Interborough romance: Deciding where to live with a partner when it's time to take the plunge

By Alanna Schubach  | May 4, 2017 - 9:59AM

New Yorkers know that one of the most tried-and-true ways to save on rent is to shack up with a significant other, splitting the cost of housing and utilities. It's a fact that's likely led to countless instances of premature cohabitation, startling discoveries about partners' odd at-home habits, and perhaps, ultimately, inevitable returns to living solo. 

However, if you know for sure that you're truly ready to experience your boyfriend or girlfriend's weird way of squeezing the toothpaste or disinclination to vacuum, you may be faced with another hurdle: figuring out where to live. 

As much as New Yorkers seek convenience in their romantic lives, preferring to date close to home, sometimes love transcends neighborhoods—and even boroughs. (Take these couples, profiled by AM New York, who endure lengthy commutes to see one another.) And when it comes time to take the next step and move in together, interborough duos can reach an impasse. 

So when you love, say, your quiet corner of Hamilton Heights, but your partner's all about the bustling nightlife near their place in Willamsburg, try following some of these tips to reach a compromise peacefully:

Remember that this is a conversation, not a tug-of-war

Annie Thode, LCSW, a therapist and couples counselor, points out that moving in together means embarking on a serious—and ideally, enduring—partnership, so it pays to take the long view. "This is the very first decision a couple makes as a unit. You're going from 'yours and mine' to 'ours'," she says. "Therefore, I would counsel viewing it from that lens." 

When you start talking about what's right for you as a couple, then, keep in mind that your goal is to reach a consensus in which each of you is satisfied, so resist launching a campaign to convince your partner why your neighborhood is the best option. 

"It can't be a tug-of-war between each partner's preferred area," Thode says. "This can breed resentment in the future, and isn't the ideal way to grow as a couple."

If your partner is dead-set on one particular area and unwilling to budge, this could be an indication of their overall flexibility—but don't panic, Thode says. "There are many factors to consider when moving in and committing," she says. "They may be unwavering in neighborhood choices but agree to every other thing the other partner wants. It's a complex process."

In some cases, the complexity of this process can mean, rather than arguing, simply waiting for one person to come around to the other's point of view. Amanda Parker recalls how she and her girlfriend, Maria Campigotto, landed in their current home. Parker had been living in Astoria for four years and loved the Queens neighborhood, where many of her friends also lived, while Campigotto was in Crown Heights and had her heart set on staying there. 

"Maria liked the short commute to downtown NYC and the easy access to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Prospect Park, and Brooklyn Museum—and she thought rents might be lower," Parker explains. "She also liked that you can't walk more than half a block in Brooklyn without running into a fellow lesbian with her rescue dog."

Parker soon came around to the idea of looking for a place in Brooklyn, but was inclined to search in neighborhoods like Park Slope and Carroll Gardens. Campigotto says she knew these locales would be too expensive, but opted to let Parker discover that for herself, rather than keep pushing for the more affordable Crown Heights. 

Eventually—"After seeing a few outrageously expensive shoeboxes in Park Slope with vaulted beds and two-burner stoves," Parker recalls—she finally came around to Crown Heights. And after a few hiccups, the couple found a beautiful apartment right across the street from the Botanic Gardens, where they've now lived for three years. 

Make a (short) list of must-haves

Although Parker did end up in her girlfriend's neighborhood, it helped, she says, that they were both moving into a new place—neutral territory, rather than a place that was already somebody's home. 

It also helped that they each had a must-have—Parker wanted to be close to Eastern Parkway, with its museums, gardens, and nightlife options, while Campigotto had to have a dishwasher—and the apartment they eventually found featured both. 

Thode agrees with this approach: "One practical thing that could be done is for each partner to identify what they value and need to have in a neighborhood. It doesn't mean what's good about your neighborhood that you're campaigning for. It means, for example, location to train, types of apartments. Make the discussion about needs and keep it to an 'our' perspective," she says. 

Rachel Brodsky and her boyfriend, Jonathan Hansen, approached their own decision with honesty and a helpfully laid-back attitude about where they'd eventually land. When they started dating, Brodsky lived in Park Slope and Hansen was in Greenpoint; before they got their own place, Brodsky moved in with Hansen and his roommate, so that they could save up for an apartment of their own. 

"We weren't married to the idea of staying in Brooklyn because rents were getting worse and worse all of the time," Brodsky says. The couple was familiar with Astoria and Sunnyside, and open to exploring those neighborhoods; their main priority was proximity to the train and necessities like groceries, rather than a high hipness quotient. 

"I'm a little bit of a homebody to begin with, so the quality of the apartment has always kind of outweighed the quality of the surroundings for me," Brodsky explains. But she and Hansen found that Sunnyside delivered both: With the help of a broker, they found a rent-stabilized one-bedroom just a block from the 7 train, and have found the neighborhood to be lovely, quaint, and diverse, making their departure from Greenpoint a "no-brainer." 

"I'd be very honest about what you can afford," Brodsky advises other couples facing similar decisions. "Don't try to strong-arm anyone into moving to a neighborhood they're not comfortable with, or paying more than they can afford, because that'll just foster resentment."

Be open to locations that are new to both of you

Change is hard, and moving one of life's biggest stressors, but if both parties can be flexible, the decision-making process will be a lot less painful.  "Don't base the decision on nostalgia for a neighborhood or reluctance or fear of resettling in a new neighborhood," Thode says. "Look at it as 'What is best for us? What can we both live with?'" 

When Anna Nelson met her now-husband, she was living in Harlem and he was in the Financial District, requiring a borough-spanning commute that both found challenging. After spending a year overseas, he returned to NYC ready to move in with Nelson and settle into an apartment in a building with amenities like a doorman, elevator, and new appliances. 

Nelson works in the South Bronx and her husband in Midtown, so they nixed Brooklyn from their search. It quickly became clear, too, that renting in a luxury building in Manhattan was going to seriously strain their budget. 

They decided to look for a building that delivered the perks that they wanted in a neighborhood neither had lived in before, but was way more affordable: Astoria. Unfortunately, the first apartment they moved into revealed that it doesn't take much for a property to bill itself as high-end: "Our experience there was awful," Nelson recalls. "It was a hastily-built luxury building with no heat and $600 heating and gas bills for a one-bedroom." 

Despite that negative experience, Nelson and her husband had fallen for the neighborhood, and decided to look for a better spot there. They eventually found a large two-bedroom, with a full living room, separate kitchen and dining room, and even enough space for a "man cave." "It is the perfect location—and a great neighborhood! Bigger space, calmer, great restaurants, super close proximity to our jobs," Nelson says. 

The couple's openness to considering new territory led to their finding the ideal neighborhood—they've now lived in Astoria for over six years, and Nelson says she could never go back to cramped Manhattan apartments. 

What she would advise other couples, Nelson says, is to prioritize finding a place that makes for easy commutes for both partners. "One person's travel time should not be significantly longer than the other's. That is not a compromise," she says. "It reduces the amount of time you have to relax, to unwind, to be together, so it is so important to minimize that." 

Of course, once you've finally reached the compromise that means spending so much more time together, you'll face your next challenge as a couple: Adjusting to being in close proximity pretty much all the time. (Luckily, we have some resources to help you deal with that hurdle, too.) 


Alanna Schubach

Contributing writer

Contributing editor Alanna Schubach has over a decade of experience as a New York City-based freelance journalist.

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