broadsideblog

Posts Tagged ‘living alone’

Being alone is an art

In aging, behavior, culture, domestic life, family, life, love, women on May 7, 2012 at 12:11 am
Tattered Trunk Sadly this major oak in a pastu...

Tattered Trunk Sadly this major oak in a pasture North of Abberton Manor has given up the ghost. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My 8th. most popular blog post — with 578 views so far — offers 12 tips on how to travel alone as a woman.

For me and for many women I know, of all ages, it’s just no big deal. For others, going to a movie or concert or eating a meal in public, certainly at a good restaurant likely filled with couples or groups of friends, remains a prospect so intimidating they refuse to even try. They feel conspicuous, lonely, out of place.

Pshaw!

If you fear doing things alone, you’re always going to be clinging to others, seeking the comfort or validation of their company, like a small child with a tattered blankie. Or, as many women do, choosing to hang onto any man with a pulse because then they’re not single and alone anymore.

(So not true. I was the loneliest of my life when married to my first husband.)

I think it also depends on the friends, family and community you live in, and your ability to ignore or withstand peer pressure. Not to mention housing costs!

I’ve spent many years alone, living alone, no man in sight , or certainly none who would be around for very long. I grew up an only child and grew accustomed to amusing myself — with books, art, music, friends, stuffed animals or Legos.

I left home at 19 and lived alone in a very small studio apartment. I did that until I moved in with a boyfriend at the age of 21 or 22 and lived with him until I was 25 and moved to France for a year. I returned to Toronto and we broke up and I lived alone til I was 30 and met the man I would marry. He and I divorced when I was 37 and someone else — seriously! — proposed to me within the month, a much older man who’d been lusting after me (who knew?) for decades.

I said no thanks, and lived alone until I was 43 when Jose moved into my apartment.

I never hated being alone. But it’s not easy.

Living alone costs a fortune, especially in the United States where, if you are self-employed or out of work, you must buy health insurance for yourself and it’s insanely expensive; in the late 1990s I was then paying $500 a month.

It can get really lonely, certainly as you age, if your pals are booked solid with caring for their husbands or wives and kids and grand-kids and work. Finding, creating and nurturing your own communities is essential to your mental and physical health.

Being alone, for older women especially, can mean descending into terrifying and degrading poverty, a very real issue for those who earned little, saved little and/or spent many unwaged years (without earning Social Security) to bear and raise children.

Being alone is apparently the new norm. From a recent issue of Time magazine:

The extraordinary rise of solitary living is the biggest social change that we’ve neglected to identify, let alone examine.

Consider that in 1950, a mere 4 million Americans lived alone, and they made up only 9% of households. Back then, going solo was most common in the open, sprawling Western states–Alaska, Montana and Nevada–that attracted migrant workingmen, and it was usually a short-lived stage on the road to a more conventional domestic life.

Not anymore. According to 2011 census data, people who live alone–nearly 33 million Americans–make up 28% of all U.S. households.

Here’s a fellow blogger who thinks this is a sad trend, especially for older people.

And here’s a new book on the subject.

Do you live alone?

How do you like it?

How great is it — really — living alone?

In aging, behavior, domestic life, family, life, news, seniors on March 4, 2012 at 12:35 am
English: Young Lady With Older Gentleman At A ...

Image via Wikipedia

If you’re living alone, or unwilling to re-marry, and in your 50s or older, you’re part of a trend in the U.S, reports The New York Times:

more adults are remaining single. The shift is changing the traditional portrait of older Americans: About a third of adults ages 46 through 64 were divorced, separated or had never been married in 2010, compared with 13 percent in 1970, according to an analysis of recently released census data conducted by demographers at Bowling Green State University, in Ohio.

Sociologists expect those numbers to rise sharply in coming decades as younger people, who have far lower rates of marriage than their elders, move into middle age.

Susan L. Brown, co-director of the National Center for Family & Marriage Research at Bowling Green State, said the trend would transform the lives of many older people.

