When I moved out of the home I had been sharing with my ex-husband just over four years ago, I was completely wrecked. I had been in a committed relationship with him since I was 19, and had moved directly from my mother’s home into his just before my 21st birthday. We lived apart during the two years I was wrapping up my bachelor’s degree, but I had a roommate, and he would come visit most weekends. The thought of suddenly living alone terrified me, but it absolutely rules.
Living by oneself is different for everyone, but that is the beauty of it—it’s a completely customisable experience. There is, however, a learning curve, especially if all of your living has been partnered, communal, or familial.
Give yourself time to adjust
Living alone can feel very awkward at first. There’s a muscle memory involved with having another person or people around constantly, and your body and brain need time to adjust. According to Psychology Today, solitude can (eventually) be quite freeing: “The mere presence of other people changes us. They get in our heads and under our skin, sometimes for better and other times for worse. They steal a sliver of our mental space. All alone in a place of our own, we get to think with our whole mind.”
Have you ever used your whole mind? It’s terrifying at first, but then you get used to it and you’ve like “Oh, it’s actually quite nice in here.” You get to indulge in corners of your brain you may not have been able to access with other people milling about.
The physicality of living alone may take a bit more time to get used to, especially if you were cohabitating with a romantic partner. For me, it was truly one of the greatest challenges during my separation and subsequent divorce. Sleeping alone for the first time in almost a decade felt physically wrong, not quite as dramatic as losing a limb, but kind of like losing a pinky toe—destabilizing, slightly traumatic, and ugly.
A bandaid solution is to sleep with other, new people, but that’s rarely emotionally sustainable, and white knuckling your way through a few nights of physical loneliness until you get used to having a whole bed to yourself can be more beneficial in the long run. I found it helped to remember that—when I was living with my ex—I would immensely enjoy the nights he was out of town, and starfish my body across the mattress, secure and comfortable with the knowledge that I would not be jostled awake by snoring, fidgeting, or sleep talking. (Happy couples will tell you they love sharing a bed, but I suspect most of them are lying.)
Separate your values from societal norms
People, and especially women, are taught that the happiest, most fulfilling existence is a married one, bonus points if you procreate. This could be true for you, but it also might not be, and it can be helpful to interrogate your feelings and desires around such “goals.” (Journaling or seeing therapist can help you suss this out.) If happiness expert Paul Dolan is to be believed, single, childless women are the happiest group of people. According to Business Insider, while speaking at the Hay Festival last year, Dolan explained that “married people are happier than other population subgroups, but only when their spouse is in the room when they are asked how happy they are. When the spouse is not present: fucking miserable.” He also added that while marriage offers health benefits for men, this is not the case for women: “You [a man] take less risks, you earn more money at work, and you live a little longer. She, on the other hand, has to put up with that, and she dies sooner than if she never married. The healthiest and happiest population subgroup are women who never married or had children.”
I don’t mention Dolan’s work in an attempt to discredit the happiness of those who are joyously married with children (this blog isn’t for you!), but to highlight that it is possible—and perhaps even easier—to be happy as a single person, especially if you are a woman, which is the exact opposite of what you have probably been told since you were a child. You shouldn’t feel guilty if the absence of another human in your home turns out to be the thing that was missing from your life.
Arrange your shit exactly how you want it
Then there are the logistical, seemingly silly benefits of living by yourself. Being able to fill (or not fill) a space with any random object or piece of furniture that appeals to you is fun. My apartment looks like it was decorated but a horny, drunk raccoon, and it makes me very happy. My eyes are only forced to gaze upon objet that bring me joy, my ears only have to hear music that is pleasing to them, and the temperature is never above a nice 69℉. If you need further evidence of just how beautiful a truly bespoke solo space can be, search YouTube for single person apartment tours. Amy Sedaris’ is my favourite.
Enjoy not having to coordinate
One of the most tedious thing about being partnered is the constant coordination. “When will you be home?” and “What are we eating?” are two questions I only have to answer a couple times a week, as my partner works nights and lives elsewhere. It’s good, actually. Since I have been divorced I have made more friends, travelled way more, and finally found a hobby I enjoy (which, hilariously, is DJing). It’s not that my wasband forbade any of these activities, but there is a certain amount of checking in and scheduling when you live with someone that is unavoidable. Being alone most of the time also makes one more likely to venture out and engage with the world because, yes, being by oneself can get boring, but having utter control over how many people you see at any given time makes time spent with others more intentional and (I think) special.
I have also found solo eating to be a bit healthier, or at least more intuitive. My ex was male triathlete with a fast metabolism and, though our dietary needs did not always sync up, I found myself cooking for him more than myself, which is quite common in heterosexual relationships. Now the only real outside influence on my diet is this job, which is not a burden, obviously.
If you don’t believe me, believe Whoopi
I grew up watching Whoopi Goldberg dispense sage advice to a certain suave Star Trek captain, which solidified her in my mind as an authority on life and living, and this has worked out just fine. Back in 2016, when questioned about marriage by New York Times Magazine, she explained in no uncertain terms that cohabitation was not for her. “I’m much happier on my own. I can spend as much time with somebody as I want to spend, but I’m not looking to be with somebody forever or live with someone,” Goldberg said. “I don’t want somebody in my house.”
The whole quote is good, but I think about that last part the most. I really don’t want somebody in my house, at least not all the time, and you don’t have to want it either.