Why I Live Alone
My first sojourn in living alone was when I was 18. I moved from a small community with a private liberal arts college in rural Iowa to Minneapolis, where I had no social contacts, no familiarity with the city, and no previous understandings of how to navigate my life in an urban landscape. My first apartment, in a densely populated neighborhood of predominantly young, single renters, allowed me to begin to discover who I was as a budding adult and to learn how to live in a city. The privacy, solitude, and quiet of living in this very small, fully-furnished studio apartment (much like my own private hotel room) felt immediately like the independence I had been craving throughout my teenage years. When I came home every day, I was returning to my own sanctuary, where I could be, feel, and discover myself in privacy and safety.
Over the ten years that I resided in Minneapolis, I moved in and out of different living situations (I moved eight times while living there): with friends, with boyfriends, in large communal houses, with strangers. But ultimately, I would find myself craving the intimacy and privacy of living alone. I lived alone for over five of the ten years I lived in Minnesota, including the year I lived alone in Norway while on a work-abroad program. This became my modus operandi as I have traversed through adulthood.
Why I live alone, and connected to this, why I live in cities, is deeply rooted to my upbringing and the social climate within my family household. As an introvert, I never felt like I had the privacy or solitude that I craved living in a large house as the youngest child. Even though I had my own bedroom by the age of seven, where I spent most of my time when I was not fulfilling the obligations of childhood, I always has this nagging feeling that whatever I was doing in my room could be heard and observed by others. I never felt like my bedroom afforded me a sense of aloneness or solitude, and always had a sense that I was being covertly “watched.” When I finally had a taste of being truly alone in my own apartment, I felt like I had finally met a part of myself that had been kept at bay throughout my entire childhood. It was like a homecoming of sorts: I had reached a place where the repressed self could be integrated into my whole being. To this day, I feel like when I am sharing space with others for longer periods of time, I look to the future when I can again be alone in my own, unshared space. It is the time when I feel most like myself.
How I Live Alone
As Eric Klinenberg suggests in his book, Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone, many people who intentionally live alone today are doing so in metropolitan regions. For me, I would not be able to live the way I do if I did not live in cities. I knew instinctively early in my adult life that if I was going to live alone as an independent woman, I would need to, and in fact, prefer, situating my life around city centers. In his book, Klinenberg makes that case that urban centers are better equipped to provide resources that help people socialize, engage in life, and feel connected to others without having to live with them. For me, living in urban centers gives me the sense of security in being surrounded by people, knowing that I have close neighbors, and trusting that, when push comes to shove, we look out for each other in a very humanistic way.
I also, for nearly twenty years, have lived with a cat, and this gives me a deep and satisfying sense of connection, grounding, and comfort. In my current living situation, where I reside in a large apartment complex outside of the city center, many of my neighbors live alone and most of them have domestic animals. I believe that, in a very disconnected city like the one I live in today, our pets keep us grounded. I cannot imagine living without an animal, and plan on doing so for the rest of my life.
Many of the holidays that I participated in as a child were unhappy events where my mother was busy, stressed, and tense. She put a lot of responsibility on herself to create rituals that were meaningful and provided family connection, but where all the work was on her: the cooking of elaborate meals, cleaning the house and shopping for gifts, decorating and organizing the tear down at the end of the holiday season. In the end, there was always a mood of resentment and deflation rather than celebration. When I left my childhood home at 18, I consciously decided that from that time on, I would begin creating my own holiday celebrations, establishing my own rituals, and finding my own rhythm. These rituals have changed and evolved along with my own life. There were years when I would put up lights and ornaments during the Christmas season, but I no longer do this. Some years I have included big days of baking: cookies, special treats, and fruit breads, listening to classical music and sipping wine throughout the day. When I moved to Oregon and lived in apartments that provided me with outdoor space, I would do elaborate get-ups for Halloween on my front stoop, with carved pumpkins, bails of hey, gourds, and lots of bags of candy.
There have been many holidays that I’ve spent alone, in my home, savoring the quietude of the city and the beauty of the season. But in spite of being alone, I always make a special meal for myself, purchase groceries that are not a part of my weekly diet, and make a big to-do in the kitchen, often accompanied with a glass of wine or pot of tea and meaningful music. There have also been some holidays, particularly in the years I lived in Oregon, that involved large group meals, potluck style, with other “orphans.” While I have never felt dread or loneliness without family on holidays, many times these group gatherings would leave me feeling disconnected. Over time, I have learned that, unless there is some sort of meaningful spiritual ritual or authentic holiday tradition connected to the celebration, I would prefer to spend holidays alone.
Singleton versus Single
At times I have mused over the idea of living with a romantic partner, but realize this would need to be a very special arrangement. For example, it would be impossible for me to give up my own living space to reside with someone else. And sleeping in the same bed on a regular basis would never be an option. Therefore, we would either need to have separate residences or a home large enough to accommodate this individual living style. I have never been in a relationship with someone who is comfortable with this notion, which makes me think it is unlikely that I will ever live with another person, romantically or otherwise. I am completely comfortable with this reality, and don’t feel like my life is in any way compromised because I don’t have a romantic partner that I live with. As Klinenberg so astutely points out in his book, whether they are 30 or 40 or 75, people who live alone are much more likely to have social connections with neighbors, go out to bars, restaurants, cafes and public events, and cultivate meaningful friendships and spiritual connections than their married counterparts. Given the abysmal divorce rates in the U.S., along with many Gen Xers and Millennials deciding against parenthood, it only seems natural that living alone is the next step in our social evolution. I am proud to be a strong female role model to people like my niece, students, and women from other cultures who may be somewhat hung-up on the fear or social stigma of choosing a life alone. Pointing to the statistics, Klinenberg reminds us that, in some urban centers, we are already the majority, and it will only continue to go in this direction given current trends and the fact that the U.S. takes great pride in cultivating a society based on individualism and independence.
The majority of my friends, both current and past, live alone. Many of them also remain single. This may be in part because like attracts like. I generally don’t spend time with people who are busy raising families. Likewise, married couples tend to spend most of their limited social time with each other and other married couples. So, to me, it makes sense that the majority of my friends, regardless of their sexual orientation, are single and living alone, and continue to find ways to enrich their lives and create meaningful connections that don’t cramp their desire to spend large quantities of time in solitude.
Es Bee is an urban creature and a modern-day spinster who has lived, traveled, and camped solo for most of her adult life. She has spent time in twelve countries, making stops in Norway and Spain to be among the locals. She has found solitude to be her best companion, but is always seeking connections with those she dwells around. She enjoys eating food from around the world, riding her bike, and spending long days reading and writing. In the U.S., her homes have included Minneapolis, Portland, Ore., and Albuquerque.
This is part of the Who but You? living alone series. Check out the other posts! They are published every Monday.
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