Three Reasons I Left New York

AUGUST 5, 2012

Photo: Alice Plati

There’s a good chance you’ve read the trending articles “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All”, “The ‘Busy’ Trap”, and All the Single Ladies and agreed with the sentiments, reflected on your own situation, and then continued with your routine.  As a young professional in New York City addicted to the fast paced, feeling “on top of the world” lifestyle that we young ladies lead, I would have done the same. However, I’m hoping that the decisions I have made in the past few years have put me on a different track.

I moved to New York in 2006 after graduating college – a starry-eyed Southern girl ready to live the Sex and the City dream. The economy was booming, money was flowing, and I felt like a New Yorker after just a few months on the ground.  Things quickly changed with the recession – the winters seemed colder and the mood in the bars (can’t afford clubs anymore) became darker as the conversation turned to discussing everyone’s Plan B. After a few short years, I was anxious for a change in my life but couldn’t figure out if that change was a new apartment, new job, or new city. After many conversations with friends, family, mentors and just about anyone who would listen to me talk – I realized it was all of the above. I was ready to leave the city and change careers, so I headed to graduate school to start anew.

If you thought things couldn’t get busier than life in NYC, try graduate school. Graduate school, for me, was an amazing two years of drinking from the fire hose (and the beer tap). I considered just about every career track, travelled the world and met inspiring people in and out of class. With half of my classmates headed to NYC and a great group of friends still in the city that I had left behind, it was hard not to consider returning myself. However, I constantly reminded myself of the reasons I had left.

One – Why Women Still Can’t Have It All. Like the article says, having both a family and career is tough. Although I am still single, I looked at New York and realized I didn’t want to raise kids in the city, and I didn’t want to commute an hour each way into the city from the suburbs. The longer I stayed in NYC, the harder it would be to start a career in another city.

Two – The Busy Trap. In NYC, busy means working hard and playing hard. New Yorkers are infamous for the conversation starter, “So, what do you do?” If you’re not completely dedicated to your career, working 60-100 hour weeks, you risk being seen as lazy or lacking ambition. Now, I want a successful career, but I also want to work to live rather than live to work. I noticed that it was taking a week or two to schedule seeing my best friends and our main conversation topics were work and dating (often complaining about the two).

Three – All the Single Ladies. Oh, NYC dating! It’s shocking when that guy you met at 2am doesn’t become the perfect ,doting boyfriend, right?  If you’re looking to flirt with some guys for the night, there is no better place to be than NYC. But if you want to find a boyfriend or husband, you might as well hang out at the airport and wait for the out-of-towners or new arrivals.  Guys in New York have little incentive to commit because they can meet ten attractive, smart, new girls every night…and one of them will go home with them.  It doesn’t help that for many people, life outside of work revolves around drinking and partying. Now don’t get me wrong, those birthday parties that raged until 4am, bottomless mimosa brunches, and charity cocktail receptions helped make my New York years some of the most fun I’ve ever had. But I started to realize that to find the right kind of guy for me, I needed to show off more than just my fun side.

Over time, I watched some women I knew lower their standards, turn bitter, or become so independent they didn’t seem to need anyone. I realized that finding a life partner is probably the most important thing that will happen to me in the next few years of my life, and I needed to put myself in the best possible setting to do so.

All of this has led me to my new home: Seattle! My new job is full of ambitious people who work really hard… until 7pm. It is an urban lifestyle (I will be walking to work!) with the conveniences of a smaller city (I’ll also have a car!). There is a great restaurant and bar scene, but also an active population that frequents the mountains and parks. And my apartment is big enough to host a dinner party!

I am excited to check out the left coast. Sure, it’s a bit granola, but how bad could recycling more, eating organic, and spending more time in the woods be? Recent articles are hyping Seattle as the place to be! For some of the friends I’m leaving, I know it’s hard to believe that life exists outside of NYC (ok, DC gets a little cred too), but I’m certainly hoping that the decisions I’ve made will lead me to the life I’m looking for. That means one day hopefully having it all (family, husband, and career) and being a calmer, healthier busy. I’ll let you know how it goes.

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9 COMMENTS

  • NYC must inure you to anything… is high intensity work until 7 pm every day really working to live?

    • Good point… maybe not to some. I think it’s all about having balance in your life. I’m able to be social or workout or cook at home by getting off work at 7pm. I don’t have a husband or kids to be home to, so I feel like while I’m young and single, I should work a bit harder. I’d love to hear other opinions though!

