I'm sure you have it all together. A good job, a nice boyfriend or girlfriend or spouse, maybe some kids. A glass of wine or a beer at night. An apartment, student loans and one week a year where you do whatever you like without checking the emails on your smartphone. You have it all figured out.
I don't. And it's for that reason that I write this. Not for your sake, but my own.
On October 14, I'm driving my several pieces of furniture, limited closet and myself 770 miles to Charleston, South Carolina, where I decided to move less than a month ago. I realized that despite all my love for New York, despite all the joy it's brought me, I'm losing that famous rat race. Coming in last in a competition I never really entered on my own, but somehow found myself struggling in. I make enough money to live comfortably. I sit and wait for my agents to call me every time I send them a script or pitch, but that big call hasn't come yet (though I've had several close calls). I still get excited when an article of mine gets published.
But as I walk down Lexington Ave to the subway these days, I can't help but feel lost. I'm falling behind, judging myself and my accolades (or perhaps, lack thereof, depending on whom you ask) against absolute strangers I pass by. Does that girl have a better job than me? Is she judging my outfit or my cheap knockoff shoes? Is he wondering why I don't have an engagement ring? Is he wondering why I'm not at work at two in the afternoon? Are all my married friends judging me for being single? Are my writer friends judging me because I haven't sold a show yet?
Christ almighty, when did I sign up to worry about what other people thought about where I am in life? When I decided to move back to New York? When I decided to stay? I don't know. All I know is if there is a race, a competition going on around me, I still have my wisdom teeth. So I think that puts me firmly in last place.
It's not to say I'm not accomplished. I make great money. I live (until October 14) in a beautiful apartment that most New Yorkers would die for. I travel very often. I have freedom at work. I have a passion for writing, one that cures me of even my greatest sadnesses. And I've loved. God, I've loved. All the wrong men, but man, have I loved.
And as I sit worrying that I am being judged for leaving New York -- the "she can't hack it"s and "she's not ambitious enough"s have permeated my email, Twitter and own thoughts since making the decision and announcement -- I think about all I've learned here, and about why I made the choice. For me, New York no longer held any of the joy I felt in Charleston each time I visited in the last several years. None of the excitement, none of the life. In a city of 10 million, surrounded by my friends and family, I felt alone and abandoned, doomed to be the only person in this city who gave a damn about me because, well, everyone was too busy planning super-successful and important lives of their own. I've spent six years chasing after men who end up with Instagram models and reality show contestant cast-offs, and struggled with bouts of depression. I've waited for my big break, only to realize I had to make it myself. And that my big break would not necessarily be in writing the next Sopranos, but perhaps living a life that most New Yorkers found too simple and too unambitious: A life dictated by happiness, not the false promise of eventual happiness. A life lived in the moment, not in the constant anticipation and hope for and the preparation of the future.
I found it in Charleston, of all places. And so I decided to follow it there, in hopes of living the life I dreamed of living in New York that never came, and probably never would.
With all that being said, I've learned so much being here. I give you the ten most important life lessons I learned from my love affair and subsequent breakup with New York.
10. It's 20%, not 15%.
At the end of the day, if you live here, you know what it costs to do so. Servers are not without costs, are not without living expenses, student loans, second jobs, rent and most importantly, are not without dreams and goals. If you've never done it, you might honestly not know how hard people in the service industry work. Pay them for their work. And when you go to be cheap, go to give ten percent, think about how you'd feel if you didn't get paid by your boss, or employer or superior for the work that you did simply because someone didn't feel like paying you.
9. Go to New York Yankees games. Often.
I love sports. I have been to so many arenas, games, countries. I have seen some of the best play in some of the most amazing cities in the world. I have dated enough athletes in my life to know fandom from San Francisco to Miami. But I have never, in all my life, found a team quite like the Yankees. I have never felt a love or witnessed a game the way one witnesses a game in New York. My entire childhood, my father, my every memory from my last name to my first love, is wrapped up in the Yankees. There is something so special there. Beyond the commercialism, the sales, the overpricing and band wagoners, I promise there can be found the heart of a 5-year-old Irish girl who was convinced for years a Puerto Rican player was her cousin because her father told her that at her first game. Enjoy the privilege of good baseball while you're here. Enjoy the history, the legacy, the tradition that is held in the Bronx. Trust me, it doesn't exist everywhere. I'm looking at you, Houston.
8. Go on a real date.
A big part of why I'm leaving is because dating in New York has become a nightmare. I look forward to sending my laundry out more than I look forward to dates. I am not so young that I don't remember what life was like before social media, before Match.com, before Tinder and Plenty of Fish. What it was like when a person approached you in real time, took your number and you waited for that call for a week. When going on a date didn't mean meeting some guy from some website for a15-minute drink, but risking an entire hour and a half on dinner because the risk was worth the potential reward. When the options weren't endless, when you weren't one of five dates in a night. When a guy wanted a relationship with you because you were one in a million, not one of 20 right swipes that day. Go on a real date. Go out to dinner, get the butterflies again, get nervous, get excited, spend the hour before wondering if this is the person you're going to marry. Take the risk of spending an hour with someone you might not like for the potential reward of meeting someone you might love. Treat people like people, not profiles. Make dating fun again.
