New York is Not the Oyster

Concrete jungle where sameness is made of.
Concrete jungle where sameness is made of. // Mohan Yin

I’m graduating in May. I don’t have any plans yet, but I know one thing. I’m moving to not-New York, and I’m sure it’ll be great.

Why does everyone want to go to that city? We can’t help ourselves we’re so attracted to it. My friends and classmates can’t stop talking about it. It’s a point of fixation as we get ready to graduate: who’s going to New York, who’s not going to New York — if not New York, then where else?

We’re in our early 20s, we’ve got big egos and we want pleasure and accomplishment in equal measure. But pleasure is fast, and accomplishment is slow. We want to be writers, artists and actors. We want to fall in love. We want to buy nice clothes. We want to, frequently, get drunk. And above all, we really want to be successful.

In New York, we can feel that we are achieving something just by being there. There’s a certain cultural capital, legitimacy and sense of importance that this city grants to the bright young people who move in every year. This is the cream of the crop, we think. All the people from our hometowns will envy us. (Instagram casual dancing on some Brooklyn rooftop. Instagram casual drinking at some Manhattan club. Instagram stunning office view.) New York is The City, the ultimate stage. We think we need to prove ourselves to New York: We have to demonstrate our originality and talent, but also style ourselves as savvy and world-weary. And if we pass this test, we can “make it” anywhere else.

Yale trains us for that city; it’s a microcosm of New York. We have our Upper East Side cliques, our off-campus Brooklynites, our well-dressed internationals. We’ve got our future gallery owners, bankers, lawyers and poets. A lot of us are aggressively self-conscious, relative thinkers. We’re constantly comparing and competing.

And I love it so, so much. But isn’t it time to grow up?

Freshman year, I went to New York every weekend I could. I thought New York was a miracle. The people who “don’t like New York all that much” — I thought they were entirely crazy. New York had everything, so it would have everything I could possibly want. And that was critical.

I’m beginning to think the meaning of youth and the meaning of privilege is this: the ability to leave as many doors open as possible, to revel in the power (and anxiety) of choice. Fancy restaurant menus with way too many entrees. I can never choose, so I ask the bartender what’s the best beer to get. We love to have choices, and we hate to decide. So we look to our friends and the people around us, trying to discern what the “best choice” is. What are they getting? Where are they going?

Most of my friends are unraveling, because truly we are lucky, and we could get most jobs in most places if we wanted to. But it’s so hard to choose that we feel like there aren’t enough choices. It’s this paradox that makes Yalies and New Yorkers such a perfect match. We hate to choose, and moving to The City means we don’t have to.

At Yale, what we have, among lots of other things, is visibility. We are told time and time again that we’re really good at what we do, that New York is our oyster. But by all accounts, New York isn’t easy. Yale’s never been so perfectly rosy either.

New York may still be some kind of cultural mecca, but I think the city can stunt us. It exercises an enormous curatorial force. We move there and we are shaped by New York — its tastes, fashions, preferences in literature, etc. We turn ourselves into sponges. But we’re smart, we’ve got our own ideas. We need to be more confident about curating our own independent experiences of the world. We are our own private gallery.

Of course, not moving to New York makes me nervous. I worry that I may miss out, lose touch and recede forever into obscurity. This is dramatic of me. A fear of missing out distracts us from another kind of fear — that of being trapped in something not quite right. Because when I am 25 and mildly dissatisfied with my job, my apartment and my boyfriend, I may not leave New York. I might feel that the risk of losing what I already have outweighs the opportunity cost of staying. I don’t want this Stockholm syndrome.

New York is both small and large at the same time. Sometimes, it’s so arbitrary how you meet people. I suppose I would really feel scared and crazy when I reach the outer rings of my social scene and what I find are just the ex-hookups of my ex-hookups, or friends of friends of friends of coworkers. I think one could live in New York for a long time and still be lost. And that’s what it is: I’m not afraid of getting lost, I’m afraid of feeling lost.

I have other friends who are not afraid, who are going to teach snowboarding in Switzerland or join the Peace Corps. If New York is Yale Part 2, then these people are actually graduating. They’re going elsewhere. I’m jealous of them: the truly free, truly mobile, truly brave.

We’re so young, we don’t have to be too cautious. I’d rather be completely wrong than almost right. What do we have to lose? Isn’t our 20s all about accumulating things that we’ll fear losing later (relationships, property, pets)? I expect to fall in and out of love at least four times before getting married. We’ve got to loosen our grip. Right now, I have the least to lose.

Dear class of 2014: Do what you’re gonna do, but I suggest going somewhere else. Let’s go to Cleveland. Or Beijing. Or Dubai. It doesn’t matter that much, I guess. New York is where you are.

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