Musings + Essays

On Leaving New York.

By: Jen Shoop

Do you miss New York?

So many friends have asked.

On the whole, no —

But in the particular, yes.

On the whole, I feel more peaceful and situated than I can ever recall being. Life hangs looser, as I wrote here. But on further reflection, I am not sure this is so much specific to Bethesda (versus New York, Chicago, D.C. proper) as it is a corollary to our life stage and our roots in the D.C. area, in that we moved here with the intention of not leaving for a long while, and D.C. is terra firma, where we enjoy deep roots and the comfort of the familiar. This has afforded us a feeling of security we’ve never felt in our married lives, when we understood — anticipated! — that we would move cities a couple of times and were never fully certain where we’d land. In fact, we nearly moved to San Francisco and contemplated an opportunity in Boston in between Chicago and New York. And there were many periods of time living in both Chicago and New York where we’d ask ourselves both “what’s next?” and “could this be it?” All the while, we were hard at work figuring out our new hometowns, building new networks of friends and ferreting out new favorite haunts. Looking back, there was a lot of emotional labor happening in the background. I now see that living in these cities with the vague specter of an imminent uprooting left us feeling subconsciously unsettled. I remember having conversations about furniture, cars, window treatments, even toys for the children filtered through the possibility of an upcoming move. “Nah, that’s too idiosyncratic of a piece, let’s buy something that will be more configurable…” or “Let’s just wait.” Towards the end of our tenure in NYC, decisions about schools were beginning to hover unpleasantly close. There was a brief period where we contemplated moving closer to mini’s school in Flatiron, but that begged the question: “Where will she go after, and should we move closer to that school?” And so there was some backwards accounting in terms of the exmissions record from her Montessori and all that jazz. (I.e., could we reliably expect she would get in to X school? Were we willing to take the risk of moving based on that arithmetic?)

I mean, such is life. Many of us — many of you! — will continue to move from place to place and acquit yourselves with grace and openness to the vagaries and conditions of life in new cities. We are resilient. We make things work until they can’t, and then we find a new way. If we lucky, we have the opportunity to decide to move when we determine that life might be simpler, better, richer elsewhere. If we are very lucky, we move through all of these complicated decisions with a partner at our side who makes it feel more like an adventure than an ordeal.

Sometimes, I find myself telling friends that I think we were called home for reasons I can’t yet make out, as though the past many years were a winding path towards something we must do here in the D.C. area. At the same time, I resist the notion that the past ten years in Chicago and then New York were precursors, ante-rooms, pit-stops. Those years form the backbone of my adult life: a decade of living to the fullest, and two fabulous cities made all of that living possible in that they provided us with job opportunities, favorite restaurants and lookouts, homes, friends, reasons to stretch ourselves. Chicago brought me Emory and New York brought me Hill and I feel a tremendous weepy attachment to both of those cities in which I made and re-made myself a mother. Nothing about those years was preamble.

Other times, I feel that friends ask me whether I miss New York because many of us view it as The Ultimate — the most sophisticated, prestigious, high-brow place in the world. Right after we first moved here, many of my friends were quick to denigrate the D.C. restaurant and fashion scenes in my company — “I mean, it’s not New York, but–” And this is true in one sense and not true in another. There is only one New York and it is fabulous and operates on its own tier, and the delta between the fashion and food in New York and the fashion and food in Bethesda is noticeable. But unless you are spectacularly wealthy, you cannot walk out your door in Manhattan and feel the earth beneath your bare feet and pluck a handful of raspberries from the branch in your garden and watch your children sprint through the sprinkler. For the most part, you cannot choose to grab a lowkey dinner at the bar without waiting in line, or making a reservation. You cannot walk your dog or take your daughter to school without the possibility of encountering something disturbing. You cannot find a reasonably-priced apartment, full-stop. It is all a tradeoff. We did not move here for the food or the fashion or the proximity to cultural institutions. We moved here for family, and that’s where our chips belong at the moment.

So I resist, too, the notion that New York was somehow the apotheosis of our lives as young adults, young parents, young professionals.

Anyhow, I digress, but I feel that a lot of the peace I am currently enjoying as a result of this move is more related to life stage and its fit with (or ill-fit with) these cities than the cities themselves. (“It’s me, not you, New York.”)

But coming back around to the question at hand — I do miss New York, in the particular. And there is something specific I miss about living there that has been difficult for me to articulate, but I will try here:

I miss the feeling of walking outside of my apartment building by myself.

