Like a lot of people, I grew up thinking that New York City was this magical place where all your dreams came true. In my fairytale, there was no gorgeous royal to sweep me off my feet—I was the princess, and New York was my one true love. When things were good, I pictured myself basking in the glow of the city lights. When things were bad, I told myself it would all go away once I got to New York.
When I actually got to New York, however, I learned that the city I'd built up in my head didn't exist. I mean, New York is magic, but it's a different kind of magic than I'd pictured for all those years. The New York I daydreamed about was a tourist attraction, an amalgamation from movies and TV shows. The New York I live in is both surprising and comforting—it pushes me and challenges me every single day, but it's always there to tuck me in and kiss me goodnight.
Here's how I feel about the real New York—it's not a fairytale, but it is home.
3 Things I Love About NYC
There's always always something to do.
There's no shortage of festivals and free museum days and activities here. Last night I went to a feminist magazine party; today I wandered around Central Park and found myself hanging out on top of a castle. This summer I marched in full-costume in a mermaid parade. I even recently planned a weeklong staycation for myself just so I could take advantage of everything New York has to offer (horseback riding, pumpkin picking and museum and botanic garden visits are all on my to-do list, and all within an hour—and in some cases, walking distance—of my Brooklyn apartment).
You're free to be yourself.
I know the stereotype is that New Yorkers are rude and mean and selfish, but while I have had my fair share of frustrating moments with strangers, more often than not, people are accepting and polite and just going about their business. I grew up in a small town that was judgmental, where it was hard to actually be yourself, and it's overwhelmingly freeing to live in a city where that's not the case. New York is where I really found myself, and that's not just a coincidence.
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You're never stuck here.
Look, New York is a city that jostles you. It's a lot. Sometimes you need to be somewhere where you can't see a single high rise. But you're never actually stuck in this city—you have every method of transportation at your disposal, and even just a subway ride can bring you somewhere quieter where you can escape for a little while. It's not all busy streets and lines out the door at Trader Joe's—there are so many quiet, tree-lined neighborhoods to wander and find your peace. And when in doubt, you can always walk the Manhattan Bridge at sunset. Even as the Q train rattles by, there's nothing quite like that view.
3 Things I.... Don't Love About New York
Times Square, any time after the first time.
Unless you are going to a Broadway show or seeing it for the very first time (you have to go once, it's a rite of passage), there is absolutely zero reason to go to Times Square. Maybe I'm biased because I have anxiety that is particularly triggered by crowds (I have had more panic attacks just from existing in Times Square than I'd like to admit) or maybe it's just a fact that everything worth seeing in New York City is elsewhere.
Oh, and you'll always be sweaty as long as you take the subway.
Most of the time, entering a subway station in New York is like entering a sauna fully-clothed. Especially Broadway Lafayette station. Sure, it gets better in the winter (Broadway Lafayette, however, does not, somehow), but then you wind up sweating anyway because you're bundled up and sandwiched between strangers in a crowded subway car.
Just try to ignore the smell. And the prices.
In truth, New York is better than I ever could've imagined—even if it does smell like hot garbage most of the time (I wish I was exaggerating) and the rent makes me question my existence every month. Will I ever be able to afford a studio? The world may never know. Here's the salary you need to live alone in every major U.S. city, and the answer isn't pretty for New York!
Sometimes I think about leaving New York—and truthfully, it's not the only place I've ever loved (I'm looking at you, Philly). I'm not going to tell you that New York is the only place for me, because I don't know that for sure—all I really know is that New York will always be my magic place. But I can promise you this: if I ever do leave New York, I won't write an essay about it.
Re-edited from a post originally published 10.24.2017 - LS