The Two-Week Sublet That Led to Love

While living in Warsaw in 2009, Tusia Dabrowska was always on the hunt for potential creative collaborators. Friends suggested that she meet Wiktor Maria Freifeld, who, like her, was Polish and Jewish, and making art.

“We met at a party that I don’t remember,” Ms. Dabrowska, 44, said. “Then we met twice to talk about a project.”

“We still need to finish it,” Mr. Freifeld, 47, said of the video project they discussed.

About five months after their first meeting, Ms. Dabrowska was leaving Warsaw for a graduate program in creative writing at N.Y.U., and told Mr. Freifeld, who had recently arrived in the Polish capital, that he could sublet her apartment for a short period.

Mr. Freifeld was born and raised in Krakow, Poland, where he received a bachelor’s degree in graphic design from the Jan Matejko Academy of Fine Arts. He has designed exhibitions for museums and live projections for contemporary music and modern dance performances, and is currently working toward a master’s degree in projection design at the David Geffen School of Drama at Yale.

Ms. Dabrowska grew up in Warsaw, but moved to Queens, N.Y., where her father and stepmother lived, during high school. She has a bachelor’s degree in arts in context from Eugene Lang College of Liberal Arts at the New School, and is an adjunct instructor of video editing and production at CUNY and N.Y.U.

Because of some logistical snafus, Ms. Dabrowska and Mr. Freifeld had a crossover period of about a week in the studio apartment.

“That was how we became really good friends,” Ms. Dabrowska said.

People streamed in and out for meals, conversations and goodbyes. “Tusia was doing a lot of interesting things, and was from a different country, and was very open and inviting,” Mr. Freifeld said.

For four years, they were in romantic relationships with other people but remained long-distance best friends. “We talked on the phone every day or every other day,” Ms. Dabrowska said.

In 2013, their connection began to transform. They went on a date to see an open rehearsal of a reimagined version of the opera “The Magic Flute” at an anarchist squat in Warsaw. Not long after, Mr. Freifeld decided to visit Ms. Dabrowska in New York for the first time. The three weeks he planned turned into three months, and the two became a couple.

For years, they were separated by the Atlantic Ocean. But in August 2020, Ms. Dabrowska took advantage of remote work and moved to Berlin; Mr. Freifeld joined her there. “We were both new to the country, so we really were together all the time,” Ms. Dabrowska said.

[Click here to binge read this week’s featured couples.]

They lived in a studio apartment with a very similar layout to the one they had shared all those years ago in Warsaw, and worked on a short documentary film together, about the refugee crisis on the border between Belarus and Poland. After two years, Ms. Dabrowska returned to New York for work, and Mr. Freifeld applied to Yale.

Before, they had been used to long separations, but their time in Berlin changed that. “Being apart for a week started to feel so long,” Ms. Dabrowska said. “We had to figure out how to move to be together.”

Shortly before Ms. Dabrowska went back to New York, she and Mr. Freifeld had dinner at Dóttir, a fine-dining restaurant in Berlin that is now closed, and got complementary tattoos of dots on the ring fingers of their left hands, to mark a new stage of their lives together.

A few months later, in February 2023, Mr. Freifeld was accepted at Yale. In July, he moved to New Haven, Conn., and in November, Ms. Dabrowska became pregnant. The couple decided to get married, to begin the process of ensuring that no matter what happened next, Mr. Freifeld would have the legal right to remain in the United States with his family.

They were wed April 27 at Greenpoint Hall in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, with 70 guests who attended in person, and another 24 who watched via Zoom. The couple’s friend, Elissa Jiji, who was previously ordained by the Universal Life Church, officiated.

Some of their friends brought artwork around the theme of “healing togetherness and wild futures” for the ceremony and two friends sang. Ms. Dabrowska and Mr. Freifeld revised the seven blessings, which are traditionally read at Jewish weddings, to fit their lifestyle and concerns, like “war and climate change,” Ms. Dabrowska said.

The couple served “appetizers that celebrate fermented food,” as a nod to their culture, Ms. Dabrowska said, including herring and pickles from the Pickle Guys and Russ & Daughters. For dinner, they had borscht and pierogies.

“We mixed Polish and Jewish traditions, and it all felt very natural,” Mr. Freifeld said. “I don’t remember feeling so happy in my life before.”

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