In those first few steps out from the awning, I routinely experienced a vertigo peculiar to the city, where I would feel at once erased and reified. I would paradoxically brace myself and open myself up, because New York demands both and simultaneously. There is so much to drink in, and yet you must never lollygag in wonder — you must always be guarded, always move with purpose. You are nothing and everything in New York. You are a dot among thousands, anonymous and insignificant, and yet you are also entitled to be there — you live there, goddamn it! — and you must do so with elbows out. It is exhilarating. And I find it affords many New Yorkers a combination of “eh, what are you gonna do?” down-to-earthness and self-assurance. That is — even Hank Azaria and Sting step in dog poop in Central Park, and dodge unsightliness as they walk through Columbus Circle. We know this because they lived in the building next to ours on Central Park West and saw Azaria on multiple occasions (and Sting’s security detail on others).

I miss that particular element of living in New York because it reminded me to negotiate with my own sense of self on a daily basis. It made me feel alive, and electric, and connected to bigger things.

Here in Bethesda, there are different, quieter nudges toward self-awareness — the presence of neighbors being utmost in this category. Of course we had neighbors in New York (too many, to be honest), but there is something very different about neighboring homeowners here. It feels much more like a community. Perhaps people experience that in New York (and we did have some lovely neighbors there, by the way), but it has been entirely new for us here, where part of the responsibility of home ownership is discussing what we’re going to plant in the shared cul de sac center, and how we’re going to run trick-or-treating this year, and who’s bringing what to the neighborhood chili cook-off. And so still there are negotiations with self and community on a daily basis, but it’s as though I’ve turned down the volume.

Anyhow, I do miss those first few steps from the awning in New York. And I do miss the restaurants, and the fashion, and the pace, and the interesting things we would see and do on a daily basis, and running through Central Park, and the movie-set-like beauty of the brownstones on the Upper West Side. In a strange way, I sometimes even miss the coziness of our tiny apartment, how you’d come through the lintel and shed the world and feel cosseted from its perils.

I apologize that I can only answer this question about New York with inconsistencies and riddles. I can love New York and leave it; I can grow disillusioned with New York and miss it. Yes and no, yes but no, yes or no. I can’t even decide on the correct operator in these equations. But again, such is life, where the most worthwhile things demand coziness with contradiction.



+Similar thoughts on moving through life here.

+I’m not sure I was accurate in my prediction about what I’d miss most about living in NYC. In some ways, I’m more likely to make last-minute plans here, where we can just jump in our car and go.

+On worrying that NYC will change when I’m gone. (Ha.)

+Our NYC bucket list.

+Some of the beautiful changes that came with our move to Bethesda.

+New York will always be a shock.

+200 runs through Central Park.

+My must-haves for living in Mahattan.

Shopping Break.

+This $20 tank is so festive and the fit is so high-fashion! I’m imagining pairing with a feather bag like this (look for much less with this).

+Love the collar on this denim mini. (More great denim finds here.)

+Everyone’s favorite R Vivimos dress comes in a fun new fall print!

+This affordable watch has a Cartier vibe to it. The navy croc is fun and unexpected!

+Will be sharing a roundup of stylish sweater dresses soon, but had to share this one today since it’s currently 40% off and SO GOOD. Navy! Button front! Love the vibe with tall boots like these, these, or these.

+I wore this exact SEA dress last Thanksgiving and have worn it countless times since, including in a recent series of Instastories. I can’t believe it’s on sale for under $160 now! Your little can twin with you in this.

+More Thanksgiving outfit ideas here. My Thanksgiving dress arrived and j’adore!!! I took an XXS and it fits great — I have other nap dresses in an XS that fit well, too, so personally I think this particular style is sort of accommodating (i.e,. if you are usually an S but there is only XS left, I would give the XS a try). The smocking is nice and stretchy and the velvet is uber-soft.

+Thanks to the reader who alerted me to the fact that these napkins were restocked!!! Perfect for a Thanksgiving table. I was going to use these for Thanksgiving, but then my mom bought this Julia Amory tablecloth and coordinating napkins and offered to let me borrow them for the occasion (we are hosting everyone here!). I’m going to buy another live garland for the centerpiece. Last year I did magnolia and this year I think I’m going to do this olive leaf and myrtle mix. The great thing about these is that they last a really long time so you have a dramatic centerpiece for the entire season. They gradually brown/dry, but I like the look! These will definitely last through the holidays and add a nice lushness. You can always relocate to a mantle or sideboard if you want to do a different centerpiece in the interim, too.

+More fall tabletop finds here, and more chic home finds here.

+If you are a dog fam, you or your man might need this needlepointed hat.

+Found my favorite bronzer on sale for $39 — I’ve never seen it so low! This is one of those beauty products I can’t quit.

+Trust me, you need a striped turtleneck. I live in these!

+Great home finds at reasonable prices.

+This belted shirtdress is just the kind of thing I have been wearing on a daily basis recently, and it is on serious sale in certain colors.

+Slowly realizing I think I need a pair of lug sole boots. These are my favorites.

