Living alone — compared to what?

To week-long bouts of petty retaliations for an unwashed chicken pan, or to warming expectations of a tired hug at home? To nerve-twanging habits that ricochet with repetition, or to the sensuous soothing pleasure of a shared meal?

A thousand bits of life and death abound in every state of alone and together.

Happy alone, I revel in my freedom from the chicken pans and knuckle-cracking. Depressed alone, I idealize the communal, coupled life — a wartless world.

Happy bonded, I delight in the intricate synergy of two worlds as more than one, more than two. Depressed bonded, I feel the pulsing wish for one day’s journey as an unadulterated soul, without another’s needs for ego and supper.

The art and the salvation lie in nourishing the lifebits, however many arms and legs and eyes surround the source.

My ache for warmth vies with my compulsive self-definition. My joy in sharing fights with the highs of the one-track search. Outwardly, these aches and joys arrive unchosen, whimsical changes in circumstance. The impulse to idealize the unavailable is at its most real here. That is also the curse and the blessing of living alone: I have to shoot down my own trial balloons and salute my own flags. That leads to a panoramic expansion of awareness, and to inertia. It’s the ultimate lesson in being a self-starter, and the quickest road to moral fatigue.

The choice is to pluck the lifening from the dead.

Catherine Anderson
Washington, DC

There is no one else here. I can keep whatever crazy hours I want, wash dishes at 2 a.m. or sleep at noon, spend hours doing nothing but sitting, be as boring as I want to, or talk to the dog and the cat and not feel crazy. I can sing and dance, and I am not performing, except for myself. I can be as messy or neat as I want. I eat alone, which means sometimes I don’t eat, or eat only very simple fare. I live in a place where I feel safe from physical harm. I learn things I might otherwise not, like how to use a chainsaw or the principles of leverage in moving heavy objects. I see my strengths and weaknesses.

Living alone is also a state of mind. For me it is a choice, not an accident. A space, not searching but found. I can see it as a great selfishness — but is that so bad? It is easy for me, but is ease desirable? It gives me freedom from guilt or shame about how I spend my time, who I sleep with, or where I spend my money, but shouldn’t those feelings be worked out and not avoided? I can be open to whatever comes along — a trip to Europe, a new job, an interesting person — but why must that be different if I live with someone else?

I see my fears. My fear of getting involved too deeply, of “losing myself,” and the limits this sets on my relationships. I fear the responsibility for someone else, his happiness and expectations. And yet, I am responsible for all those I meet anyway, and at the same time responsible for no one but myself. I like being “single,” and the attractiveness that has socially, and fear losing that attention. Am I still waiting for “the right one” to come along, and is that a romantic illusion?

I’m rarely lonely. I have too many friends, thoughts, things to do. And then there are the bright times of such incredible beauty that fill and stretch me. I feel myself growing, I am happy and I know everything is okay. I am comfortable living alone. The silence is mine to listen to or fill.

Mary Rowland
Drury, Missouri