  • I totally understand that New York’s not for everyone. And I don’t deny that things may be or haven’t been difficult at times. At the same time, when people make blanket statements about NYC, it can rub me the wrong way. Because life in any city is nuanced. The three articles referenced apply to almost anyone, anywhere.

    My perspective is probably different than the author’s; I moved to NYC in 2006 after grad school, and for me, I’ve never really thought about that Plan B. Unless it was to quit my job and follow my entrepreneurial dreams. Many of my friends are starting to move out now, but I’m still here, and I plan to be here for years to come. Part of this might have to do with my industry; I work in advertising, and nowhere else in the US has the kind of career growth you could find in advertising than in NYC. I’m not living to work, but I also want to love my work. And I couldn’t imagine myself doing that outside of NYC.

    I kind of think that this city is what you make of it. What job you have, what you do on the weekends, all those things are choices that you can make for yourself. You CAN live in Brooklyn, NJ, or Queens and be extremely close to Manhattan but in a more residential area where raising kids is easier. You CAN leave work at a reasonable hour if you choose a job and a profession that allows for it. All those things listed — ambitious people who work hard and leave work by 7pm, an urban lifestyle, a car, restaurants and bars, outdoor things, and a condo big enough for a dinner party (and a garden that can feed it) — are all things that I have in Brooklyn. And I didn’t move across the country to do it. You could still be in any urban area and have the same issues.

    I think the most balanced perspective I’ve read has been Lori Gottleib’s rebuttal to the “Why women can’t have it all” article in the Atlantic — that our view of having it all is an impossible equation. We just make choices, hoping that they’re the best we’ve got. :)

    • Jess, thanks for sharing your perspective. I definitely agree that my issues with the city are issues you could have in any city or could solve in NY. Don’t get me wrong, I love NYC and had a blast living there. I used to get a sense of accomplishment from just “making it” in NYC (and yes, Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” is possibly my favorite song ever… I do believe if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere). However, I feel like it is a lot harder to make it in NYC, and I didn’t think there was any need to make life harder… it already has all of life’s challenges. Yes, you can meet a great guy in NYC… do I think it’s harder though? Yes. Can you find a satisfying job with work/life balance? Perhaps, depending on your career. I think the financial and spacial constraints of NYC present unique challenges… and opportunities that other cities don’t have. It’s exactly why I loved it and why I left it. It doesn’t mean I think this is the decision for everyone, but perhaps some issues some other ladies may have with the city. I’d love to hear other opinions, agreeing or disagreeing!

  • I am sorry but it seems like a cop out.

  • You can’t be both a New Yorker and a quitter at the same time. And you can’t complain about guys who do nothing but work and then not give the time of day to guys who are actually emotionally accessible. If this is how women here really think, they should seek therapy because they’re working at cross purposes with themselves. There are plenty of good guys here who are just as ready for something real as this woman claims to be. Maybe she is just looking in the wrong places, and for the wrong thing.

    If your idea of an eligible bachelor is a guy you met in a bar who gets his legs waxed at the same place as you, it could be time to reconsider your criteria. And if your set up to believe every guy is lying to you, but that your only interested in talking to guys with blue chip professions, then you are cutting out a whole segment of the male population who are honest and forthright, and those who work at boring jobs that they are more than willing to turn their attentions away from at six o’clock. And really, the goal of most every hard working person is to work at something they love. If you do happen to find a guy who fills his life with the pursuit of his passions, how could you possibly justify complaining about it when you could just as easily become one of them.

    This isn’t Leave it to Beaver. Real life doesn’t fit snug into the cubby hole of old time sitcom expectation, especially in New York. If that is what you’re looking for, then maybe you really are in the wrong place. In New York we write our own scripts, we forge our own paths, we turn down streets that have always been there but which we have never seen before, and we embrace the adventure of living in a big world full of opportunity to live a life that is something special. Nobody wants to do that alone. But sometimes we do, because life is too short and too precious to waste on playing games with your own hopes and dreams. If yours aren’t here, don’t pin it on anyone but yourself.

    On the other hand, if you are willing to repeatedly take the risk of being hurt, of having your heart trampled by status happy dilatants whose primary concern is the “new” iPhone or which celebrity did what, and if you’re willing to put yourself out there in the crossfire and take the heavy fire, then maybe you’ll be alert enough to recognize when the one is looking you directly in the eye.

