I am single and living alone.
I have friends who apologetically wince when they utter that statement, like it’s a source of shame. I own it, though. In fact, I practically squeal with joy when I share it, and pity the fool in earshot.
Why? Because at 42 years old, this is the first time in my entire life that I’ve been completely, no-safety-net, bereft-of-responsibility-save-numero-uno, inde-fucking-pendent.
It is damn liberating.
See, I went from my parents’ house to the college dorm, then back to the parental units’ basement when I dropped out. At age 21, I met the man who would become my husband. We got an apartment together with two other roommates. When baby made three, the hubs and I moved to our own place.
Soon after, I found myself divorced with an 18-month-old and no job prospects, so it was back to Momma’s abode (God bless her soul). My son, Ethan, and I stayed there for eight years, while I finally got my ass in gear, finished up at the University of Louisville and settled into a career in journalism.
I bought a two-bedroom bungalow in 2004 just two streets away from Mom in a great neighborhood, and we have been there ever since. My ex re-entered the picture briefly and shared our living quarters. That situation blew up in almost exactly the same way it did the first time around, but that’s a story for another day.
Anyhoo, there has always been at least one other body sucking air in my domicile, until this past October, when Ethan moved out. Glory hallelujah and pass the champagne! (OK, sparkling water for me. But still.) I wrote about his move here.
Now, don’t misunderstand. I adore my child, I love being his mom, and of course I miss him if he doesn’t stop by for his weekly visits. But it’s real clear to me when he is overstaying his welcome, like when he parks himself on my couch to watch cable a few days in row — I get antsy and irritable. I’m all, “You are in my SPACE, dude.” He has learned to take the hint and understands there’s a limit to my hospitality.
Yep, I’ve found that I have become fiercely protective of my new-found solitude. It dawned on me recently that this isn’t the only thing I’ve learned in the past nine months.
So… here’s some of what I’ve gleaned from living alone in my 40s.
Ahem, I am a tad bit OCD when it comes to neatness in my home. I am not nearly as rigid as I used to be, but I abhor clutter and funk. (I refer you to 1980s standup comedian, Sinbad, who elucidated on the difference between “dirty” and “funky.” Dirty is OK; funky is well, FUNKY.)
For the first time ever, I don’t have anyone to clean up after except myself. The kitchen looks the same when I get up in the morning as it did when I went to bed. There are virtually no crumbs on my carpet, so I don’t have to vacuum every Sunday like I used to.
I am no longer carting a 10-ton basket of man-size clothes up and down two flights of stairs. I do a teeny load of laundry on the weekends. I know exactly what dirt is on those items because I put it there myself.
The downside is that I only create enough dishes to run my dishwasher once every few days, so it gets a little stinky in there. Same for the trash. But that’s a small price to pay for knowing my belongings are always in their proper place.
The food challenge
Since I became an empty-nester, my grocery bill has gone down considerably, which rocks. With Ethan on his own, I no longer have a bevy of teenage boys cleaning out my pantry every two days. But buying food for one is more difficult than I realized. I’m ashamed to say that I still haven’t struck the right balance — too many of my groceries go bad before I have a chance to nosh on them.
One carryover staple is the ever-present gallon of 2 percent milk in my fridge. I gotta have my milk. I’ve finally learned to crawl to the back of the cooler at Kroger to get one that has the furthest possible expiration date so I don’t waste it. Those first few months, milk was always the first casualty of my inexperience as a solo consumer. I have also learned to visit the store more often and buy less each trip. Gone are the days of one massive, weekly grocery run.
I realize that this is not a revelatory statement, and I am not the first one to make it, but cooking for one is HARD. I had no idea. See, I spent most of my adult life lavishly preparing full-course dinners, because it was both necessary and enjoyable. I am a really good cook, if I do say so myself. But I have zero motivation these days to spend an hour in the kitchen preparing a meal for just little ol’ me.
As a result, I often eat like shit because it’s easy. A peanut butter or tuna sandwich is my go-to when I run out of single-serve yogurts or Amy’s Organic frozen meals (for the record, I buy those because they taste good, not because they bear my name and are organic, though it does help me justify the rest of my crappy eating habits).
I’m slowly getting the hang of my food challenges as a singleton, though. My nutrition-savvy trainer and other single friends have had some great suggestions. Another solution I have yet to embrace is to invite people over to eat with me. But that brings me to my next couple lessons.
Table for one
It turns out that I really like my own company. I am an outgoing introvert, which means I like being social (sparingly and on my own terms) but I need to be alone to recharge my batteries.
Apparently, I am making up for the past 40 years of having people up in my shit, ‘cause there has been an inordinate amount of battery charging going on since Ethan moved out.
As a freelance writer and media consultant, I work from home. Unless I have meetings with clients, I am in front of my computer in my pajamas most of the day. There are days I miss the camaraderie of an office setting, but those are few and far between. I am more productive as a solo practitioner than I ever was in the corporate world. I love the autonomy and the lack of distraction. I also love being my own boss. I’ve used this blog as a showcase for the joys of freelancing on more than one occasion, so I won’t extol on all the virtues again here.
