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.
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.