How to Breathe

During the summer in New York, right around 8 p.m., as we’re heading off to indulge in sangria and sunsets, there is an orange shadow that cascades across the streets, beaming off the buildings, and leaving everything it touches with a crisp, bronzed haze. It is one of my favorite moments in the city all-year-round, and regardless of where I am or who I’m with, just seeing the amber reflection is enough to distract my attention and make me take a big breath.

I was thankful for a moment of clarity before meeting Mr. Unexpected for a celebratory sushi and sake date on Friday night, after a very long, very exasperating week. I had a hard time sleeping every night last week, my nerves never calming down from the many changes of the past few months circling in my head and enticing my heart to race. And though I always get a little anticipant to see Mr. Unexpected, once we start talking, he has a certain way of calming me down, too. Sitting across from him, with the citrus sun still radiating above us, I took another big breath of pure stress release.

In fact, I’ve been reminding myself to breathe a lot lately.

To say this year has been ripe with change, expenses and new experiences would be a vast understatement. If anyone would have told me all of the things that would happen in 2014, I would have never believed them.

Just to recap:

  • My dad had unexpected heart surgery at the start of the year.
  • I had my last day at iVillage – after three years – on a Thursday in April.
  • The next day, I left for a 10-day trip to Paris and Rome with my mom.
  • Two days after I got back, I started my exciting, challenging and entertaining job at WEtv.com.
  • Then I got in – via raffle – to the NYC marathon.
  • Two weeks later I met who I thought would be my roommate for an October 1 move date.
  • Then I realized my lease ended on September 1. (You know, when I’ll be in London visiting J for a week.)
  • Which means I would have to move by August 15.
  • Two weeks later, I met Mr. Unexpected.
  • 20+ dates later, we are an actual thing.
  • The roommate, who I thought would be moving with me, couldn’t anymore.
  • I decided that I couldn’t possibly train for the marathon, go on a big trip, do well in my new job and find an apartment and train for the marathon. So I backed out.
  • So with a month to go to find an apartment, I somehow found two roommates.
  • And a subletter for my current apartment – for just a month.
  • I signed a lease yesterday. To move to the East Village!

Whew.

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Baby, I Need Space

I’ve never actually lived with someone, though I’ve written on the topic several times. For whatever reason, the two times in my adult life I’ve had a gap in between leases, I’ve been lucky enough to be dating men who offer their apartments. Both times, I went into the situation attempting to view it as a mini-vacation with someone I care about…minus still having to work 9-6.

And yet, though each relationship is vastly different and the arrival of the “homeless” period arrived in varying points of the dating duration, at the end of both of my staycations with Mr. Idea and Mr. Possibility, I’ve found myself arriving at the same conclusion:

Baby, I need space.

Don’t get me wrong – Mr. Possibility is truly wonderful. I won’t go into the history (if you’d like, you’re welcome to research yourself, is not impossible to find) but in the last few months we’ve made significant progress. We’ve developed into a functioning couple that has yet to have a knock-out, drag-down fight, and we’re respectful of one another’s needs. There is intensity and fire, but I’d also consider him one of my closest friends – which to me, is more important than butterflies and channeling Prince Charminglike similarities.

But he does things to get on my nerves. In fact, he does several.

He’s not the tidiest person I’ve known, though most men are not (with the exception of his roommate who keeps a remarkably clean abode). He has his own set of mood swings and preferences of how he choses to carry his day-to-day life, and how he likes his apartment to be organized. His idea of grocery shopping is getting what’s on sale, even it is two-for-one ketchup, regardless if he needs ketchup or not. He doesn’t rinse the sink after he shaves and when he needs to work, he spreads his things as wide as the living room will allow him, and if I dare touch a paper, I swear I may lose a finger.

These are not bad things and they do not change the way I feel about him because I’m no different.

I have a tendency to shed, leaving him with strands of reminders of me on his shirts, his briefcase, and his coat. I will use the same cup all day long, refilling it with orange juice, then pouring the last little bit out, and repeating. I want to sleep in on the weekends until at least ten and he is programmed to wake at eight, no matter what day it is. I packed ten pairs of shoes for a three-week stay, and they’re strung about his room unorganized, even though I’ve made several attempts to keep them straight. In an effort to be helpful, I shrunk some of his shirts when I did the wash, and when I decided to bake cookies, I forgot to check the cleanliness of the oven and set off not one, but two smoke detectors.

