Break-ups are awful, broken engagements more so. In early 2009, I was engaged and living with my writer fiancé in south London, hurtling towards getting married at the end of the year. We’d started wedding planning, booking the venue and registrar, but all the while there was this nagging doubt in my mind, and as the weeks passed, it grew.
It’s hard to pinpoint the moment I decided to call it off, but I think it was when we decided to buy a house together. Somehow that felt like a far greater commitment than a ring on my finger, and it wasn’t what I wanted. I knew I could marry him and it would be all right – he was nice, and I loved his family – but deep down I knew we just weren’t right for each other.
We parted, then I packed my bags and went to stay with my friends, Amy and Gavin, a married couple who I’d known since drama school. I was miserable, but they were wonderful. At night, I couldn’t stop crying, so I’d crawl into bed with Amy and we’d listen to Miss Marple murder mysteries until we fell asleep. The three of us would make big pies and watch telly every night with dinner on our laps. They looked after me almost like I was their child, until eventually I felt strong enough to move out.
My Sliding Doors moment
It was autumn by then, and everything started to feel very Sliding Doors – I still couldn’t quite get my head around what had happened, and I kept thinking “I’d be choosing my dress around now” or “I’d have been going on my hen night soon”. I couldn’t bear the thought of starting all over again, and everywhere reminded me of my old life.
I decided I needed to get away, but I’d never liked being on my own – something the break-up had only made worse – and all my friends were in couples, so I thought I’d struggle to find a friend to holiday with. But of course, I needn’t have worried – Amy and Gavin jumped at the idea. They even said the three of us could share a big hotel room, watching telly in bed together and eating dinner off our laps like when I lived with them.
I had never been to America and I’d always wanted to go to New York, a city I’d seen so many times on film, where even the big yellow traffic lights hanging over intersections and the constant hooting of car horns seemed exotic to me. My rule at that time was to only be around fun people, so I enlisted my then-flatmate Steve and his girlfriend Kate to join us, and off we went.
There was nothing reserved or sedate about our time in New York City – the goal was to do as much as we could with no sense of responsibility. We stayed in a hotel near Times Square and spent all our time eating, drinking, exploring and dancing.
We went to Katz’s Deli, which I’d seen in When Harry Met Sally, and I had a delicious salt beef bagel, totally entranced by the ordering system and the queues of people. We went to a nearby flea market and I bought some cut-off jeans (which I still have), and to the New York Public Library – so incredibly vast – where Gavin and I took photos and pretended we were on an album cover while old men played chess out on the street.
We went to vintage shops all over Manhattan, learning the various districts, falling in love with Greenwich Village, and I’d justify all my purchases because, even if it was something I could get back at home, I’d always be able to say: “This is from New York.”
We rowed in the lake in Central Park, shopped at Macy’s and went to the top of Rockefeller Center. The High Line had just opened, so we strolled there and ate huge pizzas – including one with a burger and fries on top – and went to the Empire diner, which I imagined was the kind of place Tom Waits might go to at night, where waitresses came over to refill our coffee mugs each time we drained them. In the evenings, we’d go to a brilliant jazz club or watch new acts at The Comedy Cellar.
One night, a comic friend of mine, Kurt Braunohler, invited me to a party in Brooklyn. I was still adjusting to leaving my old life behind and losing the safety net of being in a couple, but I wanted to meet someone else, so I knew I needed to make myself do things that were slightly scary, like being the only English person at a cool party where I didn’t know anyone. I went, and I had such a brilliant time – meeting new people and rebuilding my confidence, realising I needn’t have been so intimidated.
For the entire trip, I was completely immersed in an alternative world, far from the daily reminders of home and how my life might have been. I appreciated my friends more than ever, and I started to realise that I didn’t need to cling to the comfort of my old life – I loved this new, different world, and I felt new and different in it. It was exactly what I needed – frenetic and invigorating, the opposite of a beach holiday, where you sit and reflect and sip drinks. We weren’t sipping drinks – we were downing them.
When I got back, I felt strong and energised – and those feelings stayed with me. I’ll be forever grateful to New York, the city that helped build an invaluable bridge between the old and new me.
As told to Shelley Rubenstein
Isy Suttie is a comedian, writer and actor. She won a Sony Award for the Radio 4 series Isy Suttie’s Love Letters and played Dobby in Peep Show. Her book Jane is Trying is out now. She tours the show Jackpot from this month and is in The Baby on Sky Atlantic. For tickets, visit isysuttie.co.uk.
British Airways (ba.com) flies from London to New York from £357 return. The Whitby (firmdalehotels.com) has double rooms from £576 per night. read the full hotel review here. All travellers must show proof of full vaccination when entering the United States.
Five decadent things to do in New York City
From East-meets-West wellness experiences to all-you-can-drink sake parties, here are few ways to elevate your Big Apple adventure
The Night Out
Company XIV is a neo-Baroque burlesque troupe offering a lavish pageant of ballet, circus and play that is both sexy and bonkers. “Nutcracker Rouge” at Christmas was Tchaikovsky like you’ve never seen before, and this September brings “Cocktail Magique”, an evening of “intoxicating illusions” (companyxiv.com).
Anywhere that serves fried chicken on waffles is already scoring high in the decadence stakes, but pair it with a side of cornbread, lashings of maple syrup and a loaded Bloody Mary at Red Rooster Harlem and you have yourself a uniquely indulgent feast (redroosterharlem.com).
The Beauty Ritual
Previously membership-only, The Well reopened after lockdown to unveil its new 13,000-square-foot wellness palace – now open to all. Have a cast of doctors tailor a bespoke East-meets-West care plan just for you, or sign up for “IV vitamin therapy” followed by a “hypercustomised” facial (the-well.com).
There is no end to once-in-a-lifetime tasting menus in this city – but for major-league indulgence, how about a raucous, irreverent, all-you-can-drink sake-fuelled party for $89 (£74) a head at Sushi On Me? (71-26 Roosevelt Ave, Queens).
The Weekend Adventure
The Hamptons is the getaway of choice for a certain rarified set, and there’s only one way to get there if you’re looking to indulge: Blade lets you bypass the bus to arrive in style via privately chartered helicopter, seaplane or turboprop. If that’s taking indulgence a bit far, they also offer flight “shares” (blade.com).
By Tyler Wetherall