I talk to my apartment.
Upon leaving in the morning, I typically utter something such as, “O.k., home. I’ll see you later. Take care.”
Coming back through the door at the end of the day, I scan the living room, taking in the tiny rainbows scattered across the walls and ceiling from the sun piercing through the prisms hanging in the window. I stand there for a moment, still grasping my work totes and my lunch sack. “Hey,” I say, smiling to the emptiness.
I live alone.
As a 43-year-old, I have quite the people-infested housing history, so it hasn’t always been like this. I’ve lived with male and female partners, with roommates and University dorm mates, and with family members. Once, I exchanged childcare for rent. Another time, I rented a room from my friend’s incredible bread baking, gardening, golf-playing 94-year-old grandmother. All in all, across the years, I haven’t lived totally alone all that much. The past five years has been the longest stretch of home solitude I’ve ever experienced.
Talking with other solo dwellers around town and doing some reading recently, I learned that I’m apparently part of an exciting trend:
277 million adults live alone in the world.
In Eric Klinenberg’s Going Solo – The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone (2012), he gives us the following:
U.S. Singles (relationship status only):
In 1950: 22% of the United States population
In 2012: about 50% of the population
“Singletons” (live completely alone):
1950: 9% of households in the U. S. contained one person.
2012: 27% of households contained one person.
(In bigger U. S. cities the proportions inched toward 50%.)
1996: 153 million
2011: 277 million
(80% increase in 15 years)
How old are we?
Eric Klinenberg discovered that 500,000 young adults (18-34 years of age) lived alone in the United States in1950. In 2012, five million lived alone. So young adults are the fastest-growing age group going solo. However, 34-64 year olds currently take the cake in numbers: he reported 16 million solo dwellers within this age range. And 11 million adults over the age of 64 live alone in the U. S. (72 million European elders live alone.)
Welcome to Who but you? A blog series about living alone
This is a contribution-based project. In Going Solo, I gleaned from Klinenberg that living alone is one of the most powerful sociological experiments of this time period. For such an interesting phenomenon, we don’t necessarily talk about it, though. My hope is that this series will expose our stories as solo dwellers.
“Who but you?” also plugs into this blog’s aim to reassure you:
Without a doubt, in this life, in this world, no matter how and where you live, you are not alone.
About the title, Who but you?
Walking through my neighborhood one day, I spied some spray paint art on the sidewalk: “Who But You?” it asked. I stopped in my tracks. My heart swelled. I understood. Later, I found lots of Christian songs and programs under that internet search, the insinuation being Who but you (God), will help me out, listen to me, remind me of my devotion to you (God), etc.? That’s all well and good, although I do not identify as Christian so I couldn’t relate on a visceral level.
But what about The Self as God? The Self as the only entity you can rely upon consistently? Who but you knows your heart, your intentions and your needs? The reality is that each of us must take care of ourselves first, especially in order to care for others – and in order to get out there and make a small bit of difference in the world.
For those of us who choose to live alone, we understand this to the depths of our marrow.
My own story: Loneliness vs. solitude
The act of living alone is a skill I needed time and practice to sharpen. After a break-up with a long-term, live-in partner several years ago, I scrambled for company after I moved into my own apartment. I sought out friendships and sexual relationships that weren’t right for me; I was single and I lived alone, so I didn’t know what to do with myself, with the empty space and the available time. I looked for distractions to cover up the discomfort. I still felt driven to keep my own private living space, but I needed to learn how to actually be in it.
Feelings of loneliness come and go. Sometimes I do something about it, reaching out to neighbors and friends, going for a walk in a populated area, or working on a hobby. Sometimes I allow myself to feel like crap, sitting with the feeling and waiting for it to pass. It helps to remember how misunderstood and isolated I sometimes felt surrounded by roommates or a life partner. Feeling lonely even in a crowd is part of being human. At home alone, the emotion is straightforward and understandable.
I live alone because I appreciate doing whatever I want to do or not do with full integrity. I can choose how deeply I dive into solitude, and for how long. Feeling free to toy with the various layers of connectedness – it’s one of the most treasured aspects of living alone.
If you’re reading this and you’re new to living by yourself, I can’t give you specific advice but I can tell you this: In time, you’ll find your rhythm. And if you haven’t already done so, I hope you learn to love your home and your place in the world. It just takes time, and you may move in and out of other living arrangements as you’re practicing the fine art of being with you.
Introvert: How understanding who I am shaped my choice to go solo
I see living alone as a service to myself and to others. As a social introvert, I adore my friends and family and I give my clients/students my absolute all at work. But being alone recharges me and of course, living alone gives me a reliable space in which to rest, reflect and get ready for the next round of work or socializing.
Going solo, I feel I’ve been better able to support my friends, to focus on my work, and to be involved in my various communities than ever before in my life. Klinenberg points this out, too, in his book, saying that
…living alone has given people a way to achieve restorative solitude as well as the freedom to engage in intensely social experiences. Surprisingly, it has given people the personal time and space that we sometimes need to make deep and meaningful connections – whether with another person, a community, a cause, or our selves. [–Eric Klinenberg]
When I’ve lived with partners and roommates in the past, I lucked out or I made careful choices. I seemed to end up living with highly extroverted people who were gone from home quite a bit, or introverts of my kind who also craved quiet and solitude.
There were only a couple of mistakes: One, when a roommate’s obsessive-compulsive disorder manifested itself in household tidiness. (One day, she arrived in my bedroom holding a rubber band I had left atop the washing machine.) She also whined that I never watched TV with her (I hate TV). The second catastrophe involved a relationship with an insecure, mean-spirited man that left me feeling fearful and violated within my formerly sacred apartment.
But even the sweet memories of the more compatible companions and roommates can’t compare to the happiness I feel living alone.
I can dance from my soul in my living room.
I can count on the quiet.
Aging and living alone
The more time that goes by, the more I cannot imagine – barring a financial or health catastrophe — ever sharing my home again. In my geriatric years, an ideal situation would be having my own room in an old folks’ hippie house. In truth, I am concerned about my future and I’m not certain how I will manage as an elder.
Joining the Who but you? living solo project
This ongoing blog experience is beginning with folks here in Albuquerque, New Mexico and spreading westward to Los Angeles and upward to the Bay Area and Portland, OR. These singletons’ contributions will be posted every Monday through April 2015.
I welcome future submissions for consideration from singletons of any age EVERYWHERE.
Please email firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested in sharing.
Here are prompts/questions to think about – though feel free, of course, to write from your own unique brand of experiences and from the innermost recesses of your heart:
- Why do you live alone?
- Especially as someone who lives by her/himself, what do you believe helps you to feel secure and grounded in your life – for example, during times of sadness, loneliness, illness, etc.?
- If you celebrate major holidays (Hanukkah, Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc.), how do you do so?
- If you have a partner(s)/spouse, how does your living alone impact the relationship?
- Do you see yourself ever living with a significant other? If so, what do you think that would look like?
- How many friends and family members do you know whom also live alone? What do you know of their experiences?
- Additional stories, opinions, memories…..
Much gratitude to contributors, readers, authors, friends, family, and singletons the world over.
In living solo we’re united,
NOTE: Permission granted by Eric Klinenberg to paraphrase and quote aspects of his book. Thank you, Eric! Also, special thanks to my dear singleton friend (and living source of inspiration) who brought this book to my attention. Blessings. –ka