How to Live in New York City

Move here when you’re 18 or 22, maybe even 24. Come from somewhere else-the north, south, west, Xanadu- and come to realize that everyone living in New York is a transplant. Even the ones who grew up on the Upper East Side end up moving into a place downtown, which, as you’ll soon discover, is like moving to a different city.

Discover the cruel and bizarre world of New York City real estate. End up spending an obscene amount of money on something called a broker’s fee, first and last month’s rent and a security deposit. Cry a little bit in the leasing office but remind yourself that you’re so happy to be here.

Picture hearing a man playing the saxophone outside your bedroom window. End up hearing a lot of sirens instead. Figure it’s okay because it’s New York and you’re still so happy to be here.

Go out to bars in the Lower East Side because the Internet told you so. Fall in love with a bar called, Max Fish, and always stay out till four in the morning. Eat a falafel and have someone pay for a cab back to your apartment. Watch the sun start to rise while going over the Williamsburg Bridge and feel like your life is becoming some kind of movie.

Eat bad pizza but trick yourself into believing it’s good because it’s made in New York. Do the same thing with bagels and sex.

Meet people who will be your best friends for three or four months. They’ll help you transition into city life and take you to weird bars in Murray Hill. It will be like the blind leading the blind but once you get a firm grasp on things, you can stop returning their phone calls.

Watch your life in New York go through phases. Spend a summer in Fort Greene with a lover and get to know the neighborhood and its rhythms. Once the fling ends, forget the blocks, parks and restaurants ever existed and don’t return unless you have to.

Encounter a lot of people crying in public. Watch an NYU student cry in Think Coffee, a business woman in midtown sob into her cellphone, an old man whimper on a stoop in Greenpoint. At first, it will feel very jarring but, like everything else, it will become normal. Have your first public cry in front of a Bank of America. Cry so hard and don’t care if people are watching you. You pay good money to be able to cry in public.

Work long hours at a thankless job. Always be one step away from financial destitution. Marvel at how expensive New York is, how when you walk out the door, $20.00 immediately gets deleted from your wallet. Understand that even though no one has any money, everyone is privileged to live in New York City.

Go home for the holidays and run into old friends from high school. When you tell them that you live in New York, watch their eyes widen. They’ll say, “Oh my god, New York? That’s so crazy. I’m so jealous!” Have a blasé attitude about it but deep down inside, know they have good reason to be jealous.

Go home and feel relieved to be away from the energy of the city, that punishing 4:00 a.m. last call. Spend the first two days eating and sleeping, getting back to normal. Spend the last two days feeling anxious and ready to get back to your real home. Realize this city has you by the balls and isn’t going to let you go.

Someday you might grow tired of it all though. You might start crying in public more often than you’d like, have a bad break-up and want to pack it all up.

Certain moments of living in the city will always stick out to you. Buying plums from a fruit vendor on 34th street and eating three of them on a long walk, the day you spent in bed with your best friend watching Tyra Banks, the amazing rooftop party you attended on a sweltering hot day in July. These memories might seem insignificant but they were all moments when you looked around the city and felt like you were a part of it all.

When you leave the city, you probably won’t come back. Eventually your life in New York will seem so far away and sometimes you’ll even wonder if it really happened. Don’t worry. It did. TC mark

Image: Joisey Showaa.

Ryan O'Connell

I'm a brat.


More From Thought Catalog

  • Kelly McClure

    This made me feel very emotional.

  • povstudent.

    I want to be there. But Australia is so far away on so many levels.

    • Povstudent2

      I want to be there too, makes me sad. Most of us get eaten alive having to adjust to the american culture first, and then new york life, double whammy. I say we make the most of wherever we are.

      • Andrew David Dodero

        Uffff, I never thought someone would feel this way like I do! I like super far from NY and yet feel so into the city, like someone loving something they never had!

  • Anonymous

    Typo in fourth paragraph. 'You're' should be 'your'.

    • SomeoneElse

      what an anal comment

  • Revelation1 16

    Don't like the weird smug ending, and I'm a New Yorker.

  • Daniel Roberts

    So, so, so true. Though like “Revelation” I don't like the tone shift at the end, the winking nudge. Prefer the snarky cynicism of first half of piece.

    Best best best: “Eat bad pizza but trick yourself into believing it’s good because it’s made in New York. Do the same thing with bagels and sex”

  • JS

    This is happening to me right now

  • brandon

    real talk.

  • Jenlindblad

    Perfectly on point, as always. Bravo Mr. O'Connell.

  • Miss Jen

    I can't stop laughing… I am that crying in public person. No one blinks when they see tears streaming down my face and, I have to say, I kind of love it. No one is surprised. And no one minds. Because they don't have time to mind. They're too busy trying to pay the rent.

