I’m not saying the one-bedroom break-up is an animal unique to New York City, but with premium-priced square footage and an aura that attracts romantically reckless people like a magnet, NYC is definitely the birthplace of this tragic urban phenomenon in which two exes are forced to share a one-bedroom apartment in the aftermath of a broken romance. The good news is that the one-bedroom break-up isn’t fatal. If it were, many of us would be dead. Myself included.
The year was 1994. I was 28, full of optimism and just starting my career. You could say that I was at that “intriguing, challenging and mysterious juncture” in life in which an inordinately large amount of romantic mistakes are made: My lease was almost up.
This was before the days of having to prove to your landlord that your annual income is at least forty times the rent, so when my flight attendant roommate told me he wasn’t re-signing on our tiny fourth-story one-bedroom walk-up on 19th and 1st, it did occur to me that I could just re-sign by myself and simply live there alone. David was only there four days a month so I was used to being alone. Then I took into account my penchant for cigarettes (it was the nineties), pleather clothing (again, it was the nineties) and food (still a huge issue to this day) and realized I needed to find a roommate who could pay half the rent.
It was a very sound plan until those three little words that precede many a Manhattan disaster came into my life: “I met someone!!!”
His name was Brian. Cute, sweet, body like a Mack truck, and he loved the rain as much as I did! It was probably meant to be! Then… Oh wait, “your lease is up, too?” It was definitely meant to be!
Nine days later, the new lease was signed.
Everything was perfect. I remember laughing at all the people who said that living with someone was hard. Then in week two, things began to gnaw at me. I actually measured the space his forty comic book boxes took up and realized I had the equivalent of two-thirds of a station wagon parked in my living room. I soon realized the difference between having a single indoor/outdoor cat in a suburban six-bedroom house and having two full-time cats indoors in a one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan. My childhood cat (RIP Spencer) only used the litter box during blizzards and thunderstorms, but Brian’s feline friends had no other option. I could have lived with the hoarders living room and the pervasive smell of cat manure had it not been for the rampant cheating and the fictional dead wife. Geez Louise, you spend nine whole days falling in love with someone before asking them to move in, you’d think you would know them! In truth, the rampant cheating wasn’t that mind blowing. I found out, retaliated in kind, and then called it a day. But five months in, Brian’s tear soaked confession of a teenage marriage to his childhood sweetheart Kelly and her subsequent death in 1990 from cancer set off every last one of my internal lie detectors. And I was wracked with guilt for being suspicious, but not so much guilt that I couldn’t do a little research. As if the comic book storage wasn’t taking up enough space, Brian had set up a small shrine (complete with candles) to his late wife next to the answering machine (once again, it was the nineties) and I just had a hunch that if I took the picture of a blissfully wed Brian and Kelly out of its frame, I would learn SOMETHING. Well, what I learned is that her name was actually Sarah. After confronting Brian and pulling that one little string of truth, I watched as his entire tapestry of lies unwound at warp speed. Kelly was indeed Sarah, Sarah wasn’t his wife, and she wasn’t even dead. In fact, everything he had told me about his past on the west coast was completely false. At that time in early 1995, I was making 30k and $925.00 a month in rent seemed like a fortune. So after I got done telling Brian it was completely over, he moved into the living room, I took ownership of the bedroom, and we joined that elite club of pragmatic New Yorkers sharing a one-bedroom apartment with their former significant other.
The times may have changed, but the guidelines for navigating such a dismal arrangement have not. Brian and I lasted five whole months as roommate/exes without killing each other and actually remained somewhat friendly after he moved out. And from that oh-so-lovely phase in my life, I have come up with ten basic rules that are standing the test of time as I reassure and comfort traumatized clients who have confessed (in an invariably embarrassed manner) that they are still residing with their ex.
Here are Pete Holmberg’s Top 10 Rules for Surviving the One-Bedroom Break-Up:
- Set a Deadline for the Unfortunate Cohabitation to End and Stick To It
By deadline I mean an actual date on the calendar, and not some vague milestone such as one of the exes “getting their head together.”
- Choose Your Territory
You can’t share custody of the kitchen or the bedroom. One person gets a decent night’s sleep, the other gets the couch and maintains the ability to cook and keep food in the fridge.
- Find a Well-Qualified STRANGER to Sell or Sublet your Home
If you’re a Licensed Real Estate Salesperson, this is the one listing you DON’T want. If you’re not a broker, this is not the time to pretend you are. And of COURSE you both know someone who wants the listing. It’s New York and you can’t swing a cat in this town without hitting an agent, but if ever this was a time for the comfort, and OBJECTIVITY, of a stranger, this is it. Ask a mutual friend for the name of somebody that neither of you know. And speaking of mutual friends…
- Keep Mutual Friends Neutral
Best case scenario is that all mutual friends will remain in both of your lives. Worst-case scenario is that they get fed up with the drama and wash their hands of the both of you. To avoid the latter, simply declare your apartment a disaster area to all friends and family. Highly unlikely you will get an argument.
