Don’t Give Up

When waking up this New Year’s Day, many New Yorkers will no doubt look back – with mild, hungover disbelief – to the night before. But many more will think of the string of nights (and days) since September 11 that have been filled with post-traumatic indulgences: drinking too much, smoking too much, overeating, oversleeping, overspending, and overmedicating. All of which makes the always fraught (and usually bogus) act of making New Year’s resolutions a little more complicated. Two camps have formed as a result: one that hopes to begin 2002 with a military-like commitment to eat chicken sausages and forgo apple martinis and one that thinks, Who on earth cares about cutting out carbs when the world still seems like it’s falling apart?

Take shopping: Chris, a lawyer, estimates that he’s chalked up almost $5,000 of unnecessary, even unwanted, purchases. The same spending that seemed admirably patriotic this fall now feels almost shameful, as the credit-card bills lie unpaid (and sometimes unopened). “One day, I got a suede bag at Banana, a tuxedo shirt, a velvet jacket at H&M, and two pairs of velvet pants. I’ve been buying my dog things: real bones from the butcher, a new Coach collar, a camouflage leash.” And the holidays didn’t help: “I bought three trees,” he confesses.

But others vow to keep up with their newfound purchasing power. “Not only have I not stopped shopping; I’ve bought more than I ever bought before,” says a 31-year-old publicist. “I’m buying things in duplicate and triplicate to hoard them.”

Putting a stop to taxi taking is one gallerist’s main resolution. “I haven’t been on the 6 train since August,” she admits. She’s also declaring a moratorium on mint masks and sugar scrubs from The Body Shop, which she got addicted to after September 11.

Of course, January 1 will also be a day of more sober reflections – on the tragedy of the fall and the uncertainty of the future. With the New Year comes the realization that we are (still) living in a new world. It’s the type of realization that often leads to sweeping life changes, or, at least, to the desire to make them.

And some New Yorkers seem bent on changing everything. “They’re getting engaged over Christmas, having babies, making moves faster than they would have,” says Dr. Sheenah Hankin, an Upper East Side psychotherapist. “For them, it’s been a great propellant.”

Not all her clients are so newly proactive, though. “I’m hearing others say life is short. They feel the future is uncertain – ‘When will they hit us again?’ I hear a lot of that. People are pretty scared. And people feel poorer. So to them, it doesn’t seem worth it, going on a diet, giving up drinking.” Indeed, comfort food is the primary cause of what Gregory, 34, has affectionately called his “war weight” – which he has no intention of dieting off.

“French fries, anything fried, the entire bread basket in restaurants, cheese, cheese fries … You don’t want to deny yourself anything,” he says.

And Anne, 29, who started smoking again (after a two-year hiatus), sees no point in sporting nicotine patches until her stress level has subsided. “It’s either that or fried salt-and-pepper squid at my favorite Vietnamese restaurant every night.”

She’s not the only well-intentioned New Yorker caught in something of a resolution Catch-22. “I’m late for everything. Like 45 minutes late,” says a fashion editor. “My resolution was to be on time, so I got a watch, but I bought a $1,000 Cape Cod Hermès watch.”

However, some experts have concluded that it may not be so wrong, in these turbulent times, to jump from one vow to the next. “I think resolutions should last a month and be renewable like an insurance policy,” explains Hankin. “Short-term resolutions better suit the New York personality.”

Don’t Give Up