You have to be slightly insane to live in New York City, and thoroughly masochistic to fall in love with it. There’s nothing constant or predictable about New York, not even the weather, and especially not good fortune. It’s a moody, morally-flexible metropolis, hiding lies and secrets behind mammoth skyscrapers; the illusion of the American Dream made tangible, then destroyed, all under the same flashing, neon lights.
Yet, people continue to flock to Manhattan in droves, overflowing the sidewalks, overcrowding the subways, and settling for sub par standards of living just to call themselves New Yorkers. In actuality, New Yorker is just another term for a martyr. We shack up with Craigslist roommates in crumbling, “prewar” apartments with no air-conditioning. We sit on cement benches eating fourteen-dollar salads in the shade of steel giants, strategically avoiding eye contact with everyone but our smartphones. We race from point A to point B pretending that we control time, all the while cursing late trains, crazy cab drivers, and careless pedestrians. We sacrifice nearly all human comforts–space, time, money, and privacy—just to wear the title of New Yorker like a purple heart; another wounded soldier of the Empire State.
And for what? The Statue of Liberty is no Eiffel Tower, and few of us have ever been to Ellis Island. There’s little natural scenery, and the limited parks and trees that exist are carefully blueprinted, positioned, and planned, only to be destroyed with the same strategy to make way for the city’s next superstructure. We don’t boast any royal families, (unless you count the Trumps), and our government officials have a tendency to put sex before politics. Contrary to what we might tell our suburban friends, we see more homeless people pissing in public than celebrities on the subway. What, then, is the lure of living in this unsympathetic, gritty mega-city?
Perhaps, more than anything, it’s the challenge. Like climbing Mount Everest or sky diving, there’s something about living in a place so wholly unlivable that taunts the ego and ignites our daring. If not to satisfy our own thrill for danger, it’s to prove something to all those people who stick their noses up at New York and say, “Why would you ever?” Why would you ever willingly move there? Why would you ever endure dirty streets and crowded subways? Why would you ever live in a box when you could live like a king for the same price in a different city? Of course, these why-would-you-evers will never be New Yorkers, and it’s this fact alone that defines us, strengthens us, and fills us with pride—and there’s no denying the boundless pride New Yorkers take in themselves and their city. Unlike the rest of the world, we’ve survived this life, this city; these limitations and sacrifices. While other cities rely on their history of struggle to support their pride, New Yorkers rely on their past, present, and future. We earn our pride every day, in the dark alleyways, cramped quarters, and overflowing everything of New York City.
There are people who swim with sharks, wrestle alligators, and bungee jump from rickety bridges, and then there are those who choose to live and love New York. We are slightly insane, masochistic, and stubborn, just like the city itself. Yet, we know that living in a different city wouldn’t produce in us the same blind fearlessness that makes us capable of surviving all the other challenges of living, and gives us the courage to take on the rest of the world. As the saying goes, if you can make it here, you’ll make it anywhere–but in our heart of hearts, there’s no place a New Yorker would rather be than in this moody, morally-flexible, unpredictable, unsympathetic, perfect, wonderful, beautiful city.
This piece was also featured on the website Thought Catalog in September 2014.