The elderly, who have traditionally relied on spouses for their care, will increasingly struggle to fend for themselves. And federal and local governments will have to shoulder much of the cost of their care. Unmarried baby boomers are five times more likely to live in poverty than their married counterparts, statistics show. They are also three times as likely to receive food stamps, public assistance or disability payments.

This is serious stuff, and an issue I’ve recently tasted firsthand.

I had major surgery in early February — enough of a financial challenge for someone self-employed with no paid sick or vacation days and a monthly four-figure overhead to meet. I came home from the hospital after three days, unable to bathe, dress, cook or clean the apartment. Simply trying to sweep our tiny kitchen floor, a week later, sent my pulse racing.

A physical therapist and nurse came to our apartment several times a week, hugely comforting to know I was healthy and recovering well. But the most minute of daily tasks were overwhelming for several weeks — without the physical help of my husband, and his infinite kindness and gentleness, it would have been impossible.

I lived alone for much of my life, ages 19 to 23 (when I lived with a boyfriend), ages 24 to 30 (when I settled down with my first husband), ages 37 to 43 (after my divorce, with no children.)  I generally enjoyed my privacy and solitude, had plenty of friends, work I liked, a small black terrier for company, and never worried much about it.

That all changed with my first orthopedic surgery, in January 2000, followed by another (both minor knee operations) within the year. For the first, I was single, and another single friend came all the way up from Manhattan in a blinding blizzard — even climbing our steep hill after the taxi gave up — to be with me. I got meals delivered by my church for a few days, then my father came from Canada to stay with me for a few more days.

I needed help for quite some time. Trying to simply buy groceries on crutches — which I’ve now done many times — is no picnic!

Being alone? Not so alluring, suddenly.

My mother, who lived on her own her entire life after her divorce from my father when she was 30, is now in a nursing home. It was clear to me on my last visit that she wasn’t going to be living alone much longer, for a variety of health-related reasons. Like me, she is — or always was — fiercely independent.

Unlike many women her age, though, she was fortunate enough to have the financial means to remain that way.

Old age is a rough ride for many of us, especially women who do not have pensions to rely on, or adequate savings or Social Security payments. Those of us who never had children, nor who have families that are either emotionally or physically close to us, willing to help us shower or buy our groceries or change our dressings, have to have very good friends, or someone we can rely on.

Who’s going to step in? Who’s going to pay for it?

The Times — somewhat confusingly — also recently published a piece that’s a paean to the glories of the single life — great if you’ve got lots of cash, consistently terrific health and/or a wide, deep network of supportive friends and family nearby. Few of us do!

A new book extols the virtues of the solo life, but also raises some of these questions.

What once looked like a seductive form of privacy and independence can quickly change form into something much darker and more frightening.

Do you live alone right now?

How’s it working for you?

Doing Laundry, Changing Lightbulbs And Other Essential College Skills

In behavior, domestic life, education, family, life, parenting on September 12, 2011 at 3:12 am
U.S. Patent by Thomas Edison for an improved e...

Image via Wikipedia

Seriously?

Seriously?

There are kids going to college who have no idea how to —- change a lightbulb?

According to this recent piece in The New York Times, possibly not:

I will end with a bunch of random, yet helpful, tips garnered from a variety of sources. Make sure your son or daughter knows how to sew on a button or a repair a hem, change a light bulb (yes, honestly some have never done that at home), tie a tie, defrost a refrigerator (some dorm fridges aren’t self-defrosting) and judge how long different foods can stay in a refrigerator before going bad.

And here are a few more: How to tip properly, use a microwave safely, strip and make a bed, pack a suitcase and safeguard valuables.

Rant alert, dearest readers. I was out on my own, living in a minuscule studio apartment on a not-very-good street of downtown Toronto when I was 19, the fall semester of my sophomore year. Was I ready? Not really. But my family had sold the house and were headed off to live on a boat in Europe. Jump!

My rent was $165. I was on the ground floor (wrong!) facing an alley (wrong!) in a vaguely seedy/affordable neighborhood. I would not have qualified for student aid or loans and didn’t want dorm life after a childhood and adolescence spent at boarding school and summer camp sharing space with four to six strangers. I wanted privacy.

