On living alone.

for sale

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.

Just us.

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.

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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?



15 comments:

  1. To be honest... I miss living alone. I went from living with people (roommates and family) directly to living with my partner. When he broke up with me, I had to live alone. And when I had to move back to New Orleans, I moved alone. In all of that, I found a quiet strength I never knew I had. I learned to find peace with myself and truly become independent.

    You also find out, while you may live alone, you're never alone. If something breaks, you'd be surprised at the friends who are available to help. You learn to find pleasure in the little things (pizza & a cupcake for dinner on Fridays), the comfort of quiet. It took a lot of time and fighting to get used to living with someone again, and even now, 2 years later, I still have to request my nights alone.

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  2. I have never lived alone. My husband often travels for business, and I have experienced what it would be like for a few days. The first day is fun (ice cream for dinner, Project Runway, WNTW, Sex and the City marathons). Then I get BORED. And sad. I am truly alone when he's not around, no kids, no pets.

    I'm sorry for the situation you're in, but you're NOT alone. For now, you have your kids, and in a strange way, the people who read your blog. Someday, maybe soon, you will find someone to share your life with. I can't wait to hear about it. I love your blog, glad you're back to posting on a regular basis.

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  3. It is an adjustment living alone, but you will soon grow to love it! You get to create your own little rituals, surround yourself with things you love, and invite over friends when you feel like company. I lived alone for 2 years and feel like I got to know myself so much better. Good luck with the house bid! :)

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  4. After dorm rooms in college and roommates after that, I've pretty much always lived alone. I relish my time to myself and it's very rare that I acually feel alone. I work long days and have a pretty active social life so once all that's done, I like going home to watch bad TV (real housewives and the like). I will admit that having lived alone so long makes me wonder if the opportunity were to present itself, how well I'd be able to handle living with another person.
    Good luck to you in your new home!

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  5. Hi, Elissa. Long time reader, first or second time commenting...

    I have SO much empathy for what you're going through. I've lived in just about every time of situation, alone, as a couple, in groups, with strangers, etc. I prefer alone, for many of the reasons you mentioned. However, I believe, that with the right partner, you should be able to cook naked, drink in the morning, and start home improvement projects in the middle of the night. I'm happy that, in my current living situation, I'm comfortable to act completely myself with my fiancee. Now, if only I could figure out how to get the chores done without nagging!

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  6. I loved living alone. I lived by myself for 3 years of college, 2 in NY, and a few months in Chicago. It was a horrible shock to have to move back into a home with lots of people. It does get lonely though. By the time I got to Chicago I had to get a cat because I had a roommate for a year and got use to someone being around.

    I think living alone, even for a year, is an experience everyone should have at some point in their life. It teaches you to be completely independent and reminds yourself that in the end you always have you no matter what. And you can handle it no matter what.

    I wish you all the best. I hope you get the house!

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  7. I come from a large family and always had roommates during my college years. Then I lived with my first husband for 11 years. After the divorce, I felt much as you do now: excited, scared, maybe a little hopeful. I ended up asking for a lot of help on the repairs front. When I didn't have the kids with me, I came and went on entirely my own schedule, which was nice (and a curse; don't overbook yourself!). If I wanted to spend the evening sipping decaf coffee in a jazz bar, I didn't have to convince anyone else to let me go.
    Yet, I never really got used to living alone. I found I could do it and it had its perks. But I just missed the small joy of having someone to listen to all the inane details of my day. I missed having someone to make a pot roast for. I didn't really like waking up alone--or with the wrong person.
    There was a time I thought I'd never remarry. Wounds just needed time to heal. I do better now as a team.

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  8. It's been a long time since I've lived alone, as in truly lived alone....It was just after I finished Yr 12 (16 yrs) and got a full time job....I moved into a flat and lived on my own for several years....I loved every minute of it...I loved being able to play my own music, watch whatever I wanted to watch on tv, go to bed at the time I wanted and get up when I wanted (well within the work time table of course) When I got married I had to get used to living with someone, but in one sense it was quite easy as he worked on a farm, milked cows and drove a truck that carted livestock....he wasn't really home much at all....when the children came along, that still continued, so I guess in one way I have kind of lived in the middle of it all...not truly one way or the other...I could live alone again no worries at all

