Meghan Daum has been a weekly Op-Ed columnist at the Los Angeles Times since 2005. Her latest book, Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived In That House, is now out in paperback.
I've always been somebody who exerts a great deal of energy trying to get my realities to match my fantasies, even if the fantasies are made from materials that are no longer manufactured, even if some governmental agency has assessed my aspirations and pronounced them a health hazard. Lately, my New York fantasy has proven a little too retro for my own good. Though I did come to New York immediately after college and lived, believe it or not, within four blocks of 104th Street and West End Avenue, it wasn't until recently that I began to realize that I wasn't having quite as good a time here as I once did. I say this as someone who has had a very, very good time in New York. I say this also as someone who has enjoyed a good deal of professional success here, particularly considering that I am young and committed to a field that is notoriously low paying and unsteady. But low pay and unsteadiness never really bothered me all that much. I've historically been pretty good at getting by on what I have, especially if you apply the increasingly common definition of "getting by," which has more to do with keeping up appearances than keeping things under control. Like a social smoker whose supposedly endearing desire to emulate Marlene Dietrich has landed her in a cancer ward, I have recently woken up to the frightening fallout of my own romantic notions of life in the big city: I am completely over my head in debt. I have not made a life for myself in New York City. I have purchased a life for myself.