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Love In The Time of Rent Inflation

When “moving in together” really means “sharing a too-small bed, still paying too much rent, and living with too many roommates.” How the nation’s most insane housing market is becoming a relationship killer.

My own problem wasn’t lack of space, but another aspect of the rental market. Two summers ago, after years of unvoiced conflicts, my now ex-boyfriend and I very politely parted ways. The only thing I couldn’t bring myself to break up with was the apartment we’d leased together: an updated, sunny, 1,500-square-foot Victorian with a backyard, a washer and dryer, parking, and a working fireplace—for post–Lehman Brothers rent. In many ways, the thought of leaving my six-room sanctuary was worse than the thought of abandoning the relationship. What can I say? Blame me for being cold and unfeeling, but the Craigslist posts I’d been scanning had put me in survival mode.

That meant finding a roommate. I’m nearing 30, and the idea of living with someone other than a romantic partner felt like a huge step backward, very college-y. At this point in my life, wasn’t I supposed to be on my way to settling down, getting serious, and art-directing my very own grown-up home? Wearing earplugs to muffle the sounds of sex grunts in the next room wasn’t part of the plan.

Luckily, I got a great roommate (Beth’s the best!). But when I started dating again, the guys were less than enthused about having to schedule sleepovers around her comings and goings. (No one liked the idea of getting caught on the way to the bathroom, naked.) So I adjusted, learning to listen for doors opening and closing. Having the quietest sex possible, the quietest arguments, the quietest all-night talks. It was as if I were sneaking around in my parents’ house all over again. But when I began seeing Rudy, my current boyfriend, the silence proved too much for him, and soon he began spending fewer and fewer nights with me. (His bachelor pad wasn’t an option. Trust me.) More than once, he came over for dinner only to leave right after the dishes were washed, when Beth walked in the door. We continued along like that, living separately but “sleeping over,” for more than a year before we decided that we were ready to live together. A half dozen fruitless apartment showings later, however, we were forced to face a daunting reality: Rudy would have to move into my flat, and I would have to throw my perfectly lovely roommate into the hell of a fierce rental market that she probably couldn’t afford.

During a flight to Kauai, I told Rudy that I needed to give Beth a few months’ notice. Unfortunately for the passenger next to us, we spent the next five hours arguing in terse whispers about why we couldn’t move in together sooner. We must have looked ridiculous, sitting there in seats A and B with teeth grinding and arms occasionally flailing in exasperation. If there had been a parachute under my seat, I would have gladly jumped.

In the end, Beth took the news like a champ. Rudy and I, however, discovered another housing-related dilemma: the fact that we would be starting our life together in a home haunted by the ghost of a relationship past. To remove any reminders that I had once deeply loved someone else, Rudy made demands that provoked my sometimes type A personality. First, he wanted to rearrange all the furniture. “But darling,” I would point out, “the TV can’t go there.” “Why not?” he would ask. The answer was that we (as in the ex-boyfriend and I) had tried moving it there before, but it simply hadn’t worked. “And can we paint the living room another color?” God, no. The ex and I had spent more than a week layering coats of paint onto those textured walls.

Sensing Rudy’s growing discomfort in his new home, I conceded wherever I could. At times it was tense and uneasy, but as we found our groove (and adopted a cat), the apartment began to feel like ours. Just for good measure, though, I burned several sticks of sage to clear any leftover bad mojo.