On Living Alone

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I’ve been living by myself for about two years now. Completely alone (no weekend
visitors) for eight months. I have never lived by myself before. Except for a three-month
stint in an SRO when I was just out of college (which is another story).

It wasn’t easy at first. I felt so lonely, especially at night. Childhood fears and nightmares
came back to haunt me. I would wake up sweating and thrashing about, or crying.

Mornings were always easier. A new beginning, sunlight, the prospect of the day and its
responsibilities, the primal urge for coffee—all of these things mitigated the ache of
missing someone who wasn’t there. Whatever sleep I had gotten, of whatever quality,
usually helped me regain a sense of humor.

I am writing this at dawn on a chilly November morning, as I sip my coffee leisurely. I
never had time to do something like this when I lived with other people—not because
they prevented me, but because I prevented myself. Accommodating other people always
takes time. I was unable to find time to write before; I also lacked the space. The lack of
physical space became a lack of headspace.

My apartment is still small, but the walls around me, barriers between me and others, also
give me the safety and isolation I need to compose my thoughts.

There are other advantages. I can plan my day without worrying about anyone else’s
schedule or activities. I can make noise in the kitchen without worrying about waking
anyone up. I can eat what I want—when I want—without feeling guilty or neglectful. I
can place things where I want in the apartment without being questioned, or having them
silently moved elsewhere. I can monitor my financial situation more easily. If I clean, the
apartment stays clean. If I put things away, they don’t reappear on the floor an hour later.

These details add up to intangibles. I am more efficient, accomplishing more in less time.
I can control my time and space. Order is maintained with less effort and anxiety. I am
more composed, mentally and emotionally. I can take full responsibility for my life and
my home. Being alone requires me to be an adult, which is not always necessary (or easy)
if someone else takes care of you, or does the things you don’t want to do; or even if
there is a hint of paternalism in the relationship.

Sometimes I worry that I will become too controlling or obsessed with order and the need
to accomplish things. That I’ll become too much attached to doing things my own way.
At other times I think, what’s wrong with that? There’s enough chaos in the world that
I’ll never be able to establish perfect order. I will never be able to accomplish everything.
I know that. But if I can do a little more in each area, that’s not so bad, is it? And is
becoming attached to doing things my own way such a bad thing? When I feel as if I’ve
spent my whole life with people telling me what to do and how to do it, surrounded by
constant criticism and advice?

I am still lonely at times, still anxious and needy. But learning to be by myself is also
learning to know myself, to rediscover myself. To appreciate my attributes and become
more aware of my failings and weaknesses. To find company alone.


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