It's easy for me to say because I had the freedom and money to do so. But every now and then, as great as this city is, try to get out of it. Remind yourself that despite what we all say when we live here, this is not the end-all, be-all of life. Living here does not always make you happiest, it is not always the final destination. It's great to love New York, but it's OK to leave it, too. It's OK to admit that despite offering you everything you think you could want only a block away 24/7, other places might have what you really want. Get out and experience those other places.
6. Be nicer than you have to be.
Sometimes, it's a pain in the a** to be nice. In fact, in this city, it can be downright impossible. But try. Some of the best moments I've had here were when I caved to letting my hard exterior collapse a little and took an extra moment out of my life for the good of someone else. To help someone, to give directions, to help carry a bag up the stairs of the subway. You'd be surprised how much better it can make not only someone else's, but your day as well, when you exceed the expectations of people around you by doing something to make a person's life just slightly easier. Better. Happier. We're all busy. We all have jobs that run the world, and without us it'd surely stop spinning. But I promise, the extra thirty seconds, minute, three minutes it might cost you to help another person feel better? You'll get far more back than you ended up giving.
5. No one's perfect. We all have breakdowns.
I'm a pisces. I'm emotional. Living in New York, for a long time, I believed crying was a sign of weakness. And for that, I was perpetually weak. I felt like I was having more breakdowns than most people my age, so clearly it must mean I'm not as happy, not as fulfilled, not as lucky. What I learned was if you're not having a breakdown, you're not investing enough into life. Life isn't always perfect. We're all prone to rough patches. To let-downs. To disappointments, broken hearts and bad days. Embracing them, letting them drown you for a moment, makes you more determined to shake them. Screaming into your pillow, crying into your roommate's arms, sitting on the steps listening to Adele outside your apartment smoking a cig, wondering where it all went wrong; you'll learn from that. And it'll happen when you really care about something. Someone. When you invest yourself in something and it doesn't turn out the way you hope. Those breakdowns? They're necessary. You need to get that kind of negative shit out of you, put it out and get rid of it before you start fixing it within yourself. And when things right themselves, when you work it all out, you'll look back on those moments and know you got through them. Embrace the bad days. They make the good ones so much more enjoyable.
4. Take pictures, not selfies.
I hate Instagram. I hate women (and men) who use it as nothing more than a compliment collector. Women (and men) who Photoshop "candid" pictures that strategically catch the light in such a way that you look just so great and you get the approval of all your important anonymous followers that yep, you are indeed like, so pretty. In 20 years, you won't give a sh*t about how you looked in a cute t-shirt in your room. Take pictures with friends. Laughing. Without strategic lighting or angles. Get messy. Snort when you laugh. Take pictures of life, not of perceived beauty or conceit. Take pictures in action without worrying about how your hair looks, how your smile looks, how your makeup looks. Without Photoshop or filters. Take pictures that will make you smile in 30 years, not make you wonder how you could have been so self-involved that you felt the need to have entire albums full of your face. Live life without an Instagram filter for the purpose of remembering, not promoting.
3. Love someone who doesn't love you back.
Sounds ridiculous right? Why waste our time? We're all special, important, we all deserve the best. We deserve to get what we give. Sure, I'll buy that. I agree with it. But I know, having loved men who didn't love me back, or love me the way I loved them, taught me how to respect myself, my feelings, how to protect my heart and how to give it unconditionally regardless of what I was getting in return. People will tell you love is give and take. In a perfect world, that's true. But you don't always get what you give when it comes to another person. It doesn't mean you have to stop giving. It doesn't mean you have to deny feelings, deny love. Not all loves are made to be reciprocal. Some teach us how to be selfless, how to give and care unconditionally, without the payoff of getting something in return. The last guy I loved didn't end up loving me back. And the woman he chose after me -- it boggled the mind for anyone who values something other than narcissistic ego regarding fleeting looks. And while it hurt like holy hell, it taught me how to give and how to care without selfishly expecting anything back. How to accept my feelings, how to express them and how to embrace them even if there was no end goal in sight. How to deal with love on my own, and above all, what I'm capable of giving another person. It taught me what my love was worth and for that, I can never be bitter. Love for the sake of loving, not for the capitalistic goal of getting something, or more in return, is important. Feelings are not commodities to be traded and valued based solely on exchanges.
2. Love someone who does love you back.
It really is just so much better.
1. Admit that there are so many more lessons this city can teach you.
I can't sum it up in 10 points. I'm 28, and I'm still learning. And perhaps when I move down south and sit on my second-story porch one night, I'll come up with a few more life lessons I learned in New York. Moments that didn't really strike me until I was well outside city limits. I don't know it all. I doubt I ever will. But at 28, I am comfortable admitting I don't have all the answers. Comfortable admitting I didn't find all the answers in New York. Comfortable seeking them in other places. No one has it all together. I used to think there would be a point on some linear timeline that I'd hit where suddenly, I'd just get it. Have it all figured out. The truth? Life is so much more than a line. And at no point in the near future do I expect to have it all figured out. Where's the fun in that?
I used to think my goal in life in being a writer was to write a show, a movie, be famous and take on the world. But I think over time, and in writing this, I've realized my goal has always been to simply change the life of someone who reads something I write. To influence and evoke a feeling, whether it be love or hate or annoyance or disbelief in how incredibly self-righteous I might seem. To make someone's day a little bit better, to remind someone they are not alone in their rambling journey to find out who they are. To remind people not everyone in this city has it figured out, even though if you took a quick look around, we all like to pretend we do.
We don't. And that's OK.