When my old high school friend Ellen called me to tell me about this wonderful guy she had for me, I nearly fell off my very-hard-to-fall-off Aeron chair. Single, straight men looking for women over 40 don't exactly grow on trees in New York City. Ellen said he was smart, divorced, a partner in her law firm (Okay, lawyers are not usually my type, but these days I find gainful employment kind of a nice personality trait), Australian, and--as an added plus--he lived in my neighborhood.
During the all-important blind date First Phone Call, the banter was good. Good banter does not guarantee a good match, but it does usually portend that the date will not be completely dreadful. The day before the lawyer and I were to meet, Ellen checked in to give me a pre-date pep talk. The subject of his new apartment came up.
“You said he lives in my neighborhood, but where exactly?" I asked. (New Yorkers are compelled to discuss real-estate at all times).
“Wait, I have the new company directory here...” Ellen paused to look, and then she quoted the address.
I yelped. “But that’s my address!” In a city of 8 million people, what were the odds? I mean, I had always wanted to be the Girl Next Door, but could I really date a man who lived in my building? If we hated each other we would have to see each other in the lobby forever after. But I told myself that even though it might be a little too close for comfort, beggars can't be choosers, and after all it was a big building. Then Ellen mentioned the apartment number.
It was the apartment directly beneath me!! I realized I had heard him moving in two weeks before.
Dear reader, we did go on the date. But there were no major fireworks, and both of us knew without talking about it that since we were living on top of each other (you should pardon the expression) it was going to have to be all or nothing. How could we casually date, knowing we were going to be continually running into each other in the elevator? For the rest of my life I would never be able to go get my mail without putting on makeup. How could I deal with hearing him in his apartment, and knowing he could hear me in mine? It's hard enough to wait for a man to call, but to know exactly when he is and isn't home, and then wait for him to call?
Even when just making friends, most people are squeamish about crossing the line with a neighbor. If it ends badly, or ends up one-sided, there is no way out short of moving. It’s difficult to go back to being just “Hello, how are you?” neighbors once you have let them all the way into your life. Indeed, many people have a totally closed-door policy when it comes to neighbors, because they realize that once they start having them over, they will never be able to stop having them over--should they find out the neighbors are not as much fun as they had thought. The spontaneous drop-in policy a la Seinfeld and Friends may look good on TV, but it rarely works in real life. (Can you imagine keeping your door unlocked so your neighbor could pop in at any moment? That is my idea of Hell.)
I have a friend in Chicago who dated a man who lived upstairs from her, albeit not directly upstairs. And they did have fireworks; in fact, it became all too easy for them to hang out in each other's apartments when they had nothing better to do--creating a sort of faux intimacy that was not at all what it would have been if they had not been neighbors, and that was completely out of whack with their level of emotional involvement. And how did my friend feel when she spotted other women leaving her neighbor/lover's apartment? Bitterly betrayed, but without any real right to feel that way, since they were not "exclusive."
My "downstairs date" recently moved. But while he was here, I frequently ran into him with women--always of the stiletto-heeled, beige-suited, pearl-wearing sort. On those occasions I reckoned all was right with my world.