On a dream, New York City, and a little bit of fatalism

I’ve been imagining life in New York City since I was like five. Staying in posh hotels. Walking through the Central Park on snowy winter mornings wrapped in fur coats sipping on hot chocolate. I would watch episodes of Seinfeld and Friends, imagining the future studio I would call home. The one with the exposed brick walls and tiny kitchen and fire escape. Even after all the dreaming, somehow I never managed to find myself in the Big Apple. Something always always got in the way. But then, a miracle… My sister moved there for school and after several months of planning, we finally decided on a weekend for me to visit. I booked my ticket, requested off work and counted down the days until a much needed sister reunion in my dream city.

I expected to be swept off my feet in a blur of late nights, early morning coffee runs and writing inspiration galore. I expected to miss my flight and camp out on the floor of Erin’s room until I found a job and a place to live. I expected NYC to steal my heart.

Then my plane landed. I was exhausted from a long day at work. The train took ages. I didn’t have my ‘Subway Legs’ and about ended up face first in an old man’s crotch when I stumbled almost halfway down a train car. (#thatawkwardmoment). After dropping my stuff at my sister’s apartment we wandered about trying to find a place to get a drink. I had sensory overload and felt dirty. Please, Erin, I said, let’s just get food and go back. I’m so lame and so tired and so hungry. So we did. My first night in the city was spent eating hummus and cucumber on the floor of Erin’s bedroom watching The Dictator. (Although in my defense by this point it was after 1am and this grandma hadn’t seen that hour of the morning in a while.)

When I woke up the next day I showered, straightened my hair, put on makeup and picked out a cute outfit. Alright. Let’s do this, New York. Let’s fall in love.

I never fell in love.

Maybe I forced it just a little too hard. Maybe NYC baulked because I was just a little too intense. Subtlety has never been one of my qualities. I know what I want. ALWAYS. But I think my intensity, while admirable, can also cause burn out and let down.

I expected too much.

I wanted New York to be my American London. But that place, I realize now, had already been filled. Everyone told me I would love it. Everyone told me it was my kind of city. I told me it was my kind of city. But there was just… something missing. I didn’t get that feeling. That feeling I get when something is right. When I’m in a place I’m supposed to be.

My outlook on life tends to lean toward fatalism. While I think we exhibit a degree of control over our own lives and the choices we make, I also believe everything happens for a reason. That is not to say one should remain, essentially, a passive observer in their life because what will be will be. No. I simply believe that when something doesn’t work out it’s because something better is supposed to happen.

Had I visited New York with younger, inexperienced eyes, I would have fallen in love immediately. The lights and people would have danced in front of my eyes, hypnotic in their abundance. Instead all I could smell was the trash that lined the streets. The homeless begging for food and money made me sad. I felt dirty and grimy and constantly on edge. I was uncomfortable and unsettled. I grasped at Erin’s company and only found solace in a Saturday spent in Brooklyn.

I searched and searched for the feeling. For the butterflies to appear in my stomach. For the anxiety squeezing my chest to loosen its grasp. I searched for the feeling under the Statue of Liberty. On Ellis Island. On walks around the city. It appeared, for brief moments, on the streets of Willamsburg. Sitting on the beach slightly tipsy from sangria, gazing across the water to Manhattan. Relaxing at a pub, sheltered from the world by beer garden walls. But those moments were fleeting. And evaporated into the air as quickly as they appeared.

I do not want to portray my trip as a completely miserable experience. I did have a wonderful time. Rooftop bars at night. Starbucks in the park. Making up elaborate stories with Erin. But… Just but.

New York City failed to live up to the romantic version I created in my mind, falling hard from that pedestal on which it was placed so many years ago. I’m surprisingly OK with it. Like an amicable breakup from a relationship that never quite came to fruition. One where we can still be friends. See each other on occasion. Remember the good times that could have been.

New York City and I? We aren’t meant to be.

My thoughts have been wandering. Dreaming. Distracting me. There are two places I love. One is here and one is there. Two cities where my overwhelming and sometimes debilitating anxiety magically disappears. Two cities that are perfect in all their imperfections. Two cities that just are. My dream of New York has died. But two new dreams have taken root in its place. Something is going to take me to one of them. I can feel it.

