New York Taught Me The Greatest Lessons, But Now I’m Ready To Leave

Thanks to my Timehop (an app that shows you what you did that day in social media 1 year ago, 2 years ago, etc.), I’m reliving that time in my life when I was gearing up for the big move to New York City. Two years ago, I was tweeting things like: “Just watched my favorite episode of Sex and the City! Can’t wait to be living it in a few weeks! #soontobenewyorker” Don’t get me wrong, my blind optimism is a quality that I, thankfully, like about myself, but it’s hard to look back at these tweets every day and not giggle.

Two years ago, I actually thought that moving to New York would be a sitcom life. It could be that New Yorker attitude denting my armor of positivity after all these years, but regardless of the reason, this reality check is coming right at the time when I’ve decided to move back home to Virginia. That being said, I’ve enjoyed every second here endlessly. I can’t speak enough about those picture perfect Saturdays where everyone is smiling and stopping aimlessly at street fairs just because they have the time. Or how sometimes, a beautiful subway performer will remind us that our underground (literally) talent is better than some stuff on the radio. And whenever I make it up to a rooftop, my breath falls out and I glance down at this city that so many people dream about. No wonder I thought my life was going to be a movie. And my first few blissful weeks here didn’t help that idea.

I had been in the city for maybe three or four weeks. I had just nailed down my daily commute and was tearing through library books because my new shiny New York Public Library card was my first real proof I was a “New Yorker.” I was sitting on a near-empty R train headed home from work. (Still to this day, I’m convinced my life’s love story will begin on a subway. I’m sure my roommates are tired of hearing me say, “I met my soul mate on the train again. Didn’t say anything to him. Ugh.”) I’m reading some awful YA novel, when I notice this really cute guy keeps staring at me. I start to blush and my focus on my book becomes fuzzy. Strictly using my peripheral vision, I verify that this guy is looking straight at me. He’s pretty cute, probably late 20s. He looks a little lost, but that’s a common sign with New York guys. The next stop, the guy gets up from the bench and starts walking my way. At this point, I’ve read the same sentence over and over again and have begun formulating my response of “Oh, wow. That’s so sweet. My name is Alexis. Sure you can have my number!” As he’s getting nearer I see that he’s staring still, but with much more intensity than a flirty look. He stands right in front of me and says “I’m so sorry. I have to do this.” I immediately look down and smile, and begin my rehearsed reply, when I see him pointing to something behind me. I turn around and I’m sitting right under the subway map. I see him trace the R line to Times Square where confirms that it does indeed pick up the downtown 2 train. He smiles awkwardly and goes back to his seat where he puts in his headphones and closes his eyes. I stand up and wait for the next stop, and jog to the next car over out of embarrassment.

With the hindsight of two years behind me, I’ve learned an incredible amount. I realized quickly that it’s really hard to make new friends after you graduate. In college, you could meet someone at a bar and realize you took Intro to Biology together freshman year and end up gabbing all night about your hot TA only to exchange info and meet up for wine that week. Some of my best friends in college are all friends of friends who mushed together in this lovely huge circle of family. In a new city, you have your roommates, any college/high school friends that went to the same city, and if you’re lucky enough, any family. Girls that I meet at bars aren’t interested in finding friends out, and the person who you talk to on the subway about the book you’re reading won’t follow up with an invite to a book club. Everyone here is content with their own world and they rarely extend outside of it. I may be generalizing a bit, but after two years and no “bar friends” being made, I’ve at least struck out there.

This could just be post-grad life, but I am much more aware of how I fit in the world than I was in college. New York is constantly asking you to choose who you want to be and be it proudly. Your choice of bar isn’t just somewhere to kick back after work, it says so much more about you. Every weekend night I think, “what kind of person do I want to be tonight?” Inevitably, it becomes 1am and I’m still at the apartment getting ready and my choice of “person” ends up being my tank top and jeans wearing self; but the option to be someone different are there. I’ve learned who I am in the workplace, what motivates me to get off the couch and go run, and what neighborhoods I feel like I fit in best. When moving to New York City, I figured I would plop myself in here as is and they would have to respond accordingly. In actuality, I’ve had to adapt to this crazy city. I’m a far cry from the hustling, outspoken Yankee everyone associates this place with, but it’s definitely given me a strength I didn’t have before.

So look at those great life lessons I’ve learned. Why would I leave with all of these opportunities and dreams waiting to come true? Along this road of introspection, I realized a pretty big thing — I have no clue what I want to do in my life yet. Because I’ve had the option to “be so many people” here, I don’t know what it is that makes me, me. I ran to New York four days after I graduated and never figured out who I was post-college. Whenever I leave to go home or visit a friend somewhere else, I feel like I’m taking off a mask and can relax and be myself again. I’m a lost theatre major, who has no idea where she’ll end up — and that’s okay with me. But in the most expensive city in the country, you’re not allowed those opportunities to step back and figure it all out. You’ve got to have something to pay your rent; you’ve got to be someone worth talking about to the published photographer you meet at a bar. There’s a fair chance this is stemming from my own personal insecurities, but if I can’t feel comfortable enough in my own city, why am I there?

In the past two years, I’ve held a slew of different jobs ranging from 40-hour a week salary to nannying. I’ve lived uptown and downtown, been treated to liquor at a table-service-only nightclub, and sipped $2 PBRs. I’ve been all over the map and tried to experience everything I can in this city. I even ventured into Williamsburg once and managed to not complain but every half hour or so. My point is, is that there are things I’ve learned about myself here that I couldn’t learn anywhere else and I want to take all of these beautiful lessons I’ve learned home with me. I feel like the past two years have been a crash course on what would have taken 4-5 years to figure out at home. If I had stayed at home after graduation, I would have regretted not moving to New York for all of my life. So how much can I complain about wanting to leave? I know I’ll appreciate this time in my life more than I understand now. At the very least, my standards of restaurants have skyrocketed, so that’s the first thing I’ll have to figure out.

This has been the most incredible ride. I’ve been lucky enough to surround myself with unbelievable people and made stories that I can tell to my kids about “that crazy time I lived in New York City.” I gave New York my best shot and tried my hardest to be the happiest I could here. I admire the people who can do that, and am so happy they found the place that makes them tick. But for now, I’m going to saddle up on my porch rocker with some iced tea and listen to the bullfrogs croak me to sleep. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

featured image – Shutterstock

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