Tuesday, August 26, 2008

How long it takes to fit in

The New York Times has a really great article about how long it takes new arrivals to New York to feel like they really belong here. It struck a chord with me, so here’s my story:

I moved to New York two weeks after graduating from college. I knew one person and not at all well—I wasn’t sure I’d recognize her when I saw her. I had no place to live. I had a job I was dreading, and was newly single for the first time since high school. I arrived on New Year’s Day, 2004, after a terrible cross-country drive that began with everything I owned being stolen out of my mother’s van in a hotel parking garage on Christmas day.

I lived in an apartment with several other women, most of whom changed out for others as the year progressed. I’m still good friends with two of them. I only sort of knew my way around, hated my job and had no money. I was still finding myself, and I spent a lot of time at lesbian bars and burlesque shows with one of my roommates. I did not feel cool at all. The city exhausted me and excited me. I loved rainy days and early mornings watching the city wake up, but in general, I missed the hills and civility of Tennessee. I met someone and we started dating and it was an emotional roller coaster—he was also new to the city and we became each other’s only source of company and entertainment. I had a terribly unsuccessful job hunt that last until I had two weeks of money left when I landed my first real job. I spent Christmas and New Year’s doped up after having my wisdom teeth removed. I think it would be fair to say I was depressed and awkward most of that year.

I liked my job and another roommate moved in who I am still friends with today. I began making tentative friendships at work, many of which I’ve sustained, and started taking belly dance lessons. I stayed in a relationship with the same guy and it was somewhat less of a roller coaster. I started to feel like I knew the city and could legitimately say this was my home. I drove in Manhattan for the first time. I was more social on my own terms rather than forcing myself to go out and party which is not my normal scene.

I quit my job and found a new one which is more than a job, it’s a career. I kept up with friendships from that old job. I got my New York driver’s license. I moved to my second apartment, which was exciting in some ways and not so great in others (my roommates and I were very different). I began seriously performing with the dance company and made solid friendships with the other dancers. I started to feel financially stable enough to no longer be afraid I’d have to move back in with my parents if something happened. I really began to feel like a native—I watched favorite restaurants and stores go out of business and I could talk about “where someplace used to be” and reminisce about news events that had happened during my time in the city.

I moved again, to my third apartment and for the first time in with someone I already knew. It was a solid step in claiming New York as my city—the first time I’d searched for and found an apartment rather than moving into one someone else already lived in (and with a native New Yorker, no less!). By this time, I was well-established in my job, in the dance company, in my relationship, in my friendships. I joined a book club to begin to make friends in my neighborhood and started making plans to go to graduate school. I started worrying about what I would ever do outside of New York, because I realized I probably didn’t want to live here forever but wasn’t sure where on earth I would go.

Everything fell apart, and everything came together. My relationship ended (well, technically that was at the end of 2007), my roommate situation ended. I started graduate school and leaned heavily on my friends. I moved into my own apartment, met a great guy, and yet—just last night, walking home from dance class, I was astounded yet again that I live here—that this is home!

And it is. I’ve memorized not only the subway system but landmarks at almost every major stop. I have a very full life here, and I love it. Going to my parent’s house is frustrating, the people there are too slow, too nice. “Home” is here. I realized that I could, and kind of want to, raise kids in the city. Do I feel like a New Yorker? Sometimes. I might never be considered a native, at least not by real natives’ standards. But for the rest of my life, no one can deny me that I’ve had a great run here, and that, to be cliché—I’ve made it here. I can make it anywhere.


  1. welcome home! ive been living in seattle for 6 years now and i still feel like a stranger sometimes... i love the rain but the people can be so distant

  2. This is a great post. I feel the same way about my own city, and I can feel the same emotions from my NYC friends.


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