More than 365 days ago, I packed two mostly full suitcases and moved myself to New York. Like many greater persons before me have noted, New York is a city in which life sweats differently, where everything is perennially in sight but mostly just out of reach. The victories are mixed and sometimes hardly discernable from losses, and no matter how far you think you’ve made it at any point in time…you’re only ever one fuck up away from realizing how far you have to go.
In that spirit, there have been many moments in which I’ve realized that, in my own way, I’ve made it here…and several other moments in which I’ve been (rudely) reminded, I’ve still a long way to go.
1. Signing the lease of an apartment I actually am proud of, can afford, and continue to love each passing day. The very first apartment I went to see in New York required me to turn sideways in order to fit through the living room: it was above a Chinese restaurant and the ad had listed it as “furnished”, which included a mattress without a frame on the floor, and an open clothing rack. I walked out mortified, thinking that I couldn’t possibly afford to live in New York. When I saw my place (which was obviously above my initial budget, but within my means), I couldn’t stop fantasizing about it until I physically moved in.
2. Recognition by the day to day activities of life i.e. becoming more than another face in the NYC masses. A bus driver on a route I’d take to and from the gym and grocery store stopped me one morning, and in a friendly fashion told me she recognized me from all the times I’d taken the bus. The guy at the salad shop started joking that he was “waiting for me” when I’d come down to get lunch. A waitress in my favorite café recognized me and the food and drink I’d had and where I’d been sitting from the last time I’d been there (six months prior). The guy handing out newspapers in front of the subway entrance stopped trying to give me one, and would say a friendly hello when he’d see me. Out of all the faces, mine became a little more familiar.
3. Entry into corporate life. I got a corporate job in a corporate office building in a team where I was responsible for real money. I got a corporate card and had to go overseas for work events, and to corporate client dinners and drinks. I started meeting CEOs and multi-millionaires with whom I worked, and not simply worked for. The corporate ladder I was climbing became infinitely higher, but I started climbing it much faster.
4. I went on three dates in one day. This story always draws the obligatory “but how did you manage to do that” response, but in reality multiple dates a day is not a hard thing to go. One was a pre-work coffee, the other was a lunch, and the final was a dinner/drinks. I liked every single one of them and was committed to none of them, and by choice and very happily went home alone that night.
5. All of the recommendations (for bars, restaurants, cafes, sights) that were given to me by locals, and by people visiting who had a list of venues, I’d been to or knew about. My part time job is finding new things to see, do, try, eat and drink, and if it could be a full time job, it most definitely would be, and I’d be damn good at it. I’ve reached a point where I’ve crossed off most places I have a real desire to try off of my list. I’ve stopped trying to “see it all”-because if I haven’t seen it, I know I will.
6. I’ve genuinely enjoyed, without lamenting the loss of, single-serving encounters. Living in New York is a constant experience of meeting new people, if it’s done the right way. Very, very few of those actually evolve to more than great meetings. Friends, romantic interests-they can all be enjoyable and short one-off experiences, that don’t necessarily progress past a few drinks together at a small bar. A few weeks ago I met a fantastic guy while bar-hopping, and we spent some time together and exchanged numbers and texts for a little while. I went overseas certain I’d feel the same way when I returned, but after a few weeks away, the moment was over and I had no interest in contacting him again. The chemistry we shared was truly great-but in the scheme of living and being and dating here, it was not unique.
7. The geography of the city became defined by the subway line. This is very real, and my understanding of where others live and how far destinations are, is entirely gauged by which lines go there, how reliable I think those lines are, and whether that’s a place I’d like to check out.
8. I shamelessly online dated. Online dating may not necessarily be as socially taboo as it once was, but no matter which way you twist it, there is something inherently less appetizing about meeting partners in a forced setting. At first I’d hide it, but I’ve grown to see nothing shameful in admitting that a person and I met online, or that maybe 80% of the dates I go on are from online sources. I share (to my own hazard, perhaps) my online dating shenanigans with my co-workers regularly, who laugh and suggest profile and app improvements to move things along.
9. I stopped seeing parts of the city as a challenge. Climbing the corporate ladder? Very doable. Navigating around? A bit of practice. Accustoming yourself to the pace and lifestyle? A little harder, but something that comes with time. Nothing in New York city is impossible, and not in the corny sense that anything is possible-precisely in the way that New York is just like any other city once you look slightly past its expanse and skyscrapers. And if you want to, you will make it.
