After a string of roommates left Lauren Mechling behind for the cozy confines of coupledom, she wondered when she'd learn to commit, too.
By Lauren Mechling
At 26, I moved into a typical Brooklyn apartment two bedrooms connected by a windowless living room with a good friend. She settled into the back bedroom with a garden view, while I took the street-facing room with a tiny office attached, where I wrote young adult novels. We filled the place with junky family castoffs and an Ikea couch. You could say it looked cozy, if you wanted to be nice about it, but the warped floors and Reagan-era kitchen fixings ensured that it always felt run-down, no matter how vigorous our cleaning efforts.
When we signed the lease, my roommate was nursing a broken heart and wanted a fresh start. But a few months later, her ex started to appear with increasing frequency, lounging on the sofa and strumming a guitar in his pajamas. One afternoon, a month before our lease was up for renewal, she e-mailed me: "Will you be home tonight? I need to talk to you."
That evening, over microwaved burritos, she told me that she was moving in with her man. I quickly found a new roommate, and a year after moving in, she, too, sent me an e-mail about the talk we needed to have. In the course of three years, five (five!) roommates followed, and just as many burrito dinners. My apartment had transformed into a weird halfway house for women in romantic transition, and I was the spinster lording over it, which was OK by me. I cared more about my writing than my romantic prospects; my relationships I had a thing for quirky and irresponsible man-children who were great dinner-party conversationalists never hit the one-year mark. If I switched to the back room, I mused, maybe the good vibes would rub off on me, and I'd dash off with my Prince Charming. But I needed the attached office, and I wanted my prince to come someday, not right away.
By the sixth roommate talk, I started to wonder if there was something wrong with me. Seeing family was increasingly fraught; when my relatives asked, "And have you met anyone special, Lauren?" they no longer sounded like they were teasing more like worried.
Then Ben, a fellow writer, came along. I knew his magazine work and friended him on Facebook. In turn, he asked me to get a drink. Unlike the men I'd dated before, Ben was grounded, solid. He was secure enough not to pretend to be anything he wasn't. For years, I'd told myself I'd stop falling for emotionally unavailable guys and find a real match and there was a very good chance the person seated across the table was just the one.
Ben knew how to read me, but I didn't know how to do the same. Instead, I took it personally when he'd get gloomy and detached and quietly curl into himself, causing me to pummel him with critical questions. I didn't see it at the time, but I was terrified of fully inhabiting an intimate relationship and the warts-and-all acceptance that it would entail. It was easier to pick at him for having moods that didn't perfectly mirror my own than to allow myself to grow into an understanding partner. About a year and a half into our relationship, he ended it on the sidewalk outside our favorite sushi restaurant.
I barely left my apartment for the next month, spending weekends in front of the TV. My lease was about to expire, and my latest roommate was already at her boyfriend's place six nights a week. The talk was fast approaching.
This time, the idea of renting the room to another slew of female drifters seemed too bleak to bear. I'd wake up and the walls would seem to be falling in on me. I needed to move out in order to move on. After years of living with women on their way to committing, it was time for me to commit to myself, and an apartment that I could call my own. I started to look at apartments for sale and found a heavenly place with high ceilings just a few blocks away.
After the owners accepted my bid, something shifted inside. I was still standing after the worst heartbreak of my life. My aura must have changed: Men were coming out of the woodwork to ask me out. My busier social life only made me radiate more happiness, and as a new homeowner, I was filled with a confidence that trudging up the dusty steps to my shared walk-up had never imparted.
When I saw Ben's name in my inbox three months after the breakup, my stomach dropped so close to the ground that I knew I wasn't over him. He missed me and needed to see me, he wrote. When we sat down for coffee, he looked broken-down and vulnerable. He'd been too depressed to be there for me before, he said. He was ready to love me unreservedly. These words would have made me nervous in the past; now they didn't sound so frightening. Yet I was pretty sure backsliding with Ben was not the way to move forward.
"I just bought an apartment, where I'm going to live alone," I said. It was time to take care of myself, not be with somebody who had a tendency to pull back and leave me wondering what I'd done wrong. "I understand how much I love you," he said. "I didn't before. I don't want to be with anyone else, ever." Moved by his honesty, I agreed to date him on a slow trial basis.
When it was time to move, Ben helped me pack and installed the air conditioners. He even swept up after my housewarming party. Now that I wasn't pressured to give a roommate her space, I could totally relax in my apartment my apartment, the one I owned! I could stretch out on my sofa or cook without having to make small talk with somebody else's boyfriend. I got into decorating, framing old postcards, organizing my books by color. I'd never really understood what it meant to see yourself reflected in the rooms you walk through every day. I hadn't felt settled since I'd moved out of my parents' house. Now I had roots.
All the while, Ben made good on his promise. He was patient, loving, warmer. I was more secure in my own skin and softer with Ben. The playing field had leveled. Leading a more stable life made me happier than I'd ever imagined. I was reading more, writing regularly, feeling less fidgety. I started to understand why most people don't want to spend the next 60 years of their lives going on dating adventures. I liked having a home and someone who was home to me.
Eight months later, Ben asked me to marry him. I sold my apartment to a woman who was about my age, 35, and mentioned a boyfriend at the closing. Now, two and a half years later, Ben, our son, and I live not so far away from the old place. When I walk by it, I always look up and feel a tug of hope that the apartment has worked its wonders on the girl who bought it from me. I hope that she's happy, too.