Neighborliness And No Loneliness? What City Am I Living In?


New York is changing. New York is always changing. Now it’s a place where people come to raise families; you can’t smoke in bars; the Meatpacking District is like Miami or Los Angeles or Milan or something; Times Square is like Disneyland except with more car bombs. All true. But sometimes it seems like New York is changing faster and more dramatically than you’d ever expect. Like when the place seems to be losing its most New York characteristics.

Take this article in the Home and Garden section of today’s Times. It’s about how a couple’s divorce can affect other people in the building where they live. It starts by acknowledging the cliche that New Yorkers don’t know their neighbors. Then it asserts that this is not always the case, and that when close relationships are formed within a building the ugliness of a divorce can make everyone feel uncomfortable.

“Joseph Cilona, a clinical psychologist and life coach in Manhattan, said that in the last several months he has had three cases involving clients trying to deal with troubled relationships in their apartment buildings. ‘It’s kind of a natural reaction to close the doors,’ he said. ‘But neighbors should be proactive, should talk about what’s happened and should purposely try and push things back to where they were.’”

I had to read that three or four times, with my jaw dropped open, before coming to conclusion that Dr. Cilona was not in fact advocating that neighbors try to push a divorcing couple back together-which would be an extremely intrusive thing to do, and fly very much in the face of the New York tradition of minding one’s own business. Rather, he is saying neighbors should push their respective relationships with each side of the couple back to “where they were.” But that is not very clear.

Then there’s the case of Holly F., a woman whose upstairs neighbors-a couple with three children-split up after a loud drunken argument turned physical and led to the man’s arrest.

The father spent the night in jail and was reunited with the family the next day. But within the year, he had moved out and the couple had divorced. Soon after, Holly F. moved out as well. “I became jumpy about everything,” she recalled. “And I didn’t even realize it until I got out of there. It makes the neighbors a nervous wreck. It was like a disease had spread to me, and I was an innocent bystander.”

This person moved out, gave up her apartment, because her neighbors got a divorce. In the New York housing market!

Lastly the article tells the happier story of a woman named Mary Williams who got divorced but, because of the friendly relationship she had with her neighbors, was able to take a different apartment in the same building to stay near her children. Her neighbors even gave her furniture.

“The worst aspects of living in a close space also became the best. I had a community I could go to, that reached out and helped us,” she said. “When you live here, there’s no escape. But there’s also no loneliness.”

There’s no loneliness in New York City? What?! New York City is the loneliest place in the world! It’s the whole main paradox of city life. Being alone in a crowd-this is a defining characteristic of the place. What about the guy playing the saxophone on his fire escape late on a hot summer night? You think he doesn’t feel lonely? That sound doesn’t make you feel lonely? Everyone else can hear it, the city is full of people, you don’t they all hear it, we all hear it, you don’t think it makes everyone feel lonely? Isn’t that why anyone who lives here lives here, to feel lonely?