New York City has a special way of making you feel lonely. While anywhere else you might just feel loneliness on its own, here it’s more of a two-for-one deal – loneliness with a side-helping of irony. Because how can you be lonely when you live in a place where you’re literally almost never alone?
Loneliness catches you by surprise in this city, because it doesn’t seem to make logical sense.
After a day spent pressed up against the doors of crowded subway cars, swinging my backpack left and right to shimmy my way through midtown mobs and, at the end of the day, turning up the volume on my episode of ‘Sex and The City’ in an attempt (in vain) to drown out the sounds that my thin apartment walls did not, I felt like all I wanted, all I needed, was more time for myself; more time alone. And yet inevitably, somewhere in between the Sex and The City opening theme and Carrie’s eventual “I couldn’t help but wonder…” proclamation, I started to feel this increasing sense of hollowness that I couldn’t quite pinpoint or explain.
‘What’s up with me? Why do I feel just so … bleh about life? Isn’t this what I wanted? What the hell is missing?’
People, Till, People (Wouldn’t it be nice just to be able to point things out to your former self like that?).
While it’s not like I was a complete hermit for the first few months of living in the city, there was definitely the sense that something was missing – or at least out of balance. I woke up mostly everyday feeling genuine child-like excitement at waking up in New York, but as the city started to shift from a total playground to more of a home, I realized that feeling alone wasn’t enough to last the day.
Just like our ancient-Greek brothers and sisters, it took an epic journey for me to realize what it was that I was really missing. Well, sort of epic. No golden fleeces or deadly siren songs, but there were cheap round-trip tickets to San Francisco and a loosely formed plan to road trip down to San Diego. So, you know, kind of the same deal.
I had planned the trip with an old friend of mine when the “big move to New York City” was still fresh. It was great because I could knock two things at once off my “things I talk about but don’t actually have plans to do” list: reunite with all the different friends I had made over the years that somehow all happened to end up on the west coast and drive down Highway 1.
As cool as the idea of road-tripping down California was, in hindsight, I think I really booked the trip because I craved being around close friends again. In a funny way, planning a trip like this where I’d get to see some of the people I loved most in a time when I wasn’t really seeing anyone regularly at all reminded me that I wasn’t really lonely – I was just alone. It reminded me that the loneliness I was really feeling was temporary and conditional.
It reminded me that the loneliness I was really feeling was temporary and conditional.
*So next time someone tries to shame you for booking a trip under the emotional influence, tell them it’s therapeutic (and costs less than your copay).
I doubted my own intentions though too. The trip was in early January, right after the holidays, and as take-off day came closer and closer I started to wonder if the trip was really such a good idea. Of course I still wanted to go, but there was a massive pile of post-holidays work to get done, it was a long time to request off from work and I really needed to get my shit together after a holiday season spent staying at my parent’s house and feeling 16 again (not to mention the copious amounts of champagne and Christmas cookies involved).
But after spending a week in San Francisco with some of the best people I know, then driving down Highway 1 with one of my oldest friends (pulling over for sunsets, Mexican food and Krispy Kreme runs, reunions with old friends along the way and to grab our keys for the cheap motel room du jour), I couldn’t imagine not having gone.
It was as if I had finally been charged up after running on low battery for months. The time I spent with friends – old, new and the stranger we met on a 3 AM IHOP run – reminded me exactly what my life in New York was missing.
New York was all I could have ever wished it would and could be, my work was challenging and let me work remotely and I got paid enough so that I could enjoy my life in the city. But it wasn’t really enough. The stuff I was fortunate enough to have in my life definitely made me content, but they were never going to be the things that would round out my happiness.
The stuff I was fortunate enough to have in my life definitely made me content, but they were never going to be the things that would round out my happiness.
So right as the plane was about to take off on the tarmac of San Diego International Airport, I made a decision. I didn’t want to go from sunny Southern California to frigid, mid-winter New York City without a plan to take what I learned about myself from this trip and actually make some changes in my life.
As the plane started to taxi on the runway, I texted everyone I had gotten to know in the city over the past few months. Short texts that all ended with the same, simple question:
“Are you free to do anything this week?”
I landed in New York with my notifications buzzing with plans for drinks, dinner, coffee meet-ups, hangouts and dates. And ya, as you can imagine that week was a little crazy – if I’ve learned anything about myself in my 21-years of being me, it’s that I’m nothing if not a little overkill. Don’t worry, I leveled it out eventually.
I do still feel lonely from time to time, same as most people I imagine, but it would take a lot for me to underestimate the importance of the people in my life again.
So text your people, book a ticket to see them (or to meet them) and never forget that lonely chapters in your life are just that – chapters.
They’re temporary and conditional, you’ll flip past them eventually.