(This photo was taken on my second day of living in New York).
How do you know when a place feels like home?
Is it the people you surround yourself with? The objects you own? Or is it this feeling of simply being comfortable?
I moved to New York exactly three years ago today. I had three bags — one full-size suitcase, one carry-on and my Patagonia backpack. I was moving to intern at People magazine — something I never imagined would happen, and thinking back now, I was a lot more brave then, at 21, than I am now.
The previous two summers I had moved first to Wisconsin, then to Chicago, all by myself. I stayed up late, drinking coffee at 2 a.m. in my college apartment, looking for random internships that I found, then interviewed, accepted and routinely packed my bags for the summer.
But moving to New York was different. It wasn’t the Midwest and I didn’t have returning to school in the fall as a deadline. Plus, I only knew two people on the east coast and my vision of the city life came from binging shows like Sex and the City and Gossip Girl.
The first few months felt like the summers before — I was exploring a new city, making friends with other interns and I still felt like a college student, wearing Converse sneakers and things that didn’t quite match.
But when the blur of summer and the fresh feeling of the city wore off, reality set in hard.
I moved into an apartment in Brooklyn with three strangers I had met on Craigslist. My room was the size of most people’s bathrooms and it only had a used futon bed that I couldn’t lay flat because the room was that small. My rent was $1150 a month. All the friends I had made in the summer were back in school and I decided Rachel, Monica, Chandler, Joey, Ross and Phoebe were all I had left, binging 236 episodes in a row then starting over again.
I was getting antsy to move again because while in school, I was interning somewhere different every summer and looked forward to a new setting. This feeling of staying somewhere permanently felt weird so I started changing other things. I went on to drastically dye my hair bleach blonde, then two weeks later back to brunette. I went on several Tinder dates I regretted and relied heavily on texting my friends in Chicago to keep me sane.
It really didn’t feel like home. But I’m sure it looked glamorous on Instagram.
After about three months of living in the futon closet, a co-worker said there was a room opening up in her place in Manhattan. Although the room had no window, no door, and basically no wall (it was a giant bookshelf), I said yes. It was a much nicer building with a gym to escape to and a rooftop with a view of the city I still miss. But moving into a room like that in the middle of winter is something I never recommend.
(Side note: I heard a girl on the subway recently telling her friend she lives in a windowless closet, and I quietly smiled to myself. It’s like a rite of passage in NYC).
While I had a few friends, I didn’t have the comfort of my family or the large support group that I had back in Michigan. I started going to therapy to”figure it all out” — something I do recommend.
Then, ironically, on Tinder — I met Evan.
I remember a friend telling me months after we started dating, “You were so sad before you met Evan”, and I was shocked to hear that. Sure, I was coming home from work everyday to watch Friends in a windowless/doorless bedroom in the middle of winter for four months, but I thought I was OK on the outside.
I went on to live in two more run-down apartments with roommates and a whole lot of mice trapping, sleepless nights. Now Evan and I live together in downtown Manhattan. Our bedroom still doesn’t have a window or an actual door, but I’ve never felt more like home. It’s been the most comfortable place I’ve lived and I would never want any other person to call my roommate. Plus, there’s no mice (!)
Looking back on the past three years, it’s weird to think how much I’ve grown in such a short amount of time. There are specks of good memories in there and an underlying feeling of homesickness throughout. But I finally feel like New York — this beast of a city that never lets up — is now my home. It’s what I think of now when I’m coming back from a long trip away.
Not only do I own my own mattress, but now we have also two couches, a coffee table, night stands, and even a bar cart (so adult).
And I no longer Google places to live and job openings outside of New York during the late hours of the night (well, just once in a while … old habits die hard).