I felt about moving to New York City the way most do about marriage: hesitant yet hopeful.
During my first few weeks living in the 'City That Never Sleeps,' I found myself doing just that -- never sleeping. But not for lack of trying.
I knew moving here would be a big change, but as someone who grew up on the North Shore of Boston, and someone who left Florida because it was too slow, I figured it wouldn't be too difficult of an adjustment.
I was attracted to the city for all the tired but true clichés that bring so many others here: the constant hustle, eclectic nature and dynamic crowd. The promise of change and opportunity. The foundation to start afresh.
I knew from a young age I would spend some time living here. Maybe not permanently, but what kind of "struggling writer" would I be if I didn't spend some of my days tucked away in Brooklyn cafes and reading worn paperbacks on the subway? I wanted to reside where all the great writers and artists have both succeeded and failed. The city drips with as much history as it does opportunity.
So when I saw my chance, right after my first heartbreak and right before I began my freelance career, I left Florida to carry out my proverbial life crisis in the only city that made sense -- The Big Apple.
I couldn't wait to use all my loose chain at a laundromat. I couldn't wait to swipe my first MetroCard, and ride the dingy metal carts to whenever I was in the mood to go. I couldn't wait to see how the different streets and avenues looked when my iTunes playlists acted as an audio backdrop. I couldn't wait to people watch and let the dirty streets, stunning buildings and hidden treasures fuel me with creative inspiration.
When I packed my entire life (three suitcases of clothes, 50+ books and a typewriter) into my Volkswagen and headed North, I was a nervous wreck. But I knew that, being the infamous city it is -- one tied to the some of the greatest love and success stories of centuries passed -- it would only be a matter of time before I fell in love with New York City.
There was no motion picture moment where I stepped out of the subway, looked up at Times Square and knew I was finally home. In the thick heat of summer, the suffocating stench of garbage and uncontrollable tears of frustration for having rode 7 stops in the opposite direction on the wrong subway -- yet again -- often interfered with my attempts to fall in love.
I couldn't fall asleep with the constant strew of sirens and shouting outside my window. I missed the luxury of personal space while commuting, and the comfort of knowing which places I liked to eat at. I felt overwhelmed when I ate up my cellphone's data within the first week of my billing cycle because I had to use Google maps anytime I stepped outside my apartment. I didn't like feeling like I was a visitor in my own apartment, or that I couldn't make sure cab drivers weren't ripping me off because I didn't know the fastest routes from the longest.
As a person new to New York, I knew I would experience these feelings of frustration. Months later, though I am much more settled and comfortable, I do still experience them. Fortunately, they are fleeting. As quickly as I feel claustrophobic and desperate for a familiar sense of security does something happen to snap me back to my new reality, making me unable to look away. Like four teenage boys having a dance battle on the subway, rejecting any money because they're only doing it for fun. Or when an overweight, red-headed man puts his all mighty effort into performing the BeJesus out of Michael Jackson's Thriller rendition on the sidewalk. Or walking into an old café, run only by volunteers, that donates all earnings to charity. It's in these moments I am completely helpless to the grin that spreads my face, even if I'm on the wrong subway, walked down that sidewalk to try to get some breathing room or am walking into that café to escape the smell of burning garbage.
The bad falls away in the light of good. And it's not only the good that makes me smile; often it's the unexpected. That's the thing: if you're going to fall in love, with a city nonetheless, you need to be ready to embrace the unexpected. If you can't do that -- you don't have a fighting chance. And you can't expect the magic to fall into your lap. You need to know where to look. Like in odd hours when most are sleeping, but there's just enough life to let you know you are not alone, that things are happening and will continue to happen, whether or not you decide to stay.
I have quickly learned that falling in love with New York City means first letting yourself get really uncomfortable. When you're uncomfortable, it means you're shedding the old and exposing yourself to new, to better. Not knowing where you are going or who you are going to meet can be quite intimidating. But the good thing about this city is that if you don't like a certain place or a particular person, there are thousands more, literally, right around the corner.
Things never go as planned -- and no one will teach you that faster than New York City. You're going to be cat-called on the street (regardless of your gender). You're going to go shopping and leave your bags on the subway (no? just me?). You're going to get lost. And you're going to feel like you can't breathe. But these problems are mundane, and mundane problems are not restricted to this one area code.
As quickly as you hate the city you can learn to love it. The time and effort is the same -- but your attitude will be the tipping point. I am convinced that the people who complain that New York City is one cluster of trash, filthy air and concrete, are the same types of people who sleep for 14 hours every night, then complain about not having enough time in the day. If you don't know where to look for the magic, you need to be willing to create your own.
It's up to you whether you want to be bothered by the noise or enriched by the chaos.
Yes, this city is jam tight with the weird and unusual. But that is what gives it its magical appeal. The heart of New York thumps to a different kind of drum than the rest of the country. And though you may not be able to spread out in a physical sense -- without pissing some people off -- you'll be able to break down the walls of your comfort zone.
So how do you fall in love with New York City? You get lost on the subways. You walk down streets that make you honestly wonder if something passed away in one of the stairwells and remained there, sweltering in the sun, for a few weeks. You decorate your cramped apartment and get to know all its creaks and crevices. You let yourself smile at the street dancers. You enjoy how cheap and delicious the pizza and bagels are. You take advantage of being able to have virtually anything delivered to your doorstep, or you walk to get whatever it is you need (because you can).
You stop trying to fight the congestion and instead learn to thrive among the other weirdos, beggars, creepy construction workers and rude business people, all here trying to make their experience as extraordinary as they can. You relish in the fact that, even when you feel utterly alone, you're not. In fact, you couldn't be even if you tried. You don't pull away from the weird, you head towards it, you embrace it; you strike up a conversation with it. You hold your nose when you get a bad waft of air, and you catch the next train when you finally figured out which the right one is.
You crawl up from the clutter and congestion onto a sunny rooftop for a happy hour with friends. You take a deep breath of air in Central Park when on a Sunday picnic. You browse different book stores and boutiques and value what you buy because not only is it one of a kind, but because it is so highly priced.
Maybe New York isn't my home. Only time will tell. But what a shame it would be to not give it a shot, to deny it before giving it a real chance to woo me until I've fallen hopelessly in love. I know it will be a slow and gradual process, as I suppose all healthy relationships are. I know it will happen how it has been -- in quick, fleeting moments. Each moment, I assume, will contort itself on top of the others, pushing the lesser ones aside, until all I have left in me is a large, throbbing affection for this city.
Some days are more difficult than others. Sometimes I still get on the wrong train. Google Maps is still a staple in my day to day activities. Sometimes I actually think the smell of hot, steamy garbage is enough to knock me out. And sometimes I want to cry when a homeless man makes a crude gesture at me on the subway. But I take these moments with a grain of salt -- knowing right around the corner is a beautiful park for me to lay in, a favorite café I've yet to try and a night out with my friends that ends in watching the sun rise on a rooftop. Though my journey here has just begun, I already feel less hesitant, and much more hopeful.