As a disclaimer, I’d like to first say that despite the descriptions of my experiences that, at times, could be interpreted as sounding negative or tragic, that overall, my new life in the City has been overwhelmingly positive. This is just my overly frank analysis of my circumstances as I am apt to do with all things.
Five Things New York City Has Taught Me: A Six Month Reflection
(As a twentysomething, recent inductee into the NYC scene)
1. You will meet people in the most random places.
It’s true. It’s logical that in a city of 8 million, it’s bound to happen. But I am continually surprised by how people I run into at the gym, the park, the club, on Tinder, or on my way to the subway unknowingly and suddenly become permanent fixtures in my life. Take advantage of it and keep yourself open. You never know what can happen.
2. Life will pass you by if you don’t look up.
Despite how horrible sometimes it can be not having an excuse to avoid awkward eye contact during the moments we’re all trapped inside a steel tube, crammed inches from each other’s armpits, sometimes I find it beneficial that most of the time on the New York Subway, there is no mobile phone reception. For a guaranteed few minutes every day I am forced to be in the present, be it trying to figure out what language the passengers across the car are speaking or witnessing a drunken tragedy unfold before my eyes, the only things with which I have contact are those of the immediate present. All too often I have observed people living their lives completely oblivious to the fact they live in this great city, unable to take pleasure in really anything. I understand that a large portion of twentysomethings move here for the expressed purpose of complicating their lives in pursuit of their ideals of becoming the archetypal fast-paced New Yorker busybody that everyone needs at all hours of the day but nowhere, I feel, is a higher sense of awareness more beneficial, or even requisite than when living in a place like this. Unless you can step back and detach, the City will suck you in and put you in a sensory coma. Instead of silently bitching to yourself how shitty the MTA is every time your train is late, why not take a moment and look at your surroundings. Has it even crossed your mind how much history and engineering had to have to come before your being able to stand there, pissed that the E is taking forever at rush hour? But I guess if you’re legitimately about to be late for something, fuming and seething with frustration is the most appropriate response. Still though, New York is fucking awesome. These moments will make up an amazing chapter in your life. Don’t let them slip away unnoticed.
3. If you haven’t already mastered self-restraint, you will learn the hard way.
In a city where time is relatively scarce, and where you can’t walk a block without passing by a restaurant, a bar, a shop or four by the time you reach the next intersection, if it isn’t the variety, the accessibility will test your self-restraint to its limit. Then throw in your revolving circle of acquaintances who all invite you to happy hour at all hours of the day, who the hell wants to stay in and cook? For about a month and a half of living here, I only ate out or ordered Seamless out of convenience. But now, I eat out maybe once a day if it’s a particularly long day out and about working. On weekends, you will face an unyielding barrage of temptations to go out. Well, this depends on the people with whom you tend to associate but for me, as someone who exists in the overlap of both the EDM and gay scenes, the allure is particularly unrelenting. If it isn’t a favorite DJ, it’s your bar/club buddies who cordially request your presence in becoming shitfaced. Going into it knowing you don’t live in a world with unlimited resources is a good start, lest you wake up one morning to check your bank account in horror after you’ve finished puking up all the pills and shots from the night before.
4. You will become acutely aware of rude or inconsiderate behavior and may become more considerate as a result.
What I’m thinking as a New Yorker:
- That person walking super slowly in front of me with a million bags weaving left and right: What the fuck is this fucking bitch doing? EITHER MOVE THE FUCK OVER OR LET’S GO.
- That person who’s smoking next to me, conveniently located where the wind will blow it all in my face: At least your stupid ashtray cuntface is gonna die early. Seriously, fuck you.
- This person who is deafening me with their furious honking because they decided to go right before the light changed and is now gridlocked: Hey, dickcheese, not my problem you’re now blocking all of 6th Avenue, so shut the fuck up you fucking piece of Jersey shit.
