What’s the cost of breaking up in Toronto?

In a city where real estate is absurdly high and finding an affordable rental feels like winning the lottery, it's no wonder some couples choose to stick it out. Here are stories from people who decided to end their relationships


When my boyfriend dumped me three years ago, the first person I told was my landlord. “I’m sorry, I can’t afford to live here anymore,” I wrote in an email, tears streaming down my cheeks. “We broke up.” 

The next two months were some of the most stressful of my life. I spent weekends scouring Kijiji and Viewit for cheap apartments, and nights lying awake in bed, anxious over how I would afford to pay the remainder of my current lease, plus first and last month’s rent of a new place. 

After seeing numerous windowless shitholes and one place where the landlord tried to convince me the outdoor deck made the tiny studio apartment “basically a one bedroom,” I moved out of my $1,500-a-month condo and into a $1,000 basement suite. I adopted a cat, bought new bedsheets and started over.

My story isn’t uncommon. Thousands of hearts are broken every day. People fall in love, they move in together, then things fall apart and we’re left to pick up the pieces and hopefully try again. But in Toronto, where the average one-bedroom apartment is well over $2,000, the sheer cost of living and precariousness of work adds an extra layer of complication to the end of relationships. According to recent reports, millennials are responsible for declining divorce rates, but is that partially because divorce itself is so expensive? In Ontario, divorce starts at $600 – and that’s just to get the courts to review your application.

The cost of breakups may be a reason why some couples choose to stick it out the difficulty of securing a new apartment might be another. According to a 2018 report from the Canadian Housing and Mortgage Corporation, Toronto’s vacancy rate for rentals was 0.7 per cent while the market rate for a one bedroom was set at $1,270. This might not sound so dire except that most landlords charge way more, which is why there’s a discrepancy between the average rent and the market rate.

When couples split, typically one person gets to keep the shared home, sometimes benefiting from grandfathered rent that costs less than a newly acquired rental. Meanwhile, the cost of electricity and internet bills, groceries and even Netflix and Spotify accounts are suddenly doubled when a person strikes out on their own.

When NOW put out a call for folks who had survived a breakup in the city, members of Toronto’s broken hearts club came out in droves. We spoke to people who chose homelessness in order to get out of their relationships, and others who poured money into couples’ counselling in an attempt to stay in their dream homes. All of them had to move out of the home they shared with their exes.

Here are three of their stories.

TILL DEBT DO US PART

Shorey Andrews met her ex-boyfriend at a concert in 2017. They hit it off immediately and after a few months of dating, co-signed a lease on a $1,975 two-storey house in Oakwood Village. The rent seemed high but feasible on two salaries, plus they were in love. But a year and a half in, the honeymoon stage was over.

“It came down to compatibility and personality. I’m very social and I like to go out. He was less so, so we weren’t spending much time together,” Andrews says. “We didn’t even make it to two years.”

Andrews broke it off, so her ex moved back in with his parents in Markham, saddling her with the responsibility of ending the lease and finding a new place to live. “He was pretty blunt that he wouldn’t help me cover the cost of rent since I was the one who initiated the breakup,” Andrew adds. 

She sold furniture they had purchased together to recoup some costs and took on freelance work in addition to her full-time job in marketing to make ends meet. Still, in order to pay the remainder of the lease and present first and last month’s rent on a new place, Andrews went thousands of dollars in debt and had to borrow from her line of credit.

“Going out with my friends was no longer an option. Getting a new pair of jeans wasn’t going to happen. My debt comes from first and last month’s rent and money for new furniture,” Andrews recalls. “I guess the beauty of living in a small apartment is you don’t have to buy a lot.”

She now lives alone in a one bedroom in the Junction and her cost of living has risen 50 per cent. At 33, she’s eager to settle into a long-term relationship, but she’s also trying to refrain from falling into old habits. “I’ve lived with every person I’ve been in a long-term relationship with except for one – it’s pretty wild,” she says.

While Andrews has delayed breakups in the past due to a lack of funds, the one thing she’s learned from all her relationships is that no amount of money saved will lessen the eventual pain of breaking up. For now she’s back on the dating scene and trying to keep things light, although she laments, “People don’t take it seriously they’re just looking for a good time. There are a lot of people just wanting to have sex.”

MOVE ON, MOVE OUT AND MOVE AWAY

After graduating from Dalhousie University in Halifax, Robin Hebb convinced her boyfriend of nearly five years to make the move to Canada’s biggest city. After all, they both worked in theatre – Hebb as an actor, he as a stage manager – and both born-and-raised East Coasters were ready for a big change. 

Hebb found their apartment – a small one-bedroom condo in the Church-Wellesley Village – for $1,400, and they lived there for four months before Hebb moved out. 