It’s not just the quirks either though – it’s sleeping under the same roof, eating the same dinners, having actual discussions about domestic tasks and purchases, and not only watching TV on a Friday night together, but going out together the next Friday. It’s constantly being connected to the hip and feeling like you’ve lost some part of yourself, even if you’ve gained the coveted key to your guy’s place. And that kind of closeness, though intimate and ultimately what marriage may very well look like, can bring a girl to her knees – or to a bar in Union Square, frantically telling her friends how badly she needs space.

Usually requesting space brings anxiety and fear into the relationship, almost as a signal that it is nearing the end or facing rocky waters. Such is not the case with Mr. Possibility because emotional room isn’t what’s on the table. Rather, it’s just literal space.

Keys that belong to me. A closet to fill with my belongings, freeing them from a suitcase and one mini-drawer. A bed to collapse on that I paid for, that I can choose to make or leave messy because it’s mine and I don’t have to share unless I extend an invitation. An area to sit and write endlessly, without being interrupted, without the sound of a television blaring in the background, or debates about going out or staying in.

A space to be alone.

In the past, I never could wrap my head around my friends claiming “space” was a good thing – but now I see their point. A couple can spend too much time together. You can be around one another far too much. Shared interests, friends, and pursuits help bring you together, but if you overdo them, it can be what tears you apart. Without demanding and sticking to an individual regimen that gives you what you need outside of the relationship, even a duo that barely argues will feel smothered and bothered. And from there it only leads downhill – heated arguments over silly things, miscommunication under stress, less sex and play, and at the very worse, breaking up just to find an hour to exhale in privacy.

So maybe I’ll give space a break. Sometimes it is the remedy that doesn’t separate you, but ultimately bring you closer. But not too close for comfort.

The Starter Apartment

Today I handed over the keys of my apartment to its new tenant – making me officially homeless for the next two weeks until the lease starts at my next home. And while I was more than ready to leave and start at a new place, it was bittersweet to hear my voice echoing in the emptiness of the studio that was once so full of…me.

I outlined the curve of the kitchen area with cards from friends and family throughout the past few years. I hung my straw hat above my bed, sat empty antique boxes on a dresser that wasn’t mine then and still isn’t now, placed penny jars from the paths I’ve followed, and filled drawers full of makeup, playbills, and ticket stubs I’ve collected. This place housed my many dreams, the failures I couldn’t avoid but survived, and the one man who shared a twin bed with me. It took me in after the city had its way with me, it comforted me when I wanted to escape the hustle of the streets to look into the “backyards” of my neighbors a street over. It was my resting stop where I wrote most of these blogs and where I began to come into my own.

Maybe it wasn’t the start of my story, but it saw me through the many New York struggles I faced when I moved here, and now, it will do the same for a new tenant who happens to be my friend M, from college.

A few hours ago, her plane touched down at LGA, and with a suitcase, carry-on, and kitten in tow, she took a cab to her new apartment. In heels, of course. I helped her carry her bags and gave her a tour of the neighborhood, making suggestions, and giving warnings of things to avoid. I left a few items for her that she may need, dishes and towels, umbrellas and a blanket. The thing about starting over and creating a life from scratch is that no ingredients are provided. All of those everyday essentials that we so often take for granted are all of the things necessary to design a home: curtains and silverware, rugs and lamp shades, extension chords and power strips, a broom, and toilet paper. Taking a leap of faith requires more than just a hope and a prayer, but also savings to hold you over until the job arrives – especially when all the commonplace items add up quite quickly.

After a tour around uptown, M and I headed for lunch in Union Square at one of my favorite Thai restaurants. As we were talking and laughing, I noticed the light of her face – she was unable to hide her excitement topped with a healthy dose of nerves. In a sudden rush down memory lane, I remembered that feeling all too well. Like me, like my friends K, E, N, and J – she did what she had to do to make her dreams a reality. And while it is too soon to tell what her dreams will come (though I’m certain they will be remarkable) – she said she didn’t feel brave. Not moving wasn’t an option, not coming to New York was not even an idea to entertain, it was a make-it-or-break-it situation and even if she doesn’t make it big, she won’t be going home.

And everyone I know who has been in her same shoes, including myself, has felt the exact same way. It isn’t about the guts it takes, it is just about the gate that has to be opened to let life…begin.

But after it starts – then what?

Handing her my keys with a smile and a warm hug, I realized I’m past the starter stage. I’m not a New Yorker by anyone’s terms and especially my own, but I’m also not a newbie. I know the city, I’ve found my footing, I’ve been blessed with wonderful friends and a strong network, I’ve immersed myself into my industry, and I’ve been lucky enough to find a pretty great guy, too. Things continue to be new and I anticipate many new beginnings in my near future, and so when the new rolls in, the old must exit gracefully.

