The Serenity of Being Alone in NYC

By: Ariela Greengart  |  May 9, 2017

Serenity of NYC

Shia LaBeouf said it best: Just do it.

Thinking back over my three years spent at Stern, I realized that there were a lot of opportunities missed. And the opportunities that I was lucky to experience are what my favorite memories consist of. Then why were there so many moments where I just spent in my bed watching television?

Don’t get me wrong: as someone going into entertainment, I am the last person to say that television is a waste of time. After a long, strenuous day at school, television is often the best way to wind down.

Spending time alone isn’t a bad thing, either. I, personally, am an extroverted introvert. I thrive on social activity, but I must recharge in isolation. However, one thing I found to be an assumption many people make is that you can only do activities with other people. This is a false assessment that prevents many people from doing what they want. During Pesach break of my seminary year, I decided that I wanted to visit my family in Vienna while fellow students either ventured to Poland or flew home. I took my time there to explore the country, alone.   

Oftentimes, we are afraid of the word “alone.” Humans aren’t meant to be alone, right? We’re meant to be with people. So if we’re seen alone, there’s a stigmatism that goes along with that image—it shows the world that there must be something wrong with us, if we choose to be by ourselves.

For those Facebook users who may have noticed, there’s this new hashtag going around called the Be By Myself challenge, created by fellow Stern students. Their website states, “I take the pledge to partake in solo activities despite the pressure of social norms to hang out in groups. My pledge will help contribute to my continuous growth of my constantly developing self.” On their Facebook page, they state, “In order to be myself, I must first know how to be by myself.” These girls have the right idea. There shouldn’t be a stigma against being by yourself, hanging out with yourself or doing things alone.

So, I’ve created a list (my specialty) of my favorite places to spend time alone.  

1: The Hudson River. In Dr. Peter’s American Literature II class, after we had read and discussed Walt Whitman’s “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry,” I channeled my inner poet and wrote “Windy Day at Hudson River.” Many counselors will tell you that, if you’re feeling depressed, you should take a walk by water. When I was stressed, I would walk to the river. When difficult and trying situations were occurring in my life, I would walk to the Hudson for some clarity. There’s a certain level of serenity to sitting on the bench near the river alone that nothing else can truly provide you.

2: Parks. Whether it’s Madison Square, Bryant, Union Square or Central, parks are the best place to study. If you’re a Brookdale student and need a little time away from roommates, or if simply you just want somewhere new to take your work, the park provides serenity and a background buzz that helps me study more than any other place in the city. Now that it’s spring and finals are coming up, bring your books, get out of the library and come get some fresh air while you’re studying for that massive lab final approaching.

3: The Strand. Truthfully, I’ve only discovered the Strand recently and only went with friends. But the short amount of time I spent in that store provided me with a craving to come back for more. I can imagine myself perusing the seemingly never-ending shelves and finding solace within the old book smell.

4: Concerts. Contrary to popular belief, yes, you can go to a concert by yourself. Sometimes, I’ve found it nicer. True, when venturing to a concert with friends, I become a lot louder and I laugh a lot harder. I would not recommend going to a concert with seating, but try other spots like Irving Plaza and Webster Hall, where it’s standing room only. When you’re alone, you can slip yourself easily to the front because you have no one to stay by. Lose yourself within the mass of the crowd around you and listen to your favorite artists playing mere inches away from you. This could also be applicable to a Broadway show. If there’s a concert you want to see or a Broadway show you want to experience that no one else is interested in, go yourself. Don’t miss out on it just because you’re the only one with good taste.

5: 5th Avenue. You’re in New York City: take advantage of it. 5th Avenue is right in the hub of Midtown without going too far into the madness of Times Square. One of the most relaxing things a girl can do for herself is window shopping—that is, if she has the self-control not to buy out the entire store (I agree, it’s rather difficult to hold yourself back when you notice the cutest dress). The best time to go is at night during the holiday time, when Macy’s has put up their Christmas windows. There’s something magical about 5th Avenue that can’t be described in words.

6: Hotel Lobbies. If you’re like me, you love simply being inside a hotel. They’re beautiful, they’re fancy and they’re full of first-date shidduchim you can spy on. This is also a wonderful place to bring your work. Grab your backpack and head to a Hilton and sit down in the lobby. This is a place you really can only go alone—if you bring a group of friends, the likelihood of being kicked out is high.

7: Museums. We live in New York City, so there are tons of museums. Sometimes, it’s easier and nicer to navigate through museums at your own pace. If you want to spend more time in a certain area, there’s no one nagging you to hurry up. Even better, if there’s an area you completely want to skip, you don’t need to be held behind looking at something you don’t care for. Whether it’s the Met, the MoMA (I personally am not an art enthusiast, but for those who are), or even the Museum of Television and Radio, treat yourself to a free day at the museum.

8: The High Line. I would not recommend going to the High Line at night unless you’re with friends, but during the day it’s beautiful. There’s not much to do, but simply walking or sitting by it can provide a sense of calm that’s worth it to experience alone. The High Line is one of the nicest places to clear your thoughts, which is always nice while taking a break from writing a grueling essay.

9: Libraries. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but New York has tons of libraries all over the place. I personally have difficulty studying in the Stern library with constant whispering that’s incredibly audible. At the public library, there’s a true sense of quiet. Plus, if you get a library card, you can look through the books and borrow something for school or for pleasure. I also enjoy people watching at the library—you see a whole slew of folks there.

10: Just Go. Sometimes, the best thing I can do for myself is just take a walk or take a subway to anywhere. I sometimes go through a list of the best places to go in New York and just go. Or, I randomly choose a spot on the map. Or sometimes I just walk, and let my feet guide me (please do this during the day, as at night it can get very sketchy to venture anywhere). We have an entire city to explore: it’s not just all centered in Lexington.

So, the next time you have a massive test to study for, consider these new spots to take your work. Or, just try to treat yourself a little bit more often. I’m graduating in three weeks, and I cannot say with certainty that I had taken advantage of the city while I was here. But it’s never too late to start.