New York City is the center of the world, but it has a bad rep when it comes to love and dating. In a city of eight million people, it is easy to become jaded. People talk fast, and walk faster. Rent is high, apartments are small, the subway is crowded and often stalls. Despite everything, there are also wonderful, quirky, kind-hearted people all over New York City. Every person comes with unique love stories.
I’ve never lived anywhere else, so I can’t tell you if it’s harder to find love in NYC. All I know is that I’m the daughter of two immigrants who found each other in New York City. My dad came from Italy, and my mom came from the Philippines. They met while working together at Sbarro’s pizzeria. My mom had a crush on a different pizza man, but eventually my dad charmed her with his hard accent and penchant for giving people random nicknames. For their first date, they watched Fatal Attraction. My dad fell on his ass after slipping on snow outside the theater, and the rest is history.
I grew up with a New York City love story close to home–a tale of two different people finding each other amidst the hustle and bustle, the struggle to survive, and making it work. To me, that’s the epitome of love in NYC and what makes the best love stories. Here are some love stories to remind you love is all around, especially in a place as wild and crazy as ours.
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Love Story 1: When the Universe Lines Up
Lindsey moved to NYC from Wisconsin for nursing school. Like many people, she used dating apps, and never expected to find someone by happenstance. But everything changed when she subletted her Harlem apartment for two months in 2018. Despite the short time, she and her subleaser became very close, and Lindsey was sad when the time to part ways arrived.
Lindsey didn’t expect to ever see her again since “NYC tends to swallow people up,” she says. But eight months later, Lindsey received a surprise invite to her holiday party. Eager to reconnect, she accepted the invite.
“Her holiday party was at her three-bedroom small, but beautiful, sixth-floor walk-up in Chinatown, and it was packed and sweaty with the NYC radiation. I didn’t know anyone except the host and the two friends I brought with me, so I was entertaining myself by looking around to see who the hottest person at the party was, and there he was! So freaking cute, I didn’t even want to talk to him because I was convinced he was too good looking for me,” Lindsey recalled, her giddiness palpable through text.
Too nervous to talk to him, she indulged in several cups of wine and quiet stalking across the room. She finally found her courage upon noticing the flamingo socks he wore–she owned the same pair. Armed with this conversation starter, she approached him.
While Lindsey said NYC can swallow people up, I think it does the opposite. In a city as populous and ever-changing as NYC, I find I’m always running into people. I find old friends on my lunch break scurrying through downtown. I even find a nemesis or old crush on a crowded subway platform. NYC can sometimes feel so small when it’s so sprawling. It is always bringing people in and out of your life.
Through an old connection, a midwestern nurse found an Indian consultant at a party.
“My love for New York has been a slow build up.“
For the new couple, the city provided an endless amount of exciting dates. “Our first date was at the Guggenheim, the Frick and at a rooftop daytime rave/holi party in Hell’s Kitchen. Our first kiss was watching the sunset on the Hudson at Hudson River Park. Before COVID all we did for dates is take advantage of this wild f***ing city. My birthday at Pastis in the Meatpacking District, meeting his mom on Wall Street. Pretending to be strangers and text flirting from across from each other on a crowded subway car. New York is the backdrop for our entire love story and so ends up being a big part of it.”
Lindsey’s New York love story isn’t just about finding her boyfriend. NYC has become an integral part of her identity. Thinking back on her decision to leave her small town of 11,000 people, she says, “I guess I hoped to find something new, a change of scenery. I had pretty low expectations, I was like, ‘Let’s just see how this goes, what can I learn.’ I figured even if I hated it here, at least I learned that about myself.”
That willingness to plunge into the unknown has served Lindsey well.
“I didn’t know anyone […] when I moved here, and it was one of the hardest adjustments I’ve ever had, but I feel so proud and honored and humbled to live here now. I know this all sounds so cliche, but I didn’t have a rosy view of what my life would be like here. My love for New York has been a slow build-up. At first, I found it so hectic and annoying at times (so many tourists and they’re always walking so slow!!), and now when I leave, I miss the hustle.”
The city is like that. It sneaks up on you until you’re not even sure when your love for it started, only now you’re in the middle, and there is no end.
Love Story 2: Strangers In A Strange Land
Roxanne* moved to New York with her sister in the 1980s. She came to the states for the first time after finishing school in Manila, and after visiting several cities, decided NYC was the place she felt most at home. “From the minute we got there, we knew there was something in the city that we wanted–we just had to stay there somehow. We had to find a place for ourselves because it was so vibrant. It was so lively. And it was a mix of so many different cultures and people of all sorts,” she told me from her home in Spain, the longing for New York clear in her voice.