The apartment started me – it gave me a foundation. And that was its purpose – to be the starter. To ignite me and provide stability, and now with a little more street smarts, a little less liability, and some places to land should I fall, there isn’t a need for a starter. Like most of what brings us joy in our lives, it has its tenure and then we move onto the next thing, to the next dream to tackle, to the new empty space to make into a home. And in a year or so, M will find herself leaving the start to find her way to where I am now.

And that’s a place that isn’t defined by starting or ending, creating or growing roots. Instead, it is a place where New York is still just exciting, still gives me butterflies in my stomach, and still is the address I’d rather have than any other zip code in the world. But now, it’s more than that…it is normal. It has all of those everyday, commonplace things that add up but can’t be found in the grocery or hardware store. It is in the streets I know like the back of my hand, the subway map I hardly have to look at, the laugh lines of my friends whose faces I’ve grown quite accustomed to, it’s in the voice of the woman I buy my coffee from each morning without fail, it’s in the fact that every key I’ve carried for a year has changed this month except for my key to Mr. Possibility’s apartment, and it’s in the purse that’s battled through it all.

It’s in the fact that now, I’m out of the starter apartment, and I’m off to live somewhere that doesn’t need to ignite me because I’ve already lit myself up.

Breaking the Golden JAM Rule

A common recommendation from New York natives or those who have officially claimed the coveted “New Yorker” title after residing (and surviving) here long enough, is to never look for three things at the same time:

An apartment, a job, and a man.

I broke this Northern rule the moment I turned my back on the South. In fact, in the one diary I’ve kept my whole life that I lovingly call my “Dream Book” that documents everything from my first dollar made to my bucket list, I wrote the following on the plane ride to this restless city:

J (Job)– At a magazine geared toward women; fulfilling, full-time, benefits; at least $35K; gives me room to grow; in NYC or a borough; find it within a month.

A (Apartment)– Under $1,000/mo with utilities; one bedroom; in Manhattan; if I have a roommate, must have my own room; find it within three months.

M (Man)– Sincere, funny, successful, charming, romantic; tall; has great relationship with his family and lots of friends; doesn’t live at home; we have a quick engagement and a long marriage; meet within one year.

Not even six months past my 21st birthday – you could say I was a little unrealistic. But I was damned and determined to find exactly what I had come to this city to find and do what I wanted to and love who I knew I was meant to love. For me, catching that flight wasn’t an option, it was the next undeniable step I wanted to take to create the future I knew I was destined to have. I may have had some lofty expectations but I sincerely had the best of intentions. I was taught to instruct the universe on what I wanted and if I believed and was willing to put the elbow grease in, I would surely be worthy of my desires. I may have not been the first, but I was surely a lady who had faith in the American dream, no matter how far away from the States I often wish I could getaway to.

And maybe because I’m lucky or blessed or understand to thrive in Manhattan, you must never lose your spirit – I did find that job. And that apartment. And many, many men. I did manage to meet my minimum income requirement at a job that allows me to write  and is located in the heart of Chelsea, steps away from the Empire State. I did find my preferred location with a low-rent, no-fee, and cozy, yet homey apartment. And the guys I dated, from the Millionaire to the dozen-or-so who ultimately were incredibly unavailable, were (and are, presumably) successful. They were charming and funny. And Mr. Possibility, the man of the hour, doesn’t live at home and fits all of the specifications I laid out long before I stumbled easily into his life on a bus back to the city from JFK.

My high ambition to make New York jam for me was not unreachable, come to find out. I wanted to find a job in a month – I found one in three weeks. I wanted to find an apartment in three months – I found one in two weeks. I wanted to find the man I would marry – well, I grew up and realized I was (and still am) far too young to make such a huge commitment. Nor would I want to put a time limit or a deadline on something that will be one of the greatest and most important decisions I’ll ever make.

At the time, I handled the stress of moving, the fears of never succeeding, and the unrealistic notion that love would complete me fairly well. Maybe because I knew it was a make-it or break-it situation or because I had yet to be jaded by anything or anyone, but nevertheless, I set my mind to it and went after those three things diligently.

A handful of awful dates along with a few who blew it out of the romantic park, one cockroach by my sink, one giant hole placed in my 20th-century floor by literally earth-shattering sex, hundreds of blog posts, countless bylines in various publications, a partner with possibility, and the best group of friends (and gay hubbies) a gal could ever ask for – I find myself here. Settled just enough to feel stable, but still with the desire to explore. Happy with where I am, but knowing there are better things before me. Dreaming of what could be, remembering what was, and enjoying what is. And not only satisfied but thankful I was able to break the Golden JAM rule.

