It is 7 a.m. on a Tuesday morning, and I’m sitting on the New York City subway’s 1 train in sunglasses, sweatpants and some platform heels I got on The RealReal. For a moment I time travel back to the college-aged version of myself doing the walk of shame and I hope that is not a thing college-aged girls worry about anymore. But I’m not hungover, or worried over some questionable decisions that began with unadvisedly swiping right. I’m married, and just leaving my husband’s apartment to get back to my own. I have a cat to feed, clothes to put on before work, and I’m pondering if I can ever find a way of ensuring that there are sneakers where I need them each morning.
I have a few sleeves of Nespresso and a roll of paper towels stashed in my bag from the front closet. I didn’t steal them; technically it’s “our” Nespresso and “our” paper towels, but it always feels a little questionable anyway. I am constantly schlepping things from one apartment to the other. We joke that I have a second job in shipping and receiving. I swapped out my tote for an ugly but durable backpack when my shoulder started to hurt from being my own messenger service.
“Where are you?” my husband, Peter, texts. “Fourteenth St.,” I reply. It’s become a running joke — somehow I am always at 14th St.
I can do the 38-minute commute in my sleep. Transfer from the 1 to the 2 express at 14th St. I know the right car to get on to minimize platform time. I’ve gotten really good at crossword puzzles and every version of Wordle. I know which weekends they are doing construction and I need to reroute to the Q train. I follow the MTA on Twitter.
This is not what I expected marriage to look like. It’s so much better.
Saying “I do” for the first time at age 42 meant having my own life built already. My apartment, and the mortgage it came with, has been my home for over a decade: a studio in a converted schoolhouse in Prospect Heights. Something I was able to pull off in part because I had no kids and the privilege of no student debt. It feels designed for an introverted writer — a cozy sleeping loft that feels like a fort where I write in bed. Morning light streams in from the tall classroom windows. The original “it girl,” Clara Bow, was once a student here, and some days I swear I can feel her energy in the halls.
The apartment was my refuge after a hard breakup. I bought it, I moved, I rebuilt my life. It has history. It’s a part of my family.
And then there’s Cleo. When Peter and I first started dating, I told him about Cleo, my rescue cat from Queens. Without missing a beat he asked how old she was, and in the haze of Moscow mules and first date jitters I missed the subtext. I soon learned that both Peter and his then teenage son are severely allergic to cats. Like the throat-closing-up kind of allergies. She would never be able to be a part of a home with him, and I had no plans to have a life without her — no wedding ring was worth giving her up. She was a smaller, furrier version of my apartment. She was also a part of my family, and she was there first.
After weathering the stress of the pandemic together as a family and still keeping our sense of humor, we decided that we wanted to be together for the rest of our lives. We got engaged. There are lots of personal and intrusive questions that everyone asks when you’re getting married. What are you going to do with your apartment? When are you moving in together? Are you having kids? I had to find new ways to dodge all of these questions without totally alienating everyone in my life. The truth was I just didn’t know. I knew I loved Peter, but I still couldn’t picture the end of the story.
Peter, a widower, was coming into our marriage with a teenage son and an adorable schnoodle. I had a studio apartment and a temperamental cat. How could we make this marriage something that worked for all of us? Following the traditional playbook wasn’t going to make anyone happy. Why did we have to live by old conventions? Why couldn’t we make it up as we went along? Who says what a good marriage should look like?
Why did we have to live by old conventions? Why couldn’t we make it up as we went along? Who says what a good marriage should look like?
Once we realized that it was our call and we didn’t have to follow what everyone else was doing, our relationship deepened, and we both could relax and just feel so lucky that we found someone we liked watching Netflix with.
Most relationships involve a lot of texting. Ours more than others.
“Can’t wait to see you!”
It’s Tuesday night and our plan is to make Blue Apron and catch up on “Succession.” Tilapia is on the menu. I’m running late. We’ve been together for almost six years now and yet a mundane weekday evening still feels like a date. He will have made dinner by the time I arrive. He will remember that I like my roasted broccoli burnt. He will clean up because he claims he actually likes doing dishes. I know him better than anyone and yet our time together is still something I get butterflies for.
On another night, I might text him this: “Do you want me to pick anything up?”
I have no idea what we need, what’s in his fridge. Since his son is off at college now, usually it’s not much. Sometimes he jokes that he needs a wife. It’s in those moments that I wonder if we’re doing the right thing.
Most people we tell about our unusual living situation move pretty quickly from surprise to curiosity to, in some cases, a little envy. I like to think they start imagining what a room or apartment of their own may look like. Maybe they start remembering what it was like to eat cereal for dinner while watching reality TV, and dance around in their pajamas like no one is watching. Because on those nights when I am home alone in Brooklyn, I do all those things.
Most people we tell about our unusual living situation move pretty quickly from surprise to curiosity to, in some cases, a little envy.
My friends are superstitious about me writing about how much I love my marriage. What if you grow apart? What if you get divorced? Why open yourself up to any scrutiny? Perhaps in another few years I’ll write a follow-up essay from my cozy sleeping loft about why you should live with your spouse and the dangers of long-distance marriages and the single girl’s guide to dealing with an elderly cat. But actually, I’m pretty sure that won’t happen. I think this living arrangement is the secret to our happiness. It’s become a cliche that the secret to a happy marriage is separate bathrooms. We’ve settled on separate boroughs. And in the meantime, Peter is looking for an apartment that is a few subway stops closer.