Suffice to say, it rules. Before Ethan left, he would mill around the house and provide the occasional interruption to my work. At the time, it wasn’t a big deal — I just tuned him out. But now that he is gone and I have hours of blissful quiet surrounding me, I am positively KILLING it at my job.
Then, at the end of my workday, there is more splendid silence in which to immerse myself, and I revel in it like it was a cool breeze on a humid day. My idea of heaven is curling up on the couch, ensconced in fluffy puppies. If I want to watch TV, I do. If I want to read, I do. If I want to go to bed at 9 o’clock, I do. No one else is there to question my choices, interrupt me or ask for anything. It. Is. Glorious.
The downside is that I have to make a conscious effort to get OFF my couch. Going to the gym and Target are sometimes my only outings during the week. I find that I can talk myself out of any excursion if given enough time. The stress of getting myself ready, finding the location if it’s somewhere I’ve never been, parking if it’s big event, then socializing with a large group — it’s often overwhelming to me, so I bow out at the last minute.
One would think I’d get bored with myself eventually, but that hasn’t happened so far. Part of it might be because I talk all the time – to my two dogs. The depth of those discussions shows just how dangerously close I'm getting to crazy dog lady territory.
But I digress.
Um yeah, I know I've gotta work on socializing with actual people. I definitely don’t want to become “that flake” who gets invited but never shows up. That’s shit-tay. So just last week, I got out of my comfort zone twice, and it felt really great. Really. I need to ride that wave to the shore.
Oh, and there is no rule that says I have to go out to socialize. I haven’t hosted a get-together since Ethan flew the coop, but more than one person has suggested I should have a dinner party. Which brings me to my next point.
All the things
One super fabulous thing about living alone is that I can finally allow myself to have nice things. Anyone with children will tell you it is pointless to spend a fortune on household goods because you can bet your ass they’re going to get torn or broken, or at the very least end up with Kool-Aid or chocolate stains.
I’m practical at heart, so I’m not going to blow a wad at Pottery Barn anytime soon. But I am finally allowing myself some of the material pleasures I couldn’t afford or accommodate in my 20s. Slowly but surely, I am investing in some pretties. Last month, I purchased a full set of exquisite dinnerware. It’s not china, but it makes me feel like I’ve been invited to the White House every time I open my cabinets. None of my previous mismatched dishes made me feel that way. ’Bout time, right? And now I have an excuse to host that dinner party!
Gotta get away
This is a no-brainer. With my kid out of the house, I plan to travel as much as possible. Taking a vacation as a solo-preneur makes that a little challenging, but I no longer have to plan around the school year. Case in point, I went to the beach in mid-October, and it was the best trip ever. You can read about it here.
And um, guess who’s my house and dog sitter as I jet set? Wait for it — my adult son. Funny how life works out, ain’t it?
A dangerous mind
For all the quiet and solitude I cherish, living alone has brought with it a new set of fears. With Ethan out of sight, he’s also out of mind to some degree… i.e., if I can’t see what he’s up to on a daily basis, I don’t sit around worrying about it. OK, not as much, anyway.
Not fretting over my kid’s every move means I have more time to worry about myself.
If I go out by myself, no one knows where I am if I pull a Houdini and don’t come home. If I chop off my finger alongside a cucumber or choke on a chicken bone, my dogs can’t call 911 or perform the Heimlich, so I’m screwed.
There’s also the requisite fear of an axe murderer breaking into my house, and me armed only with a curling iron.
I try not to dwell on or feed into unnecessary paranoia, but I recognize that a petite woman living by herself has to take precautions to stay safe.
That fact does not in any way diminish all the good stuff about living solo, however.
I’m at a place right now where I am truly content with myself, my single status, my work and my life. It’s so good in my world that sometimes I have pinch my arm or poke myself in the eye (though that last one is usually accidental) just to assure myself that all this is really happening.
In fact, I am so ding-dang happy, I don’t know if I will ever want to share my space with another human again. Even casual dating doesn’t appeal to me. I don’t want to be tied down by anyone or anything.
A good friend told me the other day that she got to experience the “living single” life when she was in her 20s, but her lack of confidence prevented her from enjoying all the blessings she had at the time. She has a bit of a “If I knew then what I know now…” regret about those years.
I’m so grateful for the 20 years' experience taking care of other people that prepared me for the amazing gift of freedom I’ve been given. I could not have appreciated or fully experienced its awesomeness back in the day.
I may not be young and fast anymore, but I almost feel like I have a second chance at my 20s. Yeah, and the coolest part is, this time around (thank you Kathy Bates), “I'm older and I have more insurance.”
About Amy Higgs
A former newspaper columnist, Amy takes her random, slice-of-life stories to the web. After 10 years, she's still just saying.