I fall in love with cities the way some fall in love with people.
It starts before you even get there. You dream of urban paradises that hold some distorted allusion of perfection and possibility. You think to yourself, this will be the one that sticks. This is the place I’ve been waiting for, the one where I can finally find myself. You might even have a list of expectations. A place that is beautiful, but still rugged. That is comfortably lived-in, yet always has something new to discover. The place that feels like an extension of you, but keeps you coming back for more. You want it to have variety: museums, parks, trendy cafes on bustling corners, a hole-in-the-wall bar that serves the ‘best deep dish you’ve ever had’. You’re blinded by its potential greatness…unassuming of any future drawbacks. What shortcomings could there be in a city as captivating as this one? You choose to ignore their existence entirely. You even work on yourself so you’re ready for this pending adventure. You sell your car, quit your job, change your career, rearrange your life so this city will fit into it. Or, so you will fit into this city. You’re not entirely sure which yet.
When you first arrive, the beauty outweighs anything. First impressions are a driving force in your new found relationship. You’re speechless at the heights and depths this city displays. The way it says nothing, and everything, at the same time. The alleys have an infinite collection of secrets to uncover. The tree-lined urban boroughs welcome you in, as if they’re part of an undisclosed club with a sign out front stating Residents Only. You are a local now, you are exclusive! You plan festivals to attend and foods to eat. You dress up for the parades and celebrate the local holidays. You even wear your city’s colors, drink your city’s coffee, eat their local fare, anything to be the one who belongs here. You immerse yourself in the culture and way of life, no matter how different it is from your own. After all, this is exactly what you’ve been wishing for.
But the overwhelming feeling of awe and amazement is temporary. Although the novelty wears off, your affection for this place still lingers. But reality is a cruel knock at the door, quite literally when your rent is due. You’re forced into finding yourself a routine, a lifestyle you can survive. A routine that finally feels comfortable enough for you to abandon your once curious ways. Suddenly, you’re now a part of something so much bigger than your tiny studio apartment on 23rd. A sense of ownership comes over you. Though this place now holds very few surprises, you actually start to enjoy the stability. You’ve memorized each stop on the red line and know the best happy hours on this side of the tracks. Not to say there isn’t an uncovered gem you stumble upon once in a while, but your lust and infatuation with the unknown turns into a craving for comfort and security. Your excursions beyond your neighborhood limits are rare. You prefer to view this city from you garden level window. It’s generous enough to allow in the little light that reaches through the towering skyscrapers surrounding you, which is enough, right now. You disregard all the things you can’t see from behind your own walls.
At some unsuspecting point, as you’re walking by the bodega on your block or pushing the buttons in the elevator to your cubicle, you feel a slight sadness for your loss of adventure. You start to morn the spontaneity you once had when you first moved here. You’re not sure exactly when it evolved into a state of mundane and disconnect, but somewhere along the way you lost the passion and eagerness you once had for this city. It wasn’t all at once, though you secretly wish you could place blame on a specific moment of time. It was a cumulative effect, those downfalls you once ignored were now rearing their ugly heads. The streets no longer feel magical as you walk the same sidewalks a hundred times over. You start to wonder how you can feel so alone when you’re surrounded by so much. You’ve become desensitized, immune to the ongoings here. The things that you once found so implausibly beautiful are now the things hurting you. Sometimes, you feel lost in your own little world, a misunderstanding. The streets can be cold when they’ve lost their innocent charm. As with all things, lust turns to love, which, inevitably, turns to leaving.
The break up begins the very first instant you contemplate moving away. You become emotional invested in another place. It starts off as a dream of a city much larger, much more inspiring than where you’ve ended up. Maybe this was a mistake. Maybe you didn’t think things through. Long weekends away and week-long escapes begin to feel unfaithful to the neighborhood you call home. It drags out, still torn if what you know will be better than what you will find. The secrets of this setting have revealed themselves over time, which is what ultimately killed your affair. The way the night crawls with unwanted attention, how your once quaint block is now a collection of commercialized storefronts, how this city determines your worth by what you do instead of who you are.
The turmoil begins. Are you making the right choice to leave? Or should you give it one more shot? You reason that there is no need to stay and reconsider when your indecision is only causing more pain. You want to depart while you still recall and appreciate the happiness and excitement it once brought you. You take what these concrete walls have given you and carry these lessons to your next destination. It was a point of growth and a point of struggle, both equally necessary. Unknowingly, you’ll repeat this process more than you know. You become used to the feelings of hopefulness, fading to assurance, fading to loss. Though, in the back of your mind, you hold on to the idea that there is a place where the adoration and eagerness last. A place where spontaneity and stability can coexist.
And for that, you will keep searching.