Start spreading the news. Everyone’s leaving today. I hate to break it to you, Mr. Sinatra, but their vagabond shoes are taking them away from—not toward—the city that never sleeps.
These disappointed youths fleeing from New York City, wisely (they lament) tearing themselves free of the dark grip that this hopeless city had on their hopeful souls—their clichés rival yours. But that’s to be expected, isn’t it?
New York is nothing if not a cliché. It’s nothing if not the brunt of your standard American joke or the tragic paradise that is both the object of lust and subject of hatred. It’s yellow cabs, the Empire State Building, long train rides, and frustrating commutes. It’s paying the high cost of living, eating at the best corner deli, and scrambling for a job. It’s Gossip Girl and it’s Rent.
“I Used to Love Her, But I Had to Flee Her: On Leaving New York,” read the headline of a Gawker article that recently surfaced on my newsfeed. I hesitated before clicking on the link—I know too well the angsty, expat-style disillusionment piece that was waiting for me, content in its delusion of originality.
You came here, excited for all the opportunity—but you got here, and it’s not really living, is it? You expected greatness, but everyone is so unhappy. You’re struggling to save up enough money to pay to live in a shoebox—what kind of sane, healthy life is that? Where is the carefree lifestyle, the great friendships, and the dream job?
My deepest apologies. I’m sorry that my city disappointed you so.
Sometimes, I forget that my city isn’t supposed to be for me. The girl from Queens, who went to high school in the Bronx, and college in Manhattan. The girl who plans to travel the world, but comes back home to New York to be close to the people she loves in the only city that she knows how to live in. No, I’m not the real New Yorker, the sort of New Yorker Buzzfeed loves.
“Look up real estate in your hometown, and get bummed when you realize you could buy a castle with a moat for what you pay in rent here,” is number six on a list of things that, supposedly, most New Yorkers do. Because, of course, New York is not a hometown—it’s a new home, a place to which to move, and to constantly compare to a real home.
New York, I know I agreed to share you. I swore that I would welcome those who moved here as true New Yorkers. It’s only fair, but too many of them have let me down.
They stop by with some vision of what you should be, can be, or already are—but when their realities fall short of their fantasies, they give up on you. And they don’t go quietly, personally acknowledging that you may not be the best match right now—no, they make sure to tell everyone what a disappointment you are, like a bitter partner after a terrible breakup.
What an interesting privilege it must be to compare living in New York to living at home: a real hometown, where people can raise children, breathe fresh air, and really live life. How fascinating it seems to intellectualize the New York life, to see long daily commutes, high prices, and a fast-paced environment merely as part of a defining phase for the young, carefree, and exploring.
Forget about those who were born and raised here, or those who raised their children here. Forget about those for whom New York is their only home. The New York that’s famous, real, and that matters is a city of transplants: of people who want to try out the city, try out their dreams, and try out themselves. Isn’t it?
So what’s left after they’re all gone? What’s left after the young, the disillusioned, and the disappointed go off to those cities, towns, and places that are really home?
Perhaps the millions of kids attending New York City public schools might have an answer. Perhaps residents of all professions who are engaged in local politics could tell you. The restaurant owners, the bodega owners, the MTA employees, the parents who are raising their children on city blocks more diverse than many cities in the world—they might be able to share with you the other side of New York. There are people who will be affected for decades to come by the outcome of the upcoming elections and the decisions of the City Council. There are those who live in the areas untouched by gentrification or luxury high rises, the ones whose legacy in those changing neighborhoods bears witness to their histories. These New Yorkers might be able to paint a picture of a New York that cracks through the clichés and serves as a reminder that this city is home.
New York is made beautiful by her people. No single experience here is more worthy, more natural, more eloquent, or more important than the next. Go, tell the world about how New York was the best thing that has ever happened to you—or weave your literary tales of broken dreams, empty streets, and the strange community that you found here. Love this city, hate the city, be part of it however you choose. But don’t write out the story of those who have no other home but here.
Ayelet Pearl is a Barnard College and Jewish Theological Seminary senior. Pearls of Wisdom runs alternate Wednesdays.
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