When I was new to freelance writing, I sent out a question to a freelance writing listserv. I was new in town, finding my childhood friendships falling apart, and feeling isolated by working at home rather than with others.
I asked the other writers how they dealt with the relative isolation the job brought into my life.
One response to the listserv was from someone crowing about how much he loved being alone, although for him, though he really didn’t seem to see it, being alone was a welcome break from dealing with family the rest of the day. He wasn’t deriding me, he was just clearly utterly ignorant about a life like mine.
His “advice” was irrelevant, offered no answer to my question, had no connection to my situation in the slightest. From blinkered people like this do we get mindless homilies that proclaim disdainful ignorance of understanding how any motivated/intelligent person could ever possibly be bored.
After writing my recent essay about living alone, I looked online for other sites about the problems and pleasures of living alone and single. One in particular caught my attention, filled as it was with people who had so much to say I recognized.
Sometimes my home feels like a very comfortable prison.
All I want is to talk and eat with someone.
I would like to have something to look forward to everyday.
Even though I can pick up the phone, it’s not the same as having someone in your presence.
I’m never bored as I have a job and various hobbies, but I do worry about what would happen if I were ill and couldn’t look after myself.
So those are some of the problems. But for reasons of balance and a larger and more complex picture of living alone and single, I present the pleasures and queer advantages of living alone and single:
No shortcuts. A partner and a family of your own can be a shortcut to happiness. Not a fake happiness, not a happiness that’s perfect, not a happiness that’s not, in some instances, hard won. But it can be a swift and immediate way to find deep human connection, love, understanding, support and joy.
As the writer Nuala O’Faolain said, Most people solve the problem of their own meaning by having children.
I’m not sure about most people solving such a profound problem in this way, but based on four decades of life, having a family sure does look like a great way to live and a relatively fast and easy way to find lasting human happiness.
But when you have no shortcut to fulfillment, it becomes much more important and much harder to avoid developing your life and talents as fully as richly as you can.
Rich friendships. Your other source of lasting joy. Friends make a fine family, if you ask me.
Less fear. Spend enough time living alone, and you will have no fear of attending parties and movies alone, nor of dining out alone (as I did most splendidly just the other morning, noting to myself that for all my bitching lately about living alone, I was having a lovely time of breakfast and coffee by myself).
You will also have less fear of a common passage of the end of life, living alone after the death of a spouse. You will have already mastered this art.
People who can entertain themselves are more fun. People who like to be with people who can entertain themselves are more fun. I prefer to be one of those on both counts.
Thinking deeply. Lots of time spent alone can mean lots of time to befriend yourself, get to know yourself, understand yourself. Living and being alone a lot can mean more time and mental space to learn what you really want to do with yourself and your long human life. Of course there’s a downside to this, as there really is such thing as too much self-reflection and I am certain I cross the line about 37 times every waking hour.
But there’s something to be said for the time and space to face yourself and find yourself.