One of the main questions I seem to be asked by people in South Africa when they hear where I work and what I do is: “But how do you live alone?” (That and: “What do you eat?” But I will address that in another post). I am always baffled by this question- there is no how in living alone. It’s just something that happens and occurs. To me, living alone should be inevitable at some point in a person’s life. There is honestly so much you miss out on if you never do. I don’t blame people for asking me this question after all, the community in which I grew up pressed upon us, from very young ages, that the only time you move away from your parents is when you get married. So when I announced (yes I announced) that I was moving out, no wait- leaving the country, actually the continent, to move to some place where I knew no one and live alone, it was the ‘live alone’ that brought about incredulous expressions.
But there is something so magical in living alone. I love coming home and knowing that I’m back in my cocoon and that for the next few hours I can do anything I please. Even as a young child, I played by myself for hours at a time, drawing, reading everything from the Enid Blyton novel I could lay my hands on to the Glamour magazine that I picked up on the way back from school. You see, I love my own company. I don’t mean that I’m anti-social or anything, all I’m saying is that after a day of work, or a long day out with friends, I really do look forward to being by myself. It energizes me. It relaxes me. It makes me happy.
Over the past year and a half, many of my married friends have talked about my life filled with freedom and independence. Yes, I can come and go as I please and I can even create a Mount Everest of laundry until Sir Edmund Hillary himself would have to cart it to the washing machine, I sometimes even resort to lying in bed all weekend. But that’s not really why living alone is so important to me. Living independently (even if briefly) is so liberating, in so many ways. It’s probably one of the best things that can happen to an individual.
Suddenly, there’s this deep contentment of turning the key in the front door every evening, closing it behind me, unwrapping a bar of chocolate and settling down to watch a favourite movie, read a book or just mindlessly surf the net. There’s a calm, a tranquil satisfaction in knowing that however busy and actively involved with little kids I may have to be all day, I’m free to enjoy my own company and my own space in a way that makes me happy.
So here are some reasons why living alone can be pretty fantastic:
- Being as messy or as clean as you want. These dirty exercise clothes in the corner, where did they come from? Why is there a plate with dried flakes of cheese on it in the sink that still hasn’t been washed? These questions are so much easier to answer when you live by yourself. So much less finger pointing. You can take that finger and proudly turn it right back around on yourself, my independent friend! YOU made the mess! SPLENDID! Do you feel like cleaning it up right away, possibly in your nastiest T-shirt? Leaving it to rot for hours, days, weeks? DOUBLE SPLENDID. You get to do that, my friend, because it’s your mess and no one is going to come home all grumpy and tired after a long day of teaching/financial advising/studying/auditioning and engage you in an argument about it.
2. Your kitchen is your temple. What this means is that if you are only feeding yourself, on those days you are exhausted to cook but too broke for a pizza, you can have a peanut butter sandwich and banana smoothie without feeling guilty that you didn’t cook for the other person. And there is no one to shoot you disapproving looks or tell you, “You can’t eat peanut butter for supper!”
3. Speaking of which: You will cook more. Yes it will happen and it’s a good thing. Did you catch that part where you’re sautéing onions? Like a Real Grown-Up might, in their Real Grown-Up Apartment? Yip, living alone, you will probably find that you cook more. Because finally, no parents are watching and judging your amateur chopping skills. Also, they’re not there to cook you supper
4. Yes, you will occasionally feel more lonely. You are living alone, after all. And you have been talking to yourself a lot lately. But what if that’s actually a good thing? Loneliness gets a bad rap in our society, mostly because with all our electronic pacifiers, we’re not used to spending time fully alone with ourselves. But as long as it’s not leading to major depression, it’s important to remember that being alone with yourself is important, even productive. If it makes you feel occasionally lonely, maybe that’s not actually a bad thing. Maybe that’s part of actually being human.
5. You can be an introvert, an extrovert or both. If you want your house to be party central it can be. If you enjoy entertaining at home, you can host a dinner party or throw a braai whenever you want. Living by yourself means that you can be as social or anti-social as you choose at any particular time. After a hard week at work or during a time of crisis sometimes facing people and their questions, even well meaning ones, can be exhausting. It’s wonderful to have a private sanctuary where you can relax and unwind.
6. No fighting over the remote, movie selection or anything else. You can watch what you want, when you want and if you want to change the channel on every ad break you can. You won’t be bothered by someone lounging on the couch watching sports all day (unless it’s you) or hogging the Playstation when you want to play Sims.
7. You can control your bills and spending. While you won’t have anyone paying half of the general bills (or not paying any bills at all thanks to nice parents), you will be more in charge of how you spend your money. Electricity left on all day, ridiculously long showers and exorbitant grocery bills all come out of your own pocket. And if nothing else, eventually you learn how to spend your money that is effective for you.
8. Spending a lot of time alone. And, like, really alone. When you live alone, you get solo time in both quality and quantity. I have always been a bit of a hermit, so I will admit that sometimes, living alone is a challenge for me because I have to force myself to socialize, but even that challenge has been good for my soul. I am a firm believer that loneliness gets a bad rap and living alone gives you the opportunity to really experience the benefits of solitude. When I’m upset, sad, happy, angry, whatever, I find myself feeling those emotions to the absolute fullest because I’m not worried about how my response is being viewed by anyone else in the room. I have learned to quiet my own anger, assure my own fear, celebrate my own joy, and soothe my own sadness. And that is really cool.
To be honest, while I love living by myself there is one small downside. It can be difficult when you get sick. Last year I woke up one morning to find that I couldn’t walk without falling over. It was a scary experience, which resulted in a rush to the emergency room of the local hospital. That being said, even if you live with others you can’t guarantee they will be there at your exact time of need. All anyone can do, regardless of their living situation is have someone close by they can call on for help.
So in a nutshell: there is nothing quite like pushing open to the door to your place and you hear it- the silence is transcendent. There is no one moving books around, leaving socks on floors, misplacing cutlery. No one dictates what time I eat or peeks through a door to catch me in the ungainly act of painting my nails; No one irritates while I sit at my desk which is where I should be-and want to be- writing. Unless I want it that way. Sometimes I spend time at Faraaz’s place or he spends time at mine. Of course it is always difficult when its time to leave. But- it is also always great to be home alone-at once comforting, liberating, exciting, even. What adventures await me here, in my own place, in the soft white whispers of my own private sanctuary, between my Macbook, my kitchen and my books and me?
There are days I scarcely leave my apartment. I don’t have to. I don’t want to. And that’s the end of it.
Living by yourself is ultimately about freedom, independence, knowing who you are and how to make yourself happy and fulfilled.
We’re born alone, we live alone, we die alone. Only through our love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we’re not alone.