Real Estate

The Roommates Who Hardly See Each Other

The Roommates Who Hardly See Each Other

Briana Aguilar-Austin in the apartment during the day, and her roommate, Thomas Keane, on the couch at night.
Photo-Illustration: Curbed; Photos: Kayla Levy

Most days, Thomas Keane gets home from his bartending job as the sun begins to rise and quietly slips into bed. But if it’s really late, he’ll have a brief window of time to see his roommate, Briana Aguilar-Austin. “I could be coming home at 7:00 or 7:30 a.m. with a couple of drinks in me and Bri’s in her flight attendant uniform walking out the door,” says Keane.

It’s been like this for two years. But it wasn’t always; when they first moved in together, they were both coming home from work at 1 a.m. and having impromptu Mariah Carey dance parties before going to bed. It was how the two became friends in the first place, when they were both working as bartender-managers at different Brooklyn bars. They went from bar friends to real friends during a trip to Art Basel in Miami, and back in the city, they started hanging out. “We both have the mentality of: work hard, take all the hours, and then go get a couple of drinks and hang out,” says Keane.

When the pandemic decimated the service industry in the spring of 2020, Aguilar-Austin went to her mother’s apartment in Ditmas Park, and Keane went to his cousin’s in Rhinebeck. But they moved back to the city by the summer — Aguilar-Austin bouncing between different sublets and Keane on a month-to-month lease in a tiny Tribeca apartment. One night, she suggested that they get out of their less-than-ideal living situations by becoming roommates. She was partly joking, but the more they talked, the more they realized it could work. They both had the same apartment dealbreaker: outdoor space. After touring eight apartments, they found a two-bedroom with a roomy deck on the border between Carroll Gardens and Gowanus (just around the corner from the bar where they first met) and moved in together in 2021.

At this point, Aguilar-Austin and Keane were still working in restaurants and bars, and their schedules were similar. But after a year, Aguilar-Austin finally became a flight attendant, the job she’d been coveting since childhood. The Me Too movement, which had surfaced so many stories about the mistreatment of women in the restaurant industry, finally gave her the push to leave. “I saw a lot of icky things, and I was over it,” she says.

At first, the change didn’t feel too dramatic; the roommates just saw each other less. Instead of late-night dance parties or going out with friends after work, they drank coffee on the deck on the Sundays that they both had off. While Aguilar-Austin’s work schedule is a little unpredictable, she often heads out on trips at dawn (or wakes up early to run or use the Peloton in the living room) and goes to bed earlier.

Then, one night, after a bartending shift, Keane took a FaceTime call without headphones at 5 a.m. and woke Aguilar-Austin. She confronted Keane, and he was snappy back; they both remember feeling “agitated.” It was maybe their first real fight. “That was definitely a flashpoint where we realized our lives are the exact opposite of what they were when we moved in,” she says. “Our first year together was a party; we never needed to have upfront conversations.” They sat down to talk a couple of days later, and it all came out: Aguilar-Austin felt like Keane wasn’t respecting her sleep schedule, and Keane resented feeling like he had to constantly tiptoe around the apartment after coming home from work.

After that night, they cleared space on the fridge to write down their work schedules and agreed to communicate about any house-related plans ahead of time. Sometimes, when Keane plans to host friends or family at the apartment (which he enjoys doing more than her), he gives Aguilar-Austin a heads up, and she books a work trip to give them space. They have a rule that on days when they do cross paths, usually as she is leaving for work or a workout and he is coming home to sleep, they always ask before bringing something up. This ensures they don’t snap at each other. “We don’t want to get to a place where we resent each other and decide not to be roommates anymore,” she says.

They also set up their bedrooms to account for their opposing sleep schedules. Aguilar-Austin’s room, off the living room, has a white noise machine and a fan to block out the sound of the TV (which Keane watches on low volume if she’s asleep) and sheer curtains to let in the light before morning flights. In the back of the apartment, off the kitchen, is Keane’s room, outfitted with blackout curtains and a box fan. “Most of the time when I’m in the apartment I’m exhausted from working ten hours and just go to my bed and play TikTok until I drop my phone on my face and go to sleep like a rock,” he says. In retrospect, both agree it would make sense to switch their rooms since Keane is a heavier sleeper than Aguilar-Austin, and she uses the kitchen more, usually while he’s asleep — he primarily comes into the kitchen to make coffee or grab an airplane snack from the stash that Aguilar-Austin brings home from flights. But at this point, they’ve gone to enough lengths to make their system work that neither thinks switching rooms is worth it.

Now, the roommates routinely go multiple days without crossing paths at all, and they have to make plans to actually see each other. In early April, they spent a weekend in Las Vegas to see Mariah Carey perform — the first time in weeks they’d been together for more than five minutes.

With a house cleaner regularly scheduled to tidy their place and a fair amount of time at home alone, both go for long stretches feeling like they don’t have a roommate. “It’s nice to have the whole place to yourself and just do whatever you want to do without interfering with the other person,” says Keane, who blasts Taylor Swift when Aguilar-Austin is out of town (she’s not a Swiftie). Yes, there are reminders of the other — Aguilar-Austin doesn’t play music when she’s getting ready in the morning, and he doesn’t watch TV at full volume after getting home from work — but these are minor inconveniences. When they do overlap at home, both are genuinely excited to see each other instead of feeling the dread of “being with a roommate for the 57th day in a row when you just wanted time to yourself,” as Aguilar-Austin puts it. “I’ve lived with friends who I don’t want to be friends with after living together, or we see each other every day, and I just wish I could have the space to myself for a minute,” says Keane. “With Bri, when I do get to see her, I enjoy it.”

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