The Truth About Expiration Dates


Expiration dates. The very words bring to mind the fuzzy black stamp I would search for on the gallon jugs of milk in our fridge as a kid. Is the milk bad? Mom would ask. It’s one day past the expiration date, I don’t know! I would yell back. Smell it! she’d respond. What does milk even smell like? I remember thinking. I may have stolen that from the Jerry Seinfeld stand-up CD we listened to on repeat for most of my adolescent life, but I digress. These days, because I don’t really drink milk or frequent the grocery as much as I should (read: ever), my interaction with expiration dates can be whittled down to the odd z-pack I scrape out of some drawer when in a dire state of congested distress.

Recently, perhaps due to the passing of another birthday, I’ve been thinking a lot about expiration dates. Not “the end is near!” expiration dates, but the general beginnings and endings that happen in our lives and all around us. As I get older, I find the phrase “nothing is forever” more and more relatable. Relationships come and go, stores may open and close, and people move and change jobs at higher rates than ever before. Yet I remain grounded in the mindset that most things happen for a reason. How do we navigate a world where everything is changing and still trust that what’s to be is to be?

Tonight, as I walked down Columbus Avenue in the rain, I inventoried the stores and places I’ve come to know living on the Upper West Side for the better half of a decade. Many remain the same, but some have changed. A new restaurant in the spot where an old favorite used to be stood out. As I watched the bus boys stack chairs neatly on the tables lining the dining room, I felt a pang of something. Sadness maybe? I continued my walk uptown past the Duane Read I used to frequent during my first year in New York. It looked exactly the same. Go figure. Further up the block, I was excited to see the stoop of my first apartment. And as I rounded the corner of 76th street, the memories came flooding back.

I remember the day I moved in. Mom, Kaely, and I drove up the turnpike flanked by movers with entirely too much furniture for my 250 square foot apartment nestled in their moving truck. It was August in the city and hot and humid when we arrived. Upon walking over the threshold into my new apartment I was shocked by how tiny it seemed. And by shocked, I mean horrified. We fit approximately 40% of the furniture that was trucked up from Maryland into my new abode and waved the movers goodbye with the rest of it still packed the way it came. The start of my new life. Boy, was that apartment small.

I remember the next day my sister and I walked to a nearby hardware store in search of an AC unit while mom stayed behind in my new stifling studio hanging curtains. We assured the staff at Beacon Hardware we’d be absolutely fiiiiiine carrying it the four blocks home with the nylon cables strapped strangling the box. You grab one end, I’ll grab the other! I remember saying. By block two we were done. Our hands chapped and rubbed raw, both of us sweating on the corner of 72nd street. We did it, though, and it was a hilarious few days getting settled. Soon after, without warning or fanfare, the apartment became my home. That day, I didn’t know I’d stay just one year or what was to come—I was enjoying (enduring) the ride.

When we begin a new journey, whether it’s a new job or move to a new home, we typically don’t consider the expiration date. What would be the point? But I’ve found this doesn’t seem to be the case with relationships. The funny thing about dating is there really aren’t many options as far as where the trajectory of a romantic connection can go. You either continue the course, maybe get married, pop out a few kids, or you break up. The benchmarks we reach in a relationship seem to hold meaning these days that they once didn’t. In the meantime, as we all race from date to date, person to person, we look for red flags and signals to qualify or disqualify someone entirely.

At age 32, the words “expiration date” are imbued with more meaning than ever before. It seems every potential romantic partner has to be vetted, background checked, and given the green light for husband material in the first week or it’s back to sea. We do it to ourselves and to others, and as the pressure mounts, I find myself thinking what the hell we’re doing it all for.

What if we just stopped? What if, like my first apartment, we let things unfold at the pace they should. Perhaps not everything fits, but does it ever in life? I made a home in my first apartment on Columbus Avenue. I didn’t know how long I’d stay there but loved every minute of that year in my shoebox on 76th and Columbus. I remember the trials and tribulations I weathered from the ancient murphy bed I had to have. Just as I remember the wonderful times I had there, many with people I know now only in my memories. I wouldn’t trade those friendships or that home for anything. Everything has an expiration date. We do. Homes come and go. People may surprise you with their ability to fit in your life the same way I’m surprised by those who have left mine. We might as well take a chance, see what comes, and make some memories to save for a rainy day.