About a week ago, I came across a link to these drawings by artist Yao Yao Ma Van As. They do such a magical job of illustrating the pleasures of living alone that I shared them on Facebook–and then I kept going back to them, over and over again, and thinking about how much I loved living by myself.
Women aren’t socialized to enjoy solitude. The messages we receive have changed over time, to be sure–young women are no longer told they need to be married before they’re 20, for instance. But we’re still told that being alone is dangerous. When a woman is assaulted, one of the first questions people ask is Why was she alone? Women are taught to watch out for each other, hang out in pairs. This, we learn, is just logical behavior.
After my dad passed away in 2011, my mother was terrified of living alone. Feeding that fear was her belief that women are in constant peril. In spite of the fact that she’d spent 15 years as a military spouse, holding down the home front whenever my dad was sent away, living alone made her feel threatened. Ultimately, she had to move into assisted living. She was perfectly healthy, but paralyzed by fear.
By contrast, my next door neighbor is a widow in her 70’s. In the two years since her husband died, Mabel has started some long-delayed renovations on the house they shared. She’s taken trips, adopted a dog–in short, she’s been living her life. The fact that she’s living alone now after many years of marriage doesn’t seem to faze her, though she’d never lived alone for one day before Sam died.
I lived alone, more or less, for my last year of college. (I had a roommate, but she also had classes. And a job. And a boyfriend. Which was the perfect arrangement.) I lived entirely by myself while I was in graduate school. There were only a handful of times when I felt unsafe in either of those situations. Most of the time, I felt like I was in control of my own little corner of the universe.
Was I lonely? Sometimes. But those moments were balanced out by the many pleasures of living alone. For instance:
Nobody messes with your stuff.
If you’ve ever had roommates (or friends, or family members) with no respect for boundaries, then you know how important it is to have personal space that others respect. When you live alone, your entire home is personal space. You can put things where you want them and always know where they are. Also, they’ll be in the same condition when you come back. And no one comes into your space unless you say they can. You literally have the keys to the kingdom.
You can set your own schedule.
Because you aren’t fighting anyone for the shower in the morning, you don’t have to plan your wake-up time around someone else’s needs. If you wake up late and have to scramble to get out the door, no one is in your way. If you want to make a change of plans and come home later than usual, no one’s worried about where you are. (This presumes you’re living entirely on your own, as I did, not with pets.)
You always get to control the remote.
The only cleanliness standards you have to respect are your own.
When I lived alone, my apartment was always a bit of a shambles–and that was okay. If my research was perpetually spread out all over the kitchen table, I wasn’t preventing anyone else from eating there. If I didn’t wash dishes until I ran out of clean plates or coffee cups–and if I then washed only what I needed–no one was going to be annoyed. When I did clean up, I did it because I wanted to. And I felt good about it later, not disgruntled, because I’d made things nice for myself.
You can have a moment of peace whenever you want it.
If you’re in the mood for company, there are dozens of ways to bring human voices into your home–or you can easily leave home to seek them out. But living alone offers the unique possibility of total silence. There are precious few places in the world where, anytime you want, you can turn off the noise and appreciate the peace and quiet for as long as you like.
You can enjoy your solitude without explaining yourself.
Last week I was at a kicking-off-the-school-year reception when someone walked up to the group I was chatting with and said “Professor X is in that other room all by himself. Someone should go in there with him, so he isn’t alone.”
I had, in fact, seen Professor X sitting in that other room, quietly drinking a beer apart from the chattering crowd. I had specifically not gone into that room for this very reason. Had he wanted to talk to anyone, Professor X would have chosen to sit somewhere else.
If you’re choosing not to be around other people, solitude isn’t a problem that needs to be addressed. The extroverts of this world are never going to understand that. They’re determined to save us introverts from ourselves. But living alone let me be by myself without the need to answer questions like “What’s wrong?” and “Why are you sitting here all by yourself?” and “Do you want some company?” (There’s no polite way to answer that last question and still preserve your solitude. You’re getting company, whether you want it or not.)
We all know that (statistically speaking, anyway) women live longer than men. Rather than wasting our time and energy on fear of this possibility, we can choose instead to live like Mabel. We can approach living alone as an experience filled with its own opportunities.
Check out more drawings by Yao Yao Ma Van As here. She’s phenomenal!