NYC Life Was My Dream—Until Quarantining Back Home Made Me Realize What I Was Missing

"I realized how thoroughly I enjoyed every minute of being surrounded by family and sunshine."

I’ve dreamt of living and working in New York City since I was 12 years old when I was growing up in Virginia. The fascination began when I saw 13 Going on 30 and The Devil Wears Prada, and it only grew as I started taking high school and college courses in preparation for a career in magazines. Before I knew it, I was 20 and interning in Seventeen’s editorial department at Hearst Tower in Manhattan. It was a dream come true. 

Soon after graduating college and applying to 47 positions in search of my ideal first full-time job in media, in 2015 I decided to make the leap and move to the Big Apple to work as an advertising assistant at Men’s Health magazine.

For some people, moving to New York is simply a hop, skip, and a jump away from their home, if they’re migrating from nearby places like New Jersey, Connecticut, or Long Island to work in the concrete jungle. For me, however, it meant packing up and leaving everything and everyone I’d ever known in Virginia in an effort to make my dream come true.

Needless to say, when I told my family, friends, and my boyfriend at the time that I wanted to leave and do something so unfamiliar, they were shocked. At the end of the day, though, I knew I needed to move to New York; I needed to pursue the life I’d been dreaming of and working toward for nearly a decade.

Once I arrived in the city and started working at Men’s Health, I eventually began working in women’s media, writing for Women’s Health (its sister publication), which is where I ultimately wanted to end up. And that’s when my career catapulted and my N.Y.C. dream of becoming a fashion and beauty journalist started to become a reality.

But five years, two apartments, three full-time jobs, and countless memories later, the New York that I once obsessed over started to lose its sparkle. 

This feeling began in March 2019 when I no longer was working in corporate and was freelancing full time. After spending weeks on end traveling before the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic began, I realized that, as a freelancer, I can truly work from anywhere. While I was on a beach vacation in August 2019, I became even more aware of this feeling. As it turns out, my body and mind (both of which have been riddled by anxiety over the years) are a lot calmer when I’m away from the concrete jungle and closer to trees, grass, water, and wide-open skies. Because of this realization, I decided that I’d stop being such a “yes girl” when I returned to the city. I vowed to prioritize my physical and mental health over attending endless publication events that, in turn, often required me to sacrifice my nights and weekends to hit all my writing deadlines. While that transition certainly helped me begin to find more of a balance between my work and my social life when I was back in N.Y.C., I realized that I was more productive and more mentally at peace being outside of the five boroughs.

And yet, a realization that felt so positive started to make me feel so sad. How could I want to leave New York—the place I’d spent ages idolizing? How could I want to step away from the bright lights and endless industry invitations and outings? How could I want to leave a life of relative luxury in favor of a suburban dwelling that simply didn’t make sense to so many of my acquaintances and friends because it wasn’t the life they saw for themselves?

Hear me out. I have always been and will always be the girl who’s filled with wonder the moment she looks up and spots the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, or Hearst Tower. I will always be the girl who wholeheartedly appreciates—even if just for a moment—every walkthrough of Manhattan. I love long walks through the West Village and Saturday strolls through the Union Square Farmer’s Market. I love walking through Midtown East, grabbing an iced mocha at Macchiato, and remembering my time at Men’s Health; I love walking through FiDi and remembering how I felt like I was living my absolute dream when I was working at L’Oréal Paris’s Beauty Magazine.

But despite that feeling of awe and being just a bus or train ride away from everything you love, is that enough of a reason to stay in a place that truly has never felt like home?

I started to notice a mental shift within myself that’d been begging for my attention, one that I’d been hesitant to voice or think deeper on. My gut was telling me it might be time to leave New York City.

But still, I was torn. On one hand, I didn’t want to leave my friends, my favorite go-to cafes and restaurants, or the after-work self-care manicures and facials (all of which were perks of the job). On the other hand, I started to wonder if all of those things—save for my friends—really mattered in the big scheme of things, especially when my mental health felt like it was on the line.

The more I mulled it over, the more I realized that a big part of why I was even considering leaving N.Y.C. was to gain more control over my life—to put an end to being at the whim of every press event invitation without feeling FOMO for doing so. But even though I felt this way, I still couldn’t commit to letting go of the city of my dreams. I couldn’t wrap my head around it.

I could have very well stayed caught up in that mental back and forth for years to come, but 2020 happened and made everything glaringly clear. 

While the heartbreaking loss of my beloved 16-year-old Jack Russell terrier, Jeter, earlier this year got my cogs moving towards putting family and home front and center, it wasn’t until New York became the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic that I truly started to consider embarking on that new (or old, depending on how you look at it) direction. On March 14th, my parents came and picked me up from the city to ride out the pandemic in Virginia before lockdown orders would prevent me from doing so. Because I was still sorting things out with whether to stay in N.Y.C., I figured it’d only be a two-week quarantine in Virginia. Little did I know it would be much, much longer.

During quarantine, I continued to contemplate leaving New York. Where I was sad about the idea of possibly leaving my friends, weekend rituals, and the many perks of being a writer in New York, I also loved the simple pleasures of living in suburbia, like having extra space, a work-life balance, and time to be present for my two young nephews growing up. After quarantining for months in Virginia, I realized how thoroughly I enjoyed every minute of being surrounded by family and sunshine. Plus, I loved having the grass beneath my feet and the ability to be able to work from wherever. 

Then, one day in June, I took a break from writing, trying to figure out what to do, and went to a car dealership in hopes of inspiring a step forward, one way or the other. What started as a plan to merely look at cars turned into seeing a beautiful charcoal-gray SUV that I decided to test drive on a whim. And it was while I sat in that cozy leather seat with a firm grasp on the wheel that I finally realized how much I wanted to take back the direction of my life. This was the life event I needed to experience to confirm the next chapter. So just like that, my mind was made up. I bought the SUV and decided to move back to Virginia to be closer to my family. It was time to leave New York for good.

After five months of quarantining in Virginia, my family and I drove up to the city in July to clean out my apartment and close that chapter of my life. 

While I didn’t get the goodbye that I had always hoped for—the one where I go to Jacob’s Pickles for brunch, have a leisurely stroll through the Union Square Farmer’s Market, bar-hop between all my favorite East Village spots, and visit all the life and career landmarks of my five years in the city—I got the closure I needed by saying goodbye one last time. As bittersweet as it was watching the N.Y.C. skyline disappear in my rearview mirror, it was a reassuring reminder that, sometimes, fate brings us full circle and reveals exactly what we’ve wanted most all along.

Fast forward to now: I’ve been officially living in Virginia for just over a month. My days are filled with more deadlines and less stress; more relaxation and (a lot) fewer events. For the first time in my life, I’m living alone and curating the home of my dreams—giant green velvet couch and all. 

And yet I know what you’re wondering: Do I miss New York? Absolutely. I miss her narrow streets and endless entertainment, all-hours restaurants, and beautiful parks; I miss her sunsets between the buildings and late nights getting lost amongst her grid with friends. But it’s like missing an ex. Just because I can acknowledge and reminisce on all the good times, it’s not enough to make me want to pick back up where we left off.

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