Domestically Partnered

8.2.2011

By Nick Burd

Signing a lease, out on a limb

The first time I moved in with a boyfriend, it was right after college and out of convenience. I was spending a summer touring with my band and needed a spot to call home between gigs. The boyfriend lived in Iowa City. I had a number of misgivings, but the only other option was my mom's basement an hour away. In the end, his persistence and my cautious optimism won out. But six weeks, several arguments, and one (accidental!) ink stain on the bedroom carpet later, I was packing my books and promising myself I would only move in with someone again if I was reasonably sure I was going to be with them forever. Not gay forever, mind you. Actual forever.

Seven years later, six years into my New York City life, I found myself gazing into the eyes of a different (in every way) boyfriend and sighing, 'Let's move in together.' It had nothing to do with convenience. We lived in equally satisfying apartments two blocks from each other and valued our alone time in a manner particular to two writers with no history of emotional codependency. I simply wanted to brush my teeth next to him in a bathroom that was not his or mine, but ours. Soon we were embarking on a new kind of Craigslist browsing.

For writers, skepticism is a natural, inevitable thing. It is our duty. We must be able to imagine all the ways a situation could possibly turn out, especially the terrible ones that make good stories. We are always asking, 'But what if'?' So, of course, there were many questions looming over our apartment hunt. Would cohabitation reveal some terrible personality traits that living apart had hidden? Would we start fighting about the dishes? Would we stop having sex? These and other questions formed a ladder that led to the granddaddy of them all: What if it doesn't work out?

Moving is hard anywhere, but any New Yorker will tell you that it's especially hard here. As far as backup plans go, Google says my mother's basement is 1,020 miles, or 16 hours and 59 minutes, away. If things didn't work out, I'd have to quickly come up with a deposit, two months' rent, and a broker's fee. I'd have to buy a new couch, a new coffee maker. I'd wake up in a cold sweat and realize he still had my favorite cowboy shirt.

And then there were the emotional costs. I knew how it worked. I would have to go back to the place we once shared and pick up my mail once a week (the cowboy shirt would always be 'at the cleaners'). I would have to move to a neighborhood where I wouldn't run into him. I'd have to get used to a new bodega. How would I find time for extended crying and wondering where it all went wrong? It sounded exhausting, and I hadn't even found the place I was scared I'd have to leave.

I called up a friendly ex who was older, wiser, and who has been living with his boyfriend for some time. I asked the big question: 'What if it doesn't work out?'
His answer was simple: 'Then it doesn't work out. You move out. And you move on.'

When writing a book or a story, you have to shut off the voice in your head saying you don't know what you're doing. And you have to do the same thing when writing your life. So I shut the voice off, and my boyfriend and I continued our apartment hunt. In each place, we imagined ourselves there. We checked if there was enough light, and if there were spots we would go when we wanted to be alone. I slowly realized that my ambivalence was a natural byproduct of not knowing what came next. Any wordsmith who works without an outline knows how crucial it is to turn this feeling into part of the fun.

We found a place with a stoop and a washer and dryer. We navigated a sea of gays at Crate and Barrel and purchased a couch. There is no surefire way to avoid heartbreak. Never taking a risk is a good a place to start, but what happens then is something more serious than heartbreak. You risk regret and never getting close to anyone out of fear that the closeness will not last. You risk losing touch with the things you irrationally want, the primal urges that conspire and come together and make you who you are. You do this all for the sake of safety, despite the fact that in not taking risks, there are all sorts of risks. So I took one. We still call it home. n

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