As of the writing of this piece, I have been living on my own for two months. Having moved out of the family home after an extended period of post-university struggles and delays to my long-term plans, I finally made the move into the adult world. I’m officially a full time postgraduate student with a variety of freelance pop culture writing jobs, paying bills and inhabiting a one bedroom flat, where I spent the majority of my days alone. When I’m not in classes or scouring the library, I work, I study, I cook my meals and occasionally indulge in a movie before bed. Between all the reading, researching and stolen moments of relaxation, I can go hours without talking to anyone but myself (one of my more esoteric habits). Sometimes I break the silence with music or movies - my degree requires extensive viewings of the latter - but the most precious moments are ones spent in quiet.
Living alone was something I coveted and feared in equal parts. After living back home for five years following graduation, I’d become accustomed to the odd liminal space between adulthood and a renewed form of adolescence - all the freedoms of a 20 something but under the roof of the parental gaze. When you’re closer to 30 than 20 but still have your mum checking up on you every night to remind you it’s teatime, it puts you in a bizarre position of feeling both utterly spoiled and dishearteningly infantilized. I never truly hated this situation, but it did become smothering at times and that confinement turned into a form of alluring comfort that was difficult to extract myself from. You get very used to being close to the hearth of the home, warm and safe and shut off from the responsibilities of everyone else in your age demographic.
All of that made actually moving out a tougher prospect than anticipated. I panicked, I cried, I felt intensely embarrassed by the reality of finding the real world just a tad too scary for me, aged 27. Years of plans and talk of all the fun things I’d do once I was free and alone started to feel like just talk, and I began to doubt my own assurances of my preference for solitude. Calling yourself a natural loner when you don’t live alone feels different from when you finally take the plunge. For me, there was true fear at the prospect of finally doing the thing I’d been insisting I’d do for half a decade. I panicked at the possibility of being utterly alone and trapped by isolation, unable to admit the pain of it and descending into the debilitating anxiety that plagued my undergraduate years.
And yet, on my first night alone, in a place with no internet access that didn’t quite feel like home, there was peace.
Since then, I’ve been delighted to live alone, moving at my pace and making decisions on my own life that impact nobody but myself. I have a few acquaintances and fewer friends in this space, but it matters little because the act of being alone has provided me with such overwhelming satisfaction.
I had to learn to be alone. First, you must become accustomed to quiet, but you soon find the pleasure in not having to fill every potentially awkward moment of silence with noise. I’m an incessant chatterbox when I’m with others, and those Saturday coffees with friends or dinners with family are the ideal outlet for that, but alone I’ve found comfort in keeping to myself. There’s something that can’t be beaten about realising you have nothing to say and no need to force it. After all, nobody else is listening.
Sometimes, the joys of being alone are gloriously selfish ones: It’s my TV, I get to decide what’s on; Nobody else will be bothered by the sheer level of garlic I put into my food, stinking up the living room to the point of guaranteed anti-vampire protection; I can take a shower at midnight without a fuss, just because I can. I don’t have to put on a smile for fear that my resting expression of ambivalence will elicit fearful questions if I’m okay, and if I can’t sleep - a common occurrence as a former insomniac - I can get up for a bit without being bothered.
The excitement of this solitary life aren’t without problems. It can be very easy for that aloneness to slip into loneliness without you even realising it’s happened, especially if you work from home like I do. The length of time that can go between conversations with other people certainly has its appeal yet there are times when you remember how many hours or days it’s been and the weight of that feels enormous. I’ve also yet to enjoy that loneliness fully in the outside world. The cinema is best experienced alone, in my opinion, but I still crave a theatre buddy. I love to eat alone but never in fancier restaurants, only more casual settings, where my lack of company does not draw attention. As much as I’ve always loved the idea of booking a table for one and reading a book while I delight in a special meal, I’ve yet to take the plunge for fear that I’ll be gawked at by people pondering the exact details of my sad situation. The stigma of being alone has yet to leave me, now more so than ever since apparently having my own place and ambitions means I must be ready to settle down with a partner and start popping out babies before the biological clock ticks any louder. On a night out recently, I conversed with a reasonably polite stranger, for whom it took a grand total of 10 minutes of chat before they launched into a polemic about how I would definitely want kids soon and it would be foolish of me not to change my mind.
I don’t crave aloneness all the time. There are moments when I fully need the company of another, like my best friends or my family or just that couple of hours in the lecture theatre listening to my professor talk about John Huston films. Sometimes I don’t even need to talk to others, I simply desire to be around people living their lives and allow that buzz of energy to replenish me. The trick is to know when to listen to yourself and take a break from being alone.
Tonight, as I finish writing this, I have plans to clean the kitchen then take a shower, probably well after dark. There are some revision notes that need to be taken, some drying clothes that need folded away, and some milk I need to finish before it goes off. Perhaps there will be some music too. I haven’t really decided yet, which is its own pleasure. Being alone isn’t for everyone. Some need that companionship and I wish them well. It’s just a delight to know that I’ve found the right rhythm for myself, and that peace is a good fit.