After Jane’s mini-rant last week about how she’s thinking of moving to the seaside, our correspondent Elena Bowes mailed in an update on how her move to New York was going. Regular readers will also remember Sue Evan’s Adventure Before Dementia series, relating her amusing insights into moving to France for a more exciting retirement. Mid life moving, it must be something in the air.
Elena’s been braver than most, moving countries, from London to America, but despite having moved for all the right reasons, it hasn’t always been easy. Here’s how she’s getting on….
“It’s been just over a year since I moved from London to Manhattan. Death, divorce and moving – life’s big stresses. I’ve experienced all three and with each, time is the great healer. Things that jarred me a year ago in NYC – the constant crowds, the noise and the lack of charm, not to mention my eternal quest for a good cappuccino – I’ve gotten used to or found solutions.
Adjustment comes subtly, it creeps up on me. I notice that I am happier, more zen amidst the sirens and chatter. I haven’t forgotten London, but the missing is less painful. I have traded soul city for soul mate, something I remind Stretch whenever I want him to walk the dogs. (For those wondering, Stretch (above) is my boyfriend of three and a half years. We were introduced by a mutual friend. All three of us went to the same school on the east coast. Stretch was in my same class, but somehow we missed each other. It was a big school.
At first, I was shocked at how loudly New Yorkers talk on the street. I overheard a pretty girl repeatedly shouting into her phone “Is that all you’ve got to say?!” I saw her later that same evening. She was sitting on the stoop of a brownstone on Grammercy Square, crying. I’ve seen couples throw up their hands in despair, fighting on the street as if it was their living room. I was waiting for the light to change at Park and 57th when I heard a woman behind me brag to her friend, “I tell you, I look better with every facelift.” I think the city is so crowded that people have given up waiting for a private space to share intimacies. That space may never come. And as for the the voyeur in me, well, my cup runneth over.
Or perhaps, New Yorkers, the busiest people on the planet, are just multi-tasking – Arguing while heading to the gym?
New York is distracting in other ways. When I first moved here hours could be lost in the pillow section of Bed Bath & Beyond or the pain relief aisle at CVS. And then there are the limitless fun distractions. A friend recommended Arthur Murray dance classes. She had gotten so good that her teacher entered her into a competition. I texted Stretch: “Shall we take dance lessons?” “Next year” he swiftly shot back. In the past year, I have suggested a cooking course downtown, bridge lessons midtown, Italian lessons uptown. But the reality is we don’t have time. Did I mention that we are gutting and renovating an apartment across town?
“You need to rein yourself in,” said my very wise therapist Shomit Mitter, who I call for practical, strategic advice. “You are like a child wanting immediate satisfaction.” He advised me to streamline big-time, focus on what I love doing and the rest can wait. Stretch and I can perfect our Foxtrot next year or the year after.
I now spend my mornings writing and working on anything that relates to that. The afternoons are for everything else – admin, family matters, hair maintenance and exercise. Evenings I spend with Stretch and/or forging friendships.
In London, my exercise routine consisted of ambling through Hyde Park with my dogs and the occasional Pilates class in my bedroom. My teacher Violetta would alternate between commanding me to focus on my core and sternly saying “Nyet” to my pugs while they climbed aboard my stomach or licked my toes.
That relaxed approach to exercise just won’t do in this city.
People take ‘working out’ almost as seriously as work. Everyone goes to the gym. I joined a huge Equinox near me. It’s a world unto itself with a zillion exercise options, a healthy restaurant, work and lounge spaces and daycare. Here’s me above, channelling my inner-gymnast (Is anyone else exhausted just looking at this pic? A)
And below, my role model teacher, Ilkay.
A big part of adjusting to a new city is making good friends. It’s much harder mid-life. We don’t have school drop-off or pick-up, casual chit-chat, a common interest to form ties. People my age are often settled with their friendships and are not looking to make more. Plus, everyone works here and is busy, busy, busy during the day. Café culture is verboten.
My therapist tells me to cast my net wide. I have rekindled ties with former classmates who live in the city, both from school and from Columbia Journalism School. I have gotten in touch with old friends, friends of friends.
I am volunteering at the J-School, as well as at a women’s club I joined. My therapist says volunteering, working alongside other people in an area that I am interested in is a more relaxed way to make friends and meet more of “my people”.
A friend, who has recently moved to NYC from San Francisco to take on a big job, says that as a boss she cannot be friends with any of her co-workers. She’s thinking of joining a wine tasting group. Another person I know has taken up rock climbing classes in Harlem. Making new friends is a lot like dating – you’re more likely to get along with someone where there’s a shared interest.
So, in case you find yourself moving, (where ever it may be, A) here are my tips to adapting to the Big Apple:
Making close friends takes time. Be patient. And cast your net wide.
When emailing potential new friends, give them a specific time and date to meet up. New Yorkers are busy people. Vague emails get lost in the ether.
While casting that net wide, remember there will be a lot of trial and error. Give it time and don’t give up.
Bed Bath & Beyond is a necessary evil. I experienced PTSD just taking photos for this blog. It will not become your life, but it will dominate the early days.
A dressing tip: the weather here is mercurial. Check a local weather app before getting dressed.
Avoid glacial traffic jams by taking the subway (especially north-south). The app Citymapper is my best friend. It’s gotten so I say “We” when discussing how I found a well-hidden spot.
And finally, on low days, the app WeCroak, puts everything in perspective. In Bhutan they say contemplating death five times daily brings happiness. WeCroak sends me 5 quotes a day. Today’s first cheerer-upper: “The average time between the onset of death rattles to death itself is 16 hours.”
I feel better already.