No man is an island, but in New York, every man (and woman) is an island…on an island. Your routine is your own; your independence your crowning achievement. After all, you moved here for your independence, your freedom, your art. You take solace in the anonymity the City offers but yet you dream of having everyone know your name. You can be social when you want to be social or you can go to a movie by yourself and no one thinks you’re weird. Self-sufficiency is a necessity; the most valued of all traits New Yorkers can (and should) acquire. Eight million little islands, all self-sustaining and floating around the avenues and city blocks without thought of anything else.
But then you fall in love.
You don’t know how it happens, but suddenly, the island of you crashes up against the island of another person and the impact creates an earthquake and your islands converge into a bigger island containing the both of you. So then it becomes the island of “Us” versus New York: the island of “Them.” And the city that once felt so vast is now dwarfed by “Us.” You wonder how you lived any other way here and think how everyone else, all of “Them,” are oblivious to your great discovery that love is the key to it all. Love makes New York greater, turning its usual monochrome streets and buildings into glorious Technicolor; it’s like seeing the City through new eyes.
Intimate moments feel more intimate here. It’s easier to disappear into one of the city’s corners without anyone noticing. Being in love in New York City makes even the most horribly mundane activities seem intimate and romantic when you’re holding the hand of another person. Routine ceases being routine. And all at once, you feel as though the sunset over the City is just for the two of you as you tenderly kiss on the Williamsburg Bridge, its graffiti blossoming into a thing of urban beauty as he cups your face in his hands. Love in New York is having a shoulder to purposely fall asleep on when you’re riding the subway, his arm around your waist and head resting on top of yours as the train gently (or sometimes not so gently) slides into each subsequent station. It’s slipping into the shadows outside of Carnegie Hall, your back pressed against the sienna-colored bricks while he messes up your lipstick after taking you out to dinner. Love is a bike ride around the Central Park loop at the beginning of fall, pulling off to the side to hold hands on a park bench dedicated to someone else’s love. It’s having someone else who walks as fast as you do through the crowds, your strides and grumbles at tourists harmoniously in sync. Every second feels more exuberant and achingly beautiful than Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.” You feel as though you’re floating through the steel and concrete, nothing holding the two of you down. You’ve built your world — your New York — around each other, and there is no turning back. You couldn’t if you tried. And once you’ve been in love in New York, there’s nothing else like it (except maybe love in Paris, though I can’t speak to that experience…yet). It is a magic unto its own. It’s better than a drug, more intoxicating than liquor; all-consuming and wondrous.
Truly, being in love in New York transforms you and him and the City itself. And if that love falls apart as it sometimes can, the City, like a chameleon, instantly changes itself again. The once glorious Technicolor dulls or drains completely, replaced by cold, dark hues. That island of “Us,” so carefully and lovingly created, is abandoned, desolate, and overrun with ghosts. You built it together, but even so it remains after you and he has been swallowed back up into all of “Them.” The memory of him haunts all the nooks and crannies you once occupied together: the street corner outside Baruch College where you first kissed, the spot of grass along the East River where you picnicked and laid discussing your dreams, the bench where he ended it all as traffic rushed past drowning out the sounds of your heartbroken sobs. These places still hold the Technicolor, vibrant with emotion and memory though slightly ghostly. Walking around the City after your heart breaks can feel like walking through the biggest graveyard in the world, your grief increasingly overwhelming you at each marker of your former love and happiness. In losing him, you’ve lost yourself for you were each other’s compass to navigate these now mean streets. Now you try to lose yourself in other places: the stacks of the Strand Bookstore, the darkened mega movie-plexes on 42nd Street, the hallowed walls of your church on 65th and Central Park West. But none of it works; the hurt is still raw, the crushing sadness ever so palpable each minute of the day. You’ve forgotten how to be anonymous as you once were, and the self-sufficiency you mastered before him now seems cruel and mocking. You are back to being your own little island, but you yearn for “Us,” you weep for “Us,” you dream of “Us.” You cannot imagine New York City without him for better or worse.
And as you both “drown in love’s debris” like that old Carly Simon lyric, you know you’ll always remember him because of New York City, because it is the one place in the world where anything is possible…love, joy, heartbreak, sadness. Because you risked your freedom, your independence, your art, all of it, everything you had for love, and even if you lost it, you have never felt so alive. New York City elevates love to the highest heights and plunges it to the lowest depths, and you can’t prepare your heart for it. But you will also never forget it.
Love in New York is like the famous Frank Sinatra recording: if your heart can make it here, it can make it anywhere.