A Pep Talk for Anyone New to New York

Andrew Sullivan, who recently leased an apartment in New York City, writes in a blog post titled "New York Shitty" that "Moving to New York while blogging an election was probably too large a leap for an excitable chap like myself," he explains. "Does it get better?"

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Andrew Sullivan moved to New York City two weeks ago. Yesterday, he publicly freaked out over the last presidential debate, even using the hashtag #sullypanic to denote the level of his freakout (that's how web personas do these things). Today we get some inkling, perhaps, as to why all the agita: That move has been rough! He writes in a blog post titled "New York Shitty" that "Moving to New York while blogging an election was probably too large a leap for an excitable chap like myself," he (a British chap) explains.

He is not alone, and, in fact, is in pretty solid company, with many a pioneering or enterprising sort moving to New York for any number of professional or personal reasons and realizing they didn't want to stay, they hated it, they never wanted to be here in the first place, it wasn't all it had been cracked up to be, everything here sucks, it's dirty and bed bug-infested, and that L.A. (or wherever else) is for whatever reason—ultimately, all things considered, as a lifestyle choice—just sort of better. Often it's a temporary stint here and was always planned to be so, checking that one-year stay off the list of to-dos, or using industry connections and experiences created here to lift you to a higher spot in the next venue. Other cities and towns are, yes, easier to live in, that's a given. Other places may, depending on one's view, be far less satisfying places to live.

Sullivan's reasons for getting frustrated with New York City are pretty legit; pretty common, too. He cites the difficulty of ever-so-simple things, or things that should be relatively seamless and without extensive effort, like "getting online or using your phone," like dealing with Time Warner, like dropped calls, like the fact that delivery of couches and televisions might be unreliable. And if it doesn't go well, you're stuck another day home waiting for the right thing, because you have to be there to sign for it, we'd add. Those things are not so easy here. Laundry, for instance. Dish-washing. Central air. And it's expensive! Sometimes it seems as though the city hates you. As he writes:

Scalding hot water comes out of the cold faucet - randomly. And the space we live in is one fifth the size of our place in DC. Just to walk a few blocks requires barging your way through a melee of noise and rudeness and madness. And a glance at your bank account shows a giant sucking sound as the city effectively robs you of all your pennies at every juncture. When you're there for a few days or a week, it can be bracing. But living with this as a daily fact of life? How does anyone manage it?

Whenever we talk about New York, lots of people have opinions, and generally they fall into fairly passionate camps of pro- and anti-. It's hard to be grey about New York, because it's such an active choice to live here—you can't just roll along easy-peasy, you've got to pay, you've got to work (work to live, but also work to, say, cross a street or tote home a bag of groceries), your entire being thrums with the decision you have made to make this your home, permanent or not, and the intensity inherent in that choice. Relaxation becomes a state for when you're at home, in bed, when the lights are off and your eyes are closed, or in another town, on vacation. Living here is the opposite of relaxation for most if not all of us. Sometimes, the weird manifestation of that is that you're afraid to leave, for fear of missing something, for fear of losing that pace and momentum that you manage to keep up because you have to. (That's probably an indicator that you should, in fact, get out of town for a bit. I tried it recently for the first time in more than a year. It was O.K.!)

Some people who haven't ever been to New York hate it for what it stands for, or because they see it as a vague threat to their way of life. Some people just wouldn't want to live here. Others wouldn't live anywhere else. But at base, it's a city, just a city, just a place in which people reside and live out their lives, paying their income tax, tucking their kids in at night, but also, in, in the best case scenarios, whatever way in which they choose. Beyond that, of course, it's a city like no other; a city that's faced unprecedented challenges; a city that survives despite the odds, in some ways. But no other city is like any other, exactly, now, is it? And people get nationalistic about their cities—take the recent conversation about how hip or not hip (and perhaps never to be hip) poor old Washington D.C. is. We are loyal. New Yorkers are not different, even as there's infighting among New Yorkers about what being a New Yorker is.

Having only made it to two weeks, though, Sullivan's not angling for that title, and just trying to hang on. He has been consoled, though perhaps not well, by people who've told him give it a few months, he'll adjust, and since he's signed a year lease, it's not like he has a choice. (Benefit of New York: lease-breaking tends to be rather easy, FWIW). He puts forth what's clearly a still-nagging question on his blog, though: "Do you just have to harden yourself to live as if this is normal? Or will it get better? Please tell me it gets better."

It doesn't get better. The thing about New York is that it's the opposite of most other places in America that you could choose to live. Things that should be and are simple everywhere else are hard here. We don't generally have cars, or big yards. Grocery shopping is a pain in the ass. You walk through crowds, annoying crowds, on your way to work, or worst, through tourists who seem to have no compunction about standing in the middle of the street and blocking you and you're already late to wherever it is you're going having been waylaid on the subway for 20 minutes after accidentally taking an uptown rather than a downtown train, you don't even want to talk about it. Apartments are small and frequently shabby, unless you have much money; everything, really, is comparatively small and shabby, even in that case. Those things don't really change, not much, anyway: We're all in a confined space, packed person-to-person, there's not much to do about that, nor about the general philosophy of the others who live here. The city is what it is, barring some gradual shifts of aesthetics and populations and, of course, ongoing gentrification and its impact—something that has, in fairness, always existed on some level, though in different locations of the city, in varying degrees.

You can change though, and maybe you can change in New York more than you can change anywhere else. You can decide to like it more or less, or to not worry about those "bad" things because you prefer the other ones. Some people claim, for instance, that life here is bigger than anywhere else, that the city is your living room, that you can do anything without judgments you'd face in other places—look at the culture and the options and all the bars and restaurants and people with whom you can be friends or for whom you can work. Look at all the wacky outfits and celebrities and strange people in the streets—streets featuring sidewalks you can walk on. Look at all the weird and wonderful pursuits and people that exist here, and the ways in which you might find the one or many that fits what you want or need (and also in the plus column, you don't have to drive yourself home at night after experiencing any of that). Look at all the living that's being done in different ways, which you can see, because it exists in plain sight. People tend to move with a kind of urgency to them, or most of them do, and there's no meaningless slowdown chitter-chatter in the post-office line; you don't need to say hello to someone on the street if you don't want to just to be nice in the way you left your hometown to get away from.

At the same time, your chosen neighborhood usually becomes a small town of its own where people know each other and say hello in passing. This is particularly true in certain parts of Brooklyn, where one would never "go into the city" on weekends, unless it is positively required. As you stay and "nest," things get smaller around you; you become the bigger fish in your little self-designated pond; and you'll get more comfy and cozy, we promise. That's you, though, not the city. The city may change, but those changes are aesthetic, and it's often up to the individual to determine for him or herself whether those changes are good, bad, or just the circle of city life.

But let's admit one thing. The expression "If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere," so frequently thrown around by songbirds and those who hope and dream of making it here, is kind of a lie. You can make it other places without ever having to bother to make it in New York, sometimes, and some people should. Skills forged here don't always apply to other places at all. Still, if you really want to make it anywhere, you've got to be able to make it in New York, because New York is someplace. The question is just whether you want to or not.

If, after 12 months, you determine you don't want to live here, goodness gracious, there's really no reason to do so, and let us know when your apartment's opening up; we may have someone who'd be interested in picking up that lease. In the meantime, don't panic. It's just the place where you live, and you can always leave—and it will also be here, thank goodness and fingers crossed, for you to return to—should you change your mind.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.