At 19, I remember a precise moment when I felt I had a grip on this life thing. Somehow I thought I had matured to this ripe age, where I could function as a grown up in society.
I was attending NYU and my parents didn’t want to pay for me to live in the dorm because they believed we lived close enough for me to commute. I did this for half a semester and will not elaborate as to why three modes of transportation before class might be a buzzkill to the “college experience.” But hey, it was my choice to transfer from Boston University to NYU and I won’t go into a litany of why New York is so much better than Boston, but I’ll just say, legally bars in Boston are obligated to close FOR THE NIGHT at 2 am. While it sold itself as the quintessential college town, it felt more like a Stepford Wives-controlled college town, or an eerie version of The Truman Show where everyone was planted to give me an ultimate “college experience.” I picked living at home, in Staten Island with my parents over Boston. This kicked off a series of life lessons not taught in school.
Shortly after I moved back to New York, I began dating my first serious boyfriend. He was also an immigrant from Kiev and our grandmothers set us up. Seriously, in 1993 America, I needed my grandmother to find me a boyfriend, as if getting us to America wasn’t enough. The boyfriend and I bonded instantly. I never had any Russian friends and mistook our instant connection for love, when it actually was just meeting someone from the same culture. We went to see Schindler’s List on our first date – before they made the Seinfeld episode about it. We bonded on being Russian, having good hair, and being brooding depressives. I was so desperate for a boyfriend, I didn’t realize I fell in the love with the idea of him more than him. Life Lesson # 1: Two downers are not the greatest combination.
My parents let him sleep over all the time. We slept on my European twin bed (they’re even skinnier than a normal twin!) for a month, down the hall from my parents and next door to my 11-year-old sister, before we moved our stuff into my parent’s basement and slept on the pull out sofa with the metal bar in our backs. Naturally we decided it would be best to move in together. Life Lesson #2: Make sure you have a house to move back into, if necessary.
We scored a great rent-stabilized apartment in Forest Hills, back where my family first landed on U.S. soil. We picked out furniture at Seaman’s: a leather couch, a love seat, a coffee table, two side tables, and two matching lamps for $699 for the 8-piece set. I don’t remember those first few days of young independence. Instead, I went from being young and in love to a place of complacency; an old married couple at 20. I wanted to move out on my own so badly and convinced myself this was a logical move. Lesson #3: Don’t always follow the logic; your heart beats louder.
A few months after we were living together, we went on a trip to Boston to visit my old college friends. The boyfriend was so kind, polite, behaving like the mature 24-year-old he was. College boys paled in comparison to my man, who already had a real job and paid half the rent. My friends ranted and raved about how great he was but my it took me two years to face the truth: I was never attracted to him. I loved him as a person; he had become my best friend, but there was no physical attraction. I spent our entire time together convincing myself looks are secondary and so many other qualities are important. I was only 19, why did I need to settle so quickly? Insecurity roots deeply! Sexual attraction is not only important, it is what keeps the human species alive. Lesson #4: Value the importance of physical attraction.