My First City Friend

Some people cope with heartbreak by leaning on their support networks. But in February 2021, I didn’t have a solid one yet. So instead of a shoulder to cry on, I found a highway to drive on. I explored beautiful towns in Fairfield County, Connecticut while delivering Uber Eats and blasting my favorite music to heal.

One particular day as I waited in the parking lot of a Chinese restaurant for a customer’s order, my phone pinged. Sarah* had messaged me on Reddit. We’d met a few days prior in r/NYCFriends when I’d posted saying I wanted to make friends before I moved to the city. I’d just started a new remote job based out of Manhattan and was tired of the lonely and sleepy Connecticut town I’d lived in for the past year.

76% of people on the Internet participate in online communities, like the subreddit where I met Sarah.

Sarah had recently moved from the Midwest to New York City with her husband and was also in search of new friends. We shared a lot of similar interests, such as traveling, exploring, and art.

“Would you like to hang out this Saturday?” Sarah asked me in a private chat. “I’ll show you around all my favorite downtown neighborhoods!”

Grinning excitedly, I replied and we began making plans.

That Saturday, I got to the New Haven Metro North train station bright and early. I felt so classy as I took a seat on the train, put my earbuds in, and stared out the window at the beautiful landscapes rushing by. It was my Serena van der Woodsen moment, and even continued two hours later when I stepped off the train and breezed confidently through Grand Central. I ripped another page from the Gossip Girl rulebook of life when I ordered a Lyft instead of taking the subway to the Lower East Side coffee shop Sarah had chosen.

Baby steps. I needed to take baby steps before I could ride the subway alone for the first time in my life, and second time ever. I could still only count on one hand how many times I’d been to New York City.

My heart sang in my chest, and I couldn’t stop smiling underneath my mask. This is what life was about: adventuring to meet a new friend in a major city on a sunny, chill spring day.

When I typically “tell stories” in a format like this, it’s for fiction or poetry, and I dress up the details (as fictional writers tend to do). But I honestly don’t remember who got to the coffee shop first, or exactly what we were wearing. I can’t tell you precisely what was said, word-for-word. All I remember is the kindness and warmth Sarah exuded. We bonded over our shared adoration for the city, and neither one of us particularly missed our hometowns.

As Sarah sipped her tea and I drank my iced coffee, she warned me that the apartments in Manhattan would be smaller than I was used to anywhere else. We shared pictures of our pets. We discussed our career goals and dreams. Then, when we were finished with our drinks, Sarah offered to walk around with me.

She took me around the Lower East Side and East Village, and even showed me that famous park with the fountain from that one show’s opening where everyone dances in the water together. She explained to me that while Nolita was her favorite neighborhood, West Village was typically everyone else’s.

Not to be cheesy, but life is full of sneaky moments that will impact and shape us in ways we can’t even explain until years later. Some moments pass me by before I even have the time to realize how monumentally important they will be in the bigger story of my life. But as my first city friend and I stood together in Washington Square Park and people-watched, I knew I would return “here” someday. So I took a small breath, paused, smiled, and absorbed every detail I could.

Despite the crisp February breeze, the park overflowed with life. Yes, we were all mostly masked, but even though we were living in what felt like the end times, there was an obvious sense of freedom in the air. We didn’t have to stay inside all day anymore, if we didn’t want to.

People of all ages basked in the sun with friends. A group danced around a loud speaker in one area; another group laughed and clapped their hands as they watched. Others sat on benches alone while reading books, drinking coffee, or looking at their phones. The sun peeked around trees as if to wink at me from time to time. Dogs – big and small – practically owned the place with the attention they got as their owners walked them around.

It was in this moment that I officially decided to move to New York City, as soon as I could. And many months later after living there, when my social life was thriving and I finally had the friendships I’d been dreaming of for years, my therapist would say, “Aren’t you glad you left Connecticut? If you were still there, you’d be driving around alone instead of bonding with people.”

That day, Sarah and I spent about four hours together exploring the city before hugging goodbye. The potential for more connections and adventures excited me as I climbed into my Lyft. When I finally returned to Grand Central and got on the train home, I peeked into my Doc Marten boots to discover bloody blisters.

But you know what? Without the pain, I wouldn’t be here. And I’ve often found that to be the case when looking back on other moments in time, too. Especially the moments of heartbreak that led me to applying for a job in another city, making a post online for friends, and eventually moving away.

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