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  9. A few years ago, after being married for 20 years, I divorced and began living alone, after not having done so since my early 20s. My daughter was off to college and, as you might suspect, I found the solitude both liberating (in the ways you describe) AND isolating. I reduced the isolation by joining organized walking groups, having friends over to dinner, and getting a dog, which required me to get out of the house and out into the neighborhood, to the dog park, and to dog obedience classes. I went to the gym when I most felt lonely -- at night -- and eventually began on-line dating, which got me back into the world of socializing, into bars and restaurants I wouldn't likely frequent by myself. I met new people and, eventually, began a new romantic relationship. It was painful sometimes at the beginning, but I'm happy now, and I think I've grown and changed in lots of positive ways since those early days.

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  10. I'm 41 years old and I've never lived alone. I went from my parents apartment to living with my husband (now ex), back to my parents' (post divorce), and through an odd twist of fate back to living with my ex and two of our three kids (one of whom moved out and has his own place). I long for the solitude which living alone will bring and am frightened of it as well. I tend to be introverted and worry that living alone won't force me to communicate with others. I don't fare well in isolation but I still look forward to having a place of my own, just me and my dog. I'm looking forward to hearing how you find the experience.

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  11. I've lived alone for years as an empty nester and divorcee. Although it affords the perks you've mentioned, there are some times when my apartment echos with emptiness.
    Recently, I had a guest for a long weekend. It was so wonderful to sit at the table, and talk at leisure over coffee. Loved having someone to prepare a meal with.
    After all these years, I still tuck a pillow behind my back when I sleep. I miss snuggling.

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  12. I am also terrified of the thought of living alone. I have always had someone around and I am not sure I could do it without the constant company. The good thing in your situation is that you have a magnificent daughter that will ALWAYS be there and the new house will be an incredible learning curve for both of you. You will learn how to be completely self sufficient and your daughter will learn that she won't always have to have someone around to support her because she will have grown with you in the journey! You will do great things and a pink room sounds like just the right way to start! Good luck and may the wind always be at your back!

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  13. Good luck with that. Will be looking forward to the pictures of how you fix and set up the interior. Have the house blessed and most of all, have fun in building memories in it!

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  14. I hope everything is going to work out fine!
    By the way, I do consider living with flatmates equal to living alone! I mean, most of the times they're not even your friends, you just have to cross them in the kitchen or in the living room if you like, but for me it feels and it has always felt like living alone!
    I have been living almost a year with unknkown people, and solitude was as strong as if I was all by myself! Now it's better cause I'm living with a friend of mine, and sometimes it feels like living with a partner you know...
    Anyway good luck with your new house I hope you're going to feel strong and powerful by yourself! :D Thanks for sharing!

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  15. I'm 15 and I live alone because I moved from the east coast to NorCal to train more in badminton but as my family and I don't know if I'm staying for more than two years (I'm guessing yes), they didn't move with me and plus, they have their own business and house properties in the east coast.

    I obviously do not tell anyone from school or outside my badminton team that I live alone for safety reasons but really it's alright. I don't have close friends at school I'd want to invite over for sleepovers or hanging out (too busy!) Badminton practice, homework, and chores eat up a lot of my time and I don't feel lonely. I have experienced what you described though like there is no one's shoulder to cry on physically because two weeks ago the pressure and stress built up and exploded for me into an hour long angry typing sob session... been much better since, trust me. :) I now have a boyfriend I talk with for hours (I really don't know where the free time comes from. coughcough procrastination coughcough) so there is something I look forward to every night.

    I am so tired at the end of each day. I'm never sorry for myself because I know there are teens out there who have to support themselves and/or their families with little budgets... I am so lucky in that sense. I try to be thankful everyday (but I'm also very optimistic by nature, so that may have something to do with it...) and just enjoy my freedom! I can have my jewelry everywhere, play music whenever I want, eat what I please, and I can be alone in silence if I want that too.

    It's stressful because there's so much responsibility... but the freedom is something I cherish dearly. It really just forces myself to be accountable for everything I do or say. I don't have excuses if I'm sleep-deprived at school and training. And I really like being more competent and independent than my peers, haha.

    Best of luck to you; the first few weeks were killer for me. And there are days that just suck. Extremely. But living alone also made me love the little things more and myself! It's just you for hours on most days... I love it.

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