10. I went to an upper-scale restaurant for lunch, alone. I spent almost a year of my life traveling alone, and never once did I flinch at eating out without company. But something about living in a place makes the act a little less palatable, and I’ve never been able to quite understand why, for a person as outgoing as myself, it seemed like such a definitive step. The first time I did it and the hostess asked if it was a table for one, my usually vocal voice slightly less quietly answered “yes”, and somewhat shyly followed her to my table. After I’d ordered, eaten, and had a glass of wine to wash it all down, I realized that it didn’t matter at all, and in fact, I enjoyed the experience immensely more because I’d done exactly what I’d wanted to do, in my own time, and on my own terms.
11. 8.4 million people living in NYC? Yeah, I started bumping into people all the time, and realizing strangers were actually mutual friends. When you grow up in a city, it’s always a bit of a bubble. You can churn through the same people and networks infinitely without intending to, and feel the world is infinitely smaller than sometimes you’d like. Here, without an established network, my first year definitively lacked those coincidences. Yet, as though the one-year mark very clearly “marked” me, the run-ins and mutual acquaintances piled up. I would run into people frequently in random places, go on dates with guys who I could have met previously in different circumstances, and network with people that actually lived in my building.
After one particular date, my roommate put two and two together and realized my date was actually his co-worker’s roommate. During one work event, it transpired that the person with whom I was chatting, an employee from an account my company was chasing, actually lived in my building, seven floors above, and whose balcony I’d regularly looked into (yet we’d never met before).
All this being said-the story would be terribly incomplete if I didn’t mention all of the times when “making it”, was anything but.
1. “Friends” left as quickly as they came. I am many things-but shy and unfriendly, I am not. I came here ready to socialize and grow and nurture friendships, yet most of those did not realize. Those with whom I connected-where I thought I felt a life-long friendship growing-faded, alarmingly quickly. I’d have a lengthy heart-to-heart with someone, and then they’d grow cold and distant. I’d exchange endless messages with a friend, about all the minutia and encounters of a given day, yet our social lives would never really fuse. Building the network I had at home was-and is-infinitely harder than I ever anticipated.
2. Making personal records, and breaking my body at the same time. The reality of genetic dispositions is that, at best, we are part of a lottery, and the hand we’re dealt we have no choice but to accept. That is not an excuse for sedentary lifestyles, but it is a limitation that you must confront in your day to day movements. I was not built a runner, and my joint mobility is different to the majority of people my age. So when I ran a half-marathon after 3.5 weeks of training; when I completed a cross-fit style training program; when I exercised 6xweekly, because of all the energy I had and the picture of the body I wanted I was chasing…I did not just “speed up” or get stronger. Instead, I severely injured my ankle, and was forced to slow down and stop exercising at all for some time. The pace and image here are unique, but as much as I’d like to adjust to entirely…there are physical limitations to my body, which I am growing to accept more and more.
3. Bad, bad timing (also known as seeking out what is never going to work). Not only once, not even only twice, I developed stronger than average feelings for those with whom it was abundantly clear the timing was just not right. Two were just out of relationships-literally either in the midst of breaking up or just prior to our dating-with whom the intensity was beyond ill-timed. Another had recently moved to New York, and was at the very beginning of the serial-dating craze that hits every single 20-something when they first arrive. Another was leaving the city permanently; one just passing through temporarily. Connecting with someone you think you are going to build something meaningful with, together in the city, and then to have that idea abruptly (or sometimes slowly) broken, is heartbreaking. Truly heartbreaking.
4. “Running out of” options. In this city, the only thing you ever really feel you have are options-so many, in fact, that sometimes you feel you don’t really have any (clichés exist for reason). There are an infinite number of things to do and see; places to go and meet others; people who are searching for the exact same things as you are-yet you rarely can pinpoint where and when and who those possibilities are. It is in those moments that you feel you really don’t have a choice at all, and the expanse of the city hurts you more than it excites you.
5. Shared social situations with exes (romantic and platonic). No need for elaboration. All those people you meet and churn through and think are endless in quantity and replaceable? Maybe not so much, when you’re in a shared social situation and realize you still feel pretty shitty/awkward about the whole thing, even if your life has moved on and you’ve found a friend or lover with whom it does work. That sucks, and is perhaps just slightly more amplified here (slightly).
There are countless more in the good and bad categories of my time here, and they’re not equally weighted. I don’t have a verdict, but for a while at least, my place is here-whatever that means.