On a Saturday night, Roxanne was at a club, dancing the night away–something she loved to do–when her sister pulled a handsome stranger onto the dance floor. After realizing he didn’t speak any English, only Spanish, Roxanne’s sister passed him off to her since she spoke some of the language.
The last thing she expected on her night out was to meet a guy.
They started talking about many things including life in New York–always a great conversation starter. Thinking back on that serendipitous night, Roxanne says, “Since he was a chef, he decided to invite me, the following weekend, for some paella. And I said yes.[…] And that was the beginning of our story.”
“I think only somewhere in New York you’d be able to find a story like this.”
Roxanne admits it’s quite common for people to meet in bars and clubs, especially back in the 80s. Nowadays, app-based first meetings are very common, but that wasn’t an option when Roxanne lived in New York. However, there is something first meetings in NYC tend to have in common, regardless of being face-to-face or a right swipe. “The way we met each other, from totally different backgrounds, totally different generations–he’s eleven years older than me–and the fact that he’s from a totally different country […]–I think only somewhere in New York you’d be able to find a story like this. Because New York has always been a melting pot for foreigners and people from all over the world.”
New York does indeed have that reputation for good reason. In the 1980s and in 2018, both Roxanne and Lindsey met people completely different from themselves. This isn’t a new phenomenon, but it’s a special one. Nowhere compares to the diversity and freedom of expression found in NYC.
However, Roxanne’s new romance had an expiration date. Her Spanish chef was only in New York for a year due to work, and then would be moving back to Spain. “We didn’t want a very serious relationship from day one. We would see each other every weekend, go out dancing since that’s my favorite pastime.” As things went on, they started taking weekend trips to Bear Mountain and spending more time outside, like picnicking with his friends, who helped her practice her Spanish. They never labeled their relationship, but they knew they were happy together.
“Whenever we talk about how we began, New York is always there.”
As their year drew to a close, they took trips to Manila and to Spain to meet each other’s families. When he asked her to move to Spain with him, Roxanne said yes. She credits New York with helping her become more independent and helping her make the transition to a new country and city (again).
Even though the happy couple has since moved away, their time in New York still stands out in their memories. “Whenever we talk about how we began, New York is always there. It’s still one of our favorite cities.” They have been back several times, and Roxanne has even taken solo trips to visit her sister and see friends. Her love for NYC is part of who she is now. Without New York, she would not have been able to make her personal and romantic life in Spain work. “I came from a very sheltered family in the Philippines, where I had everything done for myself. I was never, ever alone. […] Moving to New York opened me up.”
And here her voice swells with pride as she says, “I became a whole new person, very independent. I learned how to make money and save money. Saving up for the future became very important to me, and that has helped me a lot in my life in Spain. I became very open to meeting new people from different countries. And so if it wasn’t for New York, I know for a fact I would have been very lost in Spain.”
New York does that to a person. It can be lonely and tough trying to find a tribe of people you connect with, who want the same things you do. The city forces you to value money differently because everything is expensive, and nothing comes easily. This is especially powerful for women.
“I was never, ever alone. Moving to New York opened me up.”
When Roxanne said she was never alone, this particularly struck me. So often women are raised to be partnered up, co-dependent, or aren’t taught to be comfortable with their own thoughts, their own selves. It is well-documented how often women and young girls struggle with maintaining high self-esteem, strong positive feelings related to themselves, and body image. Girls aren’t kind to themselves. They aren’t happy with who they are. And if you aren’t at peace with yourself, you don’t know how to be alone and happy–how to be your own friend.
A city as tough as New York can either exacerbate those problems, or it can force someone to grow. Roxanne may not have struggled with these problems–our conversation didn’t veer in that direction–but her statement reverberated within me as a reminder that girls are raised to be protected instead of brave. But Roxanne did a very brave thing leaving everything behind to live in New York, and she did it again to follow her love story to Spain.
To this day, Roxanne and her Spaniard enjoy eating paella and dancing together. “New York is very much a part of our lives,” she says, and if I listen closely, I can still hear a little bit of that New York accent in her voice.
*Name changed for anonymity
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Love Story 3: Loving A City Enough To Put Down Roots
People leave New York all the time. Sometimes New York can be a chapter in someone’s story–they move here, they get their fill of it, and then they continue off to new adventures fundamentally changed by their time here. But for other people, New York is their one and only. Hattie Grace Elliot calls Soho home and the creative headquarters of her company Blankie Tails.
New York love stories aren’t just about people falling in love in the city. New York love stories are also about people falling in love with the city. Hattie remembers living between the Upper West Side and Piermont, NY after her parents’ divorce. She recalls the silence in Piermont while trying to fall asleep as a two-year-old. It was so foreign to her and disconcerting. She was used to living next to a fire station, constant sirens and blaring lights–her own unique lullaby. “The lull of sirens and people and all that stuff was something that I loved so much to fall asleep to and I couldn’t sleep [without it]. So my first memory of New York was being out of it and missing it.”
