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“Once alone, it is impossible to believe that one could ever have been otherwise. Loneliness is an absolute discovery.”—Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping
For some, the idea of living alone may be incredibly unappealing—lonely, boring, isolated. For others, the idea of living alone may be a heavily romanticised thing—forever blasting terrible songs and singing along, never having to wear pants, not having to feel guilty or be hassled to clean the dishes and generally having complete control over your entire living space. I fall into the latter group, and this year I optimistically ventured into the world of living alone. My first three weeks of this new lifestyle, in what I dub my “Bachelor Sanitary Pad”, has been a rich and sometimes unexpected learning experience.
My only reservation about living alone was the prospect of ghosts, a worry that had afflicted me many times before when getting up to pee in the middle of the night. I feared that being completely alone would be conducive to psyching myself out constantly. I had been told by friends who had lived alone that this sort of paranoia, whether of ghosts or burglars, lasts only a few nights at most, and then is quickly forgotten. I consider myself easily scared, so I expected this period to last a bit longer.
However, on my first night sleeping alone, I went about my pre-bed routine completely paranoia-free, and quickly passed out in bed. Perhaps it was the excitement of this new mode of life or perhaps it was because I was really tired from an early morning flight, but I felt completely at ease on my way to slumber. Whatever the reason, this nighttime ease continues to last, and I seem to have avoided the “getting-used-to” period of living alone completely. (If any ghosts are reading this, please don’t come here, this is not an invitation.)
On the Lack of Flatmates
While my previous flatting experiences are by no means the worst, they are definitely not the best. Like Abbi of Broad City, I had to deal with my own Bevers (i.e. my flatmate’s rude, messy, freeloading boyfriend); then there was the heated Dining Table Placement War of the winter of 2014, and the Cold War-like period in 2013 when the kitchen rug would mysteriously appear and disappear several times over the course of a day. No longer having to deal with flat politics is perhaps one of the greatest reliefs of living alone. No more awkward confrontations, no more slow, bubbling, ever-increasing tensions over seemingly trivial things—the freedom is a surely beautiful feeling.
On the pragmatic side, one must quickly become versed in a variety of household skills upon the absence of flatmates. While in a flat there may be someone else who is especially good at dealing with spiders, another who is the broken appliance specialist, and the one who always chases you up to pay the power bill, with an apartment of one’s own you have to fulfill all these roles yourself. This need not be daunting, but rather a chance to grow.
I like to think that I am doing quite well in this regard, especially in the role of DIY expert. As I was assembling my first piece of furniture on my own, I likened myself to Tim Allen on Home Improvement as I masterfully used a screwdriver to screwdrive in a screw, magically joining two planks of wood together. “I am truly a natural carpenter,” I thought, with grand visions already appearing of all the other furniture I would not just assemble, but design and create myself. Everyone at Bunnings will know my name! When I finished my bookshelf and stood back and admired it, I even had three screws left over and I felt proud to have made it with even less material than provided. So resourceful, so efficient. Saving the world’s resources. I am a home eco-warrier.
However, some things do remain unresolvable on your own—there is no one to help you open stubborn jars, or to wake you up if you sleep through your alarm, or to let you in if you lock yourself out. These are all scenarios that I do admittedly worry about. But perhaps the greatest critique on having no flatmates brings us to the next point: loneliness.
The threat of loneliness is perhaps the biggest deterrent to living alone. But I have always enjoyed being home alone. From parents and siblings to flatmates, whenever they left me as the only one in the house, a calm would settle over me, the feeling of a kind of secret treat that I had all to myself. So the idea of living alone has always appealed to me as the idea of being home alone, forever, me-time, all the time. I guess I describe myself as an introvert, and find solitude peaceful more than isolating. Truth is, you probably already know where you stand, and if you think that you’d be lonely living alone, then you probably will be.
And of course, one can always go out and see people, or invite them over. However, a difference does arise from the lack of a constant presence of people—socialising has already become a less passive process, and more active and conscious. While this requires more work and advance planning, I believe it will ultimately be a good thing since I feel more appreciative of and dedicated to whomever I’m spending time with. Even when living with friends, it is still refreshing to get out of your house to go visit others. Now, every meeting holds that quality.
Along with the freedom of being your own interior designer comes the temptation of a hundred different shops offering a thousand different items. You could stroll along Cuba Street and buy a flamingo statue for $239 and stand it in your living room with no opposition whatsoever. As I called in my course related costs for the year, I could already see the email—“Hi there, I am applying to the hardship fund for the amount of $3 for a gluestick so that I can finish my assignment. While I qualify for course related costs, the entirety was understandably spent on a genuine Persian rug.”
