On Saturday night, I found myself in a karaoke bar at 3:45 a.m., participating in a raucous group rendition of "New York, New York.” This, you may be surprised to learn, represented a certain amount of personal growth. Even though some of my best friends in the world live here and it's the epicenter of my professional universe, "not really liking New York" has long been part of who I am. I've always had fun when I visit, but I’ve found the most professional success and personal happiness outside of New York. My take, since about age 25, has been, "Why would I want to make it there when I can make it everywhere else?"
A new book called Goodbye to All That, out next month, chronicles 28 writers’ experiences with loving and, eventually, breaking up with the city. I spent the worst year of my life in New York. Right after college graduation, I moved from Missouri to join my college boyfriend, who had landed my dream job. I ended up here not because I had something to prove, but because I couldn’t think of where else to go. No job, dreamy or otherwise. No inclination toward any particular city other than “not my hometown.” When I decamped for the West Coast fifteen months later, I didn’t feel failure or regret but relief. For me, New York is that guy I went out with only briefly and then successfully transitioned into friendship. We were always meant to be platonic. But in the years since I’ve moved away, I’ve learned that “I’m kind of meh on New York” is not a generally accepted point of view. It rivals “I’ve never seen The Goonies” for most controversial fact about me.
It’s always struck me as hilarious that friends who tout their taste in undiscovered music and underground supper clubs were so loyal to the most popular city in America. New York is the prom king. He knows he's great, and he's gonna make it really, really hard on you if you decide you want to love him. New York is increasingly a city for people who are already on top, not for those looking to establish themselves. I've always been partial to the friendly guy who doesn’t know how hot he really is (Chicago) or the surprisingly intelligent, sexy stoner (Los Angeles) as opposed to the dude who thinks he’s top of the list, king of the hill, A-number-one.
In an excerpt from Goodbye to All That adapted for BuzzFeed, Ruth Curry describes the heady infatuation with New York that I never managed to feel: “The city lent itself especially well to a mental configuration in which you were an extra in an artsy, high-budget movie and saw everything as if through a camera on a set.” Part of that infatuation is a willingness to consider New York from a cinematic distance, overlooking the city’s many irritants except insofar as they add grit and drama to your story. This seems like the general approach of many New York evangelists, who complain vigorously about little things like subway hardships and bedbug plagues, and then post Instagram photos of the skyline at sunset. A not-insignificant number of the vehement New York lovers I know — especially the young twentysomethings — are actually pretty unhappy day to day. I picture the prom king’s girlfriend sitting near him at the party, ignored but still kind of proud to be in the room and on his arm — and incredibly defensive should you suggest she break up with him for someone who dotes on her more. When I describe my West Coast existence (sunshine! avocados! etc.) to some New Yorkers, they acknowledge that they really like California, too, but could never move there because they’d get too “soft.” At first this confused me, but after hearing it a few times, I’ve come to believe that a lot of people equate comfort with complacency, calmness with laziness. If you’re happy, you’re not working hard enough. You’ve stopped striving.
Many young journalists write to me with the same postgraduation conundrum: They know they need in-person connections and experience to jump-start their careers, but the entire media industry is located in a city that is prohibitively expensive and socially challenging, to put it mildly. I never know what to tell them. "Your early twenties are going to suck no matter what," I usually say. “Sorry.” It’s impossible for me to know if my post–New York adult life is so much better because I’ve simply grown up and worked my way into a better phase of my career, or whether leaving the city was what allowed me to find happiness and success. These things are inextricable. Leaving New York at age 24 wasn’t just a breakup with the city. I broke up with a college boyfriend and a mindless entry-level job, too. I’m very much aware of this when I explain to New York’s true believers that, for me, getting out of New York felt like learning to breathe again.
The Joan Didion essay from which Goodbye to All That takes its title is a parting note to a city she loved recklessly at age 23. “I do not mean ‘love’ in any colloquial way,” she wrote. “I mean that I was in love with the city, the way you love the first person who ever touches you and you never love anyone quite that way again.” This is the anthropomorphized way I love California, and this is the feeling I now tap into when I want to relate to the people who never fell out of young, difficult love with New York. It’s how I managed to get through “New York, New York” in the wee hours of Sunday morning — and not quite mean it, but still keep singing.
Most Viewed Stories
I Worked at Fyre Festival. It Was Always Going to Be a Disaster.
Famous Guests Were Reportedly Warned Not to Go to Fyre Festival in Advance
Life Lessons From the Great Fyre Festival Disaster
The Kardashians Just Broke Up With the Stylist They’ve Been Using for a Decade
Why Wallflowers Don’t Make Friends
This Fyre Festival Apology Is As Extra As You’d Expect
Don’t Follow Pippa Middleton’s ‘Extremely Restrictive’ Wedding Diet
These Tweets Will Make You Very Glad That You Didn’t Spend Thousands of Dollars to Get Stranded in the Bahamas
Female Dragonflies Fake Their Own Deaths to Avoid Males
It’s a Girl for Ciara and Russell Wilson
The Cut’s Latest Love and War FeaturesA Holiday Season Weekend Through London
A good guide for avid The Crown fans.It’s About Time You Learned Tove Lo’s Name
The singer has crafted pop hits you’ve heard a thousand times by now.Marina Abramovic Has Outlasted Her Lovers and, She Hopes, Her Critics
The world's most famous performance artist at 70.The Wing: Do Women Still Need a Space of Their Own?
This exclusive social club for women, is part sorority, part start-up.In Virtual Reality, Women Run the World
A new generation of female artists is making VR the most diverse corner of the male-dominated tech space.The Novelist Disguised As a Housewife
Shirley Jackson wrote 17 books while raising four children — and she couldn't have had a successful career without them.Ava DuVernay on Hollywood Racism, Modern-Day Slavery, and Why She’s Still an Optimist
The director, whose new documentary The 13th chronicles America’s history of racial subjugation, talks to Rebecca Traister about Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich, and the modern criminal-justice system.What No One Tells Couples Trying to Conceive
It helps to be rich.The Hidden Black Women Who Helped Win the Space Race
A segregated unit of mathematicians born of desperation during World War II became the secret to NASA’s success.Slut-Shaming Squids Are Everywhere
The “Bermuda Square” comic strip is back.
The collaboration that dreams are made of.Good Morning America Host Amy Robach Apologizes for Saying ‘Colored People’ on Air
She quickly apologized.Unknown NFL Player Tries to Get Attention by Asking Aly Raisman Out in Video
That’s one way to do it.Don’t Mess This Up, Mischa Barton
Marissa Cooper is poised for a comeback ... maybe.California Votes to Remove Time Limit on Prosecuting Rape Cases
In light of the Bill Cosby case.Beyoncé’s Behind-the-Scenes Lemonade Photos Belong in a Museum
She had the "Boycott Beyoncé" sign already in formation on set.The Rise of the Male Celebrity Full-Frontal
An ex-publicist explains.Gabby Douglas Will Be a Miss America Judge
The gold-medal gymnast will help choose the 2017 pageant winner.Camille Becerra’s Photo Diary of Rockaway Beach
An ideal trip to add and cross off your summer bucket list.Sorry Nerds, Ian McKellen Won’t Officiate Your Expensive Lord of the Rings–Themed Wedding
Not even for $1.5 million.