To make it in New York, you have to love the noise, the congestion, the hard parts. All the things that make people leave New York are why New Yorkers stay. All those things feel like home.
“New York is tough and nothing comes easy,” says Hattie, as we talk about how the city molded her into a successful entrepreneur. “The city is always moving forward. It never stops to cry for you. Things keep moving forward, so despite whatever happens, I think that does instill a toughness and a work ethic that’s very beneficial and has helped me get through the ebbs and flows of running and growing a business.”
“[The city] never stops to cry for you.”
Her first company The Grace List helped New Yorkers connect and enjoy the city together because she understands more than anyone how challenging life in NYC is, and also how extraordinary it is. Later, she founded Blankie Tails, a toy company inspired by her experiences as a New Yorker.
Hattie credits New York’s creative energy, even the “smells, the sights, the fashion, the theater” as inspiration for creating playable blankets for anyone who has a little mermaid in them. After being tapped to create a line for Disney, Hattie became stuck creatively.
“I was walking through the streets of Manhattan, and in the window of Moschino seeing this insane gown that’s trompe l’oeil–like a total illusion, over the top, insane piece of fashion in the window, was an ah-ha moment.” Tromp l’oeil is a French term that translates into “to deceive the eye” and can most commonly be seen in paintings from the 1600s.
That’s the magic of New York City. There’s so much going on in this city at any given time, you have no idea what you might discover.
With the onset of Covid-19, which barreled through the city like a tidal wave, Hattie rushed in to help her beloved New York. “The worst feeling is just watching this all go down and watching the city that you love just on its knees and not being able to do something.”
Horrified to see how unprepared the city was for a pandemic, Hattie mobilized. Using her manufacturing connections in China, and her sizable warehouse in Pennsylvania, Hattie distributed over a million units of PPE to hospitals and first responders across the city.
“A quintessential New York weekend.”
In the midst of all the chaos, she even found a new kind of love. Thanks to the power of Bumble, Hattie met Patrick. For two months, the pandemic forced them to trade messages and long Facetime calls, growing more and more attached, until they could finally meet in person.
Hattie admits she might have been quick to rule him out if they had been in normal times because he’s a resident of the Upper East Side. “I’ve always loved downtown. I love the energy, the vibe.” She has her favorite dog park, her grocery store, and she loves her neighbors. She says she’s always tried to date guys who live geographically close because they understand that. She adds that people are so busy in New York with work. Hattie is one of those people, frequently traveling to trade shows, buyers meetings, and overseeing her manufacturing in China. With the city in lockdown, Hattie’s life ground to a halt.
When their courtship turned IRL, they spent a weekend in Soho together, walking Hattie’s French bulldogs down the cobbled streets, picnicking, and having “a quintessential New York weekend.” For Hattie, this was a new kind of relationship. Normally, her first dates are in upscale cocktail bars and fancy restaurants. With Patrick, she’s able to appreciate the quieter spots of the city. Without any business travel on her docket, or anyone else’s, dating in New York finally became less busy.
These days, she’s hanging out with her new love on Long Island, but she’s eager to get back to the city full-time–her one true love.
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Find your own New York love story
New York love stories are exciting, unique, and never-ending. And as you can probably tell, the best ones are with New Yorkers and their city. Because of this, New York love stories are enduring.
Similar themes run between Lindsey, Roxanne, Hattie’s, and my parents’ stories: different people finding each other, whether that’s differences in ethnicities, ages, careers, or desires. Women becoming stronger, bolder, fulfilled because of the city. There are differences, too: New York in the 80s versus New York today, ex-pats and immigrants versus native New Yorkers, uptown and downtown folks. One thing is clear: there’s always been love in this messy sleep-deprived city.
To me, New York City has always been hard, but it has also been incredibly soft. From my parent’s own story, I grew up with a sense of possibility and romance. I learned to see the beauty in the smoke drifting out of subway grates, the view from the D train at the crack of dawn when I’m still sleepy and the rising sun shines behind the Verrazano Bridge. I love New York, and I love the person it made me: a resilient, creative, whip-smart badass. Finally, I love the boy that I found in it–a country-mouse drawn to this magnificent city for the same reasons people have been for years.
As long as there’s a New York City, there will be scores of love stories. Strangers meeting, friends becoming something more, rivals turned paramours. Tangled up between them will be a different kind of romance, one between you and the city. And whatever it is, happy or sad or a mix of both, it will rock you, unravel you, and transform you.