Before this past April, I had never lived alone.
Nor has my brother. Nor my sister. Nor most of the close friends I polled today; two did for one month. I do have a friend who told me months ago that she lived alone for about a year and it was an enlightening experience. I also know two inspirational women living alone in their retirement (one divorced, one—possibly my future self—a self-professed “cat lady”).
I don’t think I actively avoided living alone. The circumstances (e.g. relationship status, financial stability) never quite aligned to make such an option a viable consideration.
First, I lived with my parents, as it goes. I shared my college dorm with five suitemates, then shared apartments with some of those same wonderful ladies. Afterward, my then-partner and I moved into her mother’s basement. When we saved a little money, we got our own place.
But now, for the first time, it’s just me.
Don’t get me wrong; I consciously chose this. There are plenty of roommate locator resources available and I even looked into a few ads. But part of me really wanted to know… what’s it like?
I’m an excellent student, but “how to be alone” is one lesson no human being can teach another.
I got a little, affordable place. It has its quirks (pink tile bathroom, really!? I semi-recovered it with a cherry blossom shower curtain), but it’s a nice community overall. I have chosen everything about the space very carefully and slowly, with a humble budget and without others’ opinions unless I request them.
I have minimalist tendencies and want to maintain my mobility—in the likely event that I move to another city within a year or two… contingent upon my career, which is going so well here—but the space is pretty bare even by my standards. (See also: the Toast.) I could certainly use a television stand and a bed frame, but I splurged on a very nice mattress.
Not to mention, I’m borrowing some of the furniture. Still, what little I’ve acquired was given meticulous consideration. “After all,” I continue to ask myself, “how often will I have the opportunity to restart my life, to discover and reinvent myself honestly, without outside influence?”
After only three months, I can say that nearly everything you’re likely to find online in a “Top 10” article about living alone is true. The pros and cons are easy enough to brainstorm even without the hands-on experience. I researched thoroughly prior to signing a lease. I probably would have been a bit more anxious about it, but I was a little devil-may-care at the time. Still, I was informed.
I knew what I was in for when I signed the lease. But it is incredibly different, somehow, to go through with it day-in and day-out.
Actually, I don’t notice much of a difference on weekdays. Admittedly, it can be jarring after a silly or spooky moment to turn around and remember that nobody witnessed it. (It’s especially frustrating when those little moments don’t quite translate into stories-worth-sharing-later.)
But it’s largely easy enough to pass a single evening without wallowing in the throes of ennui; besides, plenty of social interaction takes place at my office. In fact, I find that the more evenings I spend alone, the more I grasp the levity of the phrase “spending time” – it’s an actual expenditure of the most important commodity available to us.
Weekends are different. For a long while, I kept myself constantly distracted, visiting everyone, traveling, filling my schedule to within an inch of requiring time travel. Recently, realization struck – I’m avoiding the very thing I set out to do.
Attempted visual aid for my keep-doing-stuff fanaticism of late. (Note: I actually use my employee Outlook calendar more regularly even for personal appointments, but this one has the better aesthetic.)
I do not yet understand how to spend extended periods of time with just myself, which is to say, how to simply be.
Eventually, all of the busyness took a toll. I find myself scatterbrained more often lately and greatly in need of some rejuvenation time. So this past weekend, I decided to not run around frantically occupying myself and being social with anyone-and-everyone. I wanted to focus on being alone, being comfortable with solitude.
On Saturday, I achieved very few of my original intended goals (
do the laundry, finish reading a book, update LinkedIn, write something). I tried to remind myself that I could simply relax and be gentler about excessive expectations for a while. That life as I know it will not disintegrate before my eyes if I give less than 100% for a period of time.
Naturally, on Sunday I relapsed into productivity hyperdrive. I appeased the guilt of declining social invitations just to laze around for an evening by ensuring I had quantifiable results of a stay-at-home weekend.
Yet, I’m starting to realize that nobody else notices the difference at all.
No outsiders can distinguish between when I spend a day alone in my apartment driving myself mad, a day alone in my apartment making active progress on Important Life Stuff, or a day alone in my apartment doing nothing at all. Because I’m alone, in my apartment.
Since that thought parked itself in my consciousness, I fluctuate between feeling liberated, like I can do anything and feeling isolated, like nothing I do matters to the outside world.
I’m trying to shake it, but I feel a bit selfish all the time because everything I do now is for me. I share it with nobody on a consistent basis, so most of what I buy, cook, or create is just mine. It feels so contrary to my core nature that for a long time I just didn’t. I didn’t shop for groceries (unless the cat was nearly out of food). I didn’t cook, but I’d eat food if it was there. I didn’t write after an initial stint of processing through blogging (read: unfiltered feelings dump).
I dedicated my entire life to making others happy or proud. I’m not sure if anyone along the way made me their central focus to that extreme. And to be honest, I don’t know if anyone should or not. I’m a proponent of unselfish, unconditional love, but we are the only ones capable of leading our own lives to fulfillment.
It’s hard, so much harder than I imagined, to learn at age 27 how to live alone and put myself first. But I don’t regret choosing it.