I still remember the price of a can of tuna then — 65 cents — as I ate a fair bit of it. I was not a very chic dresser as my budget was so tight; it took me months to save the $30 I then needed for tights, a leotard and slippers to take free ballet classes on campus. I bought and cooked my own food, did my own laundry, played “Hejira” on my stereo, entertained members of the opposite sex whenever I felt like it.

I lived there until June when, one terrifying night, a man leaned in my bathroom window and tried to pull me out of the bathtub. It’s true — you can be too scared to scream.

I moved into a sorority house the next week, safely on the top floor surrounded by other young women. That fall I moved into another tiny studio apartment, this one — like where I live now — overlooking nothing but trees, safely completely inaccessible in height and design on the sixth floor in a better area.

I learned a lot by living on my own so young: how to budget, how to deal with adults and professors and landlords without any help or intervention or advice from family; my parents were both very far away, both traveling and often unreachable. Whatever the problem, as an only child and already writing and selling photos to national publications to pay for school, it was mine  to solve.

My best advice to freshmen:

Learn how to get along with your professors. Don’t text them or expect hand-holding. They’re not Mummy. They are professionals paid to help you learn. Period.

Understand and respect the complex interplay between being drunk and stoned and the increased chances of a sexual encounter — or several — you did not anticipate, plan or want. Learn to say no, mean it and leave in sufficient sobriety you remain in control of your safety.

Practice using condoms. Use them.

Practice saying no. Mean it.

Enjoy the extraordinary array of facilities your campus offers you — socially, intellectually, physically. Even getting into a gym or pool as nice as yours right now will cost you a fortune post-grad.

Grades matter, but not as much as you think or fear (short of those applying to grad or professional programs.) That stellar GPA often means very little to most employers — who really crave ethical, hardworking and highly disciplined employees. Yes, a GPA is meant as proxy for all those qualities, but it doesn’t always work out that way. The “skills” you acquire by sitting in a college classroom and (only) striving for top grades may not translate tidily to a job in the real world.

You do not need to keep up with the materialistic cravings of your fellow students, whose parents may out-earn yours by many multiples. College is the first set of steps to adulthood, not four (or five or six) years of shrugged-off do-overs.

Work your ass off. Just do it. If you get into grad school, you’ll need to be in the habit. If you get a job, you’ll need it. If you have to work for yourself, self-discipline will prove far more valuable than your diploma.

A deadline  — i.e.  the paper is due Friday morning –  is not a suggestion. It is not negotiable. Not Friday afternoon six months from now.

Just because your BFFs are: bulimic or anorexic or tattooed or multiply pierced or high most of the time doesn’t meant this is a great trend to follow. College is a great place to locate and stiffen your spine.

Have fun! Get to know the sort of people you never even acknowledged in high school, The real world is going to put you face to face with all sorts of people from now on, so start discovering and enjoying them.

If someone comes on to you — whatever your sexuality or theirs — be flattered and polite, especially if sexual behavior is new to you, but go slowly. Sex is fun, but not worth getting an STD  or pregnant. Don’t confuse attention with affection.

Don’t focus all your energy on how much better everyone else is doing — socially, sexually, intellectually, athletically. If you’ve gotten into a good school, you’re now surrounded by some kick-ass talent. Watch it, learn from it, but don’t let it intimidate you.

Professors are not God. If you have a solidly researched and thoughtful opinion that differs from theirs, share it, politely. But your feelings are not facts. Learn the difference.

Take on leadership roles. You never know until you try if people will follow your lead. If they do, you know you’ve got the goods. They don’t teach that in the classroom, but the confidence it will give you will play out for years to come.

Here’s an interesting ongoing debate at the Times’ website on whether college is even worth it.

What’s your best advice to the class of 2015?

When I Grow Up, I Want To Be An Old Woman

In behavior, women on July 27, 2010 at 6:14 pm
The United Colors of an Old Woman

Image by pedrosimoes7 via Flickr

I live in an apartment building that is, frankly, something of an old age home — filled with people in their 70s, 80s and 90s. There are days I weary of gray hair and halting gaits, but I have also learned to appreciate the deep value of role models, especially of older women living, well, alone.

