Saturday, November 24, 2012

Who Wants to Live Alone?

     Do you live alone? Have you ever lived alone? For many people, it's their lifestyle of choice or circumstance. As for me, I am thankful that I don't live by myself. For one thing, I'm not used to it.

     I lived with my family as a kid, and from there went straight into a college dorm with a roommate. After graduating I moved in with a friend; then got married and set up housekeeping with my wife. I never lived alone until after I got divorced -- and, really, not even then.

     My wife and I separated and sold our house just as our daughter was going off to college. But after I moved into a condo, I shared joint custody of our son, who lived with me three days a week until he went away to college. Even after that, my daughter came by occasionally and my son still had a bedroom in my condo, with plenty of his stuff jammed into my closets, and he spent a lot of time with me during school vacations.

     The summer before my son graduated from college, B and I moved in together, with her two sons, and I was back to full family mode. Even now, with all our kids graduated and working and living in their own apartments, B and I are together, and it seems at least one of the kids is here for a few days each month.

     I did enjoy my brief period of living by myself. But still, I wasn't entirely alone. And it was only after I had been "overfamilied" for a while, and needed a break. Plus, it was only temporary.

     But I don't think I'd like to live by myself on a permanent basis. Why? Because I'm not that good company for myself. I don't know if I just get lonely. Maybe I do. But, mostly, I spend too much time stewing in my own thoughts, reliving episodes in my past -- mostly the bad ones, not the good ones -- or pining over lost loves, lost friends, or so-called better times.

     What got me thinking about this was an article I saw about a book called Living Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone, by Eric Klinenberg (Penguin 2012). The NYU sociology professor spent seven years investigating the world of single adults. Today, more than half of American adults are single, and some 32 million of them live by themselves -- including over half the adults in New York City and Washington, DC.

     Klinenberg discovered that many stereotypes about singles are either exaggerated or just plain wrong. For example, he found that singles are more likely than couples to make friends with their neighbors. They are more likely to volunteer, exercise, take classes and attend public events such as concerts and festivals.

     But there are also downsides to the single life. Aside from the obvious -- yes, it's true, swinging singles, on average, have less sex than married couples -- he found that many public policies from housing to health care are geared toward families and couples. Also, during times of crisis, singles tend to suffer more. For example, he studied a Chicago heat wave that occurred in 1995, which killed 750 people. Those most likely to die were individuals who lived alone and had no close-by family or friends to help them out.

     Yet, he also found that many singles -- particularly older singles -- are not lonely outcasts who are unable to find a mate. Instead, as a class they are empowered individuals who refuse to marry just for the sake of marrying, people who live by themselves rather than share housing with people they don't like or who they know are a bad influence, and divorced men and women who have blossomed with their new-found independence. The conclusion: Living alone may not be a mark of social ineptitude, as so often assumed, but rather a sign that someone is in control of their life and mastering their circumstances.

     I guess there are always two sides to a coin. I did enjoy my own brief sojourn as a semi-single. But I never got comfortable enough to dine alone at a restaurant. I felt self-conscious going to the movies by myself. And while I enjoyed some days of solitude, there were too many times when I was home alone in the evening, and wishing there was someone else to talk to, to share a meal with, to laugh with, and to keep my bed warm at night.

    So when John Agno over at So Baby Boomer asked me what I am thankful for at this time of year, I can say that, above all, I am thankful for the other people in my life. Especially for B, who puts up with me every day. But also for my kids, who come around periodically to make fun of me, and for friends who occasionally come over to play cards or share a meal.

     As a postscript, let me tell you that B and I had friends over for Thanksgiving dinner (one of our four kids was able to join us). The friends brought a relative with them. He is a widower, with no children, who lives by himself. We didn't know him, had never met him before. But he was a great addition to our Thanksgiving mix, contributing to the conversation, and obviously thankful to be included in our holiday celebration. We were lucky to have him.

     Oh, and just for the record, Eric Klinenberg has a family, he does not live alone.

12 comments:

Rubye Jack said...

I choose to live alone and love it. However, this doesn't mean I eat out alone or go to the movies alone or never have people over or wallow in misery of my own making. I like the quiet, the freedom to do what I want when I want, and not having to put off with someone else's little foibles when I don't feel like it. In other words, I live a rather selfish existence but at the same time this frees me up to be able to truly listen to others and to be of help to others when they need it. Plus, it also keeps me sane. :)

schmidleysscribblins,wordpress.com said...

