There seem to be two kinds of people in the world: pro-prenup and against. It took a friend of mine months to finalize her divorce because she and her husband disagreed on what was “hers” versus “his,” while another friend’s ex tossed his belongings out the front door in black Hefty bags, citing their prenuptial agreement. I had mixed feelings about prenups until the day our new landlady asked my boyfriend, Gordon, and me to not only sign a lease, but also a relationship prenup.
In the event Gordon and I broke up, it specified who would take over the apartment, financially. He and I haphazardly decided it would be him since he made more money than I did—and it was a hypothetical situation that wasn’t going to come true, anyway.
“The last tenants got engaged while living here,” Mrs. C., the grandmotherly landlady, boasted, winking. She took a pen out of her housecoat pocket and handed it over like a lawyer. “This is a ‘just in case’ agreement. You understand.”
Gordon and I did—sort of—and laughed as we signed it.
What’s a twelve-month lease when we’re going to spend the rest of our lives together?
“When you know it’s right, it’s right,” Gordon told her as he signed his name, the plastic-covered couch squeaking as he did so.
“You know, you can add more items to the document,” Mrs. C. suggested.
“What’s mine is now Natalia’s,” Gordon said, putting his hand on mine.
We felt lucky to get the duplex. But seven months into living together, Gordon and I were no longer laughing the way we had on Mrs. C’s couch. We broke up and it felt as though that prenup pen stabbed me in the chest.
Getting an apartment together had been a huge deal for Gordon and me—neither of us had lived with a boyfriend or girlfriend before. It was also my first lease in over four years. In 2009, I had given up my apartment after suddenly being laid off. While I looked for work, I couch-surfed and lived with a different friend each week. Staying in one place for more than seven-day increments would be new to me.
Gordon and I had met years before, through mutual friends, in 2009. Our first unofficial date had been that year at a Halloween party, but Gordon was dressed as a zombie. With all the fake blood on his face, it was hard to talk to him, let alone look at him. We lost touch, except for sporadic parties here and there.
In 2013, Match.com reunited us—this time, Gordon didn’t have any zombie makeup on. And, several months later, we moved in together. Our duplex felt magical and had Moroccan crown moldings throughout, with doorways shaped like spades—it’s like we were characters in Alice in Wonderland.
I put my favorite flea market painting—a blonde girl playing a ukulele—above the makeshift fireplace, and Gordon scattered his zombie figurines throughout the rooms. Every time I’d get home, I’d find a new glow-in-the-dark figure staring at me with its eerie missing eyes.
We had little-to-no furniture, and spent the first few weeks sleeping in our empty bedroom on an air mattress that would deflate and wake us up halfway through the night.
We’d laugh, look up at the glowing plastic stars on our ceiling, listen to the crickets outside and pretend we were camping, knowing our struggles were just temporary like our ceiling constellations. Through our Facebook status updates, we told friends we needed to furnish our place and were looking for dishes, a TV, a couch (ironic, huh?), you name it. For under $100, we acquired a houseful of everything we sought out—and more. We didn’t think to add any of them to the prenup.
As we unpacked our personal possessions, we got rid of duplicates of books we both owned, like The Artist’s Way. I ignored the quiet voice in my head that wondered what would happen if we each needed a copy someday, just in case this apartment thing didn’t work out. But it was only a book, I thought. It wasn’t necessary to put in our apartment prenup—and a book could be replaced, right?
When Gordon and I broke up, we’d forgotten about the prenup. After all, neither of us wanted to keep the apartment. Gordon wanted to leave L.A. and we both wanted to leave behind the memories we’d created together in the duplex—the starry sky in our bedroom and the 1920s bathroom doorknob that continually fell off if you dared to close the door all the way, which resulted in one person shouting out to the other to rescue them, the other laughing hysterically.
When I remembered the relationship agreement, I wondered if Mrs. C. had known something Gordon and I hadn’t, like those therapists who can predict if a couple will stay together or not? Or had she just been trying to protect us—and herself?
As unromantic as I first thought it was, post-breakup, I was grateful for the prenup. Just knowing it existed helped to ease the pressure of who’d be responsible for the apartment lease. Yes, I could have fled and left Gordon behind with the agreement, duplex, and starry bedroom sky.
But since Gordon and I parted ways cordially, no cheating or deal-breakers broken, I didn’t see a reason to use the prenup. We’d both loved the apartment, and each other, and we’d figure out its fate together.
As I started to pack my things and removed the blonde ukulele player painting, I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t leave.
Gordon and I turned the prenup on its head and took turns living at the duplex until I found a roommate. We didn’t draw up a new contract—we just went on faith and each other’s word. Although, in a less amicable situation, I would have wanted to write up apartment parameters or use existing ones. As we all know, some loving relationships become less loving or even vengeful after a breakup, so having something in writing helps.
However, with Gordon, there was still the matter of the little things, the contents of the apartment. Sure, initially, I might have wanted to fling his zombie figures out the window, but I wasn’t that kind of person—and they weren’t mine. They’d been his first, and I still considered them to be so. Should we have listened to Mrs. C. when she’d suggested we add items to the prenup? Now, who would keep the flat screen TV that my friend had donated to us yet Gordon watched more than I? Who would keep the plastic stars from the bedroom? And, who would claim The Artist’s Way?
As Gordon and I went through every item in the house—since we’d acquired so many together—we split up everything as fairly as possible. If one of us wanted something more than the other did, like him wanting the TV, so be it. Though this system worked for us, it turned out to be time-consuming. I know there could have been a more efficient way of doing things—like a more detailed prenup.