There comes a time in everyone's life when they feel like they have finally grown up. For some people, it might come in the form of a marriage proposal, having a child, or earning a professional degree. For me, I still feel like I am this lost 18-year-old, constantly pro-con-ing my life, wishing I had a Monica Gellar in my life to force my Rachel Greene indecisiveness to grow up already.
But for now, I spend my time and money moving from one neighborhood to another, year after year. The part of LA that you live in says a lot about you. So you have to decide who you are as a person. That Jewish guy I went on a date with who lived in West Hollywood, but supposedly wasn't gay, has to defend his apartment choice on a daily basis. That investment banker who picked me up in his Porsche gets to bike to work and look at the Santa Monica beach along the way and has to ward off gold diggers. That hipster musician who wanted me to sleep with him while his girlfriend was out of town mucks it up along Echo Park with all the other long-beards.
So when you discover a live bed bug... in your kitchen... and it makes you want to die (like the dramatic teenage curl up in a ball because you don't know how to deal with anything want-to-die, not actual suicidal ideations), you know you have to move. I mean, what's a young, capable woman to do? The practical advice is to... um... move? Fumigate the place? What if I bring these creatures into my next home? What if I always have them, like some incurable STI?
And it's days like today that I feel seriously not grown up, like I am about 6, and I want to call my mom crying, unsure of what else I could really do.
The thing about apartment hunting is that it really makes you look at your life. For those of us who move about once a year, this creates massive amounts of anxiety that feels as though it might never subside. You get anxious about what city you want to live in: Los Angeles. Well, what neighborhood? Santa Monica. OK, well, west of Pico? Do you want a studio, or a one bedroom? Are you willing to pay more for the comfort of having a safe, clean place? A non-asshole building manager? It makes you kick yourself for blowing all of your money on "experiences" rather than investing, saving up to buy a solid piece of property. But even if you had saved, what could you really buy in this market? No. Now you are kicking yourself for not giving a go at acting. You could have been the next Mindy Kaling: chubby, fashionable, witty. You don't just want a tiny studio in which it takes you a total of two inches to get to the kitchen/bathroom/bedroom/living room. You want a sprawling space, hardwood floors, central air, an assigned subterranean parking spot, a fridge, strong water pressure, plenty of sunlight, a quiet building, a top floor corner unit close to Trader Joe's (or since you are a celeb now--Whole Foods), yoga, coffee shops, and freeways (all of them, but not so close that you hear horns or breathe in smog). You want to be near nature, but not close enough that it will invade your home (read: spiders). And most of all--no bugs. No cockroaches. No bed bugs. Is having a clean space to live that much to ask?
So then you get really antsy and wonder what's keeping you in Los Angeles. Maybe life would be better living in a city like Portland, or you hear Utah is cheap.
On days when just sitting in your underwear is enough to create waterfalls of sweat dripping down your face, pooling on your distended stomach, you kick yourself for thinking "central air" is not necessary. I can get a fan, you say, not knowing that you must be in front of that fan at all times and even then, it's really just blowing around hot air and dirt.
What you once thought was charming, you loathe. The kids running up and down the hall, littering it with Hot Cheetos bags and lollipops. The man with the loud horn, annoyingly announcing that he is right outside your window ready to sell you pork rinds and corn straight out of the rusted grocery cart.
It's just another year of your life before you do this all. Over. Again.
Hey, things are actually looking up. You found your dream apartment! Hardwood floors, all utilities included, washer, dryer, fridge, dishwasher, and 24-hour internet, off-street parking in beautiful Santa Monica. All of this for $800?! You email immediately, then get a reply explaining that this man, Brent N., had to unexpectedly move to Maryland and join some organization (which he links you to, but the site cannot be found), and can you please fill out the application now. So, against your better judgment, even with the question "Are you single?" and just a few questions down: "Do you work late nights?" you fill out the quasi- application. Within minutes of emailing it back, you get a call from a Virginia number from a heavily accented man, who says he just needs some more information. So he asks, "Are you single right now?" Yes. "Do you smoke?" No. "Do you drink?" No. He God Blesses you and says he will consider it and get back to you.
