I have had roommates for the last 29 years of my life if you count my mom and dad. Last June, when my roommate Lev and I closed the door of our shared apartment for the last time, it felt like the end of an era. Effective July 1st, I’d be alone.
Lev and I lived together for five years, but we’ve been best friends since our days as rival high school students. We met in 2004 at an O.C. viewing party, the last one I attended before I admitted to myself that I could not handle the emotional stress of watching important shows in public. On this one particular Wednesday, while standing by a plastic tub of grocery store guacamole, I made a comment under my breath about Julie Cooper’s necklace resembling a penis. Lev was the only one who found it funny. He was barely an acquaintance before that night; in that moment, I suspected he might be in my life forever. It was all very romantic.
Our friendship grew stronger over dances, parties and, most importantly, the SATs, where our true love was sealed over a clump of hair. (A handful I’d picked off my North Face landed on his desk and we laughed about it later. In retrospect, could have been a deal breaker.) We talked about how cool it would be to live together in New York when we got older. One year post-college, Lev got a job in Manhattan. Like two 1940s newlyweds, we found a small apartment together, moved in and slept in separate beds.
The first big decision we made together was a couch. We bought an L-shaped sectional in the very practical shade of IKEA white and spent the next chapter of our lives staving off Sunday Scaries while spilling a painter’s palette of drinks and condiments on it. Every year, we swore we’d buy a new cover or get it dry cleaned; every year, a new excuse to wait one more month. It was funny because it was pathetic; physical proof that no matter how much we matured and progressed in our real lives, as grown ups, as people with actual careers, we were still two idiots who reverted back to teen-hood the moment we sat in a room together for more than 15 minutes. That couch was disgusting and perfect.
Our first few years together were an education in how to live intimately with another person. We petty-fought a lot. It felt different than living with a group of girls in that our lives weren’t expected to connect and intertwine. It was different from living with roommates in college in that we were on two entirely different paths. We left every morning to entirely different worlds and returned at night to one small apartment, each of us with our own private stuff to deal with, grievances and gripes from the day that we’d either share or keep to ourselves while we stewed in the solace of our individual rooms.
That dirty white couch was neutral territory, annoying only after a fight, or when you wanted the entire space to yourself (for a guest or for alone time with friends). Otherwise, usually, it was a place of comfort when the rest of New York City felt like too much, became too real.
Over time, Lev and I learned how to pick our battles. We learned the hard way that passive aggressive comments are satisfying to make in the moment but rarely reap the right rewards. I learned how to be less uptight, less neat, less fussy. Despite my inherent preference for mute afterwork hours and quiet mornings, I learned just how far a sincere and heartfelt “hello!” or “welcome home!” can go. I think we both learned the value of space — of needing it, when to give it, when to share it — especially when living in such a small amount of it. Out of necessity for a peaceful respite, we learned to be better friends. When Lev moved out for a year during grad school and then returned, we entered a late-in-life honeymoon stage, as though we were a couple who’d broken up for a few years and got back together with the intention of getting married. A lot of our bullshit was gone. We had grown up.
We also knew our time together was almost up.
At the end of June, Lev and I parted ways and moved into our own no-roommate apartments. We both got studios. If felt like a mutual, mature breakup with all the sadness you’d expect. It was also really exciting. It meant we did it: We’d conquered Manhattan. We had survived internships, first jobs, asshole bosses, “friend drama,” heartaches, ghosts, breakups. It meant we were successful in hitting goals we’d long-ago set. He graduated from business school into a job, I got a promotion and, suddenly, we could both afford to not split a cable bill.
The first morning I woke up in my studio apartment and realized that I was wonderfully, gloriously alone, that I could dawdle in front of the bathroom mirror without having to be considerate of another person’s time, was as liberating and as boring (and then liberating again because it’s boring) as it sounds. The first evening it occurred to me that the place would stay as clean as I left it was a thrill. The first long night after a long day that I realized I could come home and be sulky and selfish was exactly what I have craved since whatever age I realized you cannot do so in civilized company. My stuff goes untouched. The temperature stays where I want it. Like a magic trick, no one eats my food except for me. I don’t get scared; I don’t feel lonely. I’m fully adept at changing a lightbulb. I don’t have to be polite, clothed, nor do I have to think.
Being alone in this place with my things and my thoughts is a comfort, a luxury that I’m well-aware lives in a tiny, ephemeral bubble that will inevitably pop. I can be reclusive like one, but I’m not a hermit; I’ll eventually share my space with another human being. Thanks to Lev, I’m sure I’ll be an easier person to live with than if we hadn’t gone through five years of training. For now though, I bask in the joy that is living on my own. Everything in its proper place, including me.