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(This is an essay I wrote in one hour in an online writing workshop in January 2023)

After many years of being single, I am dating someone.

He’s fascinating, worldly, intelligent, sophisticated, energetic and full of life. He’s also grimy, noisy, temperamental and is always asking me for more money.

I’m dating him because he’s teaching me how to fall in love again.

His name is New York City.

The first time ever I saw his face was in 1995. My husband, now ex-husband, and I visited NYC to see my cousin. I was enthralled by the hustle and bustle, the availability of every known cuisine on the planet and the incredible arts scene. We saw a performance by Blue Man Group, back when it was still in a tiny theatre in the Village and my cousin was dating one of the Blue Men. New York caught my attention and I could see why my cousin was in love, but I was newly married and already committed to living on the west coast, so I dismissed my attraction to New York and settled into Palo Alto, CA for 21 years, raising a family.

Halfway through that, I got divorced. I dated, but never found the love I’d hoped for. Last year, when my youngest graduated from high school and I had the freedom to choose where to live, I knew it was time to revisit an old crush. I put all my belongings into storage and moved to Manhattan.

NYC was waiting for me. I had seen him battered and bloody in 2001 and my heart had gone out to him. I had been impressed with his resilience over the following 21 years and thought maybe NYC could teach me a thing or two about starting anew. I mean, it’s literally his first name.

Our affair is still in its early honeymoon phase. I moved here only six weeks ago, but my heart still flutters when I look up and down his avenues and I realize all that he offers me. I fall more in love with New York every day I walk his streets. I smell the freshly baked bagels, the sweet cinnamon churros and the tomato tanginess of pizza places as ubiquitous as Starbucks. He has fresh blooms for me every day when I walk down W. 28th Street through the flower district.

I marvel at how handsome his architecture is, from Grand Central Station to the Public Library to The Dakota – so many grand gestures of structural elegance – to the small touches, like the archway flourish in an entrance to a pre-war building or the mosaics in his subways. I could go on and on about how beautiful he is to behold.

He reminds me that despite his age, he’s quite young at heart, as I walk along the Hudson River and marvel at his glass skyscrapers that reflect the clouds. He knows I’m a pilot and I love clouds, so he keeps a lot of them around for me.

I love eavesdropping as I walk, dipping in and out of people’s commentary, usually into their cell phones. During my first trip to NY in the 90s, I saw many people talking to themselves and was told they had mental health issues. Now, I see lots of people seemingly talking out loud to themselves but then I see their airpods in their ears.

My favorite overhead comment was when I walked by a young woman, sitting up against a wall, staring out into the street, holding her phone with her finely manicured hands, framed by colorful 2-inch painted fingernails, shouting into her phone:
“CUZ YOU WUZ SLEEPING!
(pause)
IN THE BED!
(pause)
WITH NATALIA!”
I keep a small notebook in my bag to record these snippets. It’s almost full.

My friends are excited for me and my new love but they feel compelled to share their concerns about him. “Don’t stand too close to the edge of the subway or you might get pushed onto the tracks and DIE.”  “Look BOTH ways before crossing a street because the bikers don’t follow the traffic rules and you might get hit and DIE.” “Carry pepper spray in case you get mugged so you don’t DIE.” I mean, they’re right, but their cautions aren’t stopping me. I like dating this bad boy.

I do see some of the cracks in his handsome facade – the extreme division of wealth, for example. Watching a brand new Bentley drive past a pile of a man sleeping barefoot on the sidewalk, in near-freezing temperatures. The smell of dog urine, the staccato trail of poop that was dragged along the sidewalk by some tourist who’d been staring up at the Empire State Building and not paying attention to where he was stepping.

It’s too early in our dating to know if I’m going to settle down with New York City. I have fond memories of California – a kinder, gentler love I could sink into. His touches were soft and sweet and 100% organic, but after twenty-one years, I needed to shake things up a little.

I have a feeling that when I’m older and not as energized by the adrenaline of a new love, I will long for the comfort of California, as one yearns for the familiar touch of a lost partner. But for now, while I have a lust for adventure and an appetite for exploration, New York City is my man.

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