But now, that JAM is not so jammin‘. Or at least one part of it, anyways.

The search for an apartment couldn’t be more stressful. Not only is everything completely last-minute but it is like most of the good men in the city – the best apartments are taken before they can sincerely be considered available. Apart from finding a location that is not only free of a tiny disaster called bed begs but doesn’t cost an arm, a leg, and my first-born child, there is also often income requirements or the option to have someone sign who makes 40-80 times your rent. This is standard practice and understandable, but who wants to sign away such money on a dotted line – just in case my roommate and I are not able to fork over the dough one month? It is something I’d prefer to never request of someone, but I may have no choice. No-fee brokers are reachable night and day and willingly show apartments at the drop of a dime, after work hours and on the weekends.

And yet, I’m completely stressed out. As I write this post, I consider the time I’m losing scouring Craigslist while formulating my thoughts for this blog’s 200th post. The Golden JAM rule may always be applicable and it is something I’d now suggest to New York newcomers because maybe I’m older and more tired. Or just overly busy with a full-time job, a blog, and well, a life – but apartment searching on its own – no mind resumes and dinner dates – extinguishes my energy. .

Perhaps it took some familiarity with the city I love, instead of just seeing it on a shiny pedestal for a dozen years, for me to fully internalize the Golden JAM rule. It’s an important one to follow because all three of the components deserve all of your attention. If one is given more dedication than the other, if you’re looking for all of them at the same time, and if you’re under the impression they will all look as you thought they would – you will end up sorely disappointed. While there is no need for a man to make a happy home, there is a need for an income. While there is no need for an apartment if you’re living with a boyfriend, you need a job to escape from him. While there is no need for a job if you depend on a man to provide for you, you will still need a place to call haven. They may not all go hand-in-hand, but what would life be like without all three?

Well, at least without two, anyways – we know by now a relationship is optional until it is an option we can’t deny. And in this city, the men, the apartments, and the jobs are limitless. It’s just a matter of finding the right one at the right time in the right place.

The Man Who Had Me at Hello

Two weeks into my New York adventure, I fell in love with a tall, classy, blue-eyed man.

At the time, I was applying to jobs all day and night, and in between refreshing Ed2010 and Mediabistro, I was scouring for affordable apartments that still made New York, NY the end of my address. Perhaps, I hadn’t gained some of that New York toughness or was creeped out by small empty spaces instead of the wide ones I was used to, but the thought of going all over the city, especially to Harlem and Morningside Heights, alone…was terrifying. Still being incredibly fresh to my new location and dying to have a home to call my own, I reached out to friends for advice. My friend A suggested I contact his friend – an assistant at the Lincoln Center.

And so, desperate for someone to apartment search with me (and well, protect me from the crazies I could encounter), I reached out to A’s friend, who gladly accepted the role as shopping buddy. Even though I had never met this man, I liked how friendly and helpful he was and willing to escort me, when at the time I was nothing but a stranger to him. I set up appointments for a Saturday afternoon and texted him the night before to let him know the times and locations – to this day, he still wants to make sure I’m safe whenever I go out alone and insists on walking me to my door or the subway when we’re out late together. And yes, this means he is still part of my life.

Ironically enough though, early on that Saturday morning, as I was drying my hair in my friend’s bathroom, he texted me to let me know that he was unexpectedly called into work and I should try to reschedule the appointments. Completely frustrated and now a little scared, I slammed down the hair dryer, plopped down on the side of the tub, and started crying. Here I was, a mere 14 days residing in my dream city and not only did I not have a job, but I didn’t have friends and I was now certain I’d be shot and killed in some slimy place I didn’t even know how to get to unless I Googled. After quite the hissy fit, I reached for my phone to call my mom, and saw that this man had texted me multiple times to ask me how he could be there for me and how he didn’t want me to be afraid. Humbled by his kindness, I thanked him for his time and suggested that maybe once I got my feet on the ground, we could go out to dinner. He responded with, “only if you text me as you go to these apartments, before, during, and after, so I know you’re okay.”

And so, with this gentleman in my pocket, I braved the streets and headed out to find my first New York place. In all honesty, it was a indeed creepy and when I exited the train at one of the locations, there was blood on the platform. Instead of exiting, I just turned on my heel and decided, surely, that was a sign to not go see the listing. I didn’t care if it was only $600 a month, utilities included. Though I saw some odd ones, eventually I found my cozy, tiny apartment and a week later, I was offered my current job…and well, here we are.

