It is somewhat risky to admit to falling in love with New York City. There’s a certain cliche involved with being a twentysomething who is completely head over heels for New York, and it’s one that we try to avoid desperately. No one wants to be the subject of eye rolls, to be perceived as a Carrie Bradshaw wannabe, to be pegged as idealistic and naive. To wax poetic about the beauty of New York is to offer yourself as a sacrifice to those who will judge you immensely for it – just ask Taylor Swift.
There’s something almost embarrassing about confessing an adoration for New York. So, it becomes easier to hate on it – to grumble about Times Square and tourists taking pictures of lit-up billboards. It seems like that would be more well-received than to gush about the beauty of Tompkins Square Park in the springtime.
But if we’re being honest with ourselves, all of us who have ever lived in New York (or even contemplated it) had a moment of falling in love. There is always that moment. We may try to deny it, or cover it up with New Yorker esque cynicism, but we cannot erase those early days of metropolis-induced butterflies.
And if we’re being really honest – why would we want to?
A city is the easiest thing to fall in love with – sometimes even more than a person. The lights can intoxicate you, and not just the neon ones – the soft streetlamps that cast a glow upon wet sidewalks, those are the real killers. You quickly become a stereotypical version of yourself, enamoured with coffee shops and park benches. You develop a deep understanding all of the quotes about New York City – you want to live and breathe every word that’s been written.
When you first move there, you love the hell out of everything you see and do. You love your corner bodega. You love the five flights of stairs that lead you to your apartment. You love the feeling of swiping your metrocard. You are completely obsessed with your surroundings.
You dwell on the notion of possibility. You’d never admit it, but Frank Sinatra’s voice has been in your head since you arrived – if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere. This is what you’ve been programmed to believe – you’ve been primed to equate your footprint in New York with potential success, in all areas of your life. You look forward to Friday and Saturday nights with the anticipation of someone who knows that anything could happen. Your weekends become a blur of smudged eyeliner and blisters on your feet, but you continue the cycle out of hope. Romances are not spawned from staying indoors, after all. Rinse and repeat.
For some people, New York is the last stop. There is nothing else that could compare, and there’s nothing else that would ever be right. These are the people who have become molded to the city, who genuinely prefer concrete to grass, who complain for hours about traffic and people, but refuse to go anywhere else. These people are a strange breed – they revile criticism of New York but they also despise too much romanticism. Not too hot, and not too cold. Just right.
But for many, New York is just a chapter, a paragraph, a sentence. A place that you once attempted to call home.
For all of the things you once loved about it, New York can also be cold and heartless. It sucks your wallet dry and doesn’t apologize for any of it. It pushes you to the ground and laughs at you. It is a passionate lover, but also the lover of millions of others before you. It owes you nothing, and yet you continue to give everything.
The moment that you wake up and realize that New York never really belonged to you at all, but rather, it’s the other way around – that’s the moment you know it’s time to leave. You make what feels like the toughest of choices, and you decide you want to find a city that will love you back. New York will never love you back.
It is the kind of leaving that is immensely painful, because you are still in love. You aren’t just saying goodbye to a city, but to the future you always envisioned for yourself. You don’t want to admit that your mental picture of how it would be was simply someone else’s description all along. You can’t admit that you were striving for a cinematic life that did not actually exist.
You grow up, you evolve. And you learn that the idea of “home” is not a city at all. The next time you fall in love with a city, you aren’t so lost. You aren’t looking for it to change your life; you decide to change it on your own instead. Your next city is a backdrop, not the director.
You come back to New York every now and then. And it’s undeniable – a piece of your heart will always belong to those streets, the trains, the concrete. You visit all your old spots, the places that dotted your history. The steps, the gardens, the chairs – they are all there, as though time had stood still. In a way, it has.
Maybe you’re a cliche, and maybe you aren’t. But the feelings were real either way – New York was your first great love and your first epic heartbreak.
That’s the thing about New York – even when it’s beaten you down, you still feel like it’s welcoming you back. So you pass through, time and again, a temporary fixture. Not quite a tourist, but not quite a resident. You’re just something in between.