Out of all the movies I’ve seen — and I’ve seen quite a few — Sharpay Evans of “Sharpay’s Fabulous Adventure” is the only character to have gotten New York City right.
She believed she could live out her fullest potential if she moved to the greatest city in the world, but upon arriving in New York, Evans faced housing woes, directors who’d rather cast Boi, her crown-wearing Yorkshire Terrier, and a demeaning job she hoped would lead to success. She pushed her way into New York City only to have the city shove her to the ground and ultimately hit a low.
There’s another archetype who believes moving to New York City will solve all their problems — the characters who are still dreaming of the city, from afar, who haven’t yet stepped foot on the trash-filled concrete sidewalks (see fellow Disney starlet Selena Gomez in both “Monte Carlo” and “Another Cinderella Story”).
I watched the movies and television shows featuring the infamous stereotype the summer before my first year, dreaming my future self would explore the city after classes, magically learn to dress better and move into a massive, “Friends”-esque apartment as a college sophomore. In reality, I would beeline to my room — in air-conditionless Rubin Residence Hall, no less — to nap for three hours after each of my 8 a.m. classes. Now, I can’t be bothered to do my laundry most weeks and share a 900-square-foot apartment with two other girls where the bathroom is the size of my non-existent closet.
What we all quickly learn, however, is that living in New York is more than having a tiny apartment and learning the MTA weekend schedule. If you’re a student, there’s an immense pressure to have an internship — preferably at a respected organization — every semester. On top of that, you should be keeping up with your grades. You’ll have time to sleep after you catch up with your friends at a bar or party on a Saturday night. New York City expects students to have the capacity to juggle working, studying and socializing all at once. In theory, it’s what we all signed up for, right?
There’s a palpable disconnect when you spend the years in which you’re supposed to be learning who you are, or at least trying to, while simultaneously trying to swim in the deep end of adulthood. How can you be an ‘adult’ when only a few years ago, you had to raise your hand to use the restroom?
I think everyone living in New York reaches a point where the mounting pressure begins to boil over and they start to reevaluate if it’s really worth it. In the moment, you feel like you can’t keep persevering. Sometimes, you feel like everyone else is more successful than you. Other times, you feel there’s no one you can talk to about your feelings even when you come back to the apartment you share with friends. Some of the melancholy that drenches the city stems from the fact that it’s nothing like you thought it would be before you left home. It’s not carefree, and it feels like the people around you won’t be there to catch you when you fall. I lost my rose-tinted glasses when I realized I wasn’t going to be living in a movie.
When I returned home to Georgia, the people who were so excited for me to leave and make my way into the world also wanted to believe my life could be the plot of a movie and that I was “living the dream.” Even mundane, seemingly insignificant details of my life are magnified into huge ordeals. When I text a friend from a subway station, they reply, “Ugh, that’s so New York,” while I pool with sweat waiting for the ever-delayed Q train.
Part of me didn’t want to shatter that image for them. So, I only highlighted what I thought they wanted to hear: I lived minutes away from 24-hour pizza joints, I walked by Alec Baldwin on my way to class (like, once) and I see all sorts of characters in Washington Square Park. I’m living the “dream.”
What I don’t tell them is that yes, New York City is a strange and exciting place to live, but it’s also really f-cking hard. There are some days where all I want to do is stay home in my air-conditioned apartment to watch movies for 12 hours straight because I can’t bear walking in the city’s unforgiving heat (and then I feel guilty because I’m spending money on electricity). There are other days when I feel terribly alone even when my friends are anywhere from a few feet to a few blocks away.
How can I complain when I’m living in someone else’s dream city?
At some point, trying to embellish my experience in New York grew tiring, and I didn’t want to dump the weight I felt from the city onto my friends who live under the same city pressure. It was time to pull back the curtains and let some of the disappointment seep through.
Thinking and doing it are two different things, and I came to realize that my friends at home couldn’t help me from hundreds of miles away. I returned to therapy to navigate this new imbalance I felt.
Recently, I told a friend from home that I feel like the classic trope of a twenty-something who moved to New York, is so lost and has no idea what she’s doing with her life. She replied, “But, like, that is the dream.” I explained to her that I’m grateful for the opportunities I have here, but it’s difficult and I’m not living the fantasy that most people at home think I am. She understood, but still wanted to be in my shoes.
Despite living in this city for two years, I still haven’t broken these shoes in, and I don’t see it happening anytime soon. Still, I have to remind myself that I chose these shoes and everything they come with. Even though living in the city is difficult, facing these challenges forces me to mold — and part of that is realizing that it’ll never work perfectly.
And maybe that’s how it’s supposed to be. For now, I’ll keep breaking them in, or just get a new pair.
Email Natasha Roy at [email protected]