Relationships

On Living Alone

Cup of Jo editor Caroline shares an apartment with her books, her dog and no other people. Here are five (weird) things she’s learned while living alone…


I live alone. I am not a bumbling woman tripping over my shopping bags while waiting for a man (or anyone else) to save me. I am not covered in cat hair. I do not purchase frozen, single-portion meals. I am not a sad cliché.

In recent decades, the “single woman living alone” has a) become more common and b) morphed into something of a punchline. Think: Carrie Bradshaw, Liz Lemon, Peggy Olson. Centuries from now, if the “single female homo sapien” were on display in the Museum of Natural History, what might she look like?

If you live alone…you’re not alone! One-person households are far more common than they used to be. According to recent U.S. Census data, approximately 32 million Americans live by themselves, 55% of them women.

The truth is, I actually love my current dwelling situation. I can decorate however I want, be messy or neat, quiet or noisy based on my mood. I have one-woman dance parties, eat cold leftovers and watch endless 80s rom-coms without judgment. Solo living has forced me to grow in a myriad of ways, intentional or otherwise…

Being a party of one
It’s nice to share things—the remote, the guacamole, the details of your day. You want someone to laugh when you make a pun or to confirm whether an Instagram caption is funny. But somewhere along the way, whether you notice it or not, you become your own best friend. Living alone, you learn to laugh at yourself, and for that to count just as much. (I have a special song I sing on Wednesdays, to mark the middle of the week. I made it up, and no one else knows how it goes, and I very much prefer it that way.)

Learning to be courageous…
Without the presence of another human, my illogical fears grow wings. Sometimes, I’ll wake up in the middle of the night and see the Grim Reaper (my robe) hovering near my bed. Or shriek when a terrifying demon (my dog) jumps on me in the wee small hours of the morning. I have been known to—very occasionally—leap into bed from a few feet away, to avoid the underbed alligators. Thankfully, the things that once seemed frightening fade away with time. I leap far less than I used to.

…and more empowered
When you live alone, you reap all the benefits. You also shoulder all the burdens. There is no one to share the expenses or the housework or to fix a broken toilet. Nonetheless, it’s empowering to know I can do all of the things on my own.

Developing rituals
Living alone makes me more in tune with myself, which is (mostly) a good thing. Solo habitation has inspired me to create beloved rituals that are just for me. I’ll go for a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. I’ll cook something (ah-hem, quinoa) that guests might not appreciate. There’s more time for books, for contemplating, for stretching out on the floor with the dog. Nowadays, it feels easier and more natural to create these moments for myself.

Embracing imperfection
Sometimes, I feel like that proverbial tree in the forest. If I fall, will anyone hear me? What’s more, will anyone care? For real, though—I am short, and there are many things I simply cannot reach (high kitchen shelf, smoke detector, impractically placed lightbulb). Every time I climb up on my trusty ladder, I think to myself, “If I fall, how long will it take until they find me?” I’d like to say there’s a lesson for this one, but maybe there’s not. There are less-than-ideal things about every living situation, and that’s okay.

Will I want to live alone forever? I don’t know. But I’m grateful for this time of flexibility and reflection. As Einstein once said, “I live in that solitude which is painful in youth but delicious in the years of maturity.” I’ll savor the deliciousness. At least, for now.

***

What’s your living situation right now? Roommates? Cats? Dogs? Children? Do you live alone? Do you like it? We’d love to hear…

P.S. Married couples who live in separate houses (and swear it’s the best thing for their marriage), and would you travel alone?

  1. Eleonora says...

    I love this post! Especially cause recently my boyfriend and I (respectively 32 and 36) started considering whether moving in together. I’ve been living alone for 6 years now, and I like it and I would miss it. I learned a lot about myself: if I am in a bad or sad mood, it is fine, I just have wait for it to improve, with a book in my hand. And on the practical side: I can organize ladies’ dinners whenever I fancy, without having to negotiate the date with anyone else than the girls. My dirty clothes live happily on the floor and my cooking skills are dormant without anyone complaining…

  2. oh wow love this post so much! i can so relate to this story. i’m a single woman, been living alone for the past 2 years, and i’ve never been happier. sure, sometimes the thought of grim reaper at night is really frightening, but i can say that i’m so self sufficient these days. i can fix anything in my house, well almost anything :))))

  3. Ann says...

    After falling and breaking an ankle, I learned that it’s a great idea to have your cell phone in your pocket when you climb a ladder. Then you can climb all you want/need, and if you fall, you’ll most likely be conscious and able to call for help.

  4. em says...

