Confessions of a Suburban War Veteran — or, looking for love in the city. PART II

(For Part I, please click here.)

Ladies and gentlemen, this is the story of boy meets girl girl meets housing.

In the beginning, I was optimistic. You can’t hurry love D.C. housing, no, you just have to wait. They say love D.C. housing don’t come easy, it’s a game of give and take.

But the longer searching for “the one” got, the more desperate I became. I kept Craigslist open in the background of my computer at work all day. I’d refresh the page about every five minutes, waiting to jump on any mildly promising housing opportunity that popped up. My metro ride home from work was agonizing. Lacking a smartphone, I had to relinquish my connection to the online “for rent” ads until I could get home and plug back into my laptop. Every time something would pop up, I’d be convinced that it was the one. I’d carefully, but quickly craft my love letter to it, tactfully begging for a first date.

And I had a lot of first dates. Just like a classic Rom Com, my first apartment dates created a humorously painful montage. The montage would start with a quick scene of my viewing a studio in the Brookland neighborhood, where I’d be trying to tell my friend who had come with me that it wasn’t all that bad, that maybe I could make it work. She would respond with, “Lady, I saw a syringe on the ground on our walk over there. You’re not living here.” Montage scene two: Driving out to view another studio in the Palisades, trying to convince my friend that I wouldn’t mind that it’s kind of far from a metro, as long as I could have my own space. Entering the studio to find that for $900/month, your kitchen consists of a mini-fridge in your bedroom. Scene three: Finding a clean-to-the-point-of-sterile one-bedroom apartment in Old Town Alexandria located in the basement of a home occupied by an All-American, cookie-cutter, Caucasian family, complete with an American flag and SUV. Realizing I like a little grit in my partner.

Throughout this montage, I’d always report back to my friends. I’d tell them why the apartments were all wrong, and I’d let them know that I had another viewing set up for the weekend. We’d bond together because, well, we are young, heartache to heartache we stand. No promises, no demands. Love is a battlefield. And D.C. housing is a war. And, just as if I was a classic Rom Com lady looking for love in the city, they’d say in response to the description of my next date, something like, “Hey! That’s good! Just keep in mind that this could be the one!” My weary heart would smile at their kindness and climb back into a veil of optimism.

During my montage, I also went back and forth on the roommate or no roommate issue. D.C. housing is not cheap, and if I was going to live alone, my options were going to be limited, and I was undoubtedly going to be spending over the suggested 30% of my income on housing costs. I vented many of these woes to my dad, who had recently been educated on how to use a “hashtag.”

The following is part of a text conversation I had with my father about living alone versus living with roommates. The focus was on needing to still have enough money for groceries after paying rent for the month.

Me: I mean, a girl’s gotta eat.

Dad: Does she? #foodorsoul

It was such a poignant use of the hashtag. Food or soul? Does a girl really need to eat? I pondered this heavily throughout my montage, eventually accepting the fact that I was at a point in my life where my soul needed to eat more than I did. I was ready to buy a 50-pound sack of rice and a 50-pound sack of beans for nourishment if it meant having my own groovy abode.

As so the montage went on. I’d call and leave messages for landlords, and when they wouldn’t respond, I’d feel so used. They don’t know what they’re missing, I’d think.

But what was worse was when a landlord would lead me on, send me a nice email telling me to call them this weekend to set up a time to stop by, and then when I’d call, they’d tell me they had already rented the unit.

Dear D.C. Housing, Please, quit playing games with my heart. Love, Me

And then amidst the montage would be an occasional story pulled out and examined more closely. For example, that studio in Mount Pleasant. We went on about three dates. It met two of my friends. I told my parents about it. It was a total fixer-upper, but I knew I could make it cute. It had a full kitchen — that’s a plus, right? I thought we could really grow and learn from each other. I mean, I probably would have needed to utilize shower shoes in my own home. And, I didn’t particularly think I’d feel safe walking home at night. And then there were those bugs I saw crawling on the floor that I tried to ignore or assume were the anomaly because the door had been left open all day. Ok, ok — it was a little bit of a dump. But, it could be my dump! I rationalized. And the price sure was right. I got so close to putting a ring on it. I had the application in my hands. If I passed on this one, would I regret it? I asked myself. Beyoncé’s wise words pounded in my mind: If you liked it, then you shoulda put a ring on it. Don’t be mad once you see that he want it. ‘Cause if you liked it, then you shoulda put a ring on it.

No relationship is perfect. But, which flaws are you willing to live with in a relationship? Which are charming, and which do you hold with contempt? Is a toaster oven an acceptable alternative to a conventional oven? Is a longer walk to the metro worth living alone? My relationship with the studio in Mount Pleasant was teetering on the edge of being that girl just flat out “desperate for a relationship.” Where there should have been butterflies, there was instead gnawing doubt that I kept trying to ignore. But, when DO you settle? I pondered.

“When it comes to saying ‘I do,’ is a relationship a relationship without the zsa zsa zsu? Some people are settling down, some people are settling, and some people refuse to settle for anything less than butterflies.” —Carrie Bradshaw, Sex and the City, Season 5, Episode 74, “I Love A Charade”

In relationships, we all have our deal breakers, right? Well, one of mine is bed bugs. My friend tried to hide it from me at first when she found bug spray in one of the kitchen drawers of the Mount Pleasant apartment. She didn’t specify what kind of bugs the spray was for, but in her true lawyer fashion, suggested I get a clause put in my lease about being able to break it if there was a bug problem. However, when I finally pulled it out of her — that it was bed bug spray — and then, when I looked up the unit on the online Bed Bug Registry and found multiple past reports of the tenants’ struggles with bed bugs — I was out. Not happening. Whew! Remember that one time I almost settled for less than butterflies, and it almost left me with bed bugs?

I started to pine for my studio back in Oregon. Will there ever be another like you? I wondered.

The clock was ticking. My lease in the suburbs would soon be up, and prospective roommate replacements were already viewing my room. In addition, I decided to throw a two-week, out-of-country trip into the middle of all of the chaos, meaning that if I didn’t have a new place by my flight date, all of my stuff had to move somewhere else regardless. In the eleventh hour, my roommate/landlord offered to extend my lease one more month. As a great wave of relief washed over me, I begrudgingly added 31 days to the countdown I had started over 100 days before. Somehow, despite everything, my strained Rockville lover had become my loyal friend.

~Stay tuned for Part III of my D.C. housing Rom Com~

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