Imagine this: You’re splitting an apartment with your ex, and she shoots you a text in the middle of the night asking if she can bring some friends home for “an ecstasy party.” Unbelievable, right? That’s exactly what happened to Victoria Davis, now 33, a communications consultant and cohost of the podcast Livin’ and Lovin’ in NYC, who was sharing her Brooklyn, pad—and, yes, even her bed—with her ex, whom she had recently broken up with. “I was like, ‘No, that sounds horrible,’” recalls Davis, standing her ground that she didn’t, in fact, want strangers coming over to indulge in a drug that has a reputation for making sex awesome. Her girlfriend-turned-roomie respected these wishes and returned home solo at 5am. “She was a complete wreck,” says Davis. “I had to take care of her for, like, 12 hours. There was still responsibility to be tender to her, but it was also very much like, Ugh, you’re fucking lucky I’m doing this.”
We feel Davis’s pain. While it’s not something we often discuss, dwelling with an ex is running rampant in New York. Perhaps David Sedaris explains the problem best in Me Talk Pretty One Day: “In other parts of the country, people tried to stay together for the sake of the children. In New York, they tried to work things out for the sake of the apartment.”
But when that doesn’t work out—in the case of Davis and many, many others—there’s that uncomfortable-as-hell stint where you have to cohabit. Which makes sense. When you break up, there’s the lease to worry about, a security deposit to fight over, not to mention the fact that affording an apartment solo might require a personal loan. And good luck finding a noncreepy Craigslist roommate on short notice. (What, are we going to move to Hartford, where the average rent, $1,158, is just about a third of New York’s, according to rentjungle.com? Never. Even if Miriam Lexie, 32, was easily able to cut ties in that Connecticut city. “That weekend I ended my relationship, stayed with a friend for about five days, saw an apartment and moved straight into my new place!” Color us jealous.)
Meanwhile, many of our friends in NYC live in studio apartments split three ways, with not a couch to spare, so even finding a place to crash can be hard. “People will go to great lengths to live here and stay here,” says Ashley Murphy of Compass, a New York real estate platform. “And they’ll find creative ways to do it even if prices continue to rise as inventory shrinks.”
Just ask Susan Brown, 32, an actress and artist living in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, with her soon-to-be ex-husband and their son. “The reality of it is that we can’t afford to move out and start over,” she says. It’s been six months since they split, and Brown is still searching for full-time employment so she can afford both a divorce attorney and rent. For awhile, Brown and her ex alternated who slept on the couch, but when it became clear that she might be staying there for the foreseeable future, she decided to invest in another mattress “just for a sense of dignity.” She used the little bit of money she had saved to convert their third bedroom, which doubled as her art studio and their office, into a separate living space. “Everything felt like an idea for me until I was at the checkout line at Ikea, and I was holding my new mattress, and I was like, This is actually happening.”
“While it’s not something we often discuss, dwelling with an ex is running rampant in New York.”
Remaining in the same apartment has been both better and worse than Brown expected. “Life didn’t really change all that much in terms of the day to day,” she says. “I mean, part of what was so difficult about our relationship falling apart is that we didn’t really share our lives together anymore. It was like ships in the night or like roommates, so we very much continued with that.”
Besides the financial difficulties, moving is just a pain in the ass. Finding an apartment that meets our long list of criteria (subway-proximal, affordable, little-to-no vermin) requires Columbo-like sleuthing skills and is not something to be rushed into. Plus there are those annoying broker fees to take into account.
Davis and her ex—you remember, the ecstasy-party case—still had 14 months left on a two-year lease, and they wanted to take their time finding new living arrangements they were both comfortable with (they managed to sublet the final year of the contract). “It was a very cordial breakup, but at the same time, living with your ex really sucks,” says Davis. The affable vibe made boundaries difficult to navigate and, at times, blurry. “We’d be at the same party, and one person would be convinced that the other was flirting with someone, which you don’t really have a right to be upset about but, of course, you are,” she explains. So, to save their friendship (and to stop weirding out their friends), they decided to separate their social lives. They even had an unspoken rule about not starting to date until they’d moved, though Davis perused OkCupid in anticipation. (And thankfully, the couple did not rekindle the relationship or hook up during this time.)
Speaking of that, while sleeping with other people can make living with your ex awkward, sleeping with each other is a potential clusterfuck—and one that Brian Murphy, 37, avoided at all costs. He and his ex had been together nearly four years, living together for two of those. “We had just moved into our place in Astoria, Queens, about six months prior,” he says. “When the breakup happened in April, she announced immediately that she would be moving to Texas after the school year ended.” Her toddler lived with them, so she couldn’t really go stay with a friend, and neither could afford the rent alone. “So we just kind of had to suck it up and deal with it for two months,” he notes, admitting “it was a very cold place” to return to each night. “Despite the close proximity,” he says of the post-split cohabitation, “we never backslid. Never had an ill-advised post-breakup hookup. Never made out, never flirted, never even came close to falling into mistakes that everyone else just kind of assumed we were making. I think both of us knew that it would be really sad sex if we actually went down that road.”
Instead, he started staying out late to avoid her, which only made her assume he was out on dates, which made the environment even colder. “I learned after a while to keep conversation at a purely surface level. Because even though it was kind of killing me living in this weird not-quite-silence, conversations were a bit of a minefield,” he confides. “I found I was frequently stumbling into topics that would make her clam up completely and spend the rest of the evening under a cloud and a scowl.” Yikes.
At the end of the day, we’re all—Davis, Brown, Murphy, all of us—just doing what we gotta do to make it here. Sometimes that means working nights, waiting tables to cover rent while you do an unpaid internship. Maybe it means sharing a doorless railroad apartment with more people than there are rooms. Perhaps it means actually responding to one of those sublet ads offering free rent in exchange for underwear-clad cleaning services. Or maybe it means continuing to live with someone after you break up. Leaving the city is not an option, but living with your ex is. But, hey—we’re New Yorkers. Crap like this just makes us stronger.