It’s New Years’ Eve in NYC. Again. Yeah, surprise, it happens every year, so we should all be used to it. And yet, there’s always the struggle to find the right thing to do. This is fraught because not only is New Years the biggest party night of the year, it also functions as a celebration of both a beginning and an end, so it has the responsibility of summing up the year that’s ending and setting you up for a good year to come. That is really just too much for one holiday to handle. Plus, it generally follows on the trauma of the concentrated dose of family that comes every year at holiday time, bringing up all sorts of issues that now you really just want to drown in a night of debauchery or at least heavy drinking.
The lead up: You start tentatively asking your friends what they’re doing in early December, but you have to be careful. The thing is, A) You don’t want to sound desperate or pathetic because you don’t already have incredible plans and B) You have to find that right thing to do. If your friend has an idea that sounds interesting, you have to be intrigued but non-committal, because what if you get a better offer? What if the best party/event/last-minute dream trip comes along and then you’ve already committed to a small dinner at a restaurant, or going to see some band you don’t even really like all that much, or at least, not New Years much? On any other day, this kind of conversation would be incredibly rude — to ask someone what they’re doing and then not make plans with them — but because it’s New Years, all bets are off, because everyone is playing the same game.
And because you’re playing it, inevitably, a week before the holiday, you still don’t know what you’re going to do, so, now in a panic, you just pick something — or, as I often have, three, four or five things that you have to travel between, on the worst night of the year to try to get a cab, to avoid your FOMO. Now, even though you’re terrified that you’ve picked the wrong thing(s), you think that maybe if you wear the right outfit, drink the right amount of alcohol, and act like you’re having the time of your life, you can still make it happen. This inevitably leads to regrets of all sorts — spending too much money, eating and drinking too much, giving your number to or kissing someone you wish you hadn’t or don’t even remember, and then having to stumble home, freezing, at some ungodly hour, perhaps waiting forever in a subway station or train that smells like vomit, avoiding people who are even more drunk and stupid than you. You recover on New Years Day, try to make a good story out of it so at least it’s not a total loss, and swear that you’ll do better next year.
The best New Years I’ve ever had, at least on paper, was one of those nights when everything actually happened like it would be scripted to in the rom com version of my life that has yet to be made. I had three parties to go to, and the second one was a big bash that friends of mine who owned a post-production house held with everyone in their large shared office/studio space in the Meat Packing District (in the 90s, so before it really was the Meat Packing District, so that makes it even cooler, right?). I’d come from a family vacation in the Caribbean, so I was as tan as I’d ever be, and wearing the perfect short, velvet party dress — so check, and check. Then at maybe around 11:30, who did I run into but this guy who I’d always thought was really attractive, who also seemed, on this night, to think I was really attractive, and who I got to kiss at midnight and give my phone number to. Then I got to flit off to meet the friends I’d promised hook up with at my third party, to which I invited him to go, but he declined, looking sadly after me as I departed. When I got home, sure enough, he’d called and left his number with my roommate (this was the pre-cell phone era), with the message, “I should have gotten on the elevator.” He was so drunk that my roommate had trouble making it out, but yes, he actually said that. Of course, the coda to this story is that, true to real life not being like the movie version, about a week later, he and I had the most awkward date possible. He was late, so we missed the movie we were supposed to see (it was, of course, Titanic), then either he was so good-looking he’d never learned how to make conversation, or he just was so uninterested in me now that he was sober and I was no longer tan that he didn’t want to bother. Whatever the reason, we wandered around for two or three hours, managing to get through dinner and drinks with me basically babbling just for the sake of having it not be entirely silent. It was such a relief when we finally said goodnight that I was able to not be too disappointed that I didn’t get another kiss (I honestly didn’t remember the New Years one).
The worst New Years Eve I ever had was when three friends and I decided to pay to go to a big party thrown by these “name party-planners.” For a set fee, they promised top shelf open bar, food, and famous DJs at a very cool space on the Lower East Side. We paid, dressed (again, of course, I remember what I wore: a tight black skirt, tall boots and a shiny, slinky shirt — it felt like it was made out of petroleum — that I had bought but never worn) and got on line in at the venue around 10:30. And after that things went downhill. We were still on line at midnight. Then when we did get inside, it was a disorganized mess of more lines for coat check and a fast-dwindling supply of well liquor in tiny plastic cups. Two of my friends were so frustrated that they left soon after, but one friend and I stuck it out and danced to the unexciting DJ, wanting to make the night worth something. By the time we did try to leave, there were huge lines again for coats, which became a free-for-all when it turned out none of the checkers knew where anyone’s coat was, with people jumping over the check tables to grab anything they could get. When I fought my way in (after a the table I climbed over collapsed under me), my coat was nowhere to be found, and of course there were no cabs, so, coatless, I walked way too many blocks through snow drifts to the F train, waited forever, then dragged myself the several more blocks home, where I had never been happier to experience my overheated Brooklyn apartment. The coda to that story was that we got our money back from Amex (plus I actually somehow got the number of one of said “name party-planners” from one of the coat-check people and so was able to scream at him personally before he turned his phone off), and, in the end, it made for a great cautionary tale for the four of us to tell at parties, where we could pretty much top any bad New Years story (except for maybe the one one of my friends has about being trapped in an elevator).
In truth, most of the truly good New Years Eves that I’ve had have been ones where I fought these instincts, settled into low or no expectations, and just did something with my friends/partner that was fun: dinner at a nice restaurant, a small party, watching the fireworks in Grand Army Plaza, seeing a band that just knew how to have a good time, dancing the night away at a lesbian club (kind of the height no expectations if you’re a single heterosexual, which is what made it fun). A close second has been coming home on New Years Eve from a trip so late that I couldn’t make plans, and then had license to just fall asleep on the couch before midnight. One reason I look forward to having children, honestly, is that your partying years can officially be over, so that nobody, including you, has any expectations about what New Years should be.
Because every year, I think I have finally gotten to a point where I really and truly don’t care, and will just do whatever, now that I’m married and not looking to meet a guy, or really anyone, since I’ve gotten less gregarious as I’ve gotten older and feel like I have enough friends. But then inevitably, when the time comes, and everyone starts talking about it, I have to fight the urge to question whatever my plans are and keep looking and looking for the right thing. Even though I know there is no right thing.
Happy New Year!