By Sara Lieberman
July 30, 2019

“You’ll never believe what just happened,” said my ex, panting, as he called from the now empty one-bedroom apartment that we shared for almost a year.

“I don’t know, what happened?” I asked.

“You’ll never guess, really. I can’t believe it,” he continued, sounding a bit in shock, but with a hint of the sarcasm that used to irk me even more than his habit of hanging a torn, decades-old wet towel to dry over our admittedly too-expensive white Anthropologie shower curtain.

“I dropped the air conditioner out the window.”

“STOP IT! You did not.” Now I was actually hoping for the sarcasm.

“I did,” he said. “I went to get it out of the window and it just slipped.”

Just slipped? I thought to myself. How is it that every New Yorker’s worst nightmare just happened to the man who would sooner buzz the handyman to fix a running toilet rather than attempt to repair it himself. Now he decides to go and be Bob Vila.

M had actually become many new things once I broke up with him three months earlier. Being thoughtful enough to leave both of our air conditioners installed after he moved out was one of them.

“It’s June,” he said, “You should stay cool while packing.”

Wow. That’s really considerate, I thought. Who are you and what did you do with the guy who used to walk five feet in front of me and put his headphones on while commuting to work together in the morning?

He also became Prince Charming.

During a “trial separation” that he asked for instead of an immediate break-up, I reluctantly agreed to stay at a friend’s place for two months. Often times, I’d come home to find a rose left at my doorstep.

He never brought me flowers before this, let alone gifts from a store that wasn’t Macy’s or convenient to his office.

Grand gestures aside, my decision to end our relationship had little to do with him not being compassionate or gracious — at least that’s what I thought at the time.

It seemed more like a feeling; a knowing that what we had just wasn’t right. It had been there for a while, gnawing at my gut, creating sleepless and sexless nights. It was the primary discussion at my Thursday morning therapy session for almost a year and the main topic of conversation with my girlfriends.

“Is he The One?” they asked. “Think you’ll marry him?”

I never had an answer. Or maybe I did, but my desire for companionship clouded my judgment. I continued to let him and his ways grow on me as one does who is agreeable; who is happy to learn from someone else; who wants so badly for it to be right.

I decided to cohabitate with the hopes that my doubt would go away or was just typical relationship jitters.

Then, nine months into our two-year lease, during an evening yoga class when I had no choice but to be quiet with my thoughts, things suddenly became loud and clear. There was no fight or final straw. While suspended in downward dog, tears dripped onto my mat. As I made my way from challenging warrior poses to standing balancing ones, a culmination of things I could never pinpoint seemed to spontaneously erupt inside. I closed my eyes in savasana, final resting pose, and acknowledged that my first meaningful relationship was about to become a failed attempt at meeting Mr. Right.

Upon returning to the apartment, I broke down in the doorway and, shoulders shaking through breathless sobs, immediately blurted out what had been festering for far too long. He was shocked. I was relieved.

***

Illustration by Agata Nowicka

I had finished packing the previous day and was already on Long Island where I’d moved in with my parents to regroup for the summer when the call came.

“It fell through the awning,” he said, before adding: “But no one was hurt.”

“Oh, THANK GOD!” I said with relief.

“The building’s awning is another story.”

“Er, what do you mean?”

“Well, it fell five stories…and went through the awning.”

Oh no. The awning. The navy blue awning that stretched around the elegant, lower-Fifth Avenue, pre-war building that he insisted we live in rather than a quirky, character-filled walk-up that I preferred. The awning that sheltered a four-star restaurant and catering hall where a dude usually stood with a top hat welcoming guests. The awning above which two huge flags fly in the downtown wind all high and mighty. That beautiful awning. Ripped. To. Shreds.

We had already dealt with breaking the two-year lease. We paid a hefty “surrender fee” as a result, and just when I thought we could finally move on, here was something else hanging over our heads — or rather resting at our feet.

The tattered awning brought up the issue of the $3,200 security deposit, which we split when moving in. We split every expense, a detail I insisted on throughout our relationship — and especially once we moved in together — even though he made nearly double what I did. Why? Because when I did offer to pay for us, he’d spew some sexist, trivial remark that made me feel inadequate. Then he’d whip out his credit card and suggest if he paid, I’d simply owe him something in return.

Me: “I’ll get dinner tonight.”

Him: “Save your money for handbags.”

Me: “No, I’ll get this one.”

Him: “Do you even have money on you? You can just do my laundry tomorrow.”

The truth is, I’d gladly separate whites from darks for someone I loved, not because it’s “fair” or because we split a Porterhouse and he paid for it — and certainly not because I’m a woman and that’s my role. But because it brings me joy to be kind at any cost.

And so, to prevent having this conversation over and over again, we split rent, utilities, cable, groceries, and vacations. His share. My share. No “our” share.

Throughout the summer, I received several emails from M and his lawyer about the A.C. incident — faults, liabilities, estimates, you name it — all of which I responded to with a curt “keep me posted” or just skimmed and ignored since continual contact does not a break-up make.

Eventually, running to catch the 6:47 p.m. train home from Penn Station began to wear thin, as did his going-nowhere-fast updates. While the summer with my family helped me heal after the break-up, I was ready to move back to Manhattan, but handing over another security deposit would be financially tough without my half of the last one. I decided to ask M for my portion of the money while he worked out the legalities with his lawyer and the building.

It did not go well.

I’m not sure how I ended up making the call in Penn Station during rush hour, surrounded by hundreds of commuters, but there I was, one finger in my left ear to block out my unfortunate surroundings and my cell pressed against my right.

“So listen,” I started. “I know it was an accident and I’m truly sorry it happened to you. I’m also sorry things didn’t work out for us. But it’s been three months and I could really use that $1,600. I know you’re still working out the details of the damages, but I thought since I wasn’t there when it happened, and I didn’t drop it, maybe you could front me my half of the security deposit—”

Out came his sarcasm: “You’d like that, wouldn’t you?”

Me: “You’re a real jerk, you know that?”

Him: “And all you seem to care about is money.”

6:47 to Babylon now leaving on Track 18.

Me: “I should’ve ended it ages ago. I can’t believe I agreed to potentially work it out by staying — and paying — to live elsewhere while also splitting my half of the rent and utilities while you lived there alone!”

Him: “Looks like we won’t remain friends after all, huh?”

Hey girl, outta my way!

Me: “Fronting me the money is the right thing to do.”

Him: “Working this out with me is the right thing to do.”

Excuse me, do you know where the Starbucks is?

Me: “I don’t feel like I should have to pay for something you did.”

Him: “We went in together, we go out together.”

Last call, 6:47 to Babylon, now leaving on Track 18.

And then there was silence. The most significant relationship I’d ever had was being reduced to half of one month’s rent. Because he was right, wasn’t he? Hadn’t I been the one to dictate that we keep things even?

That’s when I realized the “no-reason” reason I gave for ending it stemmed from something far more concrete: His inability to love me without conditions; his suave manner of putting me down to feel better about himself. My armor was to split things down the middle. At least in doing so I could maintain a sense of pride.

But the fact is everyone deserves someone who wants to treat them equally and will take care of them — without ultimatums. If moving on meant splitting the cost of a torn awning, so be it. I’d surrender my half.

Giving love a chance always comes with a price, I guess. Next time, though, I’ll make sure to know my own worth before signing a two-year lease.

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