I have never lived alone. When I was between marriages, I had a kid living with me. I dont' think I could ever live with anyone but David and if he predeceases me, I will live alone with my animals.

After all, it took me years to get David trained, ha ha. Dianne

Stephen Hayes said...

I've never lived alone. Like you, married out of college and then with a child who grew up and returned periodically. My wife has always been there, helping me to attain my dreams. I'm incredibly grateful for her. But in spite of this I do spend a lot of time alone, with my thoughts, letting my past and my imagination guide my writing and my future.

Douglas said...



Sweet Solitude

Barb said...

Interesting book. I've been meaning to blog more about single retirement. Im single because of widow hood. While there is certainly a grief and addjustment issue, I don't mind the living alone part. I was also single and living alone in my twentites as I married late. But I have to say here that living alone is not being alone.

Mac n' Janet said...

I have never lived alone, my husband and I married when I was 18 and still living at home with my parents.
Our daughter lives alone, she has had a roommate but prefers to be alone, she is actively involved in many things, goes to concerts, takes classes, goes to the gym, travels frequently.
I would hate to live alone.

June said...

I lived alone in my twenties, and I. LOVED. IT. I do, however, recall the night I came home and noted that the pillows I'd arranged on the couch were in exactly the same spots as I had left them and the empty, cold feeling that gave me.
I do pretty well on my own, I think. I'd do better now than I did then, being more sociable now.

Galen Pearl said...

This has been a major topic of conversation and thought in my life lately. I have lived by myself at various times in my life, but not since I became a parent 25 years ago. My last two kids at home are moving out in a few weeks, and I will have an empty nest for the first time. I'm single, so that means I will be living by myself. I have to say I'm looking forward to it. I think part of my positive outlook is the fact that all my kids and grandkids are close by, so I get to see them often. Anyway, check back with me in a year and let's see if I like it as much as I think I will!

Barbara Torris said...

I think there is a lot of difference between living alone and being alone. I know many people that own their own space or rent their own apartment but share their lives with other people on a regular basis.

Shared meals, activities like golfing or even just a drink together in the evening can be just the right amount of together for many older people.

I have never really lived alone so I cannot actually use myself as an example. I only hope that I will find someway to live alone while not being alone if that should be my lot.

Wish me luck!

b

http://www.retireinstyleblog.com

Dr. Kathy McCoy said...

I lived alone for seven years in my twenties and loved having my own space, more control over my time and buying decisions and quiet time just to be. That said, I wasn't crazy about being single. I disliked dating and the temporary nature of dating relationships, but I didn't want to marry someone who would confine me in a very traditional marriage. I was in my thirties when I married and have managed the balance between time together and time alone pretty well over the years. If I found myself alone again for any reason, it's hard to say. I might become a comfortable recluse with my cats and books. Or I might live with someone I love -- a friend or a new lover. I haven't given the matter a lot of thought, really. But I do enjoy my own company a great deal -- possibly because I grew up in an impossibly crowded house, sharing a room and even dresser drawers with my two siblings. I treasure time and space on my own as does my husband -- one reason we bought a larger home, rather than downsizing, when we retired!

joared said...

I enjoyed the years after college when I lived alone. There were times after I wed when I would have welcomed living alone, as probably my husband might have, too, even our children as teenagers were likely eventually convinced life would be so much better if they had their own apartments.

After almost 43 years I have had to adapt to widowhood. There are times when I would welcome having a truly compatible partner in the home with whom to talk, but I also want time to myself. I sometimes enjoy doing spontaneous activities by myself and periodically do so. I'm quite comfortable going alone to a restaurant, a movie, jazz concerts, other settings, but am selective about where I go.

When my husband and I were seriously dating, actually had pretty much decided we'd wed, I sometimes would go alone to where he was playing music, when it worked best for our busy schedules, since we would earlier have made plans for later. This was during the years when a woman in a club alone was automatically assumed to have a less than respectable agenda -- even two women together could cause eyebrows to raise. I found it all amusing, so guess I just got used to being alone, except when he was on a break. Guess I have an immunity to whatever causes people, especially women, to feel uncomfortable if unaccompanied.

Anonymous said...

Hate living alone, it really sucks.