manhattan by helicopter
[Manhattan, as seen poorly photographed from my helicopter ride]

Quoting Sex and the City is the easy way to pretend you’re profound yet hip. Pensive but worldly. A complexly sexy intellectual; a modern woman deeply attuned to the rhetoric of our times. I’m generally of the opinion that writers who wish to be taken seriously on the basis of their own merit should avoid making a habit of quoting Sex and the City. But to hell with the rules. Sometimes that show is just so on point.

“If you only get one great love, then New York may just be mine… and I can’t have nobody talkin’ sh*t about my boyfriend.”

My love affair with New York began back in college, with a road trip to the city to protest the impending war in Iraq. I slept on the floor of a cramped NYU dorm, the weather never rose above a not-so-toasty 15 degrees, we walked about 350 miles, my nose ran for the entire duration, and I subsisted on a diet of bagels and hot chocolate. I was cold, miserable, and dressed like a scrub for three days straight – and somewhere along the way, I fell wildly in love. Given my somewhat unsavory appearance that weekend, I suppose it’s no huge surprise that the Big Apple took so long to reciprocate.

A few heart-breaking years ensued, rife with flirtation, close calls, rejection, and plenty of leading on, before New York finally returned my affections. We embarked on what I hoped would be a beautiful romance, but would we be able to last more than a year? New York has been known to mistreat its lovers – it woos you with heady nightlife, magnificent spires, intoxicating vibrancy, and glamorous residents, then breaks you down with a steady stable of obscene rents, high rodent-to-people ratios, mounds of garbage lining pee-stained streets, and piercing solitude. Somehow this island inhabited by millions can make you feel so very alone, despite its overwhelming embrace, I’d heard. Would I be able to survive such an abusive relationship?

Four months later, I’m still smitten.

So what does it take to become a true New Yorker? “Seven years,” says a friend of mine. That gives me just six years and eight months to go. I think I prefer the opinion of the random chap who accosted me in Union Square a few weeks ago. “Excuse me, are you a New Yorker?” he demanded out of the blue. “No,” I answered timidly, wondering what I’d done to betray my Boston roots. “Lies,” he replied, and just kept walking.

I’m not gonna lie: When this perfect stranger accused me of being an authentic New Yorker, I was a tad giddy. I’m finally in the greatest city on earth – a mystical place where hairy dudes taking the subway dressed in pink tutus, people embarking on scavenger hunts in matching Santa Claus attire (in February), Rastafarians rollerblading through Central Park to the beat of disco music, and old men belting out operatic arias while in line at the post office are all commonplace – and I belonged!

Hm… Wait a second…

The first time I felt like a New Yorker — and not necessarily in a good way — was at a trendy magazine party last month. Without even realizing what I was doing, I found myself firmly planting kisses in the air just to the right of people’s heads. This little Beany from Beantown was decidedly not of the air-kissing variety. Was I selling my soul to Lindsay Lohan to fit in?

But as is the case in any relationship, each party makes changes to accommodate the other. While I was air-kissing away to glory, New York was compromising, too – it let me score an amazing deal in this vile rental market, it’s let me have friends and an active social life, it’s given me a job I love that lets me occasionally experience how the other half lives. And despite everything I’d thought and feared, I still have money saved up. A miracle? I prefer to think of my bank account as New York’s gift to me. Not necessarily the most generous sugar daddy, perhaps, but I get by.

New York does its part to keep its suitors happy. If I need a watermelon at 4 a.m., I can get it. I haven’t nursed this sort of nocturnal craving yet, but I might someday – and I know I’ll be satisfied. Want vegetarian Indian-Chinese food, but you keep strict kosher? Shalom, you got it. The traffic lights change colors in such a rhythmic pattern that you can easily sail down 50 blocks by catching a series of greens. This is the only city where you can take a nap after work, wake up at midnight, and still fit in an entire night of activities before the sun comes up. There’s a whole magical world located right here on this island – you just have to peek over the mountains of garbage adorning the streets to find it.

Every morning I walk to work, bopping along to my iPod, and I think, Wow. I live here. And every night, I walk back home, just a tiny speck lost in the shadows, awed by the gargantuan buildings dusted in the light of the setting sun, and I think, Wow. I live here. OK, so maybe I’m a little redundant, but whatever. New York has yet to dump me for it.

Three years after I first started to fall for Manhattan, not much has changed. We’re still in Iraq. I still sleep in cramped quarters. I still walk a lot. And I’m still in love. If New York is indeed the greatest show on earth, then maybe I don’t ever want to give up my front-row seat.

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