While my friends were marrying, having kids and upgrading their homes, I flunked at finding a mate and failed at turning either my acting or nutritional counseling into a solid career. At age 44, I was living gig-to-gig. My life looked more collegiate than someone who was hitting middle age.
I had dreamed of being the next Kate Winslet, but the few auditions I won were for low-paying Anime voice jobs and the occasional TV spot. Each month I scrambled to pay rent.
Meanwhile, the men I dated were interested in my TV drama looks, then shied away when they learned I did wacky voices, or when they saw that I had gotten stuck in the 20-something starter apartment with its mishmash of furnishings.
I hatched a plan to go back to school, start fresh and stop living in fear of bills or loneliness. I’d get the degree I never finished after an illness forced me out of college nearly 20 years ago. I flew from Los Angeles to New York on a one-way ticket, with $900 in the bank and a single bed held for me in a dormitory at the New School. I planned to spend a few months learning the city’s neighborhoods and then get my own place using financial aid as my guarantor.
The dorm experience was better than expected with terrific roommates. But when I explained my living situation to the 40-something men I met on dating apps, they laughed and passed on me. Sharing showers and one small hot plate was tolerable for a few months, but I had to move on.
While visiting potential apartments with a broker, each space he showed me was smaller than the next. “You could build a loft in this area and use it as both sleeping and studying space,” my broker said, pointing to the spot to the right of the refrigerator, as we stood in a studio that was little more than a kitchen and a bathroom, for $1,700 a month. Another place at that price was an attic more suited to storage than sleeping.
Instead of broker’s fees, I opted for a tiny, reasonable shared apartment I found through an acquaintance. I lasted less than two claustrophobic months before I realized that nomadic living might be better than a holding an expensive lease.
At 30 years old, I dreamed of buying my first house with a mate. At 40, I fantasized of owning a bright apartment with expensive white bedding, colorful fresh flowers and traveling first class every few months. By my mid-40s, I still found myself dreaming — no permanent address, just a P.O. Box in my name.
Each new spot I moved to was better than the last. As New York rents climbed, I kept mine steadily far below market by taking odd situations every few months.
I fled that claustrophobic shared place to a young man’s lovely flat on 72nd Street, which I found on Craigslist. I paid his $1,500 for rent and utilities while he visited his mom in England. It was fantastic walking across the street to the Hudson River every day.
Next, I moved to a tiny private room at the 92nd street Y, taking with me a few books, bedding, clothes and toiletries. I was happier than I’d ever been. I felt free, and that all possibilities were open to me. At the Y there was maid service, doormen and use the spectacular gym and pool for under $1,500 a month. (It would’ve been even cheaper if I’d shared a room with someone.)
From the Y, I moved to a place in Tribeca that was advertised as “bohemian,” which turned out to be an apartment attached to the owners’ unit. The owner was saving the place — with its makeshift kitchen, Moroccan fabrics, squatting stools, numerous crucifixes and a heavy red movie theater curtain in the shower — for her daughter. The risk was that her daughter could move in at any time, and I’d have to get out again in a hurry. I took the chance and got to live in a spectacular neighborhood, in a building with a doorman and an elevator, for half of what any studio went for in that area.
I was enjoying homes with better-than-Ikea furniture and exclusive addresses only because I was willing to give up the stability of a long-term lease. It became an exercise in faith that I would be okay. And I was. The next spot always showed up as I scoured Craigslist or asked friends from Los Angeles to connect me with people who might need short-term renters.
I began to wonder: Why had I been waiting for the traditional route to security — the right job or the right mate — as the years ticked by without much change or happiness? Giving up the need to hang onto personal items gave me the exhilaration of travel without the jet lag. Moving every few months, I began to see myself become more creative and capable. I cooked three-course meals on a hot plate and replaced toilet parts myself. I owned one mug, plate and bowl, some wooden spoons. I could pack up in a day, and I felt good that everything I had was continually used.
I do plan to get my own place someday and fill it with beautiful things. But for now, getting to live lease-free allows me to build a new career. And I’m finally enjoying dating.
In six years I have moved 18 times. I’d happily do it all over again. Currently I am enjoying a gorgeous Upper East Side home of a lovely Broadway dancer who is working out of town. Where I’ll go next is unknown . . . and that is part of the charm.