But to get to where I am now, I could have never done it without this man. When I had no one to depend on, no one to lay my trust in, no one who really even cared too awful much – he demanded to keep me safe. Even if it was just by guarding his Blackberry in case I didn’t text in an appropriate amount of minutes. Once all was settled, we did end up actually meeting when he invited me to a show, free of charge, at the Lincoln Center. An Opera, to be exact.

When I laid eyes on him, on the second floor mezzanine, in a black suit -I knew he would be someone I’d love. His smile, so endearing, so sincere, so enticing, caught my attention even in the crowd of strangers And as he casually sipped his champagne and made small talk with party guests, I slowly walked up to him, and he simply turned his head, locked eyes with me, and said: “You must be Lindsay. You’re as beautiful as A said you were.” Blushing to the color of my wine, I swore I almost stumbled in my three-inch heels.

A few nights later, we met in Union Square at a Thai restaurant we now call “our place.” He brought an expensive bottle of prosecco to celebrate my new job and new home, but the waitress (and the manager) refused to let us drink it with our food unless we forked up $20. We in return, refused, and discussed current events, popular culture, North Carolina, and because I’m “me” and he’s “him” – our conversation also turned to love. Watching him attempt to eloquently eat his noodles with chopsticks and bear his heart to me, with all of its many cuts and rips, I knew I had just found one of things I came to New York in search of. That man, who against all odds, through any circumstances, or in your worse and best of moments – will love you unconditionally. And yet, will also always be honest to a default and let you indulge in your silly-girl-freak-out moments (that perhaps aren’t that silly, after all). That man, who you can be yourself with, who you can come-as-you-are to, and even drink fancy wine out of plastic cups in the park instead of paying for someone else to uncork the bottle for you.

I had in fact found the required accessory to make any fabulous New York outfit and life complete: my gay husband. Or as I lovingly (and sincerely) call him, Mr. Hubby.

Now, I knew from the get-go that Mr. Hubby was not interested in me as a sexual creature (although he does admire my lovely lady lumps when they’re pushed up or on display), but it didn’t stop me from falling for him. You see, there is something unique in a hubby/wifey relationship – it is mutually understood that if we weren’t attracted to the same tall, dark stranger, we’d probably be literally married by now. In fact, we’d probably be bunking in Brooklyn with a completely gorgeous art-deco kitchen, and I’d walk around in pearls, as he smokes a cigar and drinks brandy in a parlor room, listening to Glee’s soundtrack and randomly bursting into song and dance. We’d also own a few recording and publishing companies, and be the smokin’ powerhouse couple that everyone is jealous of.

He easily and swiftly became and remains, my very best New York friend. We have the best kind of friendship that’s open, non-judgemental, and welcomes each and every little flaw. We’ve gone dancing and boozing at bars with 75-year-old bartenders, cuddled in the same bed when the commute seemed like too much, and hosted a BYOP party (Bring Your Own Pumpkin), as I wore an apron and he cared my pumpkin for me. He tells me when a dress isn’t flattering and also when I look, as he says, “damn sexy“, and I’m there to encourage pinstripe suits and the bottom he has that would charm the pants off anyone. And of course, we’ve spent many of lunch breaks over coffee or Greek food, both tearing up over a man who played a little too rough with our hearts, while the other told us not only what we wanted to hear, but what we needed to hear. If I’m honest, he has a Mr. Possibility of sorts (though I’d prefer to call him Mr. Idiotic), who continuously makes a mess of Mr. Hubby’s emotions, and yet, the connection there is impossible to ignore. Of course, I can relate, but I can’t say I’m the biggest fan of Mr. Idiotic. I do, however believe one day, he’ll wake up and see what he’s missing in Mr. Hubby.

Because if anyone knows how special, how irreplaceable Mr. Hubby is, it’s me. He, like me, is an artist – only he has the unbelievable quality of not only making something, but demonstrating beauty in the creation. He sees and presents the brilliance of emotion through movement, through words, through friendship, through his voice, and of course, his contagious smile. Though he can’t always see what is ahead of him, I’m as sure of his success and his happiness, as I am of mine. His dreams are only outnumbered by his friends, all of which can’t help but adore him. I feel blessed to be picked as the Mrs. – yet I think fate had a little hand in the serendipitous meeting.

I’m still not convinced that when I meet or go out with Mr. Right, I’ll just know he’s my match, but when that does happen, I hope he knows that I’ve already been married for some time now, and he has some pretty incredible shoes to fill. He has to live up to the man who had me at hello.