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Help! I Define Myself By My City Life

Dear Bintel Brief,

I’ve spent the past 7 years living in New York City. Like many New Yorkers, I am a transplant originally from a small town in a flyover state. Living here was always my dream, and it offers tremendous opportunity. Food, culture, and interesting people and ideas are at my fingertips here, and there are numerous jobs in my field of employment. However, as all New Yorkers and big city dwellers know, living in an urban center is not always easy. It is competitive, expensive, crowded, and noisy. Lately I find that I am often on edge. I often consider what I imagine would be the “simpler life” elsewhere, but I can’t seem to picture myself as someone who lives somewhere other than New York City, as it is how I’ve come to define myself and my life.

How can I get over defining myself by my urban existence? Should I get over myself and just move somewhere easier? Or should I give up on leaving all together, and reside myself to my city life?


Ariel Levy responds:

Dear Afraid,

A good friend of mine says that people’s fantasy lives are always worse than their real lives. I have no idea if he’s right, but just in case, why not give country living a try before you give up on the city that you’ve made home? Summer’s coming. Now’s the time to look into renting a little cottage in the (still affordable) Hudson Valley, maybe even on a lake. (Check out Lake Oscawana in Putnam Valley. I rented a house there one summer and loved it, though I was bored by the end and glad I hadn’t given up my apartment.) You can sublet your apartment in the city and commute into work on Metro North. After a couple months of this, you’ll have a good idea of whether the pastoral idyll you crave is as satisfying in practice as it is in theory.

New Yorker staff writer Ariel Levy has profiled the intersex South African runner Caster Semenya, the fashion designer Marc Jacobs, the director Nora Ephron, and Cindy McCain, wife of former Republican presidential hopeful Senator John McCain. Previously, Levy wrote for New York magazine for more than decade. Her work has been anthologized in “The Best American Essays” and “The Best American Crime Reporting.” Levy is the author of “Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture” (Free Press, 2005).

If you have a question for the Bintel Brief, email [email protected] Selected letters will be published anonymously. New installments of the Bintel Brief, featuring Ariel Levy, will be published Mondays at

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