About six months ago, on a relatively average day in New York, it hit me that I’d forgotten about something I’ve always wanted. And it was a big thing. Not just those really fancy Le Labo candles on Elizabeth Street that I often consider splurging on, but don’t.
It was a certain life I had envisioned for myself up until I moved to New York, and living there made me completely forget that I still wanted it.
New York ultimately became my therapist... with an extremely high hourly rate.
Let me rewind. More than four years ago, I left Miami for New York because I wanted a new set of challenges for myself. And also because I had never felt a greater pull towards anything in my entire life -- all I knew was I had to go.
Like many people, being immersed in the New York energy, which the city releases like its own strain of oxygen, was something I had long wanted. The city forces you to put yourself first, to push yourself, and to see how far you can be stretched -- and that’s exactly what I needed. It hadn’t been just about me like that before, not really. My 20s were primarily synonymous with loss. I lost my mom when I was 21. And years later, I lost the person I used (probably unfairly) as an emotional crutch for her loss. My life was about dealing with those two people; they came first -- even if one of them was no longer alive.
In other words, New York ultimately became my therapist. And it was a really good one... albeit with an extremely high hourly rate.
It took me just shy of half a decade to get exactly what I needed. I “did me.” I became a writer, dated like crazy after pretty much never doing it before, embraced the culture and the nightlife (read: drank a lot), and regained that fleeting feeling of being, at least on some level, invincible. I was constantly stimulated, learning more about myself than I ever thought possible -- all while being surrounded by some of the best people I’d ever met. I even once had a rat kicked on my foot during a late-night run to Lombardi’s. Seriously. The city figuratively and literally branded me.
And then like any successful therapy session, I inevitably had my breakthrough.
The best way for me to describe it is that living in New York felt like I had been playing a really amazing game of H-O-R-S-E. For those who never played this growing up, it’s a basketball game that involves trying to out-trick-shot the other players. When you miss, you get a letter; first one to spell out HORSE loses. It’s fast-paced, full of non-stop entertainment, a bit mischievous, and designed for you to focus on nothing else but out-maneuvering your opponent. Like living in New York, it’s such an incredibly good time that I could keep playing longer and longer -- possibly even forever.
I finally realized that my life in NYC had become just that -- a game, but one without any real end in sight. And my priorities had shifted; what I actually wanted was for my life to be about more than just myself. "Real life" started to mean a greater sense of permanence -- no more setting up for the next job, the next apartment... the next thing deemed "better" than the last.
When walking through Gramercy Park with one of my friends (a native New Yorker) one day, I told her this much. Her response: “No one comes here for that, Liz.”
And there it was. The truth only became all the more clear: after years of embracing the game, I wanted to end it. I was finally ready to plant my roots and grow something else aside from just myself and career (and, subsequently, my credit card bill).
Staying in New York meant pretending the future I really wanted was no longer a priority.
I moved to New York because I wanted that feeling of independence and selfishness forced upon me. Living in New York makes you fiercely self-sufficient, like you don’t really need anyone else. And you sort of don’t. It’s very easy to forget that relying on others is not always the worst thing, and there's a lot more to life than just trying to build yourself up all on your own.
I know this, because I forgot. I realized it when I started to question if I still wanted those same things I fantasized about having as a child. (Yes, that may even involve the cliché white-picket-fence scenario.) And that realization scared the shit out of me. Because I knew deep down, I did.
No, this doesn’t mean you can’t achieve some semblance of that in New York. People do it all the time! But, at least for me, continuing to live in New York meant pretending the future I really wanted was no longer a priority.
New York City healed me. People move there to change their lives, and it's true that something will always shake out from your time spent living there. That’s exactly what happened; I was finally ready to return home. Or at least give it a try for the sake of family, yards, beach BBQs, and maybe even joining a tennis league.
I didn’t want to leave New York. Did it help that every time I told someone I was moving from New York to Tampa they'd just stare at me blankly? No, but who am I to judge. I’d been making excuses ranging from “I’ll be bored” to “I hate Junior League” for not returning to my hometown since graduating high school. The truth is, after my mom died, I never thought I could ever be truly happy there again. And I’d been running away from it ever since.
Now, for probably the first time in my entire life, I’m not just running towards an opportunity right in front of me, or staying in something that has long since hit its expiration date. I’m not reaching for something I may necessarily even want right now. I made a decision based on the big picture, not the immediate future. And that’s why I left New York.
It’s an entirely different decision to leave something you really love and feel grateful towards it. I have no idea if Tampa is my finish line -- but I know it’s the closest I’ve felt to it.
Days leading up to my departure from New York, I noticed a huge shift in my behavior. I didn’t pedal as fast as I possibly could on my Citi Bike to make the light on West Broadway and Houston, since missing it means you have to wait at least five minutes. When the subway arrived right as I descended the stairs, and I missed it because I had insufficient fare on my MetroCard, I didn’t become irate. I simply waited in almost an eerie calm for the next one to arrive. Because I knew it was coming.
For once, I wasn’t in a rush. I wanted to relish every single second of being in New York, a city that had become one of my true loves; I needed time to stand still just for a minute.
Did it take me leaving the city to finally feel calm in it? Maybe. And maybe that says it all.
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