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The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

siri, play the song by the clash on repeat.

For as long as I can remember, I wanted to live in New York City. Growing up in suburban Massachusetts, I longed for more. I wanted to be a part of something bigger, greater. And to any eighteen-year-old girl who would drive down the same streets, see the same people day in and day out, where change was seen as something drastically crazy, it would make sense she would want to get out. So, I did.

I moved to Manhattan to start college at The New School. An eager, excited and impressionable young girl who longed to have the most epic years of her life in the greatest city in the world. I was the only person from my private high school who was in downtown NYC and attending art school. I was the first student my high school sent to Parsons School of Design and the first graduate to go to art school in fifteen years. People thought it was a cop out. Art school was not as prestigious as an Ivy or a NESCAC. Yet, I am pretty sure I have been working just as hard as my high school peers. I moved to New York with a lot of anger and fear of how my high school classmates saw me, because in actuality very few of them actually saw me, for me. 

The pressure to belong and to prove something to not just my high school classmates, but to myself was overwhelming. I wanted to curate the perfect New York life on Instagram and Snapchat—to be living the college dream that people would be envious of. It consumed me. I was easily influenced by roommates who were not good influences, trying to keep up in a world I had no prior experience. I went to college with very limited underage drinking experience. I was not invited to parties in high school so I had never tasted vodka or made out with a boy. So, I became who I thought I had to be to survive as an art student in New York City. 

I drank a lot, started smoking cigarettes and downloaded every dating app. I went on a lot of dates with men older than me, men who treated me like an object, men who could have cared less what I was studying or what music I liked to listen to. I kept hoping I would meet someone and we’d finally date. I would kiss a boy who saw me as more than a fun hookup. But, that didn’t happen. The failure I felt in my dating life impacted me more greatly than I thought. How I had been objectified time after time. I began acting out of character, trying to be this effortlessly, cool, mysterious, sad artist type who chain-smoked on the corner near the local bodega and wandered the streets with my film camera strung over my shoulder hoping to meet the one.

In my effort to craft the perfect persona, I began to fall apart on the inside. I was using sex as a way to feel something, binging on Shake Shack and Trader Joe’s cupcakes. To the world and my friends around me, I was fine. More than fine. I went to the gym multiple times a week, got perfect grades, my art was better than ever. But, my art was all sad. It was about the inner turmoil I was experiencing and the positive reception of the work convinced me that I had to continue to be this person to make beautiful work. I did not like who I was when I left New York when the pandemic hit. 

When COVID-19 struck, I was launched one thousand miles away to South Florida where my family was living. When I got there, I pretended like everything was okay. That my life in New York City was everything I wanted it to be. Quarantine was a fantasy and I could be the version of me who I felt could not survive in New York. Instead of a sad artist, I was a happy young woman. I spent my time at the beach, eating healthy, reading, playing card games with my brother, and cuddling my dog. My mom and I would take long walks and my dad and I would write jokes. I was the happiest and healthiest I had been in a long time. But was any of that real? Was that version of me crafted because of circumstance? I really liked who I was during that year and a half. 

I moved back to New York in June. It felt like a slap in the face. Everything I was dealing with pre-pandemic came rushing back—the binging and restricting, dating boys who were bad for me, and trying to keep up with my friends who could not wait for bars to be open again. The person who I was becoming during quarantine started to feel like a dream. But, I want to find a way to bring her into this world that is New York—to make her real. 

The question I have now is: can I be the woman I want to be in New York City? 

As of this very second, the answer is no. But, a part of me wants to stay—to give myself a chance. In New York, there is a greater chance of my career taking off. But, can I sacrifice my health and happiness for my art? Before COVID, I would have said yes. Now, I do not think so. 

As graduation approaches, the choice to stay in New York City or adventure somewhere new is daunting. A part of me wants to hold onto this version of myself, but I think I deserve to see who I’d be without the crutch of the city to fall back on. Only time will tell. But, one thing for sure is I can’t wait to see who I’ll become.

Sydney Epstein

New School '22

Sydney Epstein is an artist and writer from Boston, MA. She is in her final year at The New School. Sydney is double majoring in photography and creative wiring with a minor in screenwriting. When she's not creating, she'll have her head buried in a good book, at the gym, or FaceTiming her dog. Follow her on Instagram @sydeps.jpg for dog pics, poems, and more!
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