New York: The Poisonous Big Apple

Escape member Elaina is a management consultant, UNC graduate and globe-trotter writing on OneVoiceInTheBigCity

I have often joked that the longest relationship I have ever been in is with New York City.  If New York were a man, he would be responsible for inflicting a serious emotional rollercoaster upon me.  He takes me soaring from one high to another and then plummets me down into the deepest of lows.  But I stick around for those euphoric ups, pretending the downs aren’t that bad, just like every girl does who is head over heels with one very toxic boyfriend.

Maybe it’s wintertime in the Big Apple, where the wind chill gobbles up your will to live, the gray skies steal the smile off your lips, and dismal concrete surrounds you like an outdoor extension of your cubicle.

Or maybe it’s being single when everyone else I know is pairing off with guys like they’re hailing cabs. And I’m alone on the curb, thinking that I would actually rather walk.

Maybe it’s the existential crisis I’m currently navigating, spending a lot more time thinking, reading, writing and figuring things out instead of brunching, drinking my body weight in happy hour specials, and dancing in the meatpacking district until 5am.  I love all that stuff, but it’s just becoming a much lower priority lately.

Or maybe it’s just that I’m changing and my life in New York isn’t.  I don’t see a future with him, so I’m slowly slipping away, losing touch, and deliberately not putting in the effort required to maintain the relationship.  The honeymoon stage has ended and the once-glowing newlyweds are now seeing each other’s flaws for the first time.

The number one thing making me lose my already precarious grip on sanity is the pace of life here.  I watch people literally knock each other over as they run to catch a train that is coming again in exactly three minutes.  THREE MINUTES.  What is so freaking important that you need to be there three minutes before everyone else?  I can’t be bothered to move that fast without a serious fire lit under my ass.  It’s representative of the do-whatever-it-takes-to-get-ahead mentality here and it rubs me the wrong way.

The second thing is the flakiness factor of New Yorkers.  In such a big metropolis where everyone is running to get ahead, the lack of accountability we have to one another really slaps you in the face.  People say they will meet you somewhere at 9, and then it becomes 10, and finally you might catch them for an hour at 11:30.  That’s if they don’t just stop answering your texts or phone calls altogether and disappear into their own little abyss for a few weeks before they crawl out and acknowledge your existence again.

The last major thing is the quality of relationships in general here.  With most anyone I know working 50, 60, 70 hours a week, it becomes nearly impossible to see them more than once or twice a week.  How can you develop meaningful relationships when that’s all the time we’re able to commit to one another?  (New York friends reading this: I adore that once a week we are able to see each other, but let’s face it: our busy lives keep us apart for most of our waking hours.)

The worst part?

Someone once told me, “What we can’t stand in others is really what we can’t stand about ourselves.” 

And how true this is. 

I, too, have fallen prey to marching through midtown streets with an angry snarl on my face, an hour late to meet someone who I don’t feel that much of a connection with anyway, so I might as well just bail and go work on something that will earn me a higher bonus at the end of the year.

That is not me.  But this is where I am.

Human beings are sponges.  And as such, we must be careful of the environments we choose to subject ourselves to, because we are highly susceptible to absorbing both their nutrients and their poison.

At the very least, I am no longer blinded to New York’s toxicity.  We have had a very good run, but this relationship is on the verge of boiling over.

One of us is going to wind up marching out the door with all her stuff in boxes, and it is no secret which one of us that will be.

Maybe it will be for the best of both of us.

  • Lilly

    Of course, like anything, this is just your opinion and experience. I live in NYC and definitely understand its not for everyone. but i do read alot of bitterness in this. ie, isnt brunch really about spending time and a meal with people you care about? Not nec a selfish, meaningless act. Not everyone who lives here is a banker who works 80 hours a week – by a long shot. Thats a very limited way of experiencing life here. I also lived in London and enjoyed that too. Wherever you go, there you are. But yes, it definitely sounds like its time for you to make a change.

  • http://Onevoiceinthebigcity.tumblr.com Elaina

    Thanks for your comment! I actually love New York most of the time – its diversity, its energy, its nightlife and, of course, the food – but what I’m trying to convey in the article is that a.) we need to be careful of how the negative aspects of any environment can affect (and frustrate) us and b.) that change is something good and necessary once you realize your surroundings are no longer inspiring and supporting you. I do admit that I am in a bit of a rut here, so my next post is going to be about breaking out of a rut and making the best out of any environment!

  • http://www.alectaylor.com Alec Taylor

    Just to say I really enjoyed your writing style. It kept me reading. Stylish and clever and entertaining. Presume that what you do for a living….. If not…..

  • lilly

    Ahh yes, I know what its like to be in a rut as well. I have been in that position too. I appreciate the response. Best of luck to you:)

  • Olly

    Having just read ‘Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus’ (a few years too late), I am being a classic male and doing the wrong thing by offering advice when all you probably want is just to air your thoughts and for someone to listen, so apologies, but this is the first time I’ve ever responded to a blog as I feel I can relate to you on this.

    I used to live in London for about 6 years and I once had a similar outlook, however, 4 years on and a wealth of new experiences and environments since, not all pleasant and not all rosy might I add, but part of the journey and learning curve none the less, I now realise it was me who had the problem with the city, not the city itself.

