I like being alone in New York. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not some antisocial Greta Garbo; in fact, if anything, I’m overly social. But even when I lived with a boyfriend, we spent lots of time apart, and I’d look forward to those quiet times in our apartment when he was out doing whatever it is that jerks do. (Wait, hold on—that’s a different essay.) Anyway, I was happiest when it was just me, myself and a constant loop of Intervention.
I think part of my penchant for solitude is that I live in New York, where even when you’re alone, you’re not alone. My favorite activity? Grabbing a book and going to a bar or coffee shop, someplace like Cobble Hill’s 61 Local, where there’s a constant blur of activity in the background. Moms with strollers to the left, CSA pickup to the right, gobs of people working (by themselves) on their laptops. I settle in, have a few beers and proceed with my never-ending quest to finish The Goldfinch. After a rough day at work or on
a sleepy Saturday, there’s nothing like it.
Compare that to the lonely two months I spent living in L.A. when, no matter what I did, a David Lynch–level of isolation plagued me. There was no such thing as contented solitude, only loneliness, so that even an hour spent by myself made me twitchy. I wouldn’t go anywhere—not even the grocery store—without my roommate, someone I didn’t particularly like but preferred to the pervasive sense of L.A. nothingness. There was something about that city—all those hours spent in the car, the haunting silence of the world outside my bedroom window (where were the sirens and the shouting?)—that made quiet moments feel way existential.
“We’re hard to please and would rather be by ourselves than with anyone we don’t completely dig.”
New York is a city of willful loners. According to figures from OkCupid, there’s a higher percentage of single people in New York than any other city, save Seattle and San Francisco. There are probably loads of reasons for that—we’re hard to please and would rather be by ourselves than with anyone we don’t completely dig—but I bet one big factor is that New York isn’t a place where you need a significant other to be happy. There’s so much amazing stuff to do, and if we want to be out there doing it, whether with our friends or, pretty often, by ourselves, we can. No judgment, no FOMO.
Because even when we’re alone, we at least have the illusion that we’re part of a group. Just picture it: It’s 7pm, you’re tired, headed home and all you want to do is listen to Ariana Grande’s “Break Free” while crafting the perfect ice-skating routine in your head. (That’s just a random, totally made-up example, but yes, I do land the triple axel, thanks for asking.) Suddenly, it’s mariachi time on the subway. You and the guy standing near the doors exchange a look. Or maybe you don’t. But you’re in it together. You’re experiencing something together…alone. That’s New York. Where even when you’re by yourself, you’re not.
And this lone-wolf social butterfly wouldn’t have it any other way. I don’t think I possibly could. Now I’ve gotta go. We’ve spent too much time together, and I feel twitchy.