“Goodbye to All That”: Why Is Everybody Talking About Leaving New York?

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Just when the rest of the world seems to be falling in love with New York Brooklyn, the unthinkable has begun to happen—New Yorkers are all talking about leaving New York. At first I thought it was just something happening with the people I know, too anecdotal and specific to my group of friends for me to turn it into any kind of larger generalization. But then suddenly, it seemed like everyone started talking about leaving New York. There was an article in Salon by Cari Luna, “Priced Out of New York,” wherein Luna even recalls that, before she moved to Portland, she “became envious of every friend who’d managed to escape.” There was a piece by Ann Friedman in New York, “Why I’m Glad I Quit New York at Age 24,”where she dismisses New York as being “the prom king,” and the guy who”knows he’s great, and he’s gonna make it really, really hard on you if you decide you want to love him.” And then there was an essay in BuzzFeed by Ruth Curry about how she left New York to live in New Zealand, putting all her belongings in storage and following her boyfriend to the other side of the world (although she did return here, later on, after a stint in San Fransisco). Curry’s essay is a part of a new book edited by Sari Botton titled Goodbye to All That, which is a collection of essays by writers who all loved New York, sure, but then left it. Left it! There was a time not so long ago that the idea of people willingly leaving New York would have been unfathomable, but now, when more and more people I know don’t just talk about leaving, but actually leave for LA or Berkeley or Portland or St. Louis, I’m having to come to terms with the fact that liking New York has become about as cool as saying the Yankees are your favorite baseball team. Which, fuck. That’s not cool at all.

And so, a note on that. The Yankees are my favorite baseball team. This is something I’ve needed to defend since I was a kid in the 80s and everyone I knew loved the Mets, whereas I would go to Shea and yell at Ron Darling because, man, did that guy ever piss me off. Which, I was only eight-years-old at the peak of my Darling-hate, and eight-year-olds are irrational and terrible, but still. He was the worst. But then came ’95, when the Yankees won the wild card, and ’96, when the team won the Series and then suddenly everyone loved the Yankees, and it was great but kind of annoying because they had been my team and I couldn’t stop loving something just because everyone else liked it, that’s not how love works. So it was kind of a relief when, around 2003, everyone hated the Yankees again because they were too good and spent too much money and it just wasn’t fair. But now liking the Yankees isn’t uncool the way it was in the 80s or early 90s, when they were a shitty team who, yes, had the awesome Don Mattingly, but also had the bloated boor (and criminal and friend to Richard Nixon, my Mets-loving father always pointed out) George Steinbrenner as an owner. Back then, liking the Yankees still gave you a certain kind of cred. Now? No. Now liking the Yankees is uncool in an entirely different, much worse way. Now, liking the Yankees is for people in Manhattan; it’s for bankers and lawyers and more bankers and for a certain kind of politician and for people who have no soul but lots of money. It’s for people who can afford to live in New York.

It’s been hard to escape the sense of nostalgia that has permeated the media lately. A lot of it has to do with Bloomberg leaving office, I think, and the natural inclination people have had (and will continue to have over the next few months) to look back on the New York of the last twelve years and try to figure out what has gotten better and worse, and what that means in terms of their ability to stay. Because staying in New York, even if it sometimes feels like a necessity, is always only a choice. There are always other places to go. Or, at least, that’s been what everyone I know who leaves or who wants to leave says. They say that New York is fine, New York is even sometimes great, but it’s also dirty and it’s expensive and even though sometimes the air smells like maple syrup most of the time it just smells like garbage or like those semen-trees in the spring. They say that living in New York distorts your view on everything else, that it’s impossible to lead a good life here because living here makes you forget what living even really is. Life here, they say, is life under the bell jar—it distorts you vision, and it’s suffocating, and you forget that you can lift up the glass, so you get trapped, breathing your own breath until you die. This is really what people say!

And so no wonder they want to leave. No wonder all those people who thought that New York would be different, who thought that New York would give so much to them, who thought that New York maybe owed them something, because they are creative people or because they are young and prepared to suffer (only suffer in a very particular kind of way, not the way they actually suffer here), all those people are preparing to leave. And while all their feelings for leaving New York are valid, I always can’t help but wonder a little bit how much they loved this city to begin with, how much living in New York really mattered to them, versus living in “New York.”

12 Comment

  • hear, hear. wonderful. what happened to the other previous comments here?

    • Unfortunately, it seems like the other comments might be casualties in the switch over to our new site design. Hopefully, they’ll come back up soon.

  • If people like Lou Reed start leaving New York, then you can write an article. But no one is surprised that a bunch of out-of-towners are leaving. Yes, they were New Yorkers for a while, they even loved the city, but you have to love it A LOT (I mean, love it more than your boyfriend moving to New Zealand) to be worth all the expense and aggravation and sacrifice. Most out-of-towners do eventually leave, and anyone who’s lived here a long time is well-accustomed to that. That is exactly what the article states, only it takes a lot more words to get to that point.

  • “I once tried to explain why I like raising my children in New York by saying that I want them to take the extraordinary for granted.”