    LOVE this post. Also, wondering what you do with your dog all day – does he come to work with you or stay at home alone or go to doggie daycare? This is an issue for single dwellers. Thanks!

  5. june2 says...

    I think too, that we forget you can also have a boyfriend and still live alone – they have their place, you have yours. After living with a boyfriend or two, this is how I will do it this time. I can’t wait to see how that is because I think it is going to ROCK!

  6. june2 says...

    Ha, I’m short too and am now a minor expert in step and folding ladders. The upside, in case you need one, is that you are cultivating physical agility that will serve you into old age! These moments are what all that core strength training you’ve paid for is FOR!

    As for the housework and broken toilets: TASKRABBIT. Not because you couldn’t do it if you had to, but because it is a lovely way to treat yourself and employ someone in one stroke. Hire women when available and highly-referred cute men when they are not ; )

  7. Alex Bll says...

    I’m a sad cliche. I live alone with five cats.
    However, I love my little life, and my cats and I really wouldn’t have it any other way. It bothers me, the way everyone is expected to be wishing for couplehood; some people are fine by themselves, the world has room for all kinds.
    I may be a sad cliche, but really, I’m not!

  8. Sarah Kleine says...

    Hi! I’m an avid reader of A Cup of Jo, ever since a few of my friends mentioned it one day for the decorating advice. I’m 21 and just moved into a studio apartment in a new city, on a new coast, to live alone for the first time in my whole life.

    It’s been tricky getting the idea of living alone digested — this post made me feel so inspired and grateful for the quiet of my own place! Thank you for helping me to see my little apartment in a whole new light.

    I just started my first ever blog writing largely about living alone for the first time — in its early phases, but it’s fun to imagine other people reading it besides me! Thanks again for the beautiful essay!
    happypuzzleblog.wordpress.com

  9. First off, so happy I stumbled upon CupofJo today. It’s made my day and creative mind so much better. I love the idea of living alone. Unfortunately, I have not ever had my own place but thankfully, my previous and current roommates have left me alone for weeks, months and let me tell you it’s amazing! Right now, I live with a straight, male friend and we happen to share a bedroom. Sounds odd but we get along so well that it’s not really a problem, instead it’s fun and adventurous. However, recently, he took a trip to Japan for a couple of months and having my own space again has been a breath of fresh air. I can sing at the top of my lungs, walk around in my bra & undie and be as weird as I possibly can be..am.

  10. PREMLATHA BK NAIR says...

    Awesome Caroline!!😍.

    I ma a single woman living alone for 5 years. I am enjoying my own company.

  11. Deb says...

    Love this! Looking for that courage to enjoy solitude as you do :) thank you for sharing and all the best on your new phase I hear you will take after your time at Cup of Jo!

  12. Love this :) More power to gals who are comfortable with themselves! And I totally relate to the short thing.. under 5’5 club unite :D

    By the way, I have a similar post up on my thoughts and feelings on living alone, I’d love if you’d check it out here: http://bettermeby23.com/blog/on-living-alone

    Much love!

  13. Sadaf says...

    The article is so well written and everything mentioned there in is true.

    Staying alone just makes you self satisfied and brings out those aspects of you which you were unaware of.

  14. Kristen says...

    I love this article . it’s also funny when you talk about leaping in your bed, glad I’m not alone ! Lol

  15. Michelle M. says...

    This post was such an encouragement, Caroline! I graduated from college in May and this Saturday (!) I’m moving into my very first apartment and will be living alone for the foreseeable future (I won’t have any pets even because my landlord doesn’t allow them). I’m pretty nervous, as I’ve lived with awesome roommates throughout college and with my parents before that time. But you’re right – I think I’ll be able to be more courageous – solitude is powerful. Thank you for your words!

  16. I’m living alone with my little dog. He like my best friend. May be having a dog is better having a husband :)))

  17. Nice post!
    Though in my country, the best version in a women’s life (in the past) considered to be sharing a home with a companion (even better a husband), and parents or friends will feel sad about their daughter/friend living alone, nowadays things have change: more & more girls live alone and don’t feel at all lonely!
    I am living alone (no cats/dogs/kids) and each and every day it is like I am having a mini party with myself at home lol :)

  18. oh I feel very related to this post…been living by myself the last 3 years and I have so many rituals that I don´t if I ever be able to live with somebody else.

  19. I relish every moment I have alone these days. You see, I used to live on my own and then…well, now I don’t. Let me tell you, it is hard to go backwards on this one. Once you’ve lived alone and loved it, there’s no going back. Hopefully, I’ll have my own place again by the end of this year, and I absolutely cannot wait!

