What Apartment Hunting Taught Me About Relationships

Sometimes, we have patterns in relationships that we don’t really understand, or even see. I’ve long known that I find asking people for anything terrifying so I shy away from doing it. I never thought this was a great habit but it took my rental agent to show me how problematic it really is.

It begins

If you follow me, you may already know that I’ve been caught up in something of a saga involving brain fog, depression, a water-damaged, mold-ridden apartment, and, ultimately, a hunt for a new home. It took a long time (probably too long) to realize that my apartment was contributing to my health problems, largely because I really didn’t want that to be the case. As many of you know, a huge symptom of depression is the feeling that you just freaking can’t. Can’t what? Can’t anything. As the primary symptoms coming from the mold exposure are fatigue, brain fog, and headaches it really contributed to the “yeah, I really can’t” feeling. I’ve always hated apartment hunting (it’s on my “sell my soul to never do this again” list along with car shopping, the DMV and, weirdly, grocery shopping) and Portland’s tight market, penchant for open houses that involve 20 people  dog-piling on a landlord to get an application in first, and my weird-on-paper income don’t make it more appealing. Add to all that the facts that my current apartment is in a great location and hasn’t seen a rent increase in 3 years despite the fact that rents have skyrocketed in my city and you get me being in serious denial about needing to leave my home.

Enter the agent

When I finally realized it was time to move I decided to see if Portland had caught on to something that they didn’t have when I first moved here years ago but that was totally common in all of my prior homes: rental agents- basically real estate agents for renters. Lo and behold, they had. Now, it’s still a pretty new concept here so it worked completely differently than anywhere I’d ever lived before: basically I entered into a contract with a company and committed to pay them to help find my home. My foggy brain understood that we had that contract, that they would show me places, and that there was a stipulation that said I would still pay them if I found the apartment. I may have missed some of the particulars but I got that they would help me and that’s what I needed- we were off!

I did a little back and forth with the agent people and (after some budget wiggling) they started finding places for me. They even showed me places via facetime while I was in LA. The problem? They kept showing me the same place. Not really, but I saw multiple apartments that were all owned by the same company so they looked the same, felt the same, and came with the same misgivings (I object to pet rent on principle). I started getting panicky and annoyed. I felt like they had decided I would rent one of these places and that was all they would show me. I decided to take matters into my own hands.

In which I do the thing I often do

I was frustrated and scared because I thought I was on my own when in actuality people wanted to help me and I wasn’t letting them.

I returned to Portland and started lining up places to see on my own, all the while feeling stressed out and annoyed by the whole thing. I planned to meet with my agent to see some of the “all the same” apartments because I figured I should at least give them a chance in person (and truth be told, I really liked one of them). While I was at this appointment I mentioned I was going to see another place and the agent surprised me by volunteering to come, handling a bunch of questions with the landlord, and basically making that whole experience much more pleasant than it usually is. Later that evening she texted me to follow-up and I told her I was seeing another place in the morning. Then my phone rang. It was my agent and she sounded stern.

“JoEllen, I’m not sure if the process was explained to you when you signed on but when you find places you need to send them to us. Then we can go with you to walk-throughs, negotiate details with landlords, and get a better idea of what you like. We’re full service, you need to let us do our job”

Then it clicked for me. I had been getting annoyed at them for not learning what I liked, without telling or showing them what I liked. I had been doing a bunch of work because I always think I’m not supposed to bother anyone and, in doing that, I actually made everyone’s life harder. I was frustrated and scared because I thought I was on my own when in actuality people wanted to help me and I wasn’t letting them.

Yeah, this was about so much more than apartment hunting.

One of my biggest emotional triggers is feeling not cared for, but often my refusal to ask people for anything makes letting people know what I need near impossible. I tend to script things in my head and decide why I can’t ask someone for support: “she’s really stressed now, I can’t bother her”. This sets up a cycle where no one knows what I need and I get upset that I’m not being supported. Meanwhile my life features people who would LOVE to support me if I’d just tell them what I need instead of deciding I’m not allowed to bother them/they aren’t able to give it to me anyway. It took the conversation with the real estate agent for me to see that pattern but once I saw it, it was obvious.

So, what do I do with this?

Asking for what you need can be scary, people might reject you, they might say no, but the thing is, not asking for what you need guarantees you’ll never get it. I spend a lot of time in the “it’s not okay to ask for anything” place which means I also spend a lot of time in the “not getting it” place. I’ve always seen this as problematic for me but last week I learned that it’s also problematic for the people around me. The thing that I do that makes my life harder in the name of making other people’s lives easier is actually just a huge pain in everyone’s ass.  This is the problem with stories we tell ourselves, they are often flawed in ways we can’t see. Mine (“your needs are inconvenient to everyone else”) has lived in my head for so long I never questioned it until my real estate agent called me on it. Now I can see that my fear of rejection led me to craft elaborate stories about why people couldn’t (or wouldn’t -I often don’t give folks enough credit) support me and talk myself out of even asking. The one who has been keeping me from getting the support I need has been me.


In case you were wondering, the morning after that conversation, my agent accompanied me to the viewing I had set up and we found my new home. After months of stress and frustration, I allowed someone to help me and my problem was solved. I think the agent more than proved her point.

Big thank you to Melissa at Urban Nest Realty for helping me find a home and facilitating major revelations in the process!

Get my books!

Source link