As a native Californian, Brit + Co’s senior writer Cortney Clift always dreamed of a life in New York City. Last year, she finally made the 3,000-mile leap and started a new chapter in Brooklyn. As she celebrates her one-year anniversary in the city she now calls home, she reflects on what she’s learned from the solo move.
When I was in high school, my family and I traveled to New York City during Christmas vacation. As we boarded the flight back to our Southern California home, I remember telling my mom, “I’ll be back,” in that angsty tone reserved for teenagers.
For as long as I can remember, New York City was the big dream. First, I was going to be a Broadway star. I practiced by singing Sinatra’s “New York, New York” into our at-home karaoke machine for months. Then, after I realized I didn’t really like show tunes and wasn’t great at choreographed dance, I decided to change my career aspirations to becoming a journalist instead.
Fast forward to January 2017. My career in media was off to a promising start as an editor at Brit + Co. Our main office is in San Francisco, but we also happen to have another office in Manhattan. I’d been living in the Bay Area for almost seven years and was ready for a change. I figured, why not make the move now? I’m a born-and-bred Californian and I knew next to no one in New York, but I was sure I’d always regret it if I didn’t at least give it a shot.
Leaving my home state wasn’t easy. The moment I decided to go I already missed the charming Victorian architecture of San Francisco and the redwood forest just across the Golden Gate Bridge. But most of all, I was sad and anxious about leaving my friends behind. In the months leading up to my departure, I created a “Bay Area bucket list” and got a lot of quality time in with my besties by having them help me check things off my list (brunch at Brenda’s, a day in Bolinas, etc.). I knew I wasn’t saying goodbye to them forever, but the bucket list really helped me close a chapter and move onto the next.
On my first full day in my Brooklyn apartment, I walked around my neighborhood in a snowstorm, wearing a smile so fixed, it made my teeth hurt from the cold. I felt an unshakeable sense of pride in the fact that I had finally made it happen. I had successfully moved to New York City – totally by myself.
My first year in the city was daunting, exhilarating, and one of my most impactful life experiences to date. I learned that building a new life takes a tremendous amount of time and care, and that optimism and learning to enjoy your own company are key.
My initial transition east was softened by the magic of the city, but after the set-up period was over, it was time to focus on something that I knew was going to be the hardest part about the move: making new friends. Forming new, adult friendships is often frustrating and somewhat awkward. You probably won’t meet the Rachel to your Monica by chance in a cafe. If you do, let me know the cross streets.
In reality, making new friends as an adult feels strangely similar to dating. Should you send the first text? What should you suggest the two of you do? (The answers, by the way, are “yes, and drinks or a bite to eat is usually a winning invite.”)
The key to forming new, platonic relationships is in the follow-through. Do your friends back home have friends here they’ve offered to set you up with? Take time to actually make those connections happen, and be prepared to do a lot of the organizing up front. You may have to initiate the first few hangs, but if there’s a genuine connection, you’ll start getting invites from the other end soon enough. Establishing a new social circle will take time. Patience is key.
In the interim, there will be bouts of loneliness. Sometimes it will be subtle (“Man, I wish my bestie could go to this event with me.”), and sometimes it might cause a mild panic (“What if I choke on this slice of pizza and my roommate doesn’t come home and I die alone in this apartment?!”). I allow myself to feel those feelings, but I always try to remember that those moments are opportunities for growth and a unique chance to get to know myself better. At the risk of sounding like a Pinterest quote, you've got to "grow through what you go through.”
When I asked a friend who made a similar move before me what she does when she finds herself without plans, she told me, “Be a tourist.” The beauty of living in a new city is that there’s always something you haven’t seen yet. When my weekends were totally empty, I’d often go out and do some of the things people come to New York to experience.
Sometimes I’d pop in a podcast and aimlessly wander the always-changing scenery of Central Park. On colder days, I’d bring a book on the subway and make the long journey to the Upper East Side to explore the halls of the Met Museum. And on one particularly scorching summer day, I spontaneously rode the F train all the way out to Coney Island just to dip my toes in the sand and watch the sunset.
It’s been more than a year now since I left chilled-out San Francisco for the bustling beast that is New York City. More than anything else, my first year here has taught me not to fear time alone, but cherish it instead. I may never again have the chance to spend so much uninterrupted time with me.
These days, it’s rare that I have a planless weekend. But sometimes on a Sunday, I’ll still hop on the subway, head uptown, and end up alone at the Met. Just me, myself, and maybe a little bit of Van Gogh.