100 thoughts on “On a dream, New York City, and a little bit of fatalism

  1. Great post! I always want NYC to be my American London…like a consolation prize for not living in London right now. Can still definitely find enjoyment in big city aspects of New York when I go to visit my sister there, but just doesn’t make the heart sing or make the happy calm feeling come out.

  2. New York is a far more complex place than many people fantasize it to be. I moved here in 1988 from Toronto, with some stars in my eyes. I live just north of the city but know it well and have worked there and spent a lot of time there.

    NYC has disturbingly high, tremendous income inequality. The loveliest neighborhoods are prohibitively expensive to live in. Fifth Avenue, once the most elegant shopping street, now has hordes of fanny-packers from Idaho lining up (?!) to get into Abercrombie.

    NY has elegance and wit and style, but it’s not immediately apparent the way one might expect. You have to dig and you may have to wait. You can find it on quiet corners of certain neighborhoods.

    • I can’t even imagine lining up to get into Abercrombie. There are way better ways I can think to spend my time. Glad you like living there though! Giving it another chance in December. Thanks for your comments!

  3. Amazing post. I went to NY for the first time this summer after dreaming about it for as long as I can remember. I did fall in love with it; it was exciting, mesmerising and completely exhilarating. It was just like the films, I could picture myself there, I thought it was beautiful but I realise now that it won’t be my forever home like I thought. I still adore London, I appreciate it a lot more than I used to. London is more beautiful in a quiet way. My heart belongs to both cities but I still have space for wherever else I visit and fall in love with. :)

    • I think because I love London so much I just expected NYC to be the same. But they are so completely different! Keeping your options open. Good thinking. Thanks for reading!

  4. I feel the same way about New York City. I truly believe in that “magic” feeling when you first visit a place where you’re simply meant to be. That’s why I went to college in Boston, after one short visit my senior year of high school. I just knew. That’s why I’m consistently drawn to Chicago, the city where I live now.

    If a city doesn’t make you feel “alive,” well, I believe you heed your gut’s warning and beat a hasty retreat to a place that does. Great post!

  5. A post I can totally relate to! I moved to NYC this past January, and I’ve been hoping to fall in love with it ever since. I have moments where I’ll be so happy to be here (when I’m at a particularly lovely part of Central Park or sipping tea at Alice’s Tea Cup), but otherwise I’m overwhelmed with how underwhelmed I am. I’m so happy that you still had a good trip, and that New York City still had something to offer you. It may not be the city that is the love of your life or the love of mine, but it’s a nice place to explore.

    • Ah so true. There is just so much to do all the time. I’ve never seen anything like it. It can be exhausting! Hopefully you find more happy places like the tea shop. I think when you find places that feel like you you’ll be able to call NYC your own. And if not, hey, there’s a whole world out there. (If you’re looking for a new place to visit try Chicago. It’s wonderful!)

  6. I’ve never been to New York. But I can relate to this because of my relationship with Paris. When I was a little kid I went to Paris once. It was my first city trip and I loved it! No long hours in the car to get to something exciting. Interesting little shops everywhere. And it was all just so different. A year ago my high school planned a trip to Paris and I joined. I was just …. so disappointing. A few months before I had been to Rome and had closed that city up in my heart. In comparison to that city, Paris was just dirty and grey. Fountains didn’t work. The streets felt oppresive. But even though I lost Paris, I have Rome now, which just clicks. Great article! Completely understood what you were saying!

    • It’s so easy to romanticize a city. But if you are able to see a place for what it actually is (the good, bad and otherwise) and still love it? That’s when it’s meant to be. Glad you have Rome!

  7. I can relate. I always wanted to live in Charlotte, N.C., because I wanted to be a NASCAR reporter. So I got a journalism degree, packed up and moved to Charlotte. And hated it! I moved back to Maryland as soon as my lease was up.

    I actually live in Delaware now, where no one else lives, and I adore it. I was not meant to have neighbors, I think. (Or high-speed internet, or cable, or pizza delivery, etc.) I still watch NASCAR, but traveling and covering it year-round is no longer a career aspiration.

    The whole experience taught me to never be afraid to change my mind. It was hard to let go of a dream I’d had since I was 14, but it was the right decision. Hope you find your American London — your Delaware — soon!

    • Isn’t it funny? Thinking you know what you want and then when you get it it’s not what you wanted at all? Those experiences are important though. It allows you to learn things about yourself. Plus then when the right thing some along you realize just how right it is. Good for you for doing what makes you happy! And I’ve already found my American London but that’s a story for another day. Thanks so much for reading.

