place every couple of months?, to all of those who swear never to leave Manhattan for an outer borough, at any cost or miniscule apartment.
While actual constraints, predominantly financial, maybe the core motivation when facing such decisions, there are often emotional drivers that underlie which question we ask ourselves. Asking why is often easy; I initially wouldn’t have considered living in Brooklyn because it was too far, too foreign to me. People who lived in Brooklyn were…well, people who lived in Brooklyn; i.e. not me. But when I asked myself why not, I didn’t have a reason. Only the fear of the unknown resounding inside.
If there is anything this city has taught me is the ability to not only question why, but why not, especially in regard to my decisions.
When you can f lip the coin around, suddenly things don’t seem so extreme, so black and white, so definite.
And if difficult compromises have to be made, then at least you are honest with yourself on what really matters. Because really, why not spend time in a reasonably comfortable shoebox above a noisy deli, you’re in a prime area of Manhattan! Unless, of course, you can find better options out there. Which there always are.