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Neighbor Bro Smashes My Romantic Fantasy

Category: Fashion & Style,Lifestyle

When I signed the lease on my Brooklyn apartment, I met my landlord in the lobby of her condo in Queens, where she appeared in hot pink fuzzy pants and shower sandals and smelling of fried fish, her hair twisted up in a turban.

“Are you sure you can afford it?” she asked as I signed the contract. “Maybe your boyfriend will move in and help?”

“I don’t have a boyfriend,” I said.

“Lili was alone when she moved in,” she said, referring to the previous tenant who had shown me the apartment. “But then she met Nathan and they lived there for five years.” She leaned in closer. “Maybe you don’t have a boyfriend now, but you will soon.” Then she winked, as if to say: It worked for Lili; it will work for you too.

The apartment was big and cheap for Bushwick, with exposed brick and wood floors that were perfectly distressed. It was a good place to live alone — on a busy street that felt safe at night, and within five subway stops of my closest friends. But it was also big enough for two people, with a bonus room in the middle of the apartment and an extra closet for spare clothing.

As someone who could be described as super single, I felt optimistic about a place seemingly so eager to accommodate a couple.

The apartment was also a short walk from a loft rented by two friends of mine and a rotation of roommates who occupied the extra bedrooms. Most of the people I got to know my first year in the city I had met at parties at the loft, and every man I dated or thought about dating in Brooklyn had lived there. The loft was like a gallery of romantic prospects for me, and living nearby seemed like a move in the right direction.

Even though I could barely afford the rent, I treated my apartment like my forever home. I caulked the drafty windows. I hung wall art. I bought furniture for the space that was once a second bedroom and now would be an underutilized formal dining room.

One day I came home to an Amazon Prime delivery in Lili’s name, somehow mistakenly delivered to the address long after she moved. A couple months later, after several unsuccessful attempts to return the package, I finally opened it. Inside were two throw blankets and a teakettle similar to ones I’d been planning to buy for myself. It was like a housewarming gift paid backward.

Somehow, though, none of this had the desired effect on my love life. One man was so intimidated to see that I owned not only a microwave but also a table to put it on, that he immediately demanded to know my salary. (Less than his, which he took as a relief). Another tried to give his unwanted furniture to me when he moved out of the loft because I had the space for it. (I took a clothing rack and refused the rest.)

On a visit home to Michigan I met up with a friend for dinner to complain about my perpetual singleness.

“I don’t understand how you’re supposed to meet anyone,” she said.

I described the loft as a factory churning out eligible men for me, when in fact it had produced only a few failed prospects.

She was no stranger to romantic disappointment herself but had recently met the love of her life, quickly adopting the beatific optimism of the well paired.

“Maybe someone new will move in,” she said. But when I told her the loft was about to be emptied of tenants and renovated, she burst out laughing despite herself.

“You know,” I said, repeating what was becoming a mantra. “There really isn’t someone for everyone. Lots of people end up alone.”

Soon the new owners began their work on the loft, reconfiguring the units into smaller apartments, and everyone I knew who lived there moved out. Then I got fired. I had to ask my parents for help with rent while I collected unemployment and posted my place on Airbnb. I did everything I could to keep the apartment.

And then a man did arrive.

He moved into the apartment next door, and I hated him at first sound. He talked in what I called Bro Voice (like vocal fry, but for men) and rode a skateboard around the neighborhood whenever he wasn’t banging heavy objects into one of our shared walls. I quickly dubbed him Neighbor Bro.

Neighbor Bro smoked indoors, kept his shoes in the hallway and once woke me up by assembling Ikea furniture at 3 a.m. the night before my first day at a new job. I hated him more than any neighbor I’d ever had, including one who stole my bike and one who hung an old medicine cabinet in the hallway filled with handmade clay animals.

According to my landlord, Neighbor Bro had learned about the apartment from my upstairs neighbor, which made sense, because she was also fond of late-night construction projects.

Soon after he moved in, I thought I could hear Neighbor Bro slipping up to her apartment some evenings for what would turn out to be exceptionally loud late-night hookups, occupying the otherwise dull hours between 2 and 5 a.m. by slamming her bed frame into the wall above my head with a vigor that seemed to threaten the structural integrity of the building.

I didn’t want to be the angry spinster banging on the ceiling with a broom while her neighbors had sex upstairs. But I also needed sleep, so I kept a broom in the bedroom and knocked on the ceiling whenever my upstairs neighbor made other offending noises past the quiet hour of 12 a.m. I hoped she could deduce that if I could hear her vacuuming her bedroom at midnight, I could definitely hear Neighbor Bro rattling her bed frame at 3 a.m., but this never seemed to dawn on her.

Sometimes when I’d knock on the ceiling, Neighbor Bro would yell “What?” — and I couldn’t tell which apartment his voice was coming from.

Apparently their arrangement was a casual one, and soon other women were showing up at his door late at night throughout the week, permitting little peace for me on the other side of the wall. One night he spent a couple of hours with the woman upstairs, then returned to his own apartment for his second hookup of the night, while I slept on my couch to escape the noise coming through every shared wall, floor and ceiling between us.

I think anyone would be pushed to the edge by this point, but it seems like a particular torture for the interminably celibate to have another person’s sex life forced on her in surround sound.

So I left Neighbor Bro a note full of practical suggestions to remedy the situation — felt pads, a thick rug — and in return he left an angry screed taped to my door, signed with his phone number and instructions to “text him if he’s being loud.” (Um, no.)

He complained about my loud vacuuming, even though I don’t own a vacuum, and the sound of what he thought were my own late-night romps. Sometimes, he said, he would call his roommate into the room to bear witness to the noise before “the show was over.”

I couldn’t understand what he was talking about. Either the sound was coming from another apartment in the building, or there were two 20-something men with their ears to my wall listening to me — put away my laundry?

Indignant, I started to draft a rebuttal in my head, but there’s no way to say, “I can guarantee you no one is having sex in this apartment!” and come out sounding like a winner. So I decided to move.

A friend was separating from her husband and looking for a roommate. I had always preferred to live by myself, but living in my apartment meant for two had forced me to consider how much nicer it would be to share a home, to have someone else take turns emptying the trash and picking fights with the neighbors.

She and I started looking at listings together, and I tried to feel better about giving up my apartment by thinking of all the things I didn’t like about it. We would move to a quieter neighborhood where together we could afford a duplex with a yard I had always wanted, a fantasy involving neither the perfect apartment nor the perfect man.

One lesson I learned: You can’t will the right man into your life simply by planning for him.


Rebecca Woodward is a freelance writer and social media strategist based in New York City.

Modern Love can be reached at modernlove@nytimes.com.

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