Tuesday, September 2, 2014


One of the problems of writing things down is that, to the extent anyone actually reads what you've written, it keeps you accountable.  From a conventional viewpoint that's probably a benefit, and it's one of the reasons people (including but not entirely limited to myself) make schedules and lists.  However, being accountable to one's later self is typically not why people write blog posts, and now I find myself feeling the need to answer for my many, varied, and highly certain statements about how I would never really grow to love New York.

Some of my reluctance to embrace New York is attributable to the simple matter of its being an acquired taste, and to the fact that when you come to the city alone, with not much money and nowhere to live, and with no real desire for an adventure, it's not an easy place to love.  It's not really an easy place to survive.  It took me weeks to stop being scared of the subway (some people might contend that I am still warier of certain lines and stops than is warranted, and it's true I have a suspicion of any train that does not run at least every ten minutes or that does not pass through my home borough).  It took months to feel really comfortable in the city, to lose (or, if I'm being honest, much of the time to mask) the wide-eyed looking-around quality of tourists.  And while I might have been more of a country mouse than most, I think there are others to whom embracing city life has been as intentional, gradual, and ambivalent.

But the other problem with New York is nothing to do with its inconvenience or its cost, its smells or its insects or its insane freakish thunderstorms that come out of nowhere.  The other problem is, for lack of a better term, its personality.

 I am not the first, or the dozenth, or the hundredth person to write - to think - about New York City as if it is a person.  To be more specific, I am not the first or the dozenth or the hundredth woman to think of New York City as her boyfriend.  Carrie Bradshaw popularized the idea long before I came to the city, and I'm sure her creators were mimicking Holly Golightly, whom I just realized she is an awful lot like.  But probably half the single women from here to the Brooklyn Bridge think of the city as their great love.  New York is a passion, a muse, a pounding pulse that will swallow you up.

And, like most of the passionate lovers of literature, New York City is a very bad boyfriend.  It is not reliable.  The subway frequently does not run on time.  It does not care for you the way you care for it.  Your rent can rise twenty percent in one year.  New York does not make sacrifices to help you realize your dreams.  It does not make a place for you in its life.  It does not introduce you to its friends.  Sometimes it seems not to know you exist.

It is not an accident that these sentences apply also to the types of men women in New York often find themselves dating.

But New York is fun!  Sure, it may be gritty, and crowded, and scary.  There may be piles of trash accumulating on the street and people shouting curses at you on the corner.  But behind the piles of trash you can find an Afghan restaurant - Afghan food!  There's such a thing! - where you can eat pumpkin fritters and lamb and rice and leek dumplings on a table with a carpet as a tablecloth.  Along the block are other restaurants: Indonesian, Hipster (also a cuisine, it appears), and Thai; and around the corner Alan Cumming is starring in Cabaret.  A few blocks in every direction are fashionable clothing stores, farmer's markets, museums, a giant park where people train for marathons year-round.  There's a new adventure on every block, and you can do a different interesting thing every day for probably your entire life.

What changed, for me, was being able to appreciate that fun.  What changed was that I found a stable job, an apartment of my own that I felt comfortable in, a few good friends, and enough comfort in the city to not be worried about losing my way.  What changed was that I found - in a figurative sense - a boyfriend.  I stopped needing New York to be my great love, my best friend, my caretaker.  Now, when the trains aren't running on time, I know another way to get where I'm going.  I don't need the city to be a stabilizer, a comfort, a home, which is good, because it's no good for that.  What it's good at is providing fun and adventure and novelty, in its own way and on its own schedule, often at what seems to be the exact wrong time.

New York is a very bad boyfriend.  Generation after generation of starry-eyed lovers have realized that, and left it.  But New York is a truly incredible wing-man.

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