I have lived a dream.
For the past three years, I have lived in New York City, a dream for so many people. I’ve never seen another location idolized in television and movies as much as New York. So many of my friends told me that they wanted to move there, and after I moved, they were jealous that I actually did. I would shrug, wondering what the big whoop was.
My heart belonged to Washington, DC, with whom I’d fallen in love as a 16-year-old who was born in the North, desperate to get out of small Southern towns. In college and after it, I traveled to some of the biggest cities in the world: London, Paris, Rome, Shanghai, Beijing, Barcelona. But I always came back to Washington filled with longing for its short buildings and clean, quiet streets.
My then-fiancé and I were in graduate school in DC when we got engaged. Planning the future together for real this time, he said that he’d be interested in doing corporate law for a while for the experience and to pay down his student loans. That would likely mean moving to New York. I’d visited New York several times and had great fun with my friends who lived there. I had never felt the burning desire to actually live there, but I figured that it was a city like any other, so I could do it if he wanted to. I told him I could do New York or DC.
But I wasn’t serious. I didn’t want to leave DC. In my mind, I married DC on Saturday, August 23, 2003, when I moved into my freshman dorm at Georgetown. I’d cheated on my city with flings with Paris and Rome in 2006, but Washington forgave me for those and allowed me to remain friends with them.
New York held the promise of one thing for me: Nora Ephron. The writer of many books and movies, including You’ve Got Mail and Sleepless in Seattle, Ephron is one of my writing role models. She had such a way of making the ordinary extraordinary and crafting stories about ordinary people into the greatest tales. I wanted to see her in person. She lived on the Upper West Side, so when we decided to move to New York, I was thrilled that she and I would live in the same town. She was the only celebrity I ever actually looked for in the city, but I never saw her. Unfortunately, she passed away in the summer 2012, before I moved to the city full-time, and this broke my heart into a thousand little pieces.
My husband moved to New York in fall 2012, while I was in my second year of business school. We traipsed up and down 95 on DC-to-NYC buses, switching places every other weekend for the remainder of the school year. It was a luxury to live in two places at one time. I was Rene Russo in The Thomas Crown Affair; “I keep an apartment there,” I could say of New York at networking events in DC, and vice versa. But paying rent in two of the most expensive cities in the country quickly lost whatever luster it may have had. I moved to the city full-time in May 2013, after graduating with my MBA. I was set on working in finance, so New York only made sense, although one can find investment management jobs nearly anywhere in the world.
Even though I no longer had the promise of maybe seeing Nora Ephron, I was filled with hope that my husband and I would be beacons of light, shining in the ‘hood of East Harlem. We walked down the street holding hands, 3D models of Black Love for all the kids to see and hopefully one day emulate. I volunteered at a food bank around the corner from our place, literally serving my neighbors because it was the right thing to do as a member of the community.
But, soon enough, the city began to wear on us. My husband worked 20+ hour days, which is standard at white shoe law firms in NYC. The heat in our apartment didn’t always work, and our building manager only offered Band-Aid fixes rather than overhauling the whole HVAC system, which was necessary for it to function properly. I realized that I couldn’t walk down the street without looking down the whole time, lest I step in dog shit. The 6 train frequently ran erratically, making me late for work on multiple occasions. Once on the train, a lady stuck her finger down her throat and vomited in front of all of us passengers; I called out sick because my stomach wouldn’t stop turning after witnessing that.
Our taxes steadily increased over the years, as did the homeless population, which the local government seemed more interested in talking about than actually helping. People constantly stood in front of the doors of the subway trains, even as people were trying to board and exit, which is inconsiderate all around. Some of the business relationships my husband and I tried to develop into actual friendships refused to blossom unless we could make the other person money.
I found myself asking myself, “Why do people want to live here so badly?”
I wish I could say that this essay turns magically positive, as almost all articles about New York inevitably do: “Even though it was tough, I loved it and it loved me, and I never want to live anywhere else.”
But it doesn’t.
To me, New York City is a gorgeous, wealthy man who, when he asks you out, you’re ecstatic about. After all, he’s NEW YORK – everyone wants him and he asked YOU out! But then you realize that, although he is hot and rich, he is the most unstable person you have ever encountered. He is abusive, he is greedy, and he is insecure. He doesn’t really know who he is, so he says that he’s the greatest person on the face of the planet.
Suddenly, it’s not so endearing when he hits you. It’s no longer cute when he leaves you waiting, knowing that you have somewhere important to be. It’s not funny when he drunkenly urinates on your shoes.
What I’m saying is, the picture of New York that so many people idolize is not real.
I was sad to see that so many people crave living here because they think whatever important happening here will rub off on them. It doesn’t. New York is a city like any other. Yes, there are celebrities here, and TV shows and movies are filmed here. Those things are great, but they don’t make this town or its inhabitants worth any more than any other place in the world. Unhappy people who live here are just as unhappy as unhappy people in Topeka, Kansas. Actually, New Yorkers are probably unhappier because they pay, like, 50x the rent.
I’m not saying that everyone who lives in New York has delusions of grandeur. Some people do awesome work here, serving the disenfranchised or creating beautiful art or making markets to keep the economy running. I am grateful that my husband and I had our time here. We made great friends, went to an awesome church, had great jobs (except for me; my work experience really sucked), and saw some incredibly talented people perform in Broadway shows. I unexpectedly met Esperanza Spalding, my favorite singer ever, in a basement jazz club in the Village one night, and that I will treasure for the rest of my life. I will miss the Francophone tourists laden with designer shopping bags on 5th Avenue. I will miss the community of writers I have only recently come to belong to. I will miss the pizza, the deliciously fattening thin pizza.
But I am ready to go home. I’m ready to get back to DC, where the buildings, like the men, are short, and no one takes themselves too seriously. (And, no, politicians don’t actually live in DC, and real Washingtonians don’t take those people seriously.) I’m ready for clean, quiet streets and a subway system that is transparent about not functioning properly. While I am livid that I have to share my city with a horrible man in the White House, I take comfort in knowing that time will push him out, back to New York, where he belongs.
I will still visit New York and re-live fond memories of Jazz at Lincoln Center concerts, autumn walks in Central Park, and Easter brunches in the Village. I will always miss that I never encountered Nora Ephron on the Upper West Side. But for now, it’s time to go home, and I could not be happier.