The underrated joy of living alone, again

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In every relationship, there's one person who leaves unused seconds on the microwave timer for the other person to be annoyed about. But since the demise of my long term relationship, I am now both of these people in my home. I never hit the clear button, but every time I look at the microwave, I wonder why I can’t see the time. It was definitely me and not my ex. Insert fears of dying alone here. This is a frustrating downside of the #singlelife, but there are so many benefits to living alone that sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever go back.

Say what you want about the joys of being single, but it’s not all dancing to Lizzo in the kitchen with your cat. The prospect of living alone can be scary and lonely. It’s not just loneliness that scares people, though. People think living alone makes you weird and that it may not be good for your health. I asked therapists and other single solo dwellers to tell me what happens to people when they live alone.

You learn to enjoy your own company

When people say they’re scared of being lonely, what I often hear is that they’re scared of getting to know themselves. But when we take the time and effort to get intimate with ourselves — and that can manifest in anything from cooking breakfast naked to nights awake in bed reconciling with thoughts we’ve avoided for years — we often find that we actually enjoy our own company.

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“Having time alone allowed me to explore what I am like when the pressure to be social is turned off,” says Brooke Fallek, a 25-year-old publicist who lives alone in NYC. She got her own place after going through a period of intense loss — within the space of a year, Fallek lost all three of her grandparents. She tells me that she wanted to live alone in order to give herself some mental and emotional space to heal. “As someone who recharges through alone time, I expected to find a sense of calm from having my own space. That turned out to be the case, but what I didn't expect was feeling more comfortable in my own skin.”

But isn’t the point of being a social animal to connect with others?? Our culture tends to dismiss single living or even demean it as an existence that is incomplete, says Brittany Bouffard, a Denver-based psychotherapist. But, “learning how you like to spend your time, how you work, what you choose if no other opinions are available — these are vital understandings,” she adds. Living solo can help us understand ourselves more completely.

There are a lot of subtle things we don’t notice about ourselves when we’re always around another person, perhaps in a partnership. When I was in a relationship, I would always ask my partner for input on everything from what to wear to how I should spend my time. It wasn’t intentional, but most of the decisions I made were joint decisions. I never had to figure out the details of my preferences because there was always another person’s to consider.

When my partner moved out, one of the first things I did was cover a cow skull in rainbow lights and hang it on the wall. It’s not a decor choice that everyone would agree with, but it makes me really happy.

When we first split up, the subtle textures of my likes and dislikes were new territory. Now, they are fully mapped terrain, and I think that knowing my own internal landscape so well makes me more interesting, not just to me, but to others.

You get more confident about asking for what you need and offering what you have

When you live with a partner or a roommate, you don’t have to work very hard to get your basic social needs met. There’s another human around by default. But if you live alone, you have to work for it. If you want to share your ups and downs with another human, you have to reach out. This is a double-edged sword. A lot of folks find that learning to manage the daily rollercoaster of their emotions alone feels complicated.

“It can be tough sometimes to get out of a depressed rut and really isolate myself since there’s no one physically there to hang out with or talk to,” says Kayla Hockman, an account executive who lives alone in Los Angeles. John Simon, an editor who lives solo in Virginia, agrees: “Some days, I wake up feeling miserable because I have no one to talk to about my feelings.” This is so real. It can be really depressing to not have someone handy to share your joy and pain with.

On the flip side, what I’ve found is that living alone has strengthened my relationships, platonic and otherwise — precisely because I have to work so hard for them. I have to make an effort to go to an event or a friend’s house. It’s less convenient to connect, but because it takes some effort, it feels more valuable.

The effort people who live alone have to put into connecting can make for more satisfying connection. The truth is that, before I lived alone, I was kind of emotionally unavailable. I was busy being available to my live-in boo and it shut me out, to an extent, to other relationships. Fallek agrees that there’s something about living alone that makes you more open. “Meeting new people is exciting — having so much time to process my own thoughts has made me more present and genuinely interested when chatting with a stranger,” she says.

You can throw yourself into your creativity

Writing is the real love of my life, and it is the relationship I put the most time and effort in to. When I lived with my partner, I felt under constant pressure to work less and play more. The problem was that writing is my idea of play. “I can focus on my passions without having to divide my time or being made to feel guilty for not doing so,” agrees Nina Dafe, who lives alone in London.

Even if you don’t consider yourself an artist, you may find yourself being more creative about how you live your life. “For the first time I was able to truly explore my own aesthetic, not having to consult others about furniture, art and decor choices,” says Fallek. “ I experienced a new feeling of confidence in my home.” When my partner moved out, one of the first things I did was cover a cow skull in rainbow lights and hang it on the wall. It’s not a decor choice that everyone would agree with, but it makes me really happy.

All the projects that get stuck in the negotiation stage when you live with someone else can be a easier to follow through on when you live alone. Margo Benge, who lives alone in Texas, decided to start her own publishing company. Simon finally did some things he had always wanted to do. He took a bunch of digital marketing classes and launched his career as a relationship coach. “The joy of accomplishing a long-term goal is unparalleled,” he says.

Marina Abramovic, the Serbian artist who’s 2012 piece, The Artist is Present, became a viral sensation on Youtube, says that cultivating solitude is a requirement for artists. You could argue, but she turned performance art from a thing only other artists knew about into a pop cultural phenom, and it’s hard to argue with that. As Joe Fassler said in The Atlantic, “It's not drugs, poverty, or wild lovers that make a great writer. It's discipline and time alone.” Well, if the minor annoyances of a flashing microwave clock and spooning with my pitbull instead of a human are what it takes for me to make better writing, I think it’s a fair trade.