    I feel the complete opposite! (I’m 23). When I have kids, I want them to grow up somewhere else with nature at their fingertips, and long walks by woods, and road trips down our coastway and all of the simple things like I had. And then, when they are old enough to feel it, experience the magic of New York again and again. I want it to be new to them, and large, and wonderful, and beautiful, and cinematic like it was to me.

    I want them to have the chance to choose to live in this distorted reality all on their own.

  • Anyone could have written this article without ever having stepped foot in the city –at least that’s how it seems based on the very general, basic info about the city. Moreover, it is a poorly written article and yet it got published in this magazine you deem so worthy.

    Too bad that well written pieces don’t get published because they never make it past the general submission box.

  • After 22 years in NY I find the people who want to stay tend to be people who grew up in families near here (so NY life is the norm), who are deeply tied to their jobs, or have been here for less than 15 or so years. Many have had serious love affairs with the city for many, many years then it becomes like a girlfriend you love that doesn’t make you happy anymore. Your heart gets rusted and you only have a thimbleful of patience. You drink to stay. Many are overworked and underpaid. I don’t really agree with the
    idea that people who leave never really loved it, but I do understand the notion that maybe it was never real to them, that they were only visiting (because they are not from the tri-state area), sometimes for a very, very long time.

    But the whole income inequality situation in NY has just gotten obscene and offensive. As Bloomberg
    put it in NY Mag, NYC is now a luxury brand. Bo-ring and very, very troubling considering that even those who work in the city can only afford to live in the outer, outer boroughs. (Nothing against the outer boroughs btw, just saying the economic situation in the city proper is a joke.) Though NY still has many of the creative, diverse and progressive elements that make it special, they are now in those outer boroughs (go De Blasio!). Once you cheat on NY with other (cheaper) cities, countries for extended periods where quality of life is more of a priority and how much money you make and what you do and your ego less of one you realize NYC is not the “center of the universe.” The world is a very, very big place. You don’t realize this until you go somewhere else you like. As has been said many times before, NY is a drug/addiction that is hard to quit which is why so many find it hard to leave. And addiction, after many years, is not very fun and generally doesn’t make for happy campers.

  • From what I’ve noticed the people that are moving out are people that came to NY expecting it to bend to their wishes and mimic the hometowns they came from. City kids like me (I grew up in urban Chicago) love NYC because it is like home. Too many people moved here bringing small town, suburban, entitled, mentalities with them.

    Maybe if they leave rents will go down and the creative class won’t be a slave class because all the mediocre, lazy, design school graduates will go back to where they came from and design websites for one crappy startup after the next. Instead of cluttering the job market-getting hired on the length of their beard, uniqueness of their eyewear or color of their plaid shirt. They should be judged on the merit of their portfolio and not how great their Instagram life is. Go artisanal up some other city.

    The city has been watered down by these city kid wannabes and it’s time for the people that love NYC take back the energetic culture this city once fostered.

    And of course I’m bitter-I live in NYC don’t I?

  • off course it’s dirty and expensive. now why is it you want to leave?

  • Because people are tired. NYC is a wonderful town, but if you’re not pulling in some serious cash the quality of life is terrible. Your career goals need to be focused around making money if you want to survive here, and that’s not for everyone. When you’re young it’s fine to struggle, and lots of people are ok with the romance of it, but then you get older and start realizing how much it sucks that you’re in your mid-thirties and still living with roommates because you don’t want to (or can’t afford) to drop $1500-2k a month for a a closet-sized apt of your own. It’s all about priorities.

  • I grew up in queens. …my parents grew up in bk and the bx…..my mothers family has lived in nyc for over 150 years and my fathers family has been living in nyc for over 100 years….so if anyone knows nyc, its me! And believe me when I tell you that living in nyc sucks! I cant wait to move again from this city! It is over crowded and there are way too many foreigners and illegals here! It is dirty and over rated! Its nice for a visit, but living here is a different story! This is one of the only cities in the country where you can make 60000/year and still not be able to afford a house or a nice 2 bedroom apt! If I was an out-of-towner, I would stay away from living here! Come here for a visit, but dont live here, you will regret it!

    • I completely doubt you are a New yorker as You claim. To many Foreigners? what ? NY had always been full of Forefingers and actually the amount of new foreigners coming to the city is in a historical low. Foreigners is what makes NYC great, every true new yorker know that. To many Illegals? How do you know that? did you check their papers? Your complaints about NYC sound more like the typical argument from people from the south or Middle America.

  • I love New York City. I was born on Long Island, but have spent the last 10 years in Brooklyn. I would make the rest of my life here if I could. I think your hinting that those who are leaving never really loved it doesn’t really get the experience of lower/middle income people who don’t have savings or inheritances or trust funds to fall back onto–it is writing from a position of privilege. It is a documented fact that the non-wealthy are being pushed out and marginalized. How can $500K be a ‘good deal’ for a 1 bdrm in Brooklyn? Most people do not have these resources and will go where they can survive. Survival will typically win out over love.