The Neuroses of New York

75 Years Ago, Karen Horney (a New Yorker) Named 10 Forms of Nuttiness; Time for an Update!

One society matron sent her daughter to boarding school out of state this year rather than have her continue on at her well-regarded Upper East Side high school because “she was turning into a monster.” The last straw was when the girl demanded a chauffeur as a birthday present (“All my friends have drivers!” she explained) and proceeded to flip out when her parents told her she couldn’t go out to the clubs with her friends after her birthday party. She had just turned fourteen.

9. The Neurotic Need for Self-Sufficiency

There’s no greater expression of one’s independence than a home of one’s own. Just ask the many thirtysomethings still living with mom and dad. But even for those of us who are gainfully employed, the right apartment can be hard to come by.

Even if you do find that perfect pad, you then often have to get past a condo board, which—surprise—is often worse than dealing with your parents ever was. Madonna, Courtney Love, Mariah Carey, Gloria Vanderbilt, and Calvin Klein have all been turned down by snooty members of coop buildings.

Reasons for denial can include: a scandal in your past, too much press—whether favorable or unfavorable—the wrong friends or the wrong kind of money (the older, the better). “It’s all about who you know, what you’ve accomplished, what charity boards you’re on, et cetera,” noted Kirk Henkels, director of private brokerage for Stribling. “You have to have a clever broker—one who makes sure that recommendation letters come from people the board members know and like, on business proper stationery, not social stationery. It’s like joining a private club.”

Our need for independence also finds expression in our favored modes of transportation. The subways have improved tremendously since the ’70s, but a highly neurotic subset of New Yorkers are eagerly keeping the cabbies in business (no wonder the price of a medallion just topped $1 million). Nicole Young, a “30-something” fashion designer who was born and bred in New York, hasn’t stepped through a turnstile since 2001.

“I used to take the subway everywhere,” Ms. Young said. “But after 9/11 I could never go back. It’s crazy—but I figure if I’m above ground, it’s one less way the terrorists can get me!”

Ms. Young admits it’s a phobia, but that doesn’t make her any less determined to remain far from any tunnels. “I tried once to get back on the subway and I nearly passed out,” she said. “Sometimes a tiny part of me wishes I could go back to it, because it’s quicker and cheaper, but I just can’t!”

10. The Neurotic Need for Perfection

Nobody’s perfect. We know that. Maybe back in Horney’s day, people had a decent shot at it. Nowadays, if we can sleep through the night and not awaken with those telltale lines of little red bites on our calves, we’re good.

Bedbugs are haunting our nightmares. Ever since those minuscule bloodsuckers exploded onto our consciousness a few years back, they have wreaked havoc with New Yorkers’ linens, their finances, and their mental health.

“The last time I went to the movies in NYC was…honestly, I don’t know when,” a vivacious former assistant district attorney told The Observer. “I did go to a movie theater in January—but that was in a D.C. suburb. It’s cleaner. I wasn’t as worried.”

Meanwhile, Ariel (first name only, she insisted) obsessively tosses her clothes and other personal items into PakTite—“the Rolls Royce of bedbug protection,” she said—every time she returns from a trip. It’s a portable heating unit in in a bag. “You put everything in there and cook it—books, shoes, bags and papers. Sometimes leather gets a little warped but I don’t even care. I know some people who use it every time they come in the house!”

Given our many issues, perhaps it’s no wonder so many New Yorkers are downing Paxil, Cymbalta and Lexipro. It’s either that, or move. And where the hell else are you gonna live, Chicago?



The Neuroses of New York