“When I called my mom, pretty upset about wanting to break up, the first thing out of her mouth was, ‘You can’t do that. Where will you live?’” Hebb recalls. “But my friends were like, ‘You can’t just stay because of money. You’ll figure it out,’ and that was like the younger person’s perspective.”

Hebb moved in with married friends who had a spare bedroom in Christie Pits and paid them $600 per month for the furnished room. Her ex-boyfriend insisted she continue to pay $700 a month for three more months to help with the lease. 

“When I left, I had maxed out credit cards and $200 in my bank account,” Hebb says. “I was a barista in the daytime, so I got a second job waitressing at a restaurant at night.”

Her serving job landed her a roommate – another young woman who had recently broken up with her partner – and they found a two-bedroom apartment where they each contributed $875. 

“The only way we got an apartment was through a friend of a friend. I didn’t even see it but we took it. It was an old house and wasn’t well kept. Our landlord was lazy. There were mice and it was a never-ending battle. We couldn’t control the heat in our flat. Then we were renovicted,” she says.

During that year, Hebb signed up on Tinder and Bumble and went on a few dates, but meeting up was hard since she was basically working from 6 am until midnight most days. When Hebb and her roommate were renovicted last December, Hebb decided to leave the country and booked a one-way ticket to Portugal.

She got a new salaried job as the creative director of a furniture start-up, and even though she stayed in Airbnbs throughout her five-month stint in Europe and South Africa, it was still cheaper than paying rent in Toronto. 

Surprisingly, she’s friends with her ex and they meet for coffee once in a while, but she’s cautious to dive into another relationship for now. “It would take a lot for me to be willing to move in with someone again, just because the struggle was so real.”

SINGLE (DAD) IN THE CITY

Michael (last name withheld) knows Toronto’s singles landscape well, and rattles off the names of dating apps he’s currently using: Tinder, Bumble, OkCupid, Coffee Meets Bagel. But he warns that everyone is playing a game of “do I want to fuck you roulette.”

“Dating is a Venn diagram of lonely, horny, ready,” he adds. “Everyone’s spinning that wheel and if you hit all three of them, you’re good to go, but usually it’s a facsimile of lonely and horny.”

Michael got out of his last relationship about a year ago and has been going on dates again over the past few months. He’s dated in other Canadian cities, too, including Vancouver, Calgary and Halifax, but the 37-year-old event coordinator and DJ now has an added consideration when entering into a relationship: his two-year-old son.

“I was worried as a single dad that my capital in the dating world would be very low,” he says. “But I’ve met so many people like me – single moms, people whose families have been broken up – it’s cathartic.”

He met his son’s mom in Toronto five years ago, and they moved in together – along with her two kids from a previous relationship – within three months. 

“We spent every day together before that,” he explains. “And we found a three-bedroom house at Oakwood and St. Clair for $3,000, but a few years in, I don’t think we were giving each other the love languages we needed. I was looking for that vulnerability, and my partner was someone who was very strong and had been through a divorce.”

They decided to split up, but continued to live together for months because the cost of moving seemed impossible. When they eventually decided to go their separate ways, they each ended up paying a lot more for less square footage, and they agreed to live in the same neighbourhood in order to co-parent their son.

“I personally viewed upwards of 40 apartments before I found my current home,” Michael says. “I found my place because I was able to go see it 45 minutes after the ad went up on Kijiji. I brought pictures of my kid and I told the landlord my whole story. She was a single mom and understood.”

All things considered, Michael says he spent about $3,500 to get him and his son set up in their new apartment. He used Facebook Marketplace to find second-hand furniture and toddler items like a car seat. He put his career as an HR consultant on hold, too, and turned his side hustle as a DJ into a full-time gig so that his time was more flexible as a single parent. 

“I budget out dating and spend around $300 a month,” he says. “The single moms I’ve been seeing only have a night every two weeks, anyway. I try to talk to someone on the phone first to see if there’s connectivity and humour, and then I’ll meet for coffee and keep it low-key.”

While Michael has only recently reentered the dating scene, he’s hopeful about finding long-lasting love again, especially in a city like Toronto, where there is so much diversity. His only concern is the little optimism and amount of apathy heterosexual singles have.

“The bar is set so low for men. If you’re talkative, if you have good manners, if you listen, if you have opinions about things and if you’re thoughtful, then you’re already at an 11,” he says. “You don’t even have to be the best-looking guy. Just don’t ghost or send dick pics.”

Falling in love and the (inevitable) heartbreak that follows is one of the few universal experiences, but in a city like Toronto, where real estate seems absurdly high and finding an affordable rental feels like winning the lottery, choosing to break up with someone takes on a whole other meaning. While I found love (in this hopeless place) again and recently started cohabiting with my partner in a nicer, much bigger, above-ground rental, I’m wary that my relationship decisions could be guided by the real estate market. 

@michdas

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