New York can bum you the fuck out. It’s expensive and loud and everywhere you look there’s someone more successful than you who also happens to have amazing, toned arms and time for charity work and an assortment of beautiful coats. Your friends are always busy and the ones who aren’t live a cool 75 minute train ride away. My doorknob was broken for months! The most basic and necessary part of the most basic and necessary part of my home! At least once a week I would open my door and the doorknob on the other side would pop off and bounce down my steps onto the sidewalk, each clunk a syncopated reminder that there are other, easier places to live.
When I get stressed out (which is often) and my healthy coping mechanisms aren’t quite cutting it (frequently), I self-soothe by reminding myself why I wanted to live here in the first place. I re-watch Living Single or Sex and the City, I listen to the music I associate with my idealized version of New York and I just mainline rom-coms like there is no tomorrow. New York is at its best and most charming when it is both the reason people meet and the reason they fall apart. In order to rekindle the old flame with New York, fall more in love with myself, and ya know, maybe fall in love with someone when I least expect it (I EXPECTED IT), I plopped myself smack dab into the middle of some of New York’s most iconic rom-com locations and let the universe take over from there.
You’ve Got Mail (Zabar’s + A Chain Book Store)
Since neither The Little Shop Around the Corner nor Fox’s Books exist, I decided to channel the spirit of You’ve Got Mail and head to one of the most romantic spots the city has to offer…the Barnes & Noble on 82nd and Lexington. The air was brisk, the people were hurried and two golden retrievers were barking at each other. Surely this would yield plentiful results!
It was surprisingly crowded, which is good for books but bad for me, as I worried my “look adorably frustrated at the state of big box stores ruining the character of the neighborhood” pouting would go unnoticed in the crowd. I remembered when I walked in that I had to get a card to send to a friend who just had a baby. I headed to the back of the store and straight to the “Babies, Anniversaries, Weddings” section, which is rom-com gold. I pouted in front of some cards for a few minutes, walked around and pouted again.
Your attitude determines your latitude (according to the old Kanye) so I decided to remain peppy and move my way to a different part of the store. I picked up Tom Hanks’ book of short stories for some good juju and began my stroll. I saw someone cute and decided to take myself down the History aisle, but he was on his phone the whole time so he missed what was standing in front of him all (two seconds) along! I decided that in favor of full transparency, I should post up in the true crime aisle so any future lovers and suitors know what I’m about from the jump. Shockingly, no meet-cutes occured. I thought about going to the in-store Starbucks, which as Harling pointed out is a bit of a blind spot in the movie but w/e, but it was too crowded with toddlers, which made me feel like the secondary character in a rom-com which is my true aesthetic.
I bought my not-overly-gendered baby card and made my way a few blocks south to my second location, Zabar’s! I did fall in love, but with the cheese section and not a human. I do have to say a Sunday shopping experience at Zabar’s is not the ideal time to fall in love; people are not there to browse and make eyes, they are there to get their rye bread and cheese and bounce. While I did not fall in love, I did flirt with the idea of buying a $100 teapot, so I think we can say romance truly did get the best of me for a moment.
When Harry Met Sally (Katz’s Deli)
Toot toot! Next stop on the Meg Ryan train, Katz’s Deli from When Harry Met Sally. I would love to meet someone at a deli because that means we have a shared enthusiasm for pickles, which is the kind of solid foundation I’m out here looking for. Edith snapped a few photos of me for the feature image and then took off, which made entering alone feel even weirder. As I was walking in, a man turned around and said, “Gotta get your photo first and your sandwich after huh?” Please don’t talk to me Man I Don’t Know, I’m here to meet a stranger and fall in love.
Woman: I ate your pickle.
Man: Excuse me?
Woman: I thought you were gone and the pickle was going to get thrown away so I…ate it.
Man: Is that something you normally do? Eat the secondary food off of stranger’s plates?
Woman: Excuse me, pickles are not secondary foods. They are the main event. They just get taken for granted because they’re always there and people don’t know how to value consistency.
Man: (extends hand) I’m Lakeith.
Woman: I’m Nora, nice to meet you. Can I buy you a pickle?
Needless to say that didn’t happen, but a million thanks to Katz’s Deli for helping me find my muse!
Serendipity (Serendipity 3)
I watched this movie specifically for this piece and even though it’s basically a 120 minute argument for orbiting, strong recommend. Anyway, Serendipity 3, the restaurant, plays a prominent role in Serendipity, the movie, and is still in business, so this was my spot! I realized while squeezing into my seat (the Jackie O table! Next to the Marilyn Monroe table!) that I’ve never taken myself out for dinner. Growth through stunt journalism, my babies.
As I walk back to the train I meditate on what we sacrifice by staying alone and what we sacrifice by partnering. The cultural narrative around staying single focuses on what we lose or miss rather than what we give up or what we gain. In many ways to stay single is a conscious act; you’re not rearranging the matrix of your life priorities in a way that ranks partnership above the other things in your life, but “the single person” is so often painted as someone who wasn’t chosen. What would it take to rewrite the conversation around singledom as choice?
Upon arriving at my train stop I realize I’ve had chocolate stuck to my glasses for four blocks.
Coming to America (McDonald’s)
The actual McDonald’s/McDowell’s featured in Coming to America in Queens was demolished and it felt a little extra to travel over an hour to go to a McDonald’s that is slightly closer to the location of the original. So, I skipped most of the rom-com back-and-forth to get straight to the payoff of realizing the thing I’ve been looking for was in my backyard the entire time and plopped down at my local McDonald’s on Empire Blvd. one fine autumn morning.
There was no love to be found in this particular McD’s, but there was some really nice soft light and a surprisingly chill vibe. Perhaps there was a prince in disguise and I missed him, but I have full faith that given my frequent trips to the golden arches, there may still be a chance for me to find love over a McGriddle yet.
Sleepless in Seattle (the top of the Empire State Building)
I have been alive on this earth for 31 years and a city inhabitant for most of them, and yet, I somehow assumed I would just march up to the Empire State Building, say, “One ticket, please,” and go straight to the top. What actually happened was that I got a nice tour of New York’s finest lines. All told I think I stood in three huge ones, two small ones and one line up six flights of stairs. Ok back to the beginning:
I get there. I wait in line. A small child dabs incessantly behind me. My feet hurt. I take one of those overpriced photos in front of a fake skyline alone. Is love worth all this?
When I finally get to the 80th floor there are a ton of historical plaques which is extremely my shit. I happen to be wearing overalls, as are most of the men in these photos, so maybe I’ll make it with a ghost. Who knows. I snap a picture of a few facts in case I decided to chat anyone up at the top.
Whoa, hi, sorry didn’t mean to bump into you like that haha. Did you know there are over 96,396 LED lights on this building? What’s your stance on the patriarchy and do you like the show Bob’s Burgers?
This was the least romantic thing I’ve done in a long time. Nevermind that the final face-to-face in Sleepless is orchestrated by picking up an abandoned backpack at the top of a tourist destination, it’s that it’s so empty and pleasant-seeming that makes it fall fully into fantasy. There’s nary a pushy tourist in site. I guess the full body contact I had with some random dad in the elevator could make this count as my most successful turn, but I don’t know. This trip makes me grateful for all of the loving and supportive people in my life who have never once suggested going to the top of the Empire State Building.
So there you have it. I did not find love at New York’s most romantic spots. I didn’t even fall back in love with New York in the way I expected. I had a fine time with some nice moments but nothing that truly felt worth getting off of my couch for, and if that isn’t reflective of the state of modern dating, I don’t know what is.
Documentation by Nora Taylor. Feature image by Edith Young.