My theme song is this, a rockabilly anthem to feisty female old age, from a 1988 album by Michelle Shocked.

I’m thinking of this because one of our building’s two cool 96-year-olds, one of whom lives on my floor, was taken to the hospital by ambulance yesterday. She’s got brilliant blue eyes, thick white hair, and a spirit so lively and outgoing we all love her. I’m praying for her.

The other, on my floor, is wealthy, a bit of a grande dame. She lives in a three-bedroom apartment with a live-in helper. (Money is a wonderful, necessary adjunct to a decent, solitary [even shared] old age.) She wears fab clothes, keeps a fresh manicure, comes down to the pool, even with a walker.

Most women, statistically, will outlive their husbands or male partners. We have to be ready, in every way, to survive — and thrive — on our own.

But I also treasure Marie, 80, on my floor. She’s still married. She wears an immaculate bouffant pompadour hairdo, dresses with style and had a male stripper for her 80th. I asked her in the elevator one day — she’s OK with this sort of directeness — “How old are you, anyway?” I thought, maybe, late 60s.

I feel too fragile these days because of my aching, injured hip. When I watch these women soldiering along, finding new beaux, slapping on the mascara and nail polish and a smile, heading out for dinner with their girlfriends, I’m glad I don’t live surrounded by 20 or 30-somethings, slick and invulnerable.

These ladies are survivors. I hope to be one, too.

Are You Lonely? Cornell's Three Suicides Raise The Issue Once More

In behavior on March 24, 2010 at 1:03 pm
Cover of "A Good Talk: The Story and Skil...

Cover via Amazon

Today’s New York Times carries a letter from the president of Cornell, a campus struck by three recent student suicides:

In a time of unrelenting connectivity, through Facebook, Twitter and our smartphones, paradoxically it is too easy to stop connecting directly with those most able to help our young people. What is the way ahead?

First, we need more research into the factors that lead to suicide in this age group and how to identify those at greatest risk. Second, on our campuses, we need to forge ever more effective partnerships among students, parents, teachers, counselors and administrators in support of our students. And third, students must learn that it is smart to ask for help.

The story about the suicides has prompted 258 comments, so far.

Some of you will remember the chorus to “Eleanor Rigby” a Beatles’ tune, about “all the lonely people — where do they all come from? All the lonely people, where do they all belong?

I think about loneliness a lot.

I work alone all day in a suburban apartment. I can hear my neighbor’s voice through the wall that separates our living rooms — she, too, works at home, but is a deeply private person socially. I can hear the radiator hissing and the fridge humming and the wind outside. That’s it.

If I want to speak with someone, I have to pick up the phone — always reluctant to impose upon friends who are all busy parenting and/or working — or leave my apartment and set up a face to face meeting with a friend, many of whom live a 45-60 minute drive away, many of whom are already swamped with family, work, commuting. Sitting in the library or coffee shop simply surrounded by other people we don’t know isn’t the answer.

Two of my friends are, like me right now, also on medication and ordered to rest as we recover slowly from severe hip or back pain. It leaves us alone and isolated (thank God for email!) in our homes.

There’s an interesting piece on this by David Dudley:

Whatever happened to good old-fashioned conversation?

I’m not the only one who has been struck by the eerie quiet that surrounds us nowadays. “We have all these invisible walls built by iPods and cell phones,” says Daniel Menaker, who crusades for traditional, face-to-face connection in his new book, A Good Talk: The Story and Skill of Conversation. “Not to be apocalyptic, but I’m very worried. There’s a social obligation to be available in a public space.”

Though hand-held devices now encroach on some treasured preserves of good talk—restaurant meals, an afternoon at the ballpark, the privacy of your car—Menaker’s chief villain isn’t technology per se but our work-obsessed lives. A job culture that demands always-on connectivity is flooding our days and nights with the clipped conventions and I-want-it-yesterday expectations of the work-place. The result: a nation of hyperconnected hermits, thumbs furiously working our BlackBerrys, each of us a master of an ever-smaller personal universe.