    Just saying, when it comes to life, running away doesn’t get you anywhere. If you are looking outside yourself for a sense of fulfillment, you will never rest and you will never be satisfied until you are settled within your own mind. No excuses. You have to figure out what you want and pursue it doggedly.

    • Gavin, I appreciate your perspective, but I also feel that it is very shortsighted in the “NY is the center of the universe” kind of way. I’m surprised you would call someone a quitter for leaving NY… if so, there are a lot of quitters out there (including most of CT, NJ and Long Island). To me, the goal should not be succeeding in NY, it should be finding happiness in life, wherever that may be. Personally, I was ready for a change and new adventure and felt that I could be happier outside of NY (given what I’m looking for in life right now). Yes that includes the dating scene, but it also includes a slower pace of life and a more active lifestyle (I can go skiing after work if I wanted to)!

      You write that “In New York we write our own scripts, we forge our own paths…”. I would edit “New York” to “in life”. Aren’t we all trying to write our own scripts and find our own paths? Why does everyone’s have to be in NY? I’m embracing “the adventure of living in a big world full of opportunity” by moving to a new city, where I hardly know anyone. That is adventure to me! But we all seek adventure different ways. I think we are most likely to meet someone when we are happy, glowing, and confident in our lives and selves. I’m out exploring, seeking adventure, trying new things… and that’s me at my best!

  • Randolph III 2 years ago

    Kathryn,

    I found your post while searching “why I left New York,” which I do every few months, NOT when I miss it, but when I think about how happy I am I left after years of deliberating. I moved to New York a year before you and left after five, and I love hearing other people’s reasons why they decided to move on. That’s great the NY defenders who left passionate responses feel the way they do, but they seem to ignore what a tremendous stress it is existing in that city. You are constantly surrounded by millions of people, first of all. And then, among the creative class, everyone’s striving to either keep up a fashionable, successful image. Getting out of the city for a weekend is a pain (Holland Tunnel, NJ to NY on a Sunday night, nuff said), along with buying a toaster and finding an apartment. The trade off is that you are also surrounded by tons of really bright people, the best museums, the best cinemas and the best concert venues, but if you’re a person who needs personal space, whose equilibrium is thrown off by the chaos of the city, then all that just isn’t worth it.

    I now live in a Southern city that has its problems, but one in which I can live in a beautiful historic house for cheap, in a nice neighborhood, walking distance to markets, restaurants, parks, galleries and yoga studios. The people are genuine and friendly and, best of all, they come as they are. As long as you changed out of your pajamas, no one cares how you look.

    It took a while and a lot of traveling to shed the New York-centric ego, but once it did a huge weight was lifted. There’s a whole lot going on outside of New York, and I hope you think to yourself a peaceful, satisfied, “Yes.” when you eat a delicious, locally-sourced dinner in Seattle after hiking in the rainforest or at Rainier, feeling refreshed and alive. Why let your day stop there? Take in a book reading or an opera or a rock show. Seattle’s full of smart people and interesting things to do.

    Don’t listen to the haters. Your reasons for leaving are completely justified. Enjoy, have fun and continue to follow your heart.

  • I’ve lived in the west, specifically San Diego, CA and spent a lot of time exploring SoCal and LA County for that matter. I loved it there, but at age 26 I knew I wasn’t meant for California just yet. Please save you NYC bias on Southern California, we don’t need any LA vs NYC comments here. I have to be blunt with that because it always happens. They are both great places and leave it at that.

    I went out there to enjoy the ocean, surf, and work. Being an avid surfer and outdoorsy type, I gravitated there naturally and one day gave up my job and just went. After time passed I realized all I wanted to was to be in NYC with the ease of public transportation, close proximity to amazing opportunity, and here I am. I don’t think leaving an area is quitting at all, in most cases its for personal growth or exploration. I think if you are looking to find what makes life more exciting and more you that is a better goal. Seattle is supposed to be a great town, a little rainy, but I hear great things about it. Have fun there and don’t listen to people who think NYC is the only place in the USA worth living in, because it isn’t. I live there, but I know I will leave too when the time is right.

    I will return to Southern California someday after my stint in NYC, because I prefer warm weather and no snow. Good thing NYC is awesome or I would retreat after one winter.

    NYC for 20′s, West Coast for 30 + living.

    One thing is for sure I am so happy I don’t own a car anymore. That was just a pain and a large expense. Those of you who own a car in NYC god bless you.