+I’ve been seeing some trendy chic peas wearing scrunchies — they’re back! — and these velvet ones are fun.

+Adorable wooden tool set for a little one. Great addition to my gift list here.

+Contemplating adding this floor mirror to my office, which is nice and bright but small. This would make the area even larger and give me a nice spot to evaluate my outfits in the morning (and snap selfies — ha!)

+The shape of this scented candle is so clever!

+Cannot live without these claw clips! (2 for $10!)

+Oo now this dress is fabulous — would work for a more conservative holiday event (i.e., with colleagues, at a club, etc.). Along similar lines, love this knit style from Sandro! Would pair with Gucci tights!

+On the heels of this post on praying for others, a reader shared this beautiful prayer bowl (which comes with cards on which to write the names of others). This company also sells ones oriented towards children that would be a sweet gift at First Communion, Confirmation, or just as a godparent in general.

+We have a couple of Inge-Glas ornaments and they are my absolute favorite. I have a couple of birds already but am eyeing a few more of them this year.

+I think your dog needs this quilted coat.

+LOVE this everyday dress.

+This taffeta and lace number is spectacular as a guest at a winter wedding.

+Chic tortoise jug.

+A great casual sweatshirt for layering over athleisure. Love the stripe!

+Obsessed with this cherry red cocktail dress. Sophisticated but saucy.

+Cute dog treat jar.

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *.

13 thoughts on “On Leaving New York.

  1. I’ve never left a comment on a blog, but alas, an exception for an exceptional post. I’ve been in the city for almost 10 years and, like you and your husband, have known it would likely not be forever.

    As someone who has been fortunate enough to find herself part of an “adventure and not an ordeal”, I still find myself regularly mourning the exodus of friends. The weight that is the transient nature of the city, articulated so well by “emotional labor”, is something that still opens a new wound with each goodbye. In the back of our minds often wondering, are we next?

    The vertigo you describe, being both erased and reified, only a New Yorker understands. Tears fell involuntarily from my eyes. Maybe the most difficult part about leaving, or the prospect of it, is that most people cannot understand the paradoxical relationship that we’ve entered. The juxtaposition of magic and masochism, the highs and the lows, that only the city can bestow.

    We haven’t made the leap of leaving quite yet; it lingers on the horizon like a milestone you don’t yet feel old enough to have reached. To know that it can be done, and that the more mellow version of oneself might also be a welcomed facet of personality, is wildly comforting. Reading this was deeply cathartic, thank you and thank you again.

    1. Hi Alexa! Thank you for making an exception because these notes and the way you worded them were lovely, candid, and so well-put. I can totally relate to so much of what you’ve said here, both about the spectre of moving at some undefined point in the future and your notes on the magic and masochism of living in NYC!

      Thanks for sharing these thoughts. Hoping you stay in NYC until you feel truly called and then go boldly into the next phase!


  2. Loved reading your thoughts on this topic as I’ve been mulling it over a lot. I miss New York City in the same way one misses an old, unrequited crush. That is, I miss it, but I am under no delusion that New York ever knew I existed. It was not sustainable for me, but it was exciting.

    And those bagels, damn it!

    1. Thanks for this! I ordered one size down based on reviews and it won’t arrive until December so now I’m wondering if I should try the one two sizes down that will arrive sooner just in case…hm.


    2. Whoops, Joyce! I reply to these comments through a different interface and have no idea how this comment attached to yours. Please disregard! Instead — I so know what you mean about NYC as an old, unrequited crush!!!


  3. My husband has always told me that before we move anywhere, I must begin to call it home or I will never “settle in”. Interesting concept and kind of true!
    Now that you and your family have begun to settle in, I’m anxious to hear the name you give your new home. I’ve never done that, but think it is very endearing, and creates lasting memories as children later describe homes where they lived. My family uses street numbers, but I think names resonate so much more! I’d love to do it, but we’ve lived here so long, our children are grown, and that train has left the station.
    Love the idea of children’s prayer bowls too.

    1. I love this idea of calling a place “home.” It’s so interesting — I’ve always referred to DC as “home.” It’s never changed!

      Oo good thought on naming the house. Will have to think on this one for our new place!


    1. Thank you so much for sharing this! Your note here and Anna’s, too, made me think a lot today about place and identity. Something a design expert once told me was the “space is transformative of experience.” And so I always thought about how the places I lived and occupied were shaping me. But maybe there is a lot of give on my end, too, i.e., maybe I also transform the spaces around me (or my impression of them) based on what’s going on in my own life, self-formation process, etc.


  4. I have often thought that we don’t love places themselves – rather, we love who we are in those places. We look more kindly upon places that allow us to become our fullest and truest selves.

Previous Article

Next Article