When I think about it objectively, there are hundreds of reasons why I could never leave New York.
Many of them flood my mind as sensory images: the sight of spring’s first cherry blossom trees lining the streets in pink, the Halal Guys in Midtown slinging plates of hot food to men in suits, shards of sunlight glittering over the East River and the smell of salt water rolling in.
Other reasons are personal memories. I grew up in Westchester County, in a suburban town just outside New York, so the city was ingrained in me from a young age.
My father came home from his Manhattan job each evening smelling of newspapers and Metro North’s imitation leather seats. My mom brought our family into the city on Saturdays to see a new exhibit at the Met or to see a Broadway play.
I love New York City right down to its concrete streets, its tonnage, its unstoppable pulse and mesmerizing allure. But, in three weeks, I am leaving.
As extraordinary and irreplaceable as New York is, it can be equally as frustrating and difficult. New York is like the boyfriend you love and hate at the same time. It's the relationship you stay in far longer than you should, based on the idea of how good it could be.
Joan Didion's famous essay, "Goodbye to All That," should be mandatory reading for anyone who has ever love-hated New York. In it, Didion discusses her magnetic draw to the city and her ultimate decision to leave it for LA.
Forty-six years later, Sari Botton compiled and published a collection of essays called, "Goodbye to All That: Writers on Loving and Leaving New York" (another must-read), in which various writers take up on Didion’s literary legacy and describe their experiences arriving and living in New York, holding it on a pedestal and then deciding to leave (and sometimes, come back again).
Love-hating New York is a longstanding trend.
As Didion says in the opening line of her essay, “It is easy to see the beginnings of things, and harder to see the ends.” It’s one of those lines that hits home because it’s so true. It’s made me think specifically about why I’m leaving a place I love.
I’ve moved away from New York before only to come back, so I understand what I am giving up. After thoughtful consideration, here are the five main reasons why I’m leaving New York:
I don’t like to make sweeping generalizations, but New Yorkers have a bad reputation for a reason. Many of them just aren’t very nice. New Yorkers have that edge that makes them blunt, pushy, disingenuous and uncompromising.
I often take pride in my New York edge when it surfaces internally, remembering with conceit, "That’s right, I’m from New York."
But, then, I take a step back and wonder why I’m sneering at my barista for using the wrong kind of milk and snapping at the airport security guard for making me throw out my Chanel No. 5 because I’m the idiot trying to carry on a liquid over 3.4 ounces.
It’s unnecessary to be rude, and I hate being rude; yet, New York seems to draw out my rudeness and cynicism.
Mary Schmich has a well-known quote:
Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard. Live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft.
She nailed it. You have to have the balance (too much time in Northern California will make you soft). I need a break from the hardness because I can feel myself getting that way and putting up with people who are that way.
We are reckless with each other’s emotions. Sometimes, I feel like New York teaches us not to care about each other and to only invest in ourselves. I’m tired of the sharks, the bitchy coworkers on power trips and the pretentious name-droppers.
After a while, it all starts to get the best of you.
It’s a common complaint, but NYC is too expensive. There comes a point when you simply cannot justify paying $18 for an elderflower cocktail and $1700 a month to live in a shoebox.
I have no doubt it would be a dream to live in New York if you had money to spend. But, for 20-somethings, rents are high and salaries are low, and for most of us, that means eating a lot of pasta and sneaking flasks into concerts to avoid the $12 beers.
The best of New York – the world-renowned restaurants, Soul Cycle classes and amazing outfits from Intermix – are out of the question. Unless you work in finance or have a trust fund, being in New York in your 20s can feel more like surviving than living.
The guilt that results from taking a cab instead of the subway or ordering that second glass of wine at dinner is exhausting.
Too Many Workaholics
Work is a critical part of life. In addition to the fact that we need to make money in order to survive, we would all go crazy if we didn’t put energy into a career.
A strong work ethic is important and having a job you love can be one of the most enriching aspects of life. But, many New Yorkers are so focused on work that there is room for little else.
Everyone is hustling and busy and under pressure; rarely do people have time to stop and have genuine conversations — ones that don’t start with "What are your Q4 numbers," or "My boss has that sweater in red."
Working too much makes us self-involved. It’s a big world with a lot going on and a ton of other things that could benefit from our attention besides work.
Your job is certainly a part of you, but it shouldn’t define you.
Fresh Air (Or Lack Thereof)
New York is a beautiful city in its own way (some areas more than others), but it’s called the concrete jungle for a reason.
I’m tired of the gritty streets, the packs of tourists that ensure claustrophobia on every block, the chalky gray air and the endless noise. I miss the sight of the sky all around me and the feeling of breathing in clean, untouched oxygen.
I want to see mountains and lakes and meadows and snow that sticks. I want to go hiking and camping and skiing on the weekends. We need nature more than we realize. It’s good for the soul.
If Not Now, When?
New York will always be New York. Yellow taxis will always whoosh down Fifth Avenue; the big Christmas tree will rise up in Rockefeller Center each December; runners will jog the Central Park loop on crisp fall mornings, and kind-faced men will continue playing saxophones in the subway.
New York City is not going anywhere. It might change in small ways, like all of us will, but the heart of it will remain the same. So, if you’ve ever had the urge to explore another part of the world, now is the time. You can always come back.
John Updike said,
The true New Yorker secretly believes that people living anywhere else have to be, in some sense, kidding.
I agree with that statement, which is exactly why I need to get up and go.