And a new memoir about being lonely by Emily White, a Canadian former lawyer living in St. Johns, Newfoundland, recently excerpted:

I lived alone for six years in my 30s, and those years were a period of relentless, almost savage loneliness. I ate breakfast alone, ate dinner alone, went to sleep alone, and woke to an empty apartment. On weekends, if I didn’t have anything planned, I saw no one.

Through all of this loneliness, I couldn’t shake the sense that there was something profoundly wrong with me. I’m 40, and I’ve been described as a member of the “Friends” generation. That is, even if I was living alone, I was supposed to be part of a hip, sassy gaggle of friends — a group that would make me feel as though I were part of a family, as though I weren’t, in fact, so alone.

But I wasn’t Carrie on “Sex and the City.” I had lovely friends, but they were busy with jobs and families. My real family was on the other side of town, and my sisters were raising kids. My work (I was a lawyer) wasn’t particularly social, and I didn’t belong to clubs or a church group.

The aloneness began to unravel me. I didn’t feel able, as one selfhelp writer advises, to see myself as my own companion. I didn’t want to cook dinners for myself as though I were having company. I wanted real company, and without it, my life began to fragment…My sleep fractured: I fell asleep in the living room, above my neighbors’ den, so that I could hear them talking in the evenings…

In fact, everything I went through when alone and lonely was empirically normal. I’ve spent the past five years engrossed in loneliness research, and I’ve seen all my symptoms and traits — the headaches, the wakefulness, the warped eating — evidenced among lonely individuals.

I lived alone for many years, ages 19-23, ages 26-30 and for six years after my divorce. I know how loneliness can gnaw at your soul. The more lonely you feel the more needy and grabby you can become — so uncool! so not fun! — that friends withdraw or you pull away from them, compounding the closed loop of solitude.

I don’t find it very easy to make friends. I once did, living downtown in Toronto and Montreal. I found it terrifyingly impossible in the 18 months I lived — survived, barely — in rural New Hampshire, where my then-partner was doing his medical residency, therefore gone most of the time and exhausted and mono-syllabic when home. I have never felt so disliked. We’d entertain, and no one would reciprocate. Everyone was married, pregnant or breast-feeding and we had no kids or plans to have any.

I live now 25 miles north of Manhattan. I can see the Empire State building from my street. But days, weeks, can go by without human contact unless I initiate it.

I don’t think I’m any less likeable than before. My sweetie is a lovely guy.  We love to cook and entertain, (very rarely reciprocated), and are planning a party for next month.

But, here, I’m wildly unconventional — no kids, unmarried (long-partnered), low-ish income in a wealthy area, no graduate degree surrounded by doctors and corporate lawyers. People don’t know what to make of me, or find me (?) intimidating, I’ve been told.

So — I chat with neighbors in the laundry room, in the elevator, at the mailbox or garage. I chat with our local businessmen, whether Hassan who sells great cheese or Gregg, from whom I’ll be buying window caulk tomorrow or Jose, who works the counter at the dry-cleaners or Mike, the shoe repairman. I talk to my Mom and Dad more than ever before, far away in Canada.

People need face-to-face contact, warmth, humor, conversation. We need to share a laugh and a raised eyebrow. We need a sliver of free cheese (thanks, Hassan!) or a juicy bit of gossip (thanks, Aqeel, our pharmacist) or just knowing we do still belong to a larger community.

It’s a terrible taboo to even admit you’re lonely. Loser! It’s one major reason I went to work a part-time retail job, just to be around co-workers and to enjoy (as I often did) meeting customers.

Doesn’t everyone have a ton of pals eager to hang out with them?

No. Not when everyone seems to be staggering under the multiple and often competing demands of: school, grad school, family of origin, their own babies and kids, aging, ill or dying parents, often living far away, their partner, their work, their hobbies, their new side-business(es), health issues, their sports or recreational or musical commitments.

It’s a minor miracle anyone, anywhere, has time to talk.

Do you?

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 11,039 other followers