- Disclose Nothing on Social Media
The last thing either of you need is for news of your break-up to show up in your Grandmother’s newsfeed. If you absolutely must dissolve the romantic linkage of your Facebook profiles, make sure you both remove “relationship status” from your public information before making the change.
- Reveal Rebound Romances Quickly and Privately
It’s going to happen to at least one of you. And when it does, don’t let the news be delivered “organically.” And there’s no reason for the recipient of the news to get upset or jealous. Chances are you will still be living together when the newfound romance goes bust.
- Don’t Rely on Pressurized Walls to Alleviate the Pressure
You know those chin-up bars people put in doorways? Well imagine something MUCH bigger squeezing in between the floor and ceiling and you get how pressurized walls work. Landlords allow them because they leave no marks. Tenants living through the nightmare of the one-bedroom break-up love them because it creates an illusion of a second bedroom. But paper thin walls are for roommates who love each other. So have your agent market the place as a “converted two-bedroom” and use headphones to ingest all media until moving day.
- Postpone Any and All Attempts to Hook Up with Your Ex Until AFTER Moving Day
If this rule is broken, one of you has to take the fall. Agree in advance that the person who initiates this ill-advised move has to move out within 24 hours if it doesn’t lead to reconciliation. If you think unwanted romantic overtures can ruin a friendship, just IMAGINE the damage it can do to a precarious situation like this one.
- Move as FAR Away as Possible
Oh, there’s a great studio coming to market and it’s just downstairs? Lovely. But not for either of you. You haven’t survived months of buried hostility and ghoulish awkwardness in order to run into each other in the lobby or the corner bodega. New York is a big city. Explore it!
- No dates inside the apartment, or near the apartment. Ever.
Do I REALLY need to explain this one?
Above all else, just be kind to yourself. It’s a good rule for all circumstances, but when living in the wreckage of a failed relationship, self-persecution tends to come easily. You fell in love, you went for it, and it ended horribly. Big whoop. The important thing isn’t that you failed, but that you survived and you’re going to keep trying until you succeed. Welcome to New York!
Peter Hanrahan Holmberg
Licensed Real Estate Salesperson
Two decades as a Manhattan PR Guy. Two years as a manager with The Plaza Hotel. Six months as a dog walker on the Upper East Side. One character named after him on Gossip Girl. A childhood in Winnetka. Pete’s life prepared him well for the New York real estate market.
Prior to his career in Real Estate, Pete served as the Managing Director of Code Morris Omnimedia. Having guided hundreds of public relations clients over the years through a wide array of pivotal events that included successful launches, public scandals and Initial Public Offerings, Pete knows how to be a calm, authoritative presence in the face of any challenge. And as far as he is concerned, there is no challenge more worthy of time, stress, money and effort than finding a home in New York City.
Pete spent more than fifteen years in the PR agency world where he represented such esteemed companies as Boston Private Bank, Immunogen, and St. Barth Properties. He has directed the disclosure process, message development, and media relations initiatives for more than 30 rounds of private equity financing totaling more than $720 million. Midway through his public relations career, Pete spent five years as Director of Communications at The New York Palace Hotel, where he served as spokesman, oversaw the publicity launch of the Michelin 2-Star restaurant GILT, and introduced the beauty and grandeur of the hotel to a vast global audience through the establishment of a multi-season relationship with the hit television series Gossip Girl. The producers of the show were so grateful for Pete’s help on location that they named a recurring character “Pete Holmberg” in his honor. He then rounded out his hotelier experience with two years in operations at The Plaza Hotel before returning to PR. With combined experience in public relations and luxury property management, Pete knows how to communicate the details of any given transaction in manner that is both fully transparent and easy to understand.
A recent convert to Trader Joe’s, Pete enjoys cooking and entertaining in his Murray Hill apartment while watching too many hours of cable news. His Instagram — @PeteHolmbergNYC — is a tribute to the great love of his life, New York City.
When asked what makes his approach to customer service different, Pete’s response is simple: “It doesn’t matter how much money someone has, everybody feels vulnerable when they’re looking to find a home or sell the home they own. I’ve spent my life helping people through sensitive issues so I know the crucial roles that diligence, compassion and communication play in any successful deal between people.”
Pete can be reached via email at Pete.Holmberg@Compass.com or by phone at 917-501-7434.