  20. I’ve been married for nine years to my high-school sweetheart. I love my husband to death but there’s something AMAZING about having the house to myself when he or I are out of town. It’s a great chance to not worry at all about another person for a while.

  21. I’m getting ready to take the plunge this summer and live alone! I’m actually really excited about it. I’ve gone through a breakup AND had nasty roommate drama in the last year and a half. So I am totally ready for some alone time.

  22. I love living alone. I also notice that I sing to myself- a lot! Whenever I have to climb up on a ladder I call a friend and tell them if I don’t call back in ten minutes they should send help!!

  23. I no longer live alone, and while I’m happy with my relationship grateful to have someone to split the bills and watch tv with, I still really miss my days of personal freedom, owning my own space, cleaning only my own messes, and reporting to no one but myself. Living alone rocks.

  24. I relate to all of this so much! Living alone is scary sometimes (alligators under the bed) but also so empowering and freeing. It’s comforting to know I know how to be by myself.

  25. i just got married in august, and my husband & i share a little two bedroom house in a small, college town with a friend. in the past five years, i’ve moved eight times and lived with a variety of different people. this is–by far–my favorite set-up. claire (our housemate) totally gets it when it’s introvert-time and respects personal space, but is also available whenever we all want to binge on broad city or make an extravagant (for a student budget) dinner. there are times when we all need some space, but after a weekend away we’re happy to see one another!

  26. I loved living alone and decorating exactly how I liked and rearranging furniture whenever the mood struck (often until 2 am)! I lived alone for about six years and it was mostly quite lovely. There were days when I really wanted someone else to help out and pick up the slack, but I managed.

    As a side note, Caroline, I like you more every time I read a post from you. Keep sharing, please!

  27. Living alone is amazing! The hardest part is convincing everyone you really do love it and are not in fact, just awaiting a husband.

  28. Loving the blog post Caroline :) and all the power to you and all the single ladies out there living and thriving alone!

    I just moved out a couple of weeks ago and the part where you mentioned – When you live alone, you reap all the benefits. You also shoulder all the burdens. Nonetheless, it’s empowering to know I can do all of the things on my own. – really struck me. I think it was quite terrifying getting my bills, getting new furniture, putting it together with all the bumps and scratches and swearing that occurred along the way. But it really shows you how tough you can be, and how you can pull yourself out of a rough day, tell yourself to woman up and get on with what you need to do.

    You’re such an inspiration to all the readers on the blog and a really great compliment to Jo’s writing :) take care and looking forward to reading more of your pieces!

  29. but, wait…don’t you have a dog? yeah, and you probably can’t imagine living without…:)

    Great post btw!

  30. I lived alone for about 3 years before I got married (5 years if you count time with a roommate or two). I LOVED it. Awareness of who you actually are and what you’re like without the subconscious influence that someone else in the house can have. Absolute freedom. Only negative effect? It’s easy to become selfish and forget how to live a little more graciously with someone afterwards.

  31. I live with my family (husband and two kids), which I enjoy, but sometimes, I do miss my single apartment: it had only my stuff, arranged the way I liked it, and in the colors I love and a bright blue painted kitchen. Sometimes, I miss the peace and quiet that came with solo living. It takes a lot of compromise to move in with someone …

  32. L says...

    I’m in my mid-20s and live alone, too. I have adored (almost) every minute of it and for the exact reasons you have listed above! I am my own best friend, I laugh at all the silly mistakes and hiccups I make by myself (I mean, I accidentally drooled on myself while watching a movie yesterday. Hilarious. and so glad I was the only one to witness it). I love how I’ve been able to grow and appreciate me for me and I know that I can survive solo. It’s liberating and precious. Thanks for a modern day woman’s perspective on living alone!

  33. Agreed, an apartment tour is required! At 32, I’m living alone for the first time and it’s deliciously decadent. I’m really getting to know me and have embraced the concept that I’m all I need, a partner is simply a splendid bonus. You are a lovely writer, I enjoy reading your perspective on the world (maybe because it’s much like my own!). xo

  34. Please do an apartment tour! We see a lot of families’ apartment tours here so a single gal’s one would be fun :)

  35. from what we’ve seen…caroline is the coolest. smart, funny, gorgeous, well-read, and can rock any shade of lipstick. of course she’d have nailed living alone too!

    the closest i have ever come to living “alone” was the year i was an RA and had my own room…but not sure that counts since my dorm floor was kind-of like a giant apartment. i got married at 24 so i have had a built-in roomie most of my adult life. i wonder if i could handle it…i mean, i won’t sleep with my back facing the door (when i’m traveling alone for work). ha!

  36. Your post struck such a chord with me Caroline. After living alone by myself for a little over 4 years now, I consider myself somewhat vocal of loving living by yourself.

