Life, alone

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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.

 

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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?

The joy (and terror!) of your first solo apartment

By Caitlin Kelly

One of Broadside’s most faithful followers — Rami Ungar, whose blog is here –– is moving into his first apartment on his own as he starts his first post-college full-time job.

 

IMG_20151219_080332133_HDRThe view from my friend’s studio apartment on East 81st, in Manhattan

 

Big step!

 

Independence. Self-reliance.

How do you make rice? Boil an egg?

I’ll never forget (does anyone?) my first apartment where I lived alone for the first time. A studio, with a sleeping alcove just big enough for my double mattress (on the floor), it was on the ground floor of a building facing an alleyway in a not-very-good part of Toronto.

The rent? $160/month — while my monthly income was $350.

I was so broke! But it was mine, all mine, even still sleeping in my childhood bed, under my red and yellow and blue patchwork quilt.

I was an undergrad, in my second year at University of Toronto, an easy walk to our downtown campus.

It was really, looking back, a terrible choice for a single woman, not safe at all.

I ended up having to move out within six months after one spring evening, when — my bathroom window open to the breeze — a man (yes, really) leaned into my bathroom window, at his waist height, and tried to pull me out of the bathtub.

Terrifying.

I moved next into a gorgeous studio on a much nicer street, on the 6th floor, with a balcony facing over the lush treetops of a nearby park.

No one could get at me.

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A table set for one of our dinner parties

Ever since that first first-floor home, I’ve lived on a building’s sixth, and usually highest, floor, usually facing trees — both beautiful and with zero possibility of a stranger accessing my door or windows.

But living alone is such heady stuff!

Everything is up to you: when and where and what to eat. Buying and cooking groceries. Learning to cook. Deciding who to bring home for how long and how often. Are they safe?

Doing laundry. (Or lack of same.)

You’re now negotiating your home’s care and safety directly with strangers — your landlord, maybe a superintendent or janitor.

Your rent is due exactly when they expect it. Every month. In full!

I was out on my own at 19, which, in retrospect was pretty young to be on my own in a major city. But I didn’t want to live in a dorm — after years spent sharing space with people at boarding school and summer camp.

Some people loathe the solitude and loneliness of solo life. For a while, I loved it.

Now, having been with my husband for 16 years, I really cherish the comfort and company of married life. I’d find it difficult to be alone now. (Not to mention his help getting things off those higher shelves.)

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A French laundromat washing machine…quite incomprehensible!

I liked this recent New York Times story about New York’s newest micro apartments:

It’s a nice place for a sleepover. The 302-square-foot unit I stayed in rents for $2,670 a month, furnished, which includes convertible and small-space objects from Resource Furniture. That company’s sofa-wall bed combination called Penelope (my destiny?), made in Italy by Clei, is the linchpin of the space: a Murphy-style bed, surrounded by deep cabinets, that unfolds over a diminutive charcoal-gray sofa.

I spent a good half-hour practicing opening and closing that bed, which is heavier and trickier than anything Bernadette Castro ever tackled, but much, much more comfortable, because it has a proper-size mattress and a firm base. (The two photographers who had accompanied me on my mission declined to help, perhaps taking their journalistic ethics too seriously.)

I know, I know….that’s about the size of some people’s walk-in closets!

I also loved the writer’s nostalgia for her first apartment:

My first single-person’s apartment in New York City was a studio on Christopher Street, in a prewar tenement building with a hallway that smelled of cat and scorched garlic. There was a kitchen of sorts in a cubby space with a tiny Royal Rose stove, a sink and a mini fridge — but I never cooked there.

I was no Laurie Colwin (I don’t recall owning a pot) and anyway, the Korean market on Bleecker Street was my cafeteria. It was 1984; on weekends, the young men who came downtown to showboat kept me awake until 5 a.m., but I didn’t care. When I wasn’t cursing them, I loved watching the performance.

The kitchen and bathroom windows looked out onto a grimy air shaft, and right into my neighbors’ apartments, so at night I did a lot of ducking, being too slack to install a shade or even tack up a sheet. If you closed the bathroom door, you’d be stuck until a PATH train rumbled past and shook it free. (My first night in the apartment, I spent two hours trapped in there, having closed the door firmly to clean the black and white herringbone tile floor.)

Mostly, my tiny apartment was a launching pad, and I was thrilled to be living alone.

As was I in mine.

 

Do you remember your first apartment?

What was it like?

 

 

Are you scared to be alone?

By Caitlin Kelly

The best-read posts on Broadside include this, this, this — which all discuss the value of  travel alone as a woman.

Some people have an absolute horror of solitude. Too scared to go anywhere by themselves, they refuse to travel without a companion or go to a movie alone or sit in a restaurant without the reassuring comfort of someone across the table.

Shared Space Signage
Shared Space Signage (Photo credit: jarkatmu)

I don’t get it.

I know a few people who loathe being by themselves for any length of time, but I wonder why that is…if you’re healthy and solvent — as being alone when you’re really sick and/or broke is nasty –what’s the worst that can happen?

I’ve traveled far and wide alone, and am perfectly happy to spend time doing things solo, whether sitting at a bar, dining in a fine restaurant, attending a cultural event.

Maybe it’s because I grew up an only child and spent a fair bit of time on my own, reading, drawing, playing with toys. Maybe it’s a hold-over from years of shared space with too many strangers at boarding school and summer camp.

I like my space! I enjoy quiet solitude.

I lived alone ages 19 to 22 (then with a boyfriend), then ages 26 to 30 (then with my first husband), then alone for seven more years after my divorce.

Was I lonely? Sure, sometimes. I got weary of eating dinner while reading a magazine and having to leave my home for company.

But if you really can’t tolerate being by yourself, what does that say about the quality of your own company?

I work alone all day and, most days, speak only to people I am interviewing by phone or, occasionally, to clients or editors. It’s a little monastic, I admit, but I guess I’ve grown to enjoy it and even prefer it. I hate being interrupted. I lose focus.

Journalism, too, is really a business for loners. We rarely work in teams, usually off on our own stories.

Here’s a recent blog post about restaurants where you can sit at a long, shared table with strangers — in NYC, Vancouver, Portland, Oregon and others.

How do you feel about spending time alone?

Do you savor and enjoy it — or dread and avoid it?

Why?

Being alone is an art

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?

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?

The Cat’s Away!

Golf Channel on NBC
Nope, not this week! Image via Wikipedia

Nice way to describe my husband, right?

But he’s gone on a business trip for 16 days, probably the longest time I’ve had the place to myself in a dozen years of co-habitation.

Jose is (God bless him) a Very Tidy Person. I’m…less so. So now I get to revert to my single/slovenly ways. Yay!

While the cat’s away, this mouse gets to:

leave dirty dishes in the sink

fill the bedroom with flowers

blog at 2:00 a.m.

not have to move to the sofa because he’s snoring so loudly

not have to move to the sofa because I’m snoring so loudly

eat out of the pot/frying pan

leave piles everywhere — clean clothes, dirty clothes, shoes, whatever

not even think about what’s for dinner

eat….whatever’s in the fridge

eat out

sprawl like a starfish across the bed

not have to change the channel back from The Golf Channel

shop on-line ’til my eyes melt

read in bed without fear of disturbing his sleep

not care if my cellphone is dead, which I generally prefer it to be

start the day with noisy rock radio (he normally meditates)

call in the middle of a meeting (oops! he’s two hours behind) to ask…which channel is HBO2?

email him all sorts of fun stuff I find on-line

do the laundry myself (ugh)

fix the damn toilet

miss him like crazy

When your sweetie/spouse is away and you have the place to yourself, what mayhem ensues?