As the camera soars over lower Manhattan, it dives towards a couple standing in front of a SoHo metro station. The ubiquitous yellow cab passes by as I say a goodbye I wish I didn’t have to say. I have to will my body to walk away. While I walk down those steps to the station below, my mind still lingers on those last few moments when I looked up at him – I was just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her. My body dictates my movements because my thoughts are still with him (cue in a lonely montage of shots of me sitting on the subway lost in my thoughts and sitting in front of my computer clearly lacking willpower to do work while Bill Withers’ “Aint No Sunshine When She’s Gone” plays in the background).
Rewind to four months previously and let the audience know by dictating at the bottom of the screen “Four months earlier” in white, curly font that appears as if it’s handwritten. I’m staring out of the window of the plane as I take off from Boston Logan. Letters to Cleo’s “I Want You to Want Me” plays in the back and I describe my situation in a girl-next-door/somewhat chirpy but matter-of-fact tone that makes me relatable.
I left Boston because the repeated occurrence of self-esteem-killing rejection letters that made me raise my fists at whatever god there is and at my liberal arts education—damning the latter and feeling damned by the former—together with a restaurant job and a unfulfilling, part-time writing position were slowly destroying my sense of self-worth and any sense of direction that I had painstakingly built up in college.
Cut to shots of Manhattan from the air while placing extra emphasis on iconic buildings (e.g. the Empire State and the Chrysler building). Billy Joel strikes the chords of “New York State of Mind” as I land and my New York life begins. The Staple Singers’ “Brand New Day” begins its drum and gradually crescendos as my roommate (aka most trusted, often-quirky and spunky confidant) and I build a life in a new city that starts, as always, in Ikea. With a new job that inspires me, increasingly tangible plans for a future that gives me a fresh excitement about life, and many, many glasses of chardonnay with new friends and old ones, I begin to build back a sense of faith in my abilities and general awesome-ness as a human being (James Brown’s “I Got You (I Feel Good)” plays). New York, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
In movies, what they often do is that they allow someone to begin defining herself—whether by renovating a ramshackle villa in Florence or by traveling across the world eating, meditating and ultimately finding herself—but somehow this definition isn’t complete without a love interest to complete their happiness. It seems to suggest that without love, our lives are not altogether fulfilled.
In agreement with these ideas, I’ve pined for him while simultaneously wondered if I was the epitome of a feminist’s worst nightmare in that my sense of self-worth cannot come from solely my own intelligence and the advancements I’ve been making in my career and future goals. Instead, it partially comes from maintaining a relationship with a guy I have feelings for. And it doesn’t change much with time. Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart” plays as the camera cuts to shots of me as I sit on the uptown train to the Bronx and walk to work amidst flurries of snow. The seasons begin to change as the snow becomes rain and the days become a little warmer in order to signify time passing.
Alas, after all that I’ve gained through my own, independent experience in New York and despite a newfound self-reliance, one person can still mean so much.
But what they don’t say clearly enough, or really demonstrate in these movies, is that we are our own person and relationships come and go but we’ll always be left with our own, singular lives to figure out and our own happiness to find. With perseverance and a constant strive to discover our own voice and focus on our goals, I’d like to think we do eventually do get there—that we do find a definition of ourselves that doesn’t require our self-worth to be defined by our relationship with someone else (fade in Jon Bon Jovi’s epic “Blaze of Glory”).