    Living alone seems to be completely blissful to a point where I worry at times that I enjoy the experience too much that I could never co-exist happily with someone in the same space, even though I know enough number of people who find great joy in it. But, I figure I have to enjoy this stage of my life while it’s happening since how many people get to experience the profound privilege and the total joy of getting to know yourself and doing exactly as you please day after day.

    And maybe sometime in the future I’ll be ready for a change and willingly share my space with someone else.

    Love,
    Sowmya

  37. I have lived alone for the past 6 years and I AM LOVING IT! for so many of the reasons you posted as well as a bunch of my own.

    I now really enjoy my own company and I don’t know if I could live with another person anymore. I like making all the decisions myself. I like watching the same show over and over and over until I am sick to death of it or waking up in the middle of the night and watching a movie on my iPad without someone else complaining about it. I like going to the movies alone and people watching at outdoor cafes. I know how to do everything myself and I love my freedom. Fortunately I have no fears (or alligators or grim reapers – seriously?!) I love my life as a single.

    Thank you for this post, you made me laugh as well as celebrate the stage I have reached in life. xox

  38. In the old days (I’m 47), living alone was expected. A year out of college – as soon as I could afford $50 more per month in rent(!) – I ditched my roommate and got my own 1 bedroom apt and lived there gloriously alone for 5 years even when I was dating seriously. Many years and several apts later in another city I bought my own condo alone (gasp). I think you will be fine and you’ll never regret it. Rock on. I married at 40 and I am happy I had many years of independence.

  39. I lived alone in a studio apartment for two years and I LOVED IT! Whenever I pass the building I lived in I look upon that place so fondly. I agree w/ commenter Essss said. Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy.

  40. I lived alone for two years (from 28 to 30) and it was fantastic. It was a little one-room studio in a residence, so I lived on my own but I was not alone if I didn’t want to.
    The best part of the day was to get home after 13 hours away and throw away my clothes while going to MY shower, without any modesty, haha.
    Caroline, enjoy your current solitude, one day you’ll want it back!
    xxx

  41. I lough (all by myself) with Caroline’s text…

    I do fell EXACTLY the same about EVERYTHING!!!

    I don’t see living alone as a disfunction at all.

    I live quite well… with me, myself and I (and my two cats.)… and LOVE IT!

    ;-)

  42. I love this! This post says a lot of what I’ve thought many times, & adds to my way of thinking about this in a positive way. Thank-you!

    I don’t have a dog, but I do have a cat, & he’s the best roomie I’ve ever had. I, too, have lots of books, & I also have a lot of yarn. So I guess in some ways I’m a cliche since I’m a single woman who lives without other humans but does share her space with a cat & yarn. Oh, well! I love it & I’m glad my home is mine alone. :)

  43. Look at all the comments this post has generated! Yay! I lived alone from college until I was 33, then I was married for 8 years. Now I’m divorced and living alone again and it’s been a bit of a challenge, but I’m less lonely now then I was in my marriage (that’s sad and wonderful all at the same time!) and I’m really enjoying living alone. Just lost my dog, which made living alone really nice (a companion with whom I did not have to share the guac OR the remote!) and now it’s just me and the boys (2 cats.) I’m really learning to be my own companion and am currently enjoying a staycation with myself! Yay!

  44. At 29, I have 2 roommates and a cat, but I’m planning to branch out on my own in the next 6 months and I am SO EXCITED! Unfortunate, when you live in one of the major cities, living alone either costs a fortune or forces you to move beyond city limits, which is why I think there are many out there who simply don’t get the opportunity.

    There’s a podcast episode that I listened to recently and I’d highly recommend it: Death, Sex & Money “Living Alone and Liking It. Sometimes.”

  45. Every woman who lives alone (and even those who don’t currently) should read “Live Alone and Like It: The Classic Guide for the Single Woman” by Marjorie Hillis. It was written by Hillis (a Vogue editor) in the 1930s(!) and is still (mostly) applicable, not to mention hilarious. I just finished it (although I live with my husband) and thought it was wonderful! Here’s the link: http://www.amazon.com/Live-Alone-Like-It-Classic/dp/0446178225

  46. Thank you so much for this wonderful post. I love to see empowered and realistic representations of what life is like as a single woman — it is rare! This was inspiring and made me hungry for more posts on women who are married/coupled. I love the blog, thanks for your honesty and bravery as always. xx

  47. I related to this so much! Living alone was awesome. . . I ate froyo for dinner without judgment, but def checked my closet for intruders daily and once threw out my back (I’m 27?!) and felt like I needed life alert. . . all in all amazing though.