On living alone.
There's a house for sale in my neighborhood. It has hardwood floors, granite counters in the kitchen, new carpet and a spacious backyard. I know these details because I've been inside this house. I stood inside the master bathroom shower. I planned what flowers I'd plant in the backyard - daisies, I think. I pictured my vintage overcoats hanging in the coat closet. It's a nice house, the kind of place neighbors congregate for barbecues and games of darts. The kind of place I can see myself living in.
Today I put in an offer for this house. If all goes well, I'll be moving in by October 31st. Just me and my kids, in a new house.
It's embarrassing to admit that I've never lived alone. I've spent the last 38 years absorbing the soothing hum of another person cohabitating beside me. I don't even know what it's like to be totally alone, in my own space, with the freedom to do all those things you can do without another person around. Living alone means you have all the time in the world to do things that might be embarrassing if you were walked in on by roommates or spouses or boyfriends. Like cooking breakfast naked. And dancing around the living room to something really cheesy and embarrassing, like Britney Spears. And painting the bathroom pink in the middle of the night because you can't sleep. And drinking a glass of wine at 11 in the morning, just because you can.
The closest I ever came to being on my own was my freshman year in college, when I shared a dorm room with a mostly absentee roommate. She was on the soccer team and spent more time on the field than in her bed. When she was around, she stole my CD's and flung mud out of her cleats into the rug and left piles of steaming workout clothes festering in the crevasse between her bed and the wall. We didn't talk much. From observations of visitors she brought into our room, I knew more about her taste in men than her favorite pizza toppings or what she was majoring in.
I didn't like living in that dorm room by myself. In the rooms next to and above and below mine, roommates were making mix tapes together and gossiping about boys and planning road trips and sharing notes from psychology class. I wanted to do those things with my roommate, too.
During sophomore year I decided to transfer to a local university for the rest of my undergrad education, commuting to campus from my mother's apartment. Between student loans and the meager paychecks from my two part-time jobs, I had barely enough money to pay for my books, occasional bar tab and a $5 footlongs from Subway, much less rent. My friends who lived off campus hastily constructed walls in their bedrooms out of milk crates to divide space for roommates. We talked about when I'd be able to move out.
"Soon," I swore, eyes bright with false excitement. We made plans, discussed paint colors for my bedroom, studied Craigslist for cheap furniture. But I was lying. I was terrified to live alone.
During my senior year I met my husband, and before I knew it I was packing to leave my mother's apartment and move into his.
I wish I had been able to experience living alone before getting married. Living alone means the world becomes your independent playground. You can turn your phone off, get drunk on mimosas at brunch and then traipse around your neighborhood in a woozy condition without anyone finding out. You can make plans with yourself and only yourself without worrying about entertaining anyone else. Do you want to go to sleep at 7 pm and wake up at 5 am? Done. Feel like leaving the sink full of dishes for two days? Sure thing. Want to feast on cupcakes for dinner and watch episodes of Parenthood all night? Yup.
Living alone also means that there's no one to remind you to pay the electric bill. There's no one to pick up light bulbs when the one in your lamp burns out, or coffee when you sleepily realize you forgot to buy some the day before. There's no one to take care of you when you get sick in the middle of the night. When something breaks, you're the only one there to fix it. There's no shoulder to cry on when you're sad and no one to complain to when you're angry. Living alone means your mistakes are private. You have the solitude to realize which decisions were destructive and which were opportunities for growth. This can feel desperately lonely. Your apartment or house yawns with a vast emptiness. The solitude can seem crushing.
The terror that I felt in college about moving out is still there. Despite the fact that I've managed to raise three kids, write a book and balance my budget, I still feel unprepared to live by myself. I don't know what I'll do if the garage door breaks. I'm not sure how to handle long evenings by myself. All newly divorced people have to survive this, and I will as well. Truthfully, I'm sort of excited about the opportunity to rediscover and redefine myself, as I've been defined by my marriage for so long. The thought of reclaiming my sense of self feels liberating.
Now I'd like to hear from you. Have you ever lived alone? What was this experience like? Do you think living alone made you stronger and more independent, or did it lead to isolation?