Makes sense since we New Yorkers are so constantly rude, right? Not so fast. Basically, it comes down to the fact that since we’re all so tightly packed together, any act performed on your part without due regard will affect at minimum, the ten people immediately around you. And so it’s not that New Yorkers are rude, as conventional wisdom may imply. In fact, people who actually live in the City are quite pleasant to be around because they understand the unwritten code of urban living. Those who live here understand how to navigate tight spaces without getting in the way and, in public, behave in a way that maximizes efficiency given the limitations in real estate and time. Be swift and move confidently. If you fuck something up, most New Yorkers will smile and won’t think anything of it if you apologize. Act obnoxiously, and prepare to be shoved, knocked in the shoulder, eye-rolled, scoffed, or even yelled at. Oh, and if you hold a subway door, be prepared to have your arm chopped off.
5. You will learn who your true friends are and will value your time with them more than ever.
I saved this one for last because despite the blissful optimism I look to New York City as this new chapter of my life unfolds, this is the one theme I longingly look behind to my days in Seattle with stinging nostalgia.
Since I moved to New York, my social network has exploded and yet, there has never been a time I’ve felt more alone as I have felt here. Part of it has to do with the actual literal geography that separates me from my family and friends from earlier times. As a native west coaster, I’ve never in my life been so far from my roots. But a big part of it, I notice, comes from just the pace of NYC and the culture of social interaction here. I dub New York City, The City of Acquaintances, as they seem to abound in every sphere of my life — acquaintances who will drink with me, go out with me, have cursory conversations with me over brunch or over Facebook or text. We will party, share stories like friends, and at least superficially, appear to share a bond not unlike a “friendship.” Yet at the end of the designated social gathering of sorts, we part, never to talk to each other except on occasion to plan the next designated social gathering, or at the next gathering itself. They are context dependent colleagues, like actors in a play if these social gatherings were shows. Certain people to go out with, certain people to have midday lunch with, people to meet for dinner, people to work with, people to fuck, people to go shopping with. Like in a play, everyone is assigned a specific role. Once the show is over, the characters bow, and the setting dissolves into no more until the next one.
Why is this so hard here? You know, having true friends who will tag along to dinner with a last minute text. The ones who will show up drenched at your door to console you when it’s pouring outside after some boy rained all over your heart. The ones who, with nothing better to do will stay in, bake cookies with you, get hammered, play video games, and call it a great night. The ones who will turn up with you at a rave but will leave with you if you were having a bad time no matter how much they were into it. The ones who keep your toothbrush and deodorant at their place because you stay over so much. The ones who will stay up talking with you all night and leave at 3:00 in the morning on a Sunday night. The ones who will sit in front of you at a coffee shop somewhere with their laptop, while each of you do your own thing. Yet both parties feel a sense of comfort and satisfaction as a result of the other’s presence. The ones who buy you presents for no reason. The ones who don’t flip endlessly through all their acquaintances whom they could avail when deciding who will best fit the role for “friend” at this particular free moment. The ones who don’t need a plan to be available. The ones, who in the absence (or abundance) of pretty much anything else, will default to you.
While most of the time efficiency is the way to go in New York City, this is a huge exception. I admit that having associates for every particular occasion, and only that occasion is convenient and logical when faced with a seemingly endless revolving door of people coming in and out of your life in a city as big as this one. It takes time and resources, both of which the majority of people here guard fiercely with miserly custody, to invest in somebody when the possibility looms that at any given moment you could find somebody with higher social capital: Better looking, more affluent, funnier, better connected. But I urge you, New York, this is not the way to go. I’m not sure if this is due to a difference between the coasts or maybe even a difference between making friends as a college student versus as a working professional but as far as I’m concerned, New York has taught me that perhaps the very definition of “friendship” may not be universal. And I’m sure you can imagine what my dating life must be like here if you extrapolate what I said above re merely finding friends.
But actually, I think what New York has taught me about intimacy is that no matter what, in the end you have to be okay with yourself. Because no matter what happens around you, or who comes into your life or departs, even if no one fulfills your definition of what a friendship/relationship is or even wants to, as long as you can stand strong by yourself, you’ll be okay.
And even though I’m still waiting to have here what I had in Seattle, that’s okay because until I do, I have me.