I was 19, maybe 20, the first time I considered living alone. It was right after I joined the Army, during basic training when I was living in a bay with 49 other women, doing what the Army told me to do all day, every day. I was somewhere in the middle of those nine weeks, somewhere past the initial misery and not quite to the point where I’d knew I’d make it to the end.
I remember laying in bed listening to the sounds of those other women falling asleep one night and thinking how nice it would be if I was on my own, in a space that belonged only to me. I was on a top bunk, sleeping with my hair in a bun to save myself precious minutes in the morning and all I wanted in that moment was to live alone and have five more minutes to eat my breakfast.
Life happened when I got back and instead of trying to live on my own I embarked on a series of living arrangements with other people. After my first deployment, I got married and then bought a house the year after that and the whole living alone thing was forgotten.
Four years into my marriage, my then-husband went to flight school in Alabama while I stayed in Virginia. I was nervous when he left, unsure that I could handle the house and the pets on my own, but he still helped out financially, so it wasn’t like I was totally on my own.
But then he had an affair (with a woman named Tara, I shit you not), we got a divorce and suddenly I was, for real, on my own.
Years have passed since then and while the adjustment was hard, living alone has been an incredible experience. It has taught me the difference between solitude and loneliness, the value of spending quality time alone, and that I am capable of running my own life independently, which is maybe the best lesson I’ve ever learned.
WHAT LIVING ALONE HAS TAUGHT ME
1. Eventually, it stops being scary.
In the beginning, I was scared of the dark. When it was time for bed, I’d run through the darkened downstairs of my house, hurrying especially past the windows and scampering my way upstairs, as if it provided some sort of refuge. I hated walking past the front door and the windows that frame it and the sounds of my 90-year-old house settling in for the night prickled me with fear. If Sadie or Luke, the dogs, perked their ears at errant street noise, I’d worry.
It went on like that for a while until one day I realized I wasn’t scared anymore. I had stopped running past the windows, had stopped turning on all the lights when I needed a midnight glass of water from my kitchen. I stopped sending the dogs downstairs ahead of me to suss out any danger that might be lurking in my living room and suddenly, I just wasn’t scared anymore.
2. I’m a weirdo.
You get to know yourself real, real well when you live alone. I always knew I was sort of weird, but living alone has confirmed it. I just licked the spoon I used to stir together my latest batch of bread, nibbling tiny bits of bread dough off of it. I talk to the dogs all the damn time and I write on my mirrors with dry erase markers when I need a prominently-placed to-do list or when a few glasses of wine has made me feel creative enough to want to write on the walls.
I eat snacks, mostly, bits of cheese, a handful of crackers, leftover noodles straight from the fridge, eaten with my fingers because utensils aren’t necessary if there’s no one to see you treating Tuesday’s leftovers as finger food.
3. I’m ok.
Living alone seemed impossible in the beginning. Financially and emotionally and sometimes physically it seemed daunting and scary and I didn’t know how I would manage it. But I did. And I do.
Yes, there are dishes in my sink right now, and there’s flour on the floor from my bread baking adventure and there’s definitely laundry on my bed that I should put away, but all my bills are paid, we’re all well-fed, me and the wolves and the evil cat, and really, everything is fine because I took care of it.
4. Solitude and loneliness are different.
I am a solitary creature, an introvert.
When I first started living alone, I worried I would be lonely, and, in the interest of honesty, sometimes I am. But mostly I’m not. I am often alone but I have learned that being alone and being lonely are two very different things. Turns out, I really like being alone, not all the time, but I’ve become pretty comfortable with being alone a lot of the time. It’s part of the reason I went on my first solo trip last year and living alone has encouraged me to see and do and experience things by myself that I don’t think I ever would have attempted had I not learned how to be alone in the first place.
5. Solo living makes me a better me.
Living alone allows me to allocate more time to the things that make me a better me. It means I get my runs in on time, that I write more and read more and that sometimes when I have a really bad day I can turn the volume up to 11 and play sad songs and sing and write and drink too much whiskey. That’s not a thing I’m able to do when someone else is around and as crazy as it sounds, sometimes I just really need to drink too much whiskey and sing sad songs in my dining room.
Maybe it sounds selfish, but solo living means I can take care of myself in the best ways, ways that have gotten pushed aside when I’ve lived with other people. I’ve never been good at balancing the things I want and need to do to take care of myself with the things a partner wants and needs from me, and, to be completely honest, sometimes it’s just nice to come home at the end of a day and not be needed by anyone for any reason.
It’s weird how things work out, I guess. Living alone seemed so, so scary in the beginning and now I love it. I have settled into it. I’m sure there will be a point in my future when I live with someone else, but for now, I’m going to keep enjoying the weird independence I have created for myself.