How to Live with an Ex in Five Simple Steps
New York is a town with a double edge. It’s a city where you can cheap out and spend a day in The Met for a $1 (and almost feel good about it until you realize you should have given at least $5, why are you so cheap?), but then afterward, go for a walk in Central Park and not think twice about forking over $4 for a so-so cup of coffee.
It’s a city where you can have a negligible amount of money in your checking account and a non-existent savings, but when you walk around the West Village—and specifically West 10th Street—stalkily peering into the windows of the bottom floor apartments that forgot to shut the blinds (sorry not sorry, residents of West 10th Street) you say to yourself with absolute conviction, “I can’t wait to live here one day.”
It’s the type of metropolis where the cozy little corner you built with a significant other can quickly become a nightmare when you break up and neither wants to, or truthfully can afford to, move out. For several months. Okay, for like six months. Even if it seems obvious that one of you should go immediately because only one of you actually did the super hard work of even finding this kick-ass apartment to begin with. In this case, let’s call said person Lia.
This overall experience is weird and sad and hard for a number of reasons, but the good news is there are a few ways to get through it. Here are a few lessons I learned along the way.
Just to level set, the range of the spectrum for how bad this situation stinks—should you find yourself needing to measure against it—is terrible to horrible. The midpoint of the spectrum is the phrase “this is the worst.” But I lived through it and so can you.
1.) Live beyond your means. You know that credit card you keep hidden from yourself? The one that used to have a balance of $17,000 because you were an idiot at 26 and didn’t know how compounding interest worked, but now you’re 32 and it’s down to just $3,000 mostly through hard work and a series of debilitating panic attacks? Well time to stop hiding and start seeking, because that card is about to do work.
First, you’re going to find a reason to go out at least five to six nights a week. And not to dinner—screw dinner, you have no appetite and being the skinniest you’ve been since high school looks great on you anyway. No, Lia Moss, you’re going out to drinks. Tap every co-worker, every passing acquaintance, every person you’ve ever come in contact with, and meet up with them. Promise yourself you’ll keep it to two drinks, but don’t beat yourself up as you round the corner to six. Sometimes you’re just having so much fun catching up!
Second, you know how you always have wanted to visit New Orleans, Atlanta, and Austin? No time like the present, little lady! Go in successive months, too. Winter in New York City sucks, so you might as well get out while the getting is good. Run a half marathon in Austin to make yourself feel slightly less guilty about all this travel. Really, you’re doing it because you love America, and you love running, and you love running across America.
Third, take a look at your closet. Looking a little shabby, isn’t it? (It is.) Start swinging by your favorite stores after work since you just happen to be walking by anyway. And, if you need a break in the middle of the workday or at midnight when you’re wide awake just staring at the ceiling for no discernible reason, Favoritestore.com is always open! And they have 20 percent off and free shipping until Tuesday! Huzzah!
2.) Have a dog. It’s the easiest, safest topic to communicate about. Does she have food? (No! Good, I’ll go to the store to go get some. Be back in half an hour.) Does she need to go out for a walk? (Perfect! I’ll take her and I’ll be back in two hours just in time to go to bed.) Are we out of her monthly heartworm medicine? (Great! Let me call the vet to order some more. This shouldn’t take more than 25 minutes.) Isn’t she due for her grooming appointment? (Excellent! I’ll take her on Saturday. We’ll probably be gone a while.) These are all easy, softball ways to talk without actually saying anything.
Don’t have a dog? Not a problem. There are some alternatives, which you will probably be called upon to use at some point anyway, regardless of your pet situation.
First, as soon as you can, become extremely comfortable with very long silences. Truthfully, this is just good advice in any relationship, not just the ones between people forced to live together against their will. You know how sometimes you’re out at a restaurant and there is a couple sitting nearby that has clearly been together for so long that they’ve literally run out of things to say to one another? And they’re just sitting there, eating their food in silence and staring longingly at you and your friends having a great time? And you and your friends just look at each other like, “Why did they even come out to dinner just to sit in silence?” Well, it turns out they’ve simply just mastered the art of being quiet. And you know what? Mad respect to you, super quiet (maybe boring) couple. Silence—and you can look this up in the dictionary—is actually just the absence of screaming at another person about your inability to depend on them.
Alternatively, you can also become really good at getting home first so you can grab the remote and turn on Investigation Discovery for the rest of the evening. Tales of vengeful mistresses, spurned wives, jealous lovers, and insurance money-hungry partners have an odd way of soothing the soul. Yes, you may have initiated this break-up, but look, you could have murdered the guy! And you didn’t! Really you did this relationship a favor! It’s ending, but not because someone is dead at the other’s hand! Congratulations on the restraint, Lia. When you really stop to think about it, you are actually the best.
3.) See a Psychic. At some point, far sooner than you’d prefer (but them be the breaks) your friends and family aren’t going to want to listen to you talk about this anymore. It’s not that they don’t care: they definitely do. It’s just that it’s exhausting and emotionally draining for them to go over the same things with you over and over again; as exhausting as it is for you to talk about it.
