I am writing this article in the middle of the Atlantic ocean, flying away from New Haven. I used to feel excited every time I left town. After all, when you ask people why they love New Haven, they often yell at you for liking the wrong pizza… But close after that, they say they like New Haven because it’s close to New York and Boston. The main characteristics that makes New Haven likeable is the fact that we are nearby two cities not even in our state. The “Visit New Haven” Tourism Office must really love that one…
And it took me a while to love the city for what she is. When my husband and I moved to New Haven five years ago, we got slapped. Quite literally at first, when we discovered walking from Union Station to Downtown through the now demolished residential project was a bad idea. And then, in a more subtle but as hurtful way, the city grows on you.
You discover the city, bright eyed and bushy tailed, all is new and all is fun. You are not yet upset when Arethusa closes at 2 pm on a warm Sunday afternoon when you really wanted ice cream. The limited amount of entertainment compared to bigger cities forces people to be friendlier and to invite each other for activities, socials, dinners. The students keep the town active and exciting. Everyone here is interesting. Everyone here knows everyone. You make great connections, make amazing friends.
When May comes, and when Yale lets her students leave for the summer, you realize the town is relaxed, peaceful. The real face of the town emerges. You start recognizing familiar faces out and about, and they do not have Yale IDs. You try to mingle, but realize the friendliness and openness of the familiar faces is not the same as it is with the Yalies.
They do not want to talk to you (Granted, who would talk to me if they were not force to?). They do not want to introduce themselves. They do not want new friends. The coldness of this crowd is in stark contrast from what you experience during the school year. And at first, you do not understand why. You take it personally. You think they are jerks. You are better than them anyway… I do not need them! FUCK THEM! ….Argh… Excuse me, I think I need to talk about this bottled-up anger to someone in exchange for some money…
But soon enough, Fall rolls in. The dying leaves are replaced by green fresh leaves made of new students, new postdocs and new colleagues. Everyone here is interesting. Everyone here knows everyone. You make good connections, make friends.
This time around, during summer, you realize that some of your friends left at the same time as the students. But Fall comes in again fast, and this year again, everyone here is interesting. Everyone here knows everyone. You make chit chat, make acquaintances.
The tidal waves of students coming and going slowly erodes your social foundations. You look back at your interactions with people actually living in this town. How many school years did these poor souls endure? How many cycles of friendship did they go through? I understand them now. I used to rush toward new people. I used to keep a long list of recommendations, advice, and cool stuff to do in town that I would email to new arrivals. I do not do that anymore.
The constant effort of building a social circle in such a transient city is exhausting. Each outing at bar becomes a blind date. You talk about where you are from, what brings you in town and listen to the fresh off the Metro-North people complaining about how New Haven is small and boring. I’m sorry but this innocent city trying her best to make you feel home! Yes, sometimes she tries to make you sit on the green between used needles to listen to world music, but isn’t that what summer festivals are for? Drugs and music?
The reason each criticism hurts more and more is because at this point, you are part of the city. You love New Haven, you know that it takes time to discover her and it is unfair for people to criticize her without knowing her. I always feel the need to defend her. Why are they so mean to her?
I know New Haven is only a city, and I am responsible for projecting my feelings and impressions on her walls. The high altitude and the lack of sleep might be responsible. The mayoral office is concerned that their inhabitants are retiring with their pension to another state and will not pay their taxes here. I would be more concerned by the fact the population of New Haven regenerates every 5 years.
This city is not real. Yale forces New Haven to be her dorm. Yes, you can come and live here for a while but at some point, you need to graduate, you need to move on. If you do not, you will find yourself dancing drunk and high at 3 am in the basement of this East Rock house that the school of forestry students turned into a rave. The tidal wave of students eroding your foundation is now a sea of twenty-something who seem to regenerate each year, suspended in time, as you grow older. Is my time here is up? Should I join my long list of friends who moved away?
I am flying away from New Haven. This time I feel a little sad. Because I know that while I am not leaving for good this time, I know that, at some point, I will. And it breaks my heart.