Having Sex in a Crawl Space Showed Me I’m Not As Chill As I Thought

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Photo: J.V. Aranda

Welcome to It’s Complicated, stories on the sometimes frustrating, sometimes confusing, always engrossing subject of modern relationships. (Want to share yours? Email pitches to itscomplicated@nymag.com.)

I’ve been picturing my idealized New York City life since I was a tween: I’d move here, find the perfect apartment in a low-rise brick building somewhere downtown, and settle in as a writer. Then one day, while waiting in line at the Strand, I’d meet him: tall with dark hair, a beard, tattoos, and some vague artistic job. He’d play the guitar and always be traveling, and we’d have slow, sensual sex on a mattress on the floor of his loft.

This guy seemed to be the perfect match for the type of woman I wanted to be — and, really, the kind of woman I thought I would become: artistic and spontaneous, decked out in clothes from Goodwill.
But even at a young age, all evidence suggested that I was not the chill girl I imagined. I like making plans, and confirming plans, and sticking to plans. I hate surprises. I’m not the type of woman who can be flippant about where her next meal is coming from — I am literally always hungry, and I’m not here to play around with how I’m going to be fed.

Still, reality wasn’t enough to diminish my hipster dreams. And when I finally moved to New York after college, it felt like all of my dreams were confirmed: The city was teeming with beards of all shapes and sizes on the faces of artsy-looking guys. I joined OKCupid, and started going on dates with men who listed Tolstoy as their favorite writer and posted pictures of themselves posing in their dead-stock Levi’s. But these love affairs were always short-lived, and I never found myself in the manic pixie romance that I craved. When friends, and my mother, suggested that I might want to try dating someone a little more stable, I flew into indignant rages. “You don’t know my life!” I’d wail. “I don’t want to date a VP from Morgan Stanley! I am an artist! I want to date an edgy creative with a dog named Hendrix!”

I continued with this delusion for most of my early 20s. And then, one winter, I met a guy we’ll call Tim.

I first spotted Tim on OKCupid, and was immediately taken with him. His profile read like the character description of “The Man I’d Spend Forever With” in the eventual biopic of my life, complete with the beard, the dark hair, the light eyes, and the tattoos. After sending a few messages back and forth, Tim and I decided to meet at a fancy cocktail bar in the East Village. “They have a great bourbon selection,” he told me over text.

Over a few drinks, I learned that Tim was from Arizona originally, but he hadn’t lived there for a while; that he’d most recently been out in San Francisco, putting together a craft whiskey brand with a friend of his; that he’d come out to Brooklyn to work at a whiskey distillery and learn the trade. Currently, he was managing the graveyard shift of the distillery while he figured out where he’d move to next.

“I don’t really plan to be in New York for all that long,” he told me. “And I’m pouring my time into my work while I’m here.” Instead of hearing this for what it actually was — his way of telling me that he wasn’t looking for a serious relationship — all I could hear was my heart thumping in my ears. Here was who I thought I wanted, and he was sitting right across from me swilling whiskey.

Soon, I started visiting Tim at the distillery in Brooklyn. He’d pour me free whiskey, we’d share cigarettes, we’d order pizza, and then we’d sneak upstairs and make out in the tasting room. When I asked him about his living situation, he told me he lived in Greenpoint with two other guys. Eventually, he invited me over to his apartment for a party his neighbor was throwing. His place was small, but stuffed with the designer hot sauces and taped-up posters of Truffaut movies you’d expect in a home of three guys like this. After a few drinks, I began to imagine myself in his world, making him buckwheat pancakes for breakfast while pouring coffee from a Chemex.

As the night began to wind down, Tim asked if I wanted to sleep over. We hadn’t had sex yet, but our makeout sessions in the tasting room had begun to get a little more frisky, so we both knew that it was go time. He ushered me back to his apartment, at which point I asked which of the two bedrooms (a number that didn’t register until that very second) was his.

“Oh — I don’t sleep in either of the bedrooms,” he told me.

I started laughing, thinking it was a total joke. “So where do you sleep, then? On the couch?” I asked.

Tim smiled and walked over to the corner of the room, where he grabbed a ladder I hadn’t noticed earlier during our tour.
He unfolded it, positioned it in front of the bathroom door, and then climbed it. At the top was a small door to a crawl space, the kind that’s usually used for storage. But when Tim opened it up and flicked on the light, there was a queen-size air mattress.

“I sleep up here.”

I had no words. Was he serious? Through my whiskey haze, the reality of the situation quickly dawned on me. This is what the life of a transient hipster-dude looked like. It wasn’t sexy or romantic.
It was sleeping in a crawl space above a bathroom.

But I so wanted to cling to this idea of myself as a chill, spontaneous girl, and there was no way she would have a problem with this. I marched up that ladder, and slid myself onto the air mattress. Inside, the crawl space felt like a tomb. I couldn’t sit up all the way, which meant that I had to wriggle out of my clothes like a worm. Have you ever tried to take your clothes off while lying flat on your back, without any help? I felt like a caterpillar awkwardly scooting out of its skin.

Tim eventually slid in next to me in his boxers — since he was a member of this household, he had the luxury of taking his clothes off in the living room before climbing the ladder. He closed the tiny door at our feet, leaving it open a crack so that we wouldn’t suffocate, and then turned off the light. What followed was the craziest sex I’ve ever had — and not in a fun, kinky way. I’d never realized before that sex is much more enjoyable when one or both parties can actually lift their head up all the way. The two of us bent into positions so complicated, I almost wished that we’d done some warm-ups before. It was a shame, because I got the feeling that in a normal situation, Tim and I would have likely had decent sex together. But when it was over, all I was left with was an aching back, a rapidly approaching hangover, and the nagging feeling that I was being buried alive.

In the morning, Tim took me for breakfast, and then I got on the subway home. During the long ride, I came to terms with the fact that my mother was right — that the type of guy I’d always idealized wasn’t actually ideal for me. Tim was exciting, but the realities of his life — and the lives of the men I’d dated during this period of my life — were way too flaky. I wanted stability. I wanted regularity. I wanted to have sex in bedroom, dammit, and I wanted an adult who actually had one.

I only saw Tim one more time after that, and he told me that he was planning on moving to Arizona. My transient hipster was doing what his type did best: moving on. It was for the best, though — our tryst in the crawl space had been a revelation for me. I wasn’t the chill, down-for-whatever, go-with-the-flow type after all. I didn’t want to sleep in crawl spaces, and I couldn’t properly pronounce Chemex. And, finally, I was okay with that. But I still believe that my tattooed, bearded dreamboat is out there, wandering the shelves of the Strand, waiting for me. Here’s hoping he at least has a bed frame.

Having Sex in a Crawl Space Changed What I Look for in a Man