    • exitclov

      sounds like i'll blend right in

  • Parker Baldin


  • exitclov

    I would like to move to New York when I'm 22 and have diploma in hand, but I'd also like to not die and/or become a cliché. Article on how to do this?

    • Anonymous


    • KATZ

      Be yourself?

    • brooklyn

      you go live in deep brooklyn.

  • Anonymous_2

    Don't be snarky and call out typos… especially when YOU'RE wrong.

    • Anonymous

      Actually, it wasn't wrong. The typo was corrected long before you posted this. Also, I wouldn't say 'don't be snarky' on Thought Catalog. Have you read anything on here?

      • Bensaucier

        “snark” catalog…

        was this comment snarky?

  • Gohome

    As a life long New Yorker, I am extremely offended by this post. It's observingly written by an outsider.

    • youK

      as most of the people living in NY are outsiders, I'd say it's written for the right audience :)

    • Baxter

      The point of the article is that it is describing the life of a 18, 22 or 24 that moved to the city. It isn't describing the person that has lived here forever.

    • Tbr

      it's MEANT to be the perspective of an “outsider”. that's the whole point of the stupid story.

  • Student

    Max Fish is closinggg

    • Tbr

      check your facts.

  • LiggleTits

    Never been to Queens or the Bronx? Not a New Yorker, a tourist.

    • Apple

      I being living in NYC (Chelsea) for the last 12 years and I can count the times I being in Queens, Brooklyn or Bronx. There's nothing there.

      • Clark

        That just shows how 'cultured' you are. Sorry us 'outer borough' crowd isn't good enough for you.

      • I<3BK

        Please keep thinking that way. Many of us moved from Manhattan to Brooklyn in order to get away from your exact kind of douchebaggery.

        (from someone who lived in Manhattan for for 12 years before seeing the light)

      • bos2nyc

        wow thats ignorant. Manhattan snobs never ceases to amaze me. you want real new york art and character, come to park slope. experience the best hookah and falafel without spending 50$, visit astoria. the best damn vegetables and fruits, hunts point in the bronx. Manhattan has its good points too, but you're not really experiencing the city and all its greatness until you've grown some balls and taken the subway out of the manhattan comfort zone. might as well move back to whatever podunk town/country/state you grew up in, because thats how diverse manhattan is.

  • musicfreak

    There are also a lot of extra commas in this piece.

    “Fall in love with a bar called, Max Fish, and always stay out till four in the morning. ”

    I disagree with the comma after 'called', but I may be wrong. There were others too, but I guess that's what an editor should be for….

    The content of the article was meh – I've seen better examples of New York experiences for outsiders posted on Facebook. I'm was a 22 year old transplant from FL – been here for 5 years!

    • me

      I agree with you completely. However, you misused a comma when you said “there were others too, but…” The comma and the word “but” serve the same purpose. :)

      • Keely

        Seriously? The “but” introduced a new, complete clause. You know, a clause that ought to be separated from the previous clause. With a comma, for example. You don't know nearly as much about grammar as you think you do if you think that comma was misplaced.

      • alyssa

        Actually a comma and the word “but” go hand in hand. The “but” would only be unnecessary if a semi colon were used instead. :)

  • Cool


  • Rae

    I can only relate to this partially because I am a native.

    -'Going home for the holidays' has meant a 15 minute drive/30 minute train commute in Brooklyn.
    -This city has me by the balls because everything I know is here.
    -If I ever leave, it'll be for another country.
    -Where the hell are you in the city to not be able to find decent pizza?

  • Katz

    Describes be to a T. Makes me love and hate myself and new york all at the same time.

    I think that was your goal.

  • DP

    A nice place to 'visit', but I wouldn't want to 'live' there.

    • Guest

      the only people who say that are people who have never lived there.

    • Jimboburgess

      it's true. Visiting here can be so stressful. Living here you have time to take your time.

  • Adrianis4lovers

    The last paragraph broke my heart.

  • Bensaucier

    i'm jealous of ur bedbugs

  • Frye S

    Great outline of some of the quintessential experiences shared by all that grow up and leave their homes. Unfortunately, the idea that NYC is somehow better than other cities because of inflated expenses and late last calls without any other evidence, other than the opportunity to spend time with people willing to live in the same situation, is the type of argument about NYC that just can’t hold against someone getting good bagels, pizza, and sex on the regular. For me NYC is only good for one thing, keeping all the New Yorkers out of the rest of the country.

  • Champ

    This is SUCH a blatant rip off of Joan Didion's essay, “Goodbye to All That”, right down to the part about buying fruits from a street vendor and eating them on a walk. Shame on you.

    • Sherman McCoy

      Don't forget the blatant mention of 'Xanadu,' which the author uses totally incorrectly here. Vomit.

  • eli

    Please learn grammar.

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