Life, alone



By Caitlin Kelly

There’s a lot to unpack in this poignant personal essay,  written by a 36-year-old woman living alone in Brooklyn, NY.

An excerpt:

There are the big things, the Christmases, the New Year’s Eves, the motherfucking Valentine’s Days. We won’t be participating in cultural norms on these holidays, we’ll be MacGyvering the single woman’s version of all of them. And we’re good at it, too! Have you noticed the “Galentine’s” cards section at Target this year? The name is repulsive, but the message is great. We’ve versioned a holiday, you guys — they see us!

Birthdays are another fun one. With the exception of my 30th, I’ve been planning my own birthday celebrations for a decade. Nobody’s ever like, “What should I do for Shani for her birthday? I’ve got it, Kitten Party!!” It doesn’t happen. What typically happens instead is I email 10 people, five of them are available, I make a dinner reservation, the end.

If I’m honest, the big things don’t bother me half as much as the tiny ones…For example, who’s your In Case Of Emergency person? Mine is my mum. She lives 1800 MILES AWAY. And yes, I could list a friend, but I don’t like how that makes me feel. Have you ever really been in an “emergency?” It’s terrifying, and I don’t like assigning that potential imposition to a friend.

And I’m a lucky one, I have my mum. Not everyone does. But at a certain point in life, I developed a need to be number one to someone other than a parent. And I’m not.

This essay hit me hard for a few reasons….mostly what she sees as the high cost of independence — a loss of feeling valued and nurtured.

Like this sentence of hers:

I could list a friend, but I don’t like how that makes me feel. Have you ever really been in an “emergency?” It’s terrifying, and I don’t like assigning that potential imposition to a friend.

But how else can we function, those of us who live alone and may do so for decades, by choice or not?

Many of us now live equally far away from our parents or siblings; I haven’t lived in the same country as my parents for decades and my three half-siblings are not people I rely on for anything. I barely know them.

I lived alone ages 19 to 23, ages 26 to 30, ages 37 to 43, (after my divorce and when I met my second husband), a total of 14 years.

So I’ve had a lot of time alone, solo, single, reliant only on myself and whoever stepped up for me.




In those times, like the essayist, I’ve been really ill — I remember finally sleeping in flu-ish exhaustion at the foot of the stairs in my two-story Toronto apartment, the top two floors of a house, with no room-mates to notice or care. I couldn’t face climbing the stairs up to my bedroom again after one more trip to the second-floor bathroom.

Later, with a bad injury to my left ankle, I had to manage stairs into the apartment on  crutches as well, plus walking my dog. There really wasn’t anyone to call.

But I was also, then, in my mid-20s, and ferociously independent, unwilling or unable to ask others for help; when you come from a family uninterested in your welfare, you make the sad — and erroneous — assumption that since they (your own parents!) don’t care, why on earth would a non-relative?

But in my late 30s, with two knee surgeries to recover from, I had to literally open the door — and my suburban New York church brought me meals on wheels for a few days. I still remember who made soup and who delivered it, one now a very good friend all these years later.


Love is action!


North American life and culture, whether the shiny faux perfection of social media, the relentless work hours and long commutes that wear us out and steal our time, the competing demands of our own work, studies and/or family, can make it difficult to really be a good friend.


To summon the energy and make an effort.

To take the subway or bus crosstown or drive 20 minutes and find parking

To visit the hospital on a bitterly cold winter day.

To pick up a few bags of groceries or some fresh flowers and bring them to a friend.

To plan a party.

To remember a birthday.

Do you live alone?

Do you have people other than family to turn to and rely on?

8 thoughts on “Life, alone

  1. this is so poignant and true. it is hard being single at events and holidays, really hard days, and even on those just lousy days, while I didn’t have a supportive family that I was born into, I feel lucky to have created my own family with my daughters and grandies, combined with a few close friends I can rely on. family means something different to every person.

    1. For sure.

      My friends have always been my family, so nurturing those relationships is key. For my BFF from from freshman English class in college I splurged on (small!) diamond studs for a landmark birthday. She, too, had an unkind father, so she gets it.

  2. Jan Jasper

    I was in a serious relationship that ended a year or so ago, but even during that happy time, I knew that men usually don’t live as long as women, so I’d likely end up on my own. This is something that has to be faced, sooner or later. A small number of women have husbands who outlive them, but we cannot count on that.
    My mother was probably my best friend. She died 3 years ago, at 86, and I miss her so much. I have distant relatives, but all my immediate family is now deceased. I never had kids, and I sometimes wonder if that was a mistake. Ooops – too late now.
    My emergency contact is a new woman friend, we’ve only known each other for a few years, and she’s kind and gracious enough to be my Medical Power of Attorney.
    I do worry how I’d cope if I had a significant health problem. I have very nice neighbors, fortunately.
    I have a close friend I’ve known for over 40 years who lives several states away. I’m extremely grateful for this amazing long friendship, but it won’t help me on a practical level if I become ill or injured.

    1. You’ve thought it through…

      Jose prepared a “red binder” should he die first, with every scrap of financial information I will need to forge ahead. I sold a story about it as it’s a good way to plan.

      I worry about being alone if I live a long time and outlive him.

      I am sorry you miss your mother. That must be very hard.

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