I am leaving New York next week. Add me to the list. Another tick in the “New York is dead” column. Or maybe in the “Cowards who can’t wait out the pandemic” column. Wag your finger at me or shake your head in disgust. Tut tut. Tsk tsk. Don’t worry. I’m already doing it to myself.
Let me backtrack. I was born at Mount Sinai on the Upper East Side. I spent my childhood in 20 different apartments across the Upper West Side and beyond, shuttling between my mom’s and my dad’s. My dad moved to Connecticut, then Montreal, then Japan. I switched from attending private school on the Upper West Side to a magnet school on the Upper East, where I met most of my best friends. I went to college in Boston (okay, fine, Harvard), immediately moved back home after college, then set up shop in the various neighborhoods young people flock to across New York — East Village, Murray Hill, Williamsburg.
I fell in love with a boy from New Jersey. He grew up 20 minutes outside the city and spent no time here until after college. His parents thought it was dangerous. I showed him around Brooklyn and the Lower East Side. Our relationship has always been a culture clash, and all along, we pushed each other out of our comfort zones. I taught him to eat weird foreign foods; he took me to my first football tailgate. I wasn’t used to dating a man who wanted a home and a family. My previous boyfriends had wanted freedom; some of them hadn’t even wanted me to call them boyfriends.
Jake took me home for Thanksgiving in New Jersey, and I fell in love with his family. Shortly after, we moved in together to a tiny one-bedroom in Murray Hill. His friends had babies and bought houses, and I convinced him to keep renting. I let him nest. We got cats. He bought furniture. We had a baby. He drove home on the weekends to watch hockey with his dad or hang out in a friend’s backyard. I asked him to please stop calling New Jersey “home.” “This is home,” I said, gesturing around our 500 square feet. “Is it?” he asked.
I loved him, but I could never see myself in New Jersey. It felt like a matter of taste, but I couldn’t explain to him why my taste was better than his. I’d shun things that seemed ordinary to me. Pancakes at a diner. A house decorated in Christmas lights. Pumpkin spice lattes and Pinterest boards. I wore my snobbery like a coat of armor. Weird and old and hardened is better than basic and soft and mass-produced.
Over time, Jake taught me to love some of these softer things, to love the comfort of home. Maybe things are not inherently good or bad; maybe popular things are popular for a reason. Maybe a pumpkin spice latte is delicious and twinkling lights at Christmas are pretty. I have found that Pinterest is actually pretty useful. I assumed that everything about New York was better because I’d been raised to think it was better, but I’d stopped myself from enjoying things that truly made me happy. We have made marriage and pregnancy and having a child our own, even as I worried that I would become some cookie cutter homemaker suburban mom. “You won’t become that because you could never be that,” Jake says.
I’ve read the articles recently about staying in New York City, some of them by millionaires typing comfortably from their second homes in the Hamptons. It is easy to love New York City when you’re rich. I thought I would be a New Yorker for the rest of my life. But I knew I couldn’t buy an apartment in New York. I knew I couldn’t afford a place that felt comfortable with a kid or two, one where we could both work from home without driving each other crazy.
We could get more space in a neighborhood we hated or have access to a better school in an apartment we hated. And for what? So many of the reasons I dug my heels in about New York City are gone now. The nightlife and the culture and the spontaneous plans. When will they be back? I don’t know. Would I have stopped doing them when I had a kid regardless? I have no idea. Whether COVID sped up the inevitable or just changed me, I no longer feel like I’m getting what I want out of New York.
I tell my friends I’m moving to a house in New Jersey full of defensiveness, as if I’ve said I’m joining ISIS. What could possibly make you move to Jersey? Well, I’ve been trapped in my apartment through the isolation of late pregnancy and early motherhood and sudden pandemic. My husband and I work and relax and exercise and sleep in these three rooms, alternating with and maneuvering around our child and my sister-in-law who works as our nanny. I am sick of staring at these four walls. I am sick of laying out a play mat for my child every morning and picking it up at…