I read an article in the New York Times yesterday called One is the Quirkiest Number: The Freedom, and Perils, of Living Alone. Basically, the article talks about just that — the benefits and disadvantages of living by oneself.
The article talks about how “the solo dweller is free to indulge his or her odder habits — what is sometimes referred to as Secret Single Behavior Feel like standing naked in your kitchen at 2 a.m., eating peanut butter from the jar? Who’s to know?” The author interviewed a bunch of people who live alone, who all support this idea — that living alone allows you to be you, as weird as you might be. It’s when you are free to do all the things you can’t do in public or with a roommate. And, the article seems to say, it’s the only time you can do those things. As soon as you get a roommate or move in with your partner, fun’s over!
I couldn’t disagree more.
I’ve lived alone on a few different occasions since graduating from high school and from these experiences, I’ve learned who I truly am. I actually see living alone as the perfect starting point for owning everything you do. Because when you live alone, you never have to compromise.
I learned this the summer I lived alone while I interned in New York. I had just finished my junior year at Michigan State, my first year living in the sorority house. And living with 50 women in a house belonging to Sigma Kappa Corporation (which is made up of a lot of older women who have a lot of rules) was pretty much a daily exercise in compromise. Now, compromise isn’t bad, of course. It’s just that it’s really hard to figure out what you want, believe, and care about if you are compromising all the time. After nine months of thinking of what “we” should do — “we” being my roommates and me, my friends and me, the chapter and me, etc. — I just wanted to figure out what I actually wanted to do.
And to figure that out, I had to be alone.
That summer New York was incredible because I really didn’t have any friends and so I had no choice but to do what I wanted to do. I didn’t have anyone to ask for advice so I just started trusting my gut and learning what works for me and what doesn’t. After just three months, I had so much confidence in who I was and what was best for me.
Here are some things I learned about myself.
- I never want to go out on Friday night, unless “going out” means a trip to Target. Ultimately, I want to come home from on Friday nights and sit around reading blogs, magazines, and watching women’s programming on TLC.
- Beyond a little “What Not to Wear” and “Say Yes to the Dress,” I want to not watch very much TV. Even though I like these shows, I could totally do without having a TV at all.
- I want to get takeout for dinner at least once a week, usually sushi or Thai food.
- I want to go to bed early and get up early.
- I want to spend my evenings writing and talking to my friends either on G-chat or on the phone.
- I want to make my bed every day.
- I want to not do dishes every day.
- I hate cleaning my bathroom and don’t do it very often.
- I want spend Saturdays shopping and running errands and I want to buy what I want, not what my friends tell me I want. I also want to not buy what I don’t want rather than not buy what my friends tell me I don’t want. Ultimately, I want to spend my money how I see fit.
Aside from those things, I also learned a lot about the relationships I had at the time. I figured out who was toxic in my life and who had my best interest at heart. I learned which of my goals were really my goals and which goals were based on other people’s expectations. I figured out what my priorities were. I figured out who I was.
But the article says, “What emerges over time, for those who live alone, is an at-home self that is markedly different — in ways big and small — from the self they present to the world.”
And that? Is where I’m calling bullshit. How are the things we do when we’re alone somehow not representative of who we really are? Aren’t the things we do alone showing us exactly who we really are? I’ve always thought so, and that’s why I’ve always thought living alone is so valuable.
But the article keeps driving the point home that you have to change who you are when you go back to living with people: “For people who are comfortable and even good at living alone, there is often another concern: a fear that the concrete has set, so to speak, on their domestic habits and that it will be difficult to go back to living with someone else.”
Well, yeah, it’s hard to go back to living with other people. But when I went back to living in the sorority house or when I moved in with Eric, it wasn’t hard because I had to hide my weird self away all of a sudden; it was hard because it wasn’t about me anymore. I had to compromise. And yeah, compromise is a pain in the ass. But I’m OK with compromising after I’ve had a few months or even a year or two to figure out what is important to me. I can let go of the little stuff because I know I’ll continue to say “sorry I’m not sorry” when it matters.
Chill Friday nights? Are something I need to have to recharge my battery and I won’t change that, no matter who I live with (or don’t live with). But washing dishes? Well, I can do that for the sake of getting along. That said, the dishwashing me isn’t some front I’m putting up. None of my roommates thought I was some fastidious dishwasher because I’ll happily admit, “Look, I’m going to do it because it matters to you but, I, at the core, hate doing dishes right away and prefer to just let them soak in the sink for a day or two.”
So I don’t believe in “secret single behavior” — to me, it’s just behavior and it isn’t anything to be secretive about. It’s what makes us happy. Calling it “secret single behavior” implies that it’s something to be ashamed of when other people are around. But even if it is quirky or weird, it’s still who I am. Even if it’s something small, like making my bed, I have to accept it as part of who I am that I’m proud of so that I’ll be able to accept the big things too. But if I tell myself that I can only do these things when I’m alone, I’m ultimately telling myself that there’s something wrong with me and wrong with my needs. And that? Makes getting what I want out of life damn near impossible.