Breaking up without breaking a lease keeps two ex-lovers in one apartment.
There was our initial flirtation in Chicago, during a trip we took for fun with coworkers. In Cape Cod, I had slain him at quarters and he'd rambled on about the ocean. We even laughed about our first real fight, when—in complete exasperation—I'd thrown the remote control against the wall. His reaction caught me off guard. "What is wrong with you?" he'd asked, his eyes laughing. His candor could always defuse me. (The remote control would survive, with help from duct tape.)
During the weeks following the breakthrough, relations improved considerably, making it easy to drag our feet on the apartment hunt. We fell into our old habits: taking turns making dinner, talking about our days, going off for random walks in the park. Suddenly, we were friends again but not quite back together. Socially, we hung out separately, only to meet each other at a corner bar later in the night before heading home.
Our newfound easiness made me rationalize staying together. We had it pretty good, after all: an affordable apartment, years of cultivating inside jokes. Nathan was completely devoted to me, pulled his own weight financially and had bottomless patience. Our living together for six months after the breakup made me remember the man I was giving up. Here was the friend I first fell for years ago. Maybe we were worth a second shot.
Fate thought otherwise. By April, we still hadn't told our landlord about our intention to move out, and we talked about sticking it out until September when our lease would end. But a visit from the landlord preempted our plans to procrastinate. He told us he'd gotten a new job in San Francisco and would be moving his family there by midsummer. The brownstone was for sale.
I'd let myself forget why we'd broken up in the first place. After the landlord's news, I remembered that I'd broken up with Nathan and did so in a way that passed the point of no return. As much as I loved Nathan, I knew one thing for certain: We had grown apart. Our living together had revealed discrepancies we constantly struggled with. For instance, the state of the apartment—he was clean and I was messy. We also had very different, deep-rooted ideas about life. An early illness imbued him with a live-for-the-day attitude. Meanwhile, I was always thinking and preparing for the future. I had asked Nathan once what he saw when he imagined himself 20 years out. "I see myself healthy, happy, and still having fun," he'd said without missing a beat. That pretty much answered any questions I had about a future with him.
With the brownstone on the market, our apartment searches began in earnest. By mid-June, we had both signed leases on our own new homes, mine a studio back in Manhattan and his in Brooklyn. When I think of that time, it elicits a near-Pavlovian response—a distinct buzz no doubt generated from stress.
Surviving the six months had its upside, though. The rough road not only paved a path back to friendship for me and Nathan but also cemented in my mind the reasons why leaving was the right thing to do. Nathan and I did talk about possibly staying together, but when it came to making an actual decision, neither of us were willing to go out on a limb. "This is what you wanted, wasn't it?" he'd say. I had no answer. Which only underscored the big gamble ahead of me.
While rummaging through the silverware set Nathan's mom gave us shortly after we moved in together, the stakes announced itself. The only thing in the cutlery drawer that belonged to me was a pair of mahogany chopsticks, an impulse purchase from an upscale boutique in Boston. I didn't even have a fork to eat with.