  8. Is NYC the American London or London the British NYC? They are very similar in a lot of ways. (I have lived in both, US and UK) anyways…I think what happened, is you were “looking for” that NYC from movies and TV- yeah, does not really exists…the same way UK/London does not really exist in the way you see it in movies like Love Actually or The Holiday. My guess is, if you had been in NYC longer- it would have gotten under your skin…;o) Great post!!

    • London is the first city I fell in love with so I’m always looking for it’s American equivalent but I think the two terms are interchangeable. When I went to London I had zero expectations. I lived in Camden Town so it’s the dirty, grungy, artsy parts of London that feel like home to me. I agree though, if I would have stayed longer I probably would have found my ‘scene’ (for lack of a better term). I’m going back in December to give it another go. Thanks for reading :)

  9. I LOVED this post! I enjoyed entirely because I can relate with you so much. Your narrative voice and thought process reminds me a lot of my own. And yes, I’ve always dreamed of moving to NYC, as well. Los Angeles is the big dream town but NYC is closer and just as exciting. I also worry though, that it could never live up to my expectations and I’d find myself unhappy. You summed it up nicely: “Maybe I forced it just a little too hard. Maybe NYC baulked because I was just a little too intense. Subtlety has never been one of my qualities. I know what I want. ALWAYS. But I think my intensity, while admirable, can also cause burn out and let down.”

    I also could relate with the hope that “my overwhelming and sometimes debilitating anxiety magically disappears.” Well said. Now get out of my head.

    I’ve traveled to NYC once for the day. I wouldn’t say it let me down but since I was only there for a short period of time I didn’t find myself blown away. Cities tend to scare the shit out of me sometimes. I get anxious as all hell. There’s so much life! Which is both troubling and enlightening to me as a writer. One thing I can remember is driving into the city after my hour road trip. It was breath taking! From the safety and security of my car, there was no anxiety but I could feel how alive the city was. The buildings were like what I’d seen in movies and I was completely in awe like a child.

    Finally, I like your expectations of apartments like on Seinfeld and Friends. Haha that’s such a silly thought but surely one I’ve had as well. Wishful thinking!

    Thank you for sharing such a lovely post. I think I’ll follow your blog to see what other things I see eye to eye with you on. Best wishes finding your dream city!

    • Aw thanks so much for the kind words! Cities are overwhelming for sure. But, for me at least, the excitement I feel when I’m in the *right* city chases away the anxiety. I can definitely see the appeal of NYC. It’s like a mecca for inspiration. But that’s the thing about inspiration, it’s so flighty. If you chase after it, force it, it slips through your fingers.

      Good luck on picking your city! Will read your blog as well. Love to hear about things from your perspective. Especially if you got the anxiety people probs like I do!

      • Ah anxiety, bringing people together and forcing them apart since the dawn of time. ;-) Thank you for the reply. I’d have to agree, I worry about relocating to Dream City, USA in hopes of being inspired. That’s tricky business. We shall see what happens!

      • Have you been to Chicago? That’s my Dream City, USA. There are so many wonderful things about it. I think that’s why I didn’t like NYC as much… Because Chicago was just perfect for me.

      • I’ve never been to Chicago. I’m surprised actually that you’re fond of it. It’s a city that’s never really seemed to have much appeal to me. I suppose that could be chalked up to ignorance though. I’ve never looked into it much.

      • I thought the same thing! Why would anyone go there? Then I got sent to for work and was actually dreading it. But I had the best time. There is an unbelievable amount of things to do, the music scene is excellent and the people are super friendly without being in your face nice. I’ve been writing a lot about it actually just not ready to share with the world yet.

      • I hope to read some of your thoughts if you decide to post anything about it! That sounds really interesting. I kind of figured the music scene was pretty cool because they host Lollapalooza. I like the sounds of that “not-too-friendly-but-super-friendly” vibe! I’m pretty open with people when I feel they’re, you know, decent human beings. I’ll have to give it a try sometime!

