One Giant Leap for Womankind
31 March 2022 by Sady Doyle in Voice
I moved into the aquarium six months ago, around the time my last boyfriend and I blocked each other.
I live in the same sort of crappy, tiny South Brooklyn micro-housing as pretty much every other journalist these days, and let me tell you, those super-cute little Portland numbers you can see on the interior design apps (the loft bed directly above the stove! How ingenious! How cozy!) become a lot less cute in February, when you’re actually living in one, and it’s too cold for you to leave. (The loft bed directly above the stove! How horrible! I will smell like bacon until I die!)
My housing had been at the center of some fights with the boyfriend — we couldn’t move in together; he couldn’t fit his things into my apartment, and if I’d moved into his, I would have been taking what’s now considered a “reasonable” two-hour commute into a portion of upstate New York that has faulty wi-fi, excessively hip bars, and a resting temperature I clocked at “cold as balls” — and so, when we finally agreed it would be best to just click the “delete relationship” button and have done with it, I found myself almost maternally defensive of my tiny fire-prone apartment. I knew how horrible it was, but it was horrible in the same way that I was, smoke-stained and messy and bearing the scars of ill-advised compromises, compromises made due to the fact that (a) neither of us could leave New York, and (b) neither of us were young, wealthy or desirable enough to thrive there. My apartment and I were worthy. We were survivors. We were each, equally, deserving of love.
And so, I threw myself into fixing the place up. But only in the way I fix things up, which is more shopping than fixing. The new Magic Leap home set ($399 plus tax and insurance and oh, leave me alone, I was heartbroken) allows you to “realistically render your environment to reflect your innermost dreams and inspire childlike wonder,” according to the Magic Leap ad copy, in which someone is always being childlike or dreaming something. What this means, basically, is that my apartment can look like any place I like, though it only looks that way to me. Then again, there wasn’t anyone else to see it. They also couldn’t see how dorky I looked in those stupid Magic Leap goggles, which, in days to come, I found to be a profound blessing.
For the first few weeks, I cycled through settings. I spent a few days living in the Botanical Gardens of my Ohio hometown, which had in fact been a dream of mine when I was a child — running away from home, and waking up every morning under the dome of the greenhouse, or in the Rainforest Room behind the waterfall. But this turned out to depress me, mainly because the beautiful, glass-domed (also, to be fair, “ancient” and “leaking) Palm House at the real Botanical Gardens had been knocked down five years ago and replaced with an augmented-reality center that streamed plants, much like I was doing. They may even have been the same captures. I also tried living in Versailles, but it turns out that for Versailles to work, you need servants. Otherwise, it feels empty.
So I started living under the ocean. About thirty feet under it, close enough to the surface that everything was lit with beautiful, ghostly blue-green light, but far enough down that I could see creatures passing by. I got to set the creatures: I was adamant on whales, at first, preferably a blue whale, but it turns out that living in an apartment where a blue whale occasionally swims by your window is like living in an apartment with a train track built directly through the living room. The rumbling and wailing inspires not awe at the majesty of nature, but an immediate and overwhelming certainty that you are going to die. I eventually settled for dolphins. They’re jerks, but they’re small jerks; having dolphins is like living on a college campus, being occasionally interrupted by the jocular window-side chatter of a pack of aquatic frat boys.
If you’ll permit me a lady-blog-ish turn at this point: The “delete relationship” button. For all the inane thinkpieces that have been written about its implications (for commitment, for monogamy, for feminism, for LOVE ITSELF) I cannot imagine life without it. May God bless Jody Speight, the woman in tech who finally thought to do what none of the Zuckerbergs before her had attempted, and started ridding the Internet of troublesome men. Granted, it’s only the Internet and it’s all subjective, but still. She deserves every one of her many billions of dollars. One simple widget added to your social media dashboard and your e-mail inbox, and bam. You are now blocked from being contacted or notified about your ex — no new baby pictures or wedding invites, no coming across them on LinkedIn and finding out they’re incredibly wealthy now, no drunk-texts, no Google. Some people set the app to un-block in a few months or years, or opt to keep the record of the relationship, love letters and old photos and the like, but not me. I’ve been around long enough to know that memory and hope are just self-harm sold in prettier packages. I nuke the fuckers. Granted, the whole cross-platforming thing means that Jody Speight now has direct access to my phone, my computer, and every electronic device, app, and social media account I own, but it’s Jody. She gave me “delete relationship.” She’s entitled to read all the old sexts she wants.
Living in the aquarium was like putting a “delete relationship” button on New York. I still e-mailed in to work, and went to the door for the grocery guy (oh, all right; the take-out guy) but otherwise, I could entirely forget that I lived in a city with people in it. My pop-culture feeds, too, had been curated with the precision and severity of a woman with highly specific tastes and way too much time on her hands. This was another source of conflict with the boyfriend; his feeds still permitted some Taylor Swift, who I deleted as soon as I could figure out how to work the settings. Granted, de-Swifting your feed is a complicated process. But it was like my boyfriend wasn’t even trying. Sometimes, I got the sense that he was listening to her on purpose. In the aquarium, I never had to deal with the imperfectly filtered feeds of others; the only channels I left on were “gloomy English female guitar players” and “Japanese bedroom electronica,” which, with my Netflix set to “surrealist art-horror” and “Amy Poehler,” was really all I turned out to need. The newsfeed settings got re-done a little more carefully — feminism, I love you, but I don’t need to hear the phrase “rape culture” before lunch — and soon enough, I was on my way to a perfect living space.
Which, I suppose, is why I haven’t started dating again. Or listened to anything other than Anna Calvi and the first Savages record for the past few months. Or gone outside: It’s cold, and it’s crowded, and New York is still the same hostile, expensive mess it always was. The Magic Leap set gives me the aquarium; it lets me float, frictionless, through a world of my own design. I do wonder what I might be missing, down here under the water. But I worry less about getting out than about the pain I might one day let in.
Sady Doyle is a blogger and author located in Brooklyn. Her work appears frequently on the Dove Soap empowerment app LADYBUSINESS. Her most recent book The No Lifestyle Movement: Inside America’s Anti-Aesthetic Underground publishes Fall 2023.
Illustrations by Dave Fung.