So when you see that slight twitch on the faces of your nearest and dearest when you show up at their doorstep or start your every phone conversation with “AND ANOTHER THING!”—just stop yourself. It’s time to pay a stranger to listen. And do yourself one better on this front, find stranger who can also see into the future!
As much as I am so ridiculously into the paranormal in all of its variances, for some reason, I had never seen a psychic before. Like the writer I am, though, I brought a notebook and pen with me and I swear to God, I was writing so fast and furious at one point, tiny wisps of smoke were coming off the page. So transformed was I by this experience that I simply don’t know why anyone goes to therapy, although I’ve never actually been to therapy. My understanding of therapy, though, is that you have to talk about your feelings and then try to put it into a context. A psychic does all of this hard work for you and then also does you the huge solid of also just telling you what’s coming down the pipeline. Again, I’m no expert, but isn’t that way better?
As an added bonus, during the course of my first psychic reading, I received one of the best bits of advice ever. It had nothing to do with the future. The psychic said, “Stop saying it’s all perfect, but… Saying ‘but’ means it’s not perfect. You should never live your life like this.” And she was 100 percent right. I stopped doing that right then and there and I’ve never looked back.
4. No, seriously: stop saying “but.” I have a friend named Laura who is truly one of the most unique people I’ve ever met. Recently, she posted a video from her wedding to celebrate her one-year anniversary. Laura was originally a friend of a friend, but over time, we became friends, too and she is someone I respect and admire tremendously for many reasons.
The thing I think I like the most about Laura is that she is very much her authentic self, no matter who she is with. She likes oddball things and never tones that down for anyone. She taught herself to play the accordion, takes a picture with Santa every year, and served for many years as a Bunnette for the Coney Island Hot Dog eating contest. She’s a gem.
For the first few years I knew her, Laura wasn’t having the best luck in her love life, but you could tell that she was always putting herself out there in the world with as much gusto as she could. I remember once she took herself to Paris for six months all by herself to just get away and I think it was the first time I realized how fearless she was and I loved it.
But back to the video. In it, she and her husband truly capture the little things that make them love each other. And they were so vocal about their love and the tiny, weird things about their relationship that make them work. And again, I was struck by just how much Laura was her authentic self with this person. And how truly compatible she was with him and it just pulled at something inside of me—something good—but for the longest time I couldn’t figure out what. Weeks later, I realized: it was the “but.”
If something is great, it just is. There is no “but.” There is no wishing there was more or that something was different. And to live your life saying “but” means you are never going to get what it is you want. Demand more. Find something that won’t leave you wanting. It’s really that simple, isn’t it? It is.
Laura never says “but” in her video. When I thought of that, the awkwardness in the apartment became easier to bear because I knew I was making the right decision. There is a beautiful release in knowing you are doing what is right for you and trusting your instinct.
5.) Set a hard date for someone to make a move here. Like seriously, this is getting to be too much now. At long last, it will become clear that one of you needs to make a move. Most likely—though I’m sure this isn’t universally true—this point will come after one of you notices that the other’s phone is positively blowing up one day from its place on the counter when the other is sick with the flu. When you look down to see what the hell is happening, you see that the text messages that now handily pop up on the lock screen (thank you, iPhone) are coming from two women with the names of Stephanie Match and Kim Match wishing non-Lia a speedy recovery. Your first instinct is to ask, “Who are these Match sisters?” But your second instinct is to take a beat and immediately realize that while Stephanie and Kim are not sisters (well, probably not sisters) one of them (or, perhaps both, who knows?) are probably the reason one of you didn’t come home the other night. Which is fine because you don’t feel even a hint of jealousy and take that as a very good sign.
In any case, seeing text messages from the new women in your ex’s life makes you realize that you’re approaching six months of near silence in this apartment save for the sweet nighttime murmurs of Investigation Discovery’s Aphrodite Jones. It seems like it’s time that one of you—namely the one who decided at the end of January that he would be the one to move out—actually get to doing so.
Kindly write an email—you are more eloquent with the written word—letting your housemate know that you will be sending out a query for a new roommate to move in March 1.
And on February 28, at 9 p.m., when non-Lia is only halfway done moving things out of the apartment, even though the new roommate moves in at 9 a.m. and Lia still has to clean and hang blinds and make sure everything is just so—say nothing. Sit on the couch as cool as a cucumber, eating pork fried rice and drinking a Coke. You are calm and collected because that is just how you roll, Lia. That is just how you roll.
Of course there are other methodologies for getting through this: borrowing money from friends so you can be the one to move out, actually insisting your ex move out in a timely manner, or simply having a savings account you can fall back on for situations precisely like these. That’s up to you. I wish you luck.
Previously: Is Great-Grandma R. Kelly?!
Photo via dlee13/flickr.
Lia LoBello works in public relations and marketing by day, but spends her nights crafting, cooking, and watching real-crime television. She tweets at @lialobello. If you know of any good shows about murder, revenge, or psychic children, please let her know immediately.