Worryingly, this is not as fantastical as it may seem. Last weekend I found myself gratuitously dipping into my savings in a suburban gardening center, forking out close to a hundred on houseplants. I fear that this is just the beginning. Curating and collecting a respectable home library, re-upholstering shabby Salvation Army furniture, spending triple digits on the perfect floor lamp, hiring a sculptor to carve a decorative marble bust of myself—these things have all suddenly become very desirable. It is almost definitely more reflective of myself than of living alone, but it’s living alone that has led to my self-discovery of secretly wanting to become some sort of secretive debonair bachelor (or at least to own the associated material goods).
Even when flatting I have always cooked individually, so there hasn’t been too much of a change. What living alone has brought to my attention is my reliance on others to know when to eat. When flatting, it was the smell of my flatmates’ meals that would bring my attention to the hunger I was harvesting and I would quickly toddle off to the kitchen myself to cook something too. Now, my meals are incredibly irregular: sometimes I snack constantly instead of eating any real meals, other times I binge on a meal for a family of four at noon and render myself immobile for the rest of the day.
Furthermore, without visual or olfactory cues, there is also a lack of meal precedent. Before if I was hungry, and then smelt my flatmate cooking stroganoff, I’d likely crave and make a similar meal. Now, whatever is easiest and quickest is usually eaten. If you would like to eat like a responsible adult too, the diet consists mainly of cereal (I highly recommend Pam’s Honey Snaps), ice-cream (try adding sweetened condensed coconut milk) and toast (also have this with sweetened condensed coconut milk—sweetened condensed coconut milk is great because it tastes even better than condensed milk but sounds healthy because it has the word “coconut” in it).
To further understand this diet, it is highly useful to investigate the fridge. In fact, the state of the fridge perhaps best exemplifies the quintessential bachelor(ette) lifestyle. Stray cans of beer and ham says “typical dudebro bachelor”, whereas marmalade and cottage cheese says “I’m eighty years old”. The current contents of my fridge consist of half a bottle of sparkling water, half a tray of tofu, half a grapefruit and half a chocolate bar. What this says about me is that I am very healthy and responsible. This is because leaving all your food half-eaten means that not only have you had a nutritious meal, but you are also being proactive by preparing something to eat later.
I truly and thoroughly enjoy domestic nudity. Whether this stems from the forbidden nature of such an act in the family home, a taboo perpetuated by prudish flatmates, or some other reason entirely, I cherish each and every moment of undress around the house. Cooking, cleaning, reading, eating, singing, dancing, looking for the keys—every activity no matter how mundane is suddenly elevated once clothes are shed. There is a freedom, a likely self-imposed sense of rebellion, but a sense of rebellion nonetheless, that elevates each action. In nudist daydreams I convince myself that I am a free and individual spirit in a sea of conforming, protestant prudes. Clothes are for the bourgeois. I am a political hero. Viva la revolution, until the Wellington winter demands otherwise.
During my flatting years I had observed in myself what I call the messy bedroom/clean lounge phenomena. My own bedroom would often fall into a state of complete squalor and clutter, while at the same time I could not even bear to leave a mug out in the lounge. It seemed to me that self-imposed guilt prevented my communal laziness, but in my private domain I need not feel bad for messing up anyone’s space, since it was mine and mine alone.
Prior to moving in I had wondered if this tendency would spread across the whole flat now that I lived alone and, unsurprisingly, it has. This complex has stayed with me. The times when my apartment is the cleanest are the times right before I know someone is coming over, after I find myself quickly attempting to put on the disguise that I am a tidy, hygienic individual and you are visiting a tidy, hygienic apartment. Why I can only clean for others and not for myself makes me wonder what this says about me, and I wonder if this will change as I become further accustomed to living alone.
On the whole, my first few weeks of living alone have been a positive experience. I am happy that my preconceived belief that I would enjoy domestic solitude is proving to be true, even exceeding my expectations. While I do wonder if the novelties will wear off, if I’ll be able to continue actively seeking social interaction, and if I’ll become more responsible towards myself rather than others, my outlook for the rest of the year remains positive. Montaigne wrote that “the aim of solitude is to live more at leisure and at one’s ease”, and as long as I keep my bonsai collection under control, keep seeing friends and do the dishes every now and then, I do think that this ideal of solitude can be achieved by living alone.