Looking for a new dude is a lot like looking for a new apartment. You don’t know if stainless steel is any better, but you’re holding out for it anyway.
And even though the search can get exhausting, schlepping from one glorified closet disguised as a “cozy one-bedroom” on to the next one seems altogether necessary. Because you’ve got to know what’s out there in order to make an informed adult decision about where you’ll be spending the rest of your life as defined by the end of your short-term lease.
For three years, I lived in a northwest Washington neighborhood called Shaw, which is U Street Corridor-adjacent. So not quite as cool but close enough with a side of broken beer bottles and hipster hangover. Ninth Street (neé Little Ethiopia) was the unofficial headquarters of my disillusioned adulthood, thanks to the rats, the bums and the heartbreakers thereabouts. Yeah, rats.
Despite the fact that my newly remodeled basement apartment had hardwood floors, travertine tile, a stacked washer/dryer, granite countertops, stainless-steel appliances and a non-working fireplace, it was still, by location and definition—a basement. Rats like basements. You know what else rats like? Shower-curtain rods.
One time I was sitting on the toilet (painting my toenails) when I got a tingly feeling. The one you get when someone is staring at you from behind. Evidence that there exists some type of kinetic energy between all living things that we’re just too primitive to tap into and use to stir coffee with our minds? By toe two that feeling caught hold of me, compelling me to look up just in time to witness the most talented rodent in the Northeast tightrope walk across my West Elm shower rod.
I was gone three months later because it took that long to find another apartment that was as awesome as my bat cave on Ninth Street, minus the mini-moochers. Obviously, there are a ton of tenement houses in the Washington metro area where one won’t likely contract the bubonic plague, but I was looking for something more than better. Hardwood? Pfft. Try bamboo.
Lucky for me I got a “deal” at a “luxury” apartment building in the heart of what a friend said used to be “the biggest Jamaican open-air drug market in the mid-Atlantic.” Nowadays, there’s a bunch of street signs that publicize the neighborhood as a “Drug-Free Zone,” which obviously means it’s safe for dogs of the non-pit bull variety. I even had doormen—they worked across the street, though, in North Face uniform jackets and took super-long breaks whenever the cops came around. When I’d slide out of Yellow Cabs heels first, they’d study me from their posts. Most days I ignored the “compliments” they chip in on the dress meant to entice better men. “Sex-zay,” they’d sing in canon. One swipe of my security key, and they’d be silenced.
A smarter woman—one who wouldn’t pay the equivalent of a mortgage to live next to a halfway house—would have seen the graffiti on the wall. My one bedroom with 20-foot ceilings had me just as trapped as a rat in the basement.
While living there I wrote this passage in my forthcoming book, “Life is now a really misleading re-run of Friends, with no all-star cast and only one story line—yours. Soon enough, the little old lady living in a shoe is you—and the rent is effin' unbelievable, and nobody comes to visit because you're too far from the metro. Adulthood comes in little jigsaw pieces. Once the painstaking work of fitting them all together is done, the picture doesn't look nearly as cool as it did on the box. False advertising.”
After less than a year, it became clear that stainless steel might stain less, but isn’t stain proof. And high ceilings make for really high electric bills along with extremely scary echoes. What’s so amazing about stainless steel anyway? The stove cooks, the refrigerator cools, and the microwaves nukes no matter what shiny armor they wear.
But as I begin again the continual let-down known as “apartment hunting” I still look for those basic road signs—stainless, new, remodeled, luxury, modern—to guide me through the labyrinth of Craigslist. Call them standards. At their most useful they are a rule of measure and their most useless they rule out.
“The Very Nice One Bedroom” could be better than the “Amazing, Luxury One Bedroom Condo,” but clicking on every blue hyperlink your cursor points to would be pointless. So instead you decide on the buzzwords that are worthy of a tap, hoping what’s behind door No. 2 is as good as you think it is. Or as it claims to be.
It’s not that looking for a new partner should ever be as straightforward as looking for a new pad. (Read: classified, schedule viewing, sign dotted-line.) Really, the problem with either endeavor is the very ridiculous notion that there is a perfect one out there somewhere. Carpets can be cleaned, walls painted, seashell decorative knobs destroyed. But the standards that matter (like, say, stainless steel or a working knowledge of Wes Anderson movies) could be worth holding out for.
Helena Andrews is a regular contributor to The Root. Her book, Bitch Is The New Black, will be released this summer. Follow her on Twitter.