From the moment he slipped the key into the carved wooden door, I was smitten. The yawning wooden stairway led one flight up to a quintessential Brooklyn home. I liked this guy. But really, it was his apartment that I fell in love with at first sight.
In my defense, when you're first getting to know someone, you don't have a lot to go by. Arran's online profile had been spare, revealing only that he worked in digital media and lived somewhere in Brooklyn. Our first date, he had come up to my Upper East Side neighbourhood. Second date, I commuted to his. After a pleasant dinner, he had taken me back to his place under the pretense of meeting his dog.
My new boyfriend's apartment was a dream. Then, about a month into our relationship, he moved.
Maybe helping someone move so early in a relationship isn't always a bad idea, but it was a bad idea for us. The night before, I sat on a bare mattress and watched as he finished packing. The air conditioner had already been pulled out of the window; the room was hot. It was after midnight by the time he finished, and we were both tired. The room was empty but for dust bunnies and tangled wires. After just four dates, Arran and I were already exclusive. In some ways, this worried me. Watching him shove the remainder of his stuff into cardboard boxes had felt intimate in a way that sex didn't.
"You're forgetting your curtains," I said.
"Oh," he said, "those aren't mine."
The curtains - like a lot of stuff I initially appreciated about my new boyfriend, I slowly realised - had belonged to his landlord.
The next day, the U-Haul drove us farther and farther away from my fantasy apartment, until we pulled up in front of a dilapidated building where the metal front door was broken. Garbage ripened in the halls. The landlords had painted the common spaces silver. The kind of paint that was clearly on sale and not meant for an interior, and it covered everything - the walls, the floors, the banisters. It was like a bad 1980s music video or a space ship.
The apartment itself had not been touched up since the last occupants left. Nail holes pimpled the walls. The skylights, which Arran had described as an asset, looked as if they were held up with masking tape. The apartment was bigger than his last place - something Arran considered a plus - but to me, this only meant more roommates. I imagined myself in the morning, desperate to use the bathroom, waiting fourth in line.
Chill out, I told myself. It's not your apartment. You don't have to live here. Still, I felt disappointed. This wasn't a place I wanted to spend any time.
I knew I was being mean, but I couldn't help myself. The situation had triggered something deeper than ceiling medallions or hardwood floors.
Some weeks later, we'd made up. The apartment itself still lacked the character of his old place, and the building smelled like a literal dump, but Arran had made an effort. He had unpacked his books, hung some art and bought himself a couple of new plants. His room was comfortable enough - and in certain ways, I came to realize, the neighborhood was an improvement. Despite the fact that we were odious gentrifiers, the people who had lived there for generations were welcoming. There was actual community - not just pretentious restaurants and useless shops. Arran, I could see, was as comfortable in this place as any - something I grew to love about him.
Arran appreciated nice things, I'd come to learn, he just didn't require them. I loved how, from the beginning, he challenged my idea of what was "nice."
Arran didn't live there long; less than a year later, he moved into my apartment. A year after that, we wed. These days, we fantasize about owning some big, beautiful historic property upstate. Admittedly, I'm still a sucker for "character." I also know that it's not where you live that matters, but the life you have inside.