I’ve been looking at apartments lately—a lot of apartments—and it’s occurred to me that there are many ways the apartment search parallels dating, especially in New York. Tinder has a better user interface than StreetEasy, but other than that, they’re basically the same app: the obsessive refreshing to see what’s new, the constant unhelpful comparison of options, the way so much of it ends up being primarily about logistics.
I stand in the doorway of an apartment and try to imagine myself as the person who lives there: who would I be if my apartment had bay windows? What would people think of me if they saw this fake exposed brick? Could I really look at these wooden cabinets every single day? Of course, deep down, I secretly know the truth: that I’ll be the same person no matter where I move, that I could get used to anything, and that my apartment won’t make anyone think anything about me they don’t already believe. But I don’t want to admit that to myself, so instead I pretend like I could have a whole new life if I just had a little more countertop space.
Whenever I see a place, I make more small talk with the broker than necessary, and I always ask a bunch of questions, even though I already saw the answers in the listing and brokers are all notorious liars. I can’t help it—I want those liars to like me, even though I’ll never see most of them a second time. Sometimes I imagine that the broker is a mutual friend, setting me up with an apartment just like a friend might set me up on a date. Actually, though, none of my friends have ever set me up on any dates. In my early twenties I was such an inveterate bachelor that no one wanted to set me up with any of their friends, and now that I’m in my thirties I already know all of my friends’ friends (and have even tried dating several of them), so there’s no one left to set me up with. Although none of my friends have ever set me up, two of them have met their partners through me. What’s the old saying—those who can’t do, teach?
So anyway, I’ve been looking for a new apartment, because my roommate is moving in with his girlfriend (who he didn’t meet through me), and also because I’m 31 and thought it might be time to try living on my own. I’ve never really done that before, except for a brief stint when I’d just moved to New York and my then-girlfriend slept over three or four nights a week, until she broke up with me. So that didn’t really count.
Looking for apartments in this city is always a bit of a nightmare, and for me it’s even more nightmarish than average, because I have a set of very specific criteria my new apartment must meet, and even though they’re all completely unreasonable I refuse to compromise on any of them. For example, even though I live in the most urban environment in America, I insist on having a yard. Also, I want a “nice” apartment, but I refuse to live in one of those bougie, gentrifier buildings that dot Brooklyn like fancy zits. Not because I don’t want to be a gentrifier—I know I’m a gentrifier even if I live in a shithole—but because I just find them so aesthetically unappealing, probably due to internalized class shame. The other day I went to see this one place that looked okay online and the building wasn’t that fancy, but as you walked up each flight of stairs the floor number was painted on the wall in huge letters, in the kind of modern typeface a cookware startup would use—and even worse, it was spelled out, “one, “two,” “three,” etc—and the idea of having to look at such an abomination every day on my way home was so upsetting that I turned around and left without even seeing the actual apartment.
I think I get so crazy about apartment hunting because I see my spaces as extensions of myself. I’ll never understand how some people can still have unopened boxes weeks after moving—whenever I move into a new place, I can’t rest until it’s set up exactly as I want. I inevitably end up on a manic bender of arranging and decorating, ignoring work and food and sleep, until everything is in its proper place. Often this results in a worse living setup than if I had just given myself a little bit more time to feel out the space and not rushed these decisions so much, but I can’t help it—I can’t stand living in an apartment that’s only half put-together. Except, of course, when I rehabbed that abandoned mansion in Detroit, and I lived in what was essentially a giant construction site, dust covering my body and possessions 24/7 for a year. But if I could have rehabbed the entire house in one epic fit of mania, I totally would have.
I don’t think I see my romantic partners as extensions of myself, at least not more than is normal. I don’t approach them with a set of rigid criteria I refuse to compromise on. And I certainly don’t try to shape them exactly the way I want. But still, the 30 or so apartments showings I’ve been to in the past three weeks felt a lot like 30 first dates.
In the end I found a beautiful apartment that meets all of my insane criteria and is only slightly outside my price range. The lesson is obviously to never compromise and just keep looking, and eventually you’re bound to get everything you want. Or at least, I’m pretty sure that’s the lesson. But if you’re coming to this newsletter for advice, you’ve already past the point where any of it can help you.
Yours in clarifying that my view of dating isn’t really as bleak as this piece may have made it seem,