We all know a couple who’ve shacked up after less than a month, let’s call them Codep and Endent—nice solid, American names. Maybe they moved in together for good reason. Rent is high, Codep is over at Endent’s place every night anyway, Endent needs someone to check her hair for toothpaste each morning. Maybe that pair embarrasses you; they’re the embodiment of a U-Haul joke. Maybe you envy them; you want to settle down too.
Random circumstance coupled with the fear that once someone lives with me, they’ll know too much to love me have stopped me falling victim to the classic lesbian stereotype, but I have my own U-Haul-related issues. When it comes time to leave, it’s like Labor Day in a college town; all the U-Hauls are booked. For me, loyalty plus stubbornness plus fear add up to inertia. I may not always move in too quickly, but I do stay too long. In part because I don’t like living alone. Sure, there are things to recommend it. Friends cite everything from not having to compromise, to being primary to the cat’s affection to letting their neat-freak flag fly. Open bathroom doors are apparently also a big draw. But I don’t mind compromise, I hate cats and I’m not that neat. And bathroom doors? Closed. Even if I was the last person on earth.
Maybe it’s my profession. Writing, I’m alone all day, and with no one coming home to interrupt, I’ll likely work all night. Not exactly a recipe for a balanced life. Some days I worry if I stand still for more than a heartbeat, loneliness will swallow me. I’ll circle forever like Jonah in the whale’s dark throat. But an aversion to living alone is no justification for moving in with someone, nor is it a reason to stay. So I’m working to make peace with my solitary living situation, one conscious choice at a time.
Tips for Living Alone
1. Know yourself/Schedule Social Interaction. How much alone time can you tolerate? Figure it out and plan accordingly. You don’t want to glance up on a Tuesday and realize your only plan till Saturday is to update your iPhone and mop the kitchen floor. Even if you think that’s what you want, consider what’s actually best. As an introvert (which I was way before every itemized list on Buzzfeed suggested ways to deal with me and my ilk.), I understand being reluctant to socialize. My preferred form of social intercourse is to casually shout random thoughts from room-to-room, but when you live alone, this isn’t an option. Well, it is, but only if you have an unusually engaged relationship with your ottoman. So you’ve no choice but to book (and keep!) plans with friends.
2. Don’t be afraid to make the first move. Despite my fears to the contrary, we’re no longer in junior high which means it’s far less likely that inviting an acquaintance out for coffee will result in being personally victimized by Regina George or in anything pig’s blood-related. Reach out and you’ll find that co-workers are happy to become friends and friends are thrilled to see you more often. Just stop trying to to make fetch happen.
3. Luxuriate in the moment. When I’m living with someone, at a certain time of night it’s like they activate my electroshock collar and I’ve no choice but to head home. (But enough about my sex life.) Lately, I’ve been sticking around after teaching to talk with colleagues, engaging with strangers in line at the grocery store, becoming absorbed in watching kids interact on the train. There’s a lot of life on the other side of your earbuds. It’s okay to be where you are.
4. Ask yourself what you want. I tend to run the same loop every day, but the other morning I asked myself where I actually wanted to go (the true answer: inside Ellen DeGeneres’ lapel pocket). I wound up exploring a neighborhood I’d rarely visited. Running, I realized I might apply the same principle to my daily life: make active choices rather than perform out of habit. I have the power to make every day my personal “choose your own adventure” book, even if those adventures are things like browsing the office supply aisle at Target or spending another hour on the phone to customer service at AT&T.
5. Tell your friends what you need. Want to wake up to a “good morning” text? Need to check in with someone at night? Looking for a family unit to go apple picking with? Ask.
6. Starbucks. Seriously. Or you know, whatever indie place your queer ass prefers. My budget is limited, but I’d say $2.50 a day is a small price to pay for movement, voices and the occasional run-in with an unexpected friend. Or do what I did as a broke grad student: buy a drink every few days and carry the cup with you. I swear I haven’t done this since. Much.
7. Make peace with silence. This one’s hard. This one is a work in progress.
8. Podcasts. Because number eight is freaking hard. If you’re like me, and having the TV constantly babbling makes you feel like Roseanne Connor, podcasts are a nice solution. Here are a few: Radiolab (a science-infused This American Life), The BS Report (for the sporty lesbian), Filmspotting (for the film buff), Comedy Bang Bang (if your favorite joke goes: Q. How many absurdists does it take to screw in a light bulb A. Fish, this podcast is for you.), Put Your Hands Together (two words: Cameron Esposito), and Fresh Air (OK, not a podcast, but nothing comforts me like Terri Gross stumbling to locate her actual question).
9. Make friends with single people. Easier said than done in your thirties, but worth it if you want to make last-minute plans. Most of my friends are in longterm relationships, and/or have kids which means nights in on the couch beckon them and plans fall through. It helps to have a single friend able make spontaneous date.
10. Plan a weekly meet up. Maybe it’s breakfast with one person, or book club with a whole group. Having a once a week check-in helps ground your time.
11. Become a regular. At a restaurant, a small grocery store, the gym.
12. Treat yourself. Truly, there is no one more budget conscious than me. I shop resale, choose the library over the movie theater, and until last year I washed my face with hand soap. But people, sometimes you need that sushi dinner. Failing that, there are always the free samples at Whole Foods.
13. Try meditation. This advice is coming from someone who has panic attacks in shavasana, but if you can’t sit quietly with yourself, how are you going to live with yourself? I’m right and you know it. That’s why you should go first. I’ll be over here texting 50 people at once.
14. Cut yourself all the slack. It’s OK to feel lonely sometimes. It doesn’t mean you’re pathetic or incapable. It just means you’re human.
Let me be clear, few of these items come easily to me. Living alone, although I’m happier than I’ve been in years, I’m more uncomfortable than I can describe. But maybe that’s OK for now. Maybe next time I move in with someone, I’ll stay not out of habit, but devotion. And perhaps more important, I’ll feel comfortable enough with myself to be certain I deserve their love.