In your thrice-daily Craigslist searches, you get more and more disheartened. You start to wonder if you could live in Alhambra, West Covina, Saugus, or Palm Desert. You refuse to click on any listing that does not provide a photo. This is like online dating. Will they look like their photo when you show up? Will you feel that spark and just know that this is the one? Nope. This isn't the one. Well, do you settle? Do you end up paying more for less? Less space? No parking? No washer dryer? An undesirable location just to save a few hundred a month? No. You want it all. A cute, walkable neighborhood with a short commute to work, a covered assigned parking space, a working (automatic) elevator, central air, and maybe even a washer/dryer in unit. Is that too much to ask? You have to have some deal breakers. Like, you know you will not under any circumstances pay anything over $2,000, nor move into a place without parking.
You taunt yourself by clicking on places that you know will never work. Luxurious apartments, beautiful on the outside, and just as stunning on the inside with all the features you could ever want. You would never, ever divorce them. These are the George Clooneys of apartments: "Lounge by the fire on our rooftop sundeck. Prepare gourmet meals in your granite countertop kitchen. Stroll to your favorite coffee shop for an espresso and treat, as this unit features hardwood floors, granite counters, central a/c and heat, 9 foot ceilings, stainless steel, micro, fridge, full size washer dryer in unit, balcony with a view, a soothing cabana courtyard, rooftop deck with a fireplace!"
Like most online dating profiles, you won't go near any that does not have a profile picture. (What are they hiding?) And you will not reply to posts that have any typos: "Specious room" "shermen oaks." Sure, they might be good deep-down, but that's not a risk you're willing to take.
You finally decide to settle on a place. It's not the One, but it's the one for right now. When you start packing, you have to decide a lot of things. Are you ever really going to read "Fifty Shades of Grey"? Is it OK to throw away a marked up textbook from high school, or one that your college professor gave you? What about all of those teacher books you invested your salary into? Do you have the patience to try to sell it? The thought of dumping it in the garbage is upsetting on many levels--the waste of money, the thought of someone getting all of this for free, the fact that dumpster divers are in the dumpster every night and all of your little margin-notes will be out in the open. (But let's be honest, who is really going to pick up your copy of "The Six Pillars of Self Esteem," "He's Just Not That Into You" and "The Art of Critical Pedagogy"?)
Packing takes a long time because your head fills with questions like--If I get rid of "The Iliad," does that make me a non-respectable writer? How will people judge my new bookcase? Are books really my clutter issue? Does keeping a two-volume reader from my college days over four years ago make me a hoarder or a groupie?
Like any breakup, you are focused on learning from your mistakes. You are on high alert for xyz, and are determined to avoid those things. So, in the apartment hunt, you make sure there is no xyz. (In my case, no bugs, yes parking, no smelly building.) But you kind of forget all of the other factors that go into a relationship/ apartment. The neighbors--nosy or loud? Mold on the walls? Termites? Parking for guests? Neighborhood walkability? Commute to work?
And of course, what does this new neighborhood say about you? It's like when you introduce your new boyfriend to family and friends. This is representing you. What image are you putting out there now? Are people judging you and making assumptions? Oh... you live there?! Oh, you like guys with tattoos?!
Now that I am moved into my new place, I vow to not buy anything for 12 months. No more books. I'm going to the library. No more traveling to a destination I know nothing about with no budget. I will read about it, plan it out, save up, and have (and stick to) a budget. I vow (to try) to not instinctually go out and buy stuff to decorate my cute new place and throw a housewarming party.
But then you get the New Neighbor offers from Pier 1 and Target, and wonder if it would be so bad to buy just a few things to make this place feel like home.