  10. Being fatalistic, you need to try Moscow for a change ) There’ll be no love, no doubt about that, but there can be a lot of inspiration. But it has to be May for winters are..hmmm…a bit depressing even for a seasoned Russian )

    • Moscow is definitely on my list! Everything about it is appealing. (Alright maybe not the winters but still.) I’m thinking if the rumours of vodka drinking are true I could fit right in! I considered going to teach English for a bit but something else came my way. Looks like it’ll have to be an extended trip. Thanks for the tip!

  11. Thank you for your post, I’m new to reading blogs and actually stumbled on yours while exploring, but I loved it because I experienced the same thing. I turned 60 this past summer and after a life of raising 8 children in a small town in Florida I decided to step out of my comfort zone, face a terrible fear of flying and, along with a dear friend, a sister-in-law, and a daughter-in-law, I spent the big event (my birthday) in the Big Apple! Like you I kept waiting for “it” to happen. It didn’t happen. I felt a little guilty about that, like something must be wrong with me. Maybe “it” was something you feel in your youth and I had missed it. So thanks for sharing! Maybe I’ll keep searching for the place that does “it” for me.

    • Crazy right? I felt really guilty too. Pressured almost. Who doesn’t love NYC? Glad you understand. That’s so cool you conquered your flying fear. I always need a little liquor courage before I fly. For me it’s the lack of control over the situation. And yay for Florida! I grew up outside of Orlando so even though I can’t wait to move it’ll always be home.

  12. Love your line “I wanted New York to be my American London.” – I lived in London for four months and always figured NYC would be the American equivalent. I haven’t lived there that long, but I imagine it’s different enough that it’s not quite the same. For better or worse.

    • That’s a perfect description “it’s different enough that it’s not quite the same.” Where did you live in London? You should definitely go to NYC though. I feel I might have inadvertently bashed The City. It’s a great city. It’s just not my city. Thanks for reading!

      • I studied for one semester at Imperial in South Ken :) Loved it there!

        I’ve been to NYC a bunch of times, but never more than a weekend. I think it’d be a completely different city when you stay longer.

  13. so well written and articulated—i love the sober dose of reality you apply to underwhelmed experience and your ability to not force yourself to love an experience that just wasn’t clicking, no matter what dreams may fade away as a result. loved reading your honesty!

  14. I’ve always expected new places to “woo” me … I expect so much that I just end up being disappointed because really your never going to love EVERYTHING about everywhere you go. For me now when I look at it, the beauty of going somewhere new it learning to love the imperfections … and letting yourself be amazed by the little things that you didn’t expect to find

  15. New York New York. Haven’t been but I also feel that when I do get there it will be an anti climax. I have obsessed about the Brooklyn Bridge for pretty much my whole life. Excellent post though and I look forward to reading more of your entries.

  16. I felt THE EXACT SAME WAY when I went to NY for the first time this year. I thought I was the only one who didn’t “get it”. Great post and congratulations on being FP!
    Btw you should come to Paris. I finally felt “the feeling” here.

    • Aw thanks! I have been to Paris.. but only for a day. One long, exhausting day. I can see the appeal of it though. I really want to go back though. Glad you love it so much!

  17. I’m sorry you didn’t find the NYC you were looking for. As a New Yorker now living abroad, I wish you could have found that dream city you were looking for. I now live in Copenhagen, a wonderful city (just like the song says), but for me, NYC will always be home, and my heart is wrapped up in it. But I think you need to live there, and to feel it in your veins in order to appreciate the beauty of it. Yes, it stinks (especially in the summer). And yes, it’s crowded and dirty. But the city is surrounded by the aura of a million dreams, which can be a magical thing.

  18. I’m headed to London in a few weeks and I have anticipations that it will be a little better than the Big Apple. Call me crazy but it might just happen haha I really enjoyed this post. Such down-to-earth reading. Congrats on being Freshly Pressed! Keep it up :)

      • I’ve never been and like you and NYC I’ve been dreaming about since I was little. I’m staying in the city then doing all of the tourist-y things. The Monument, Wicked, Hampton Court Palace, St Paul’s, Windsor…etc. haha Any other insider spots I should check out?

      • Wicked was the best show I’ve ever seen! Windsor is beautiful! If you are there on a weekend definitely head to Borough Market. It’s foodie heaven. Depends on your interests though really. If you have any questions feel free to shoot me an email! I’ll be happy to help.

  19. Goes to prove how different we all are! I confess, I did fall in love. I am still in love and I want to go back. But I am from a small, small town on the opposite side of the continent and boy, what people like in my experience is so vastly different!
    Keep travelling and sharing!

