New York I Love You, But

Nov 1 2013 @ 1:00pm

I just want to second everything Kermit sings. I loved New York City with a passion until I tried to live here. It’s been over a year and I am horribly home-sick. So we’re going to move back to DC next month. I miss my DC apartment (1500 square feet of a school classroom I got for a steal in 1991); I miss my friends, many of whom I’ve known for decades, and some of whom I bonded deeply with during the plague years of my 20s and 30s; I miss the relative calm; I miss the green; I miss the increasing vibrancy of the city – which somehow doesn’t make it harder to live in. I miss the oases of quiet and the energy of a new emerging city that is both a second Brooklyn and a global hub of media and politics.

But I’ll be commuting to New York City for up to two weeks a month – as a visitor. So it’s more like finding a home I love while keeping New York close. I realize I’m married to Washington, and it’s best for me to think of New York as a mistress. Besides, I need to be here for the Dish (all my colleagues are New Yorkers), and for AC360 Later. I also have many friends here I think I’m more likely to spend time with if I’m not actually struggling every day to handle the, er, challenges of actually settling into the massive metropolis. And in this experience – to love and yet leave this amazing place – is not new, I’m relieved to say. Eryn Loeb just reviewed a new essay collection Goodbye to All That: Writers on Loving and Leaving New York, an anthology inspired by Joan Didion’s 1967 essay of the same name:

As laid out by Didion and the anthology’s contributors, it happens like this: First there’s anticipation, imagining how your life will finally make sense when you arrive. The actual experience of living here is one of finding your place, followed by an intense feeling of ownership. You can stay at that point for years. But eventually, sometimes without knowing it, you begin the slow slide toward a moment of decisiveness. Sometime after that, there’s the actual leaving. And then, the having left. Living in New York turns out to be a process of earning nostalgia — hoarding enough memories to give you the kind of claim on a place that makes it possible to leave it. When you reach your limit and set out elsewhere, memories are your consolation prize. (Bonus points for writing about them.)

If you’re tired of hearing about how New York is the center of the universe, you’re not alone.

Even those of us who live here and love it get annoyed at the relentless fascination with the city, the way people project so much onto it and then feel betrayed when it doesn’t live up to their expectations. (Emma Straub, who grew up here, captures this tension nicely in her essay, writing, “because my hometown is New York City, everyone else thinks it belongs to them, too.”)

But even in basic ways, the city is still special enough to justify the fixation. It’s concentrated. It’s diverse. It’s where a lot of important things have happened and influential people have lived, and so it is full of history and legend. It’s a place of ideals, “where anything is possible.” And yet it’s also a place of limits, one people leave when their desire for more space or stability — or very often, a family — begins to clash with reality.

Previous Dish on New York and its discontents here, here, here and here. Update from a reader:

I’ve lived in NYC for exactly 11 years as of today. But on Thanksgiving weekend, I’ll be packing up all of my stuff and moving into a home in Vermont that my father left to me after his death this year. My girlfriend and I just got engaged – and she’s converging on VT that weekend as well from Chicago to settle down with me.  I’ll still be working for the same NYC firm up there remotely.  So I’ll have a slim tether keeping NYC in my life – which feels just about right.  I didn’t want to totally break up with this place, despite the fact that it has ground me down into fine powder.  I look forward to missing the city again and coming back to visit it.

I’ll also be running the NYC Marathon on Sunday - which feels like a real nice way to say goodbye to the place that I once deeply loved, but now curse every day.