    I think once you come to realise that places are what they are, and people are who they are, you can start to move on. Treat it like going into a sweet shop/candy store and picking the things you like and not even worrying about the things you don’t. I love mountains and coasts, surfing and skiing, but sadly there are no waves in the Thames or hills to ski on, so I needed to satisfy my love of the outdoors elsewhere. If London did have those things, for me, it would be one of my favourite places on earth. All those different people, all those different cultures, a wealth of diversity and difference and new and creative ideas. Theirs a certain type of vibrancy you find in the city which you struggle to find elsewhere, but other places offer different vibes and have their own buzz about them.

    I’ve learnt over the years, if you choose to fight the world and people, invariably you’re going to lose. If ‘you choose’ to live in the city, you have to take all that comes with it, the good, the bad and the ugly and that goes for everywhere and anywhere in life and on this planet. The grass isn’t always greener on the other side and each new place you go to or thing you do presents it’s own set of unique challenges and variables.

    If you’re always ‘negative filtering’, you’re always going to find the bad in most things you do and that becomes too comfortable a place to live in your head, even though it’s detrimental in the long term in all aspects of your life and most likely makes you pretty unhappy.

    You can learn to change your mindset, however, and start ‘positive filtering’, which takes time, energy and training, but it is certainly worth the investment, and you will start seeing all the good that life has to offer, the fun and the funny in most environments and situations, and it starts making things so much easier and inevitably you’ll end up happier in the long run.

    You have to learn to love yourself before you can start to love and see the beauty in anyone or anything else. Maybe take some time out to see the world differently, gain some introspection, and start afresh with a clean slate.

    I think you’ve made a great start by writing the above, congratulate yourself for that. Speak to people about how you feel, friends, family, life or career coaches and read self-improvement/help books and make the process fun knowing that you want to enjoy living as best you can, I guess that’s why escape the city came about in the first place and why we’ve all bought into the idea because we all want to be more and do more and change our lives for the better.

    There’s a wealth of advice and help out there, but as Baz Luhrmann says in his song Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen), ‘Be careful whose advice you buy, but, be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia, dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth.’

    A problem shared is a problem halved. Do not suffer in silence. The less you do, the worse you feel and the worse you feel, the less you do. Motivation follows action, so start taking action now.

    Take the pressure off yourself to perform or be someone you’re not. If NYC’s not for you, ask yourself where is and only you can decide that. Can you do NYC differently to make it work for you?

    Dream, Explore, Discover! Life’s an adventure so take some time out to plan it and enjoy it, but remember you don’t have to stick rigidly to those plans, being open and flexible to new ideas and opportunities opens up so many doors you won’t believe.

    When you said “What we can’t stand in others is really what we can’t stand about ourselves.”, is most likely true, but that doesn’t have to be a negative statement, you shouldn’t waste your time trying to worry about or change others, that’s up to them, but you can change the things you don’t like the most about yourself.

    One exercise that helped me change my mindset was to write down 30 names of people you most admire in all walks of life, from the past to the present, from someone famous to someone you know i.e. a well known adventurer, actor/actress, your next door neighbour or a fictitious character and next to each name, write down all of the qualities for which you admire about that person. Take time and you’ll start to see similarities and patterns emerging. Start narrowing them down, i.e. find one word that represents a number of similar characteristics or traits and narrow these down to your top 5 Values/Qualities. Then place them in order of importance to you. These values reflect your values. Your values are the qualities you see in the people you admire. That is who you are or want to be, your true self. After that it’s time to work on being that person and living up to that value system.

    That’s where the true journey starts. Start to see the world differently today. Start being present in what you are doing, and focus on now. The past is gone and the future is unknown so really all we’ve got is now.

    What you don’t like as a resident of the city, you may love as a visitor. I couldn’t live in the city anymore, but love London as a visitor, it offers me so much more this way and I would also love to visit NYC.

    Enjoy what you want to of NYC, learn to ask questions and start saying WOW! If you hear a siren that might have annoyed you previously, ask yourself what’s happened, where’s it going, how did those people get into that line of work, I wonder what that sort of role entails. Say hello to people, smile, laugh at the small things, be a kid again, do silly things like skipping down the street, most people won’t even bat an eyelid. Look at all the people on the tube/subway and take joy in creating a background story for each of those people, how did they get here, where did they come from, what do they do, where are they going.

    We had so many questions as kids and that’s what kept us dreaming. That lust for life doesn’t have to die just because we’re older. We often become too settled and insular in the small boundaries we’ve set ourselves. Push those boundaries and open yourself up to new experiences.

    One thing in the city I used to enjoy was always looking up towards the tops of buildings and discovering what’s going on above us. There’s so much to really look at and take in around every corner if you start becoming interested in things.

    If you’re feeling slightly down or negative, it’s just nature’s way of telling you, that you need to address a certain issue that’s upsetting you. Someone also told me once Emotion stands for energy in motion, so if you are feeling negative, your energy levels are flowing in the wrong direction, often all you need to do to feel better is get up and jump up and down, dance, run, shake your body, exercise. It changes the flow almost instantly and you start feeling great. Another tip is to laugh and smile at yourself in the mirror. Apparently it induces the same positive reactions and releases the same endorphins as a real smile or laugh. I am no scientist but it really does work for me.

    Take this advice with a pinch of salt, it’s just my experience and outlook and trust me, it’s still a work in progress and I mess up and get things wrong everyday. I guess at least now I’m a bit happier in doing so, can actually laugh with and at myself and not be too hard on myself.

    Best of luck. Fresh Start; Clean Slate; Onwards and Upwards, wherever that may take you.

    P.s. Remind me to heed my own advice, easy to give it, harder to live it!