  20. I had always romanticized NYC too. I’ve watched too many Woody Allen movies and have seen When Harry Met Sally 42 times at least. And then I went. And it was just like I imagined. Maybe your city is Toulouse? Seattle? Dar Es Salaam? Yokohama? Keep searching…that’s part of the fun.

  21. I think it’s easy to think about NYC as this big glamorous place to live; what with all the TV shows that “take place” there. I was just there this July and felt the same way before I left.. I was so excited and thought about ALL the shows (Friends, Seinfeld, How I Met Your Mother.. etc) and once we landed and got to our hotel, it took like an hour and I was exhausted (although, we did take a red-eye). I fell in love with the idea on NYC but the reality is that it’s just far too expensive, dirty and sometimes scary. I love the idea of living there.. but for now, it’s a fun place to visit :)

    • I agree… The fantasy is so much cleaner than reality. But I suppose that’s how it is for a lot of things in life! It is a fun place to visit for sure. (I’m actually going back in December.) It’s just not a place that I want to live.

      Glad you enjoyed your visit! Thanks for reading.

      • I would LOVE to see NYC in December!! I bet it’s magical (granted it’s only what I see on TV and all the Christmas decorations) BUT I still think it would be fun to see all the lights and trees decorates have fun :)

  22. Funnily enough, I just moved to NYC from Dhaka. I expected it to be completely different, to be hopefully and accepting. Dhaka: religious norms, almost no minorities. So naturally I thought NYC: variety, cultural melting pot. But the norms here are almost as stringent, the classes almost as apparently divided.
    Needless to say, I actually miss Dhaka, which at times pretends to be affluent, but is obviously not. Whereas NYC has far more distracting elements, making inequality less evident.

    • That’s an interesting observation… I can see your point definitely. All the bright lights and cultural richness are a distracter from what’s actually going on. From what I’ve read about Hurricane Sandy that seems to be the case. A lot of the world think everything is back to normal when, in reality, it’s only the middle and upper class areas that were back up and running. The public housing areas were much worse off. But that’s just a second hand observation.

      Thanks for reading. And I hope you start to like it soon!

  23. A few months ago I left America to live in the place I’d been dreaming of for years – Scotland. It’s okay, but now that I’m here, I realize it wasn’t meant to be.

    The place that really has my heart? New York City. :)

  24. Oh no! I’ve always wanted to go to New York (and America as a whole). Before the television shows, before the chick lit, before Vogue magazine, and even before ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’, there was ‘The Babysitters Club’ for me. As a kid, I wanted to be like the oh so ‘sophisticated’ Stacey who lived in New York. I’m Aussie and have a romanticised, santised impression of the place.

    • Gosh the Babysitters Club. Loved those books so much. If it’s your dream then definitely visit. It’s such a unique city. Truly. I’d love to visit Australia. Someday hopefully. But that long of a flight? Yikes!

      • Yea, I intend to go to America someday. It’s funny how much the ‘BSC’ has influenced me though I’m in 20s now. I’ll do a big Europe trip. Have always been interested in Britain. Prob. coz of the ‘Adrian Mole’ books, haha. Come! We’re superfriendly. And the scenery in the country is gorgeous.

  25. Thank you for being so candid. I hail from a small Southwestern Ontario (Canada) town and have been dreaming shamelessly about visiting NYC since I was 6 or 7 (35 now) and have yet to actually just go there. Life keep getting in the way, it seems.

    When I think of NYC, I can’t help but identify with the Carrie Bradshaw way of life in terms of sitting at my Mac by a window in a tiny apartment with mis-matched dinnerware, a collection of dusty books on the shelf, and a fat cat lazing on my bed.

    I’m a huge lover of street photography and would love to just lose myself in the human traffic for a week. So sorry NYC didn’t wow you, I am hoping it does me otherwise, my backups are Chicago, Boston, and anywhere Vermont/Maine.

    Now where’s that passport…

  26. Pingback: The High Line. | The Piccadilly Line

  27. Sometimes we dream of a place and afte ra while the dream creates it’s own reality and becomes an illusion. An illusion which is more attractive than the reality itself. I’ve been there when I was a teenager and yes, as a teenager I had a crush on NYC. But as I’ve said, I was young and stupid, I was a teenager :)

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