Living alone

Do you live alone? If you do, do you like it? Do you live alone by choice, or by circumstance, like divorce, ageing, death of a loved one, empty nest syndrome, flight from an oppressive situation, employment (e.g. fly-in fly-out jobs)? Or any other of the many reasons life separates us from each other?

I live alone by choice, have done so for years, since I left my 20-year-old son to make his own way in life, and I think about my choice most days. It is both comfortable and uncomfortable. My days are very quiet, as I’m not a club-joiner, I have only a few close friends and because I’ve moved around so much, most of them live elsewhere. My family are all grown up, though I live near two of my daughters and see them and their families every week; and I don’t have a steady fella. I have had, including two marriages, a couple of long-term relationships that have transformed into friendships, and some more experimental and ephemeral ones. I don’t go out to work any more, and work from home, writing and editing, and so I”m quite solitary. Some would say I”m reclusive. Yet I’m very sociable and get on easily with most people, on a superficial level, but only let a few in close. Perhaps it goes back to childhood, when I was a country girl, living in the outback of NSW, with only my parents and older siblings for company. I didn’t go to school until I was 13, and so I learned to keep my own company and populate my world with imaginary companions. When I went to boarding school I found it very strange to be among children my own age; I was used to being talked to like an adult, and I had shared much sorrow and hardship with my mother after my father left us, so I was serious; I had to learn how to laugh and play. But I always felt separate, different, even though I had close friends. Perhaps it’s because I’m an Aquarian. Whatever the reasons, and I’m sure there are many, this is how my life is now, and though it could change, I don’t actively seek to change it.

Today, after I came home from shopping in the funky town I live in, I walked from the hallway to the kitchen, then to the bathroom, then to my study, and I thought, if I lived here for years, I would wear tracks in the carpet, for I follow a certain beat, and use some spots of the small house much more than others. I don’t fill up the space like a snail in its shell, I haven’t really grown into it; I haven’t even unpacked most of my ornaments and pictures, as I’m not sure how long I will be in this house. I have moved so much, I’ve forgotten how to settle. Nothing feels permanent. Once or twice, since childhood, I’ve become very attached to a place, and leaving it has been painful, so now, I keep myself separate, even from the house I live in. It’s as if I lived in an igloo, expecting it to melt in the summertime, expecting to have to move to find more ice and build another one.

But it doesn’t feel cold or lonely. Though I think if it were really an igloo and I didn’t have internet, DVDs, TV (for those evening hours when I don’t feel like reading), books, a daily walk to the shops, family visits, a beautiful environment, it would indeed feel Arctic. I sometimes wonder how I would cope with solitary confinement, or life on a desert island, or the sort of isolation my mother endured for so many years, when she had only the wireless, a few books and her own thoughts, leavened by occasional trips to town, when her children were away at boarding school and her husband had gone. I think she was made of stronger stuff than I am. She was brought up to be stoic, to endure, to work hard, to put duty and service to others first.

I am softer, less stoical, much more dependent on change and stimulation from outside myself.

Yet, living alone is not lonely. I had a quick google before I started to write this, and I found statements like:

“Living alone is coming out of the closet as more and more Americans find themselves….alone. You can tell the person who lives alone in the supermarket checkout line. They’re the ones with a six pack of beer, a roll of toilet paper, and 27 tv dinners. People live alone for a lot of reasons, mostly depressing. Divorce or a broken romance are the primary reasons. Serious inability to share space is another. Some people are cohabitationally challenged.”

Or: “Society, for the most part, prefers us to be together. That’s the way we’ve been arranged for ages. Apparently it is the only we can fulfil the Australian dream, our parent’s dreams and our personal dreams of happily-ever-after.”

Well, dreams aside, we have reality, and reality need not be depressing, disappointing pr dysfunctional. I go to the supermarket about once a fortnight for a few items I can’t get in the small independent shops. I get most of my fresh stuff from the farmer’s market. I love cooking and I don’t eat TV dinners; I drink wine, not beer. The only space I find it hard to share is my bed, as I am a light sleeper, and all the men I’ve shared my bed with have snored. I love my bed, it is my haven. It doesn’t feel lonely.

Do you fear being alone? Do you prefer it? If you live alone, what are your days like? Would you like them to be different?

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Living alone

  1. I’m married but three times a year my wife visits her elderly parents in the States for three weeks at a time – she’s away at the moment – and so I get a taste of what life would be like on my own. I have lived alone before and for several years. I didn’t especially hate it or relish it and there are definitely pluses and minuses to be considered but, of course, when one lives alone one can be completely selfish without feeling guilty. I can work when I want, stop for meals when I want, watch what I want to when I’m fit for nothing else and I do quite enjoy that every now and then. That said my life doesn’t change much during these three week breaks. I find I usually do an extra hour just before bedtime and I’m not so rigorous in stopping for breaks at prescribed times but other than that my days follow much the same pattern.

    When I was a young teenager I spent an inordinate amount of time on my own. If I was not locked in the front room working on some project I was out wandering the countryside. I liked my own company. After my first marriage ended I found that I didn’t relish my own company as much as I once had. I said that my wife and I became one and she left she took half of me away with her and I did feel incomplete for the longest of time. Although I’m glad I remarried I think I’ve matured considerably since then. I don’t exactly relish the solitude when Carrie goes away and I do miss her but I can’t say that I really have to endure being on my own and I’ve little doubt that if she dies before me I’ll make no effort whatsoever to find a replacement. Perhaps a cat.

    The Internet does make a huge amount of difference. I could go outside and meet people but they wouldn’t be the right kind of people and I would have to make compromises to be with them. Online I can associate with people who are of a like mind and that means more than having someone to hug. I can always go for lunch with my daughter if I’m desperate for taction contact.

    • Christina Houen

      Jim, thanks for sharing. It sounds like you have the best of both worlds. I think that being happy with your own company is a wonderful place to have arrived at, or should I say, returned to, since I felt like that as a young child, and it sounds like you did as a teenager. But it is also a wonderful thing to be with someone and share each other, and still be able to be separate without feeling lost. Perhaps that is what loss can teach us, to be alone, and to be glad when we can share. I agree that the internet is a good way of making contact with like minds; but I also like the experience of going out into the street and meeting different people, hearing their stories, and feeling something of the physical world we inhabit/

  2. Great post, Christina. I admire your capacity to live and to enjoy being alone. Your peripatetic existence is such a contrast to my own, as you know.

    I’ve lived in the same place for thirty years and I’ve never once in my life lived on my own. I can’t imagine it. There are times when I long for some peace and quiet but mostly I prefer the hub of activity that surrounds me. It’s always been this way for me. I can’t imagine it any different.

    • Christina Houen

      Hello, my friend. Yes, we are very different in the paths our lives have taken, and I admire your capacity to live in the hub of activity and still find time not only to work, but to write, to read and to think. You thrive on that, and I wish you a continuance of your happy busy family life.

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