On some level, I’ve understood that I’m part of at least a couple of social experiments. The experiment I consciously joined, first, is the phenomenon of unmarried adults, living alone.
After leaving my childhood family home in 1973, I began a string of roommate sharing living. First in college, afterwards with a second cousin and her son, then to a series of roommates and boyfriends. My last roommate liked to move very frequently. He helped me find an apartment so that I could embark on living without him. The one-bedroom quarters was my introduction to going alone.
At first, I felt disconnected from society. My coworkers and nearly everybody I knew were married or somehow otherwise coupled. Most of the other singles, I knew, lived alone for a short, interim period between roommates, lovers or spouses. On the other hand, I’ve lived alone and grown to love it, for the past 30-plus years. I also am acquainted with some other singles who have lived alone for equally or longer periods of time.
Polling companies have been tracking the marital status of the population for as long as there has been polling companies. The government and our employers keep records about whether or not we’re married. We know, as a fact, that there are more American adults who are single than are married. However, statistics about single people, living alone are not widely kept nor published. How many singles do not live with extended family, roommates or lovers?
There are estimates,. The 2010 Census figures estimates that 32,700,000 people are living alone. In other words, approximately 28% of all U.S. households consist of one occupant, apiece. That’s the national average for cities and here in the hinterlands. If you only look at major cities, the percentages of solo households is much higher. Chicago, Denver, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington D.C. report nearly 45% of people are living in one person households. Amazingly, in Manhattan, New York, reportedly 50% of all residences are one person households. If you check out Europe, the percentages of single people in one person households are even higher. There is some comfort for us singles by simply acknowledging the numbers.
This experiment in solo living is not monolithic in nature. Most singles living alone, are connected, outside the home, with family members and friends who may or may not also have the same living status. The Internet has also changed the emotional backdrop of going alone. It’s common for singles to live totally on-line lives.
Yet, us solo living singles, along with our family and non-solo friends have a hunch that something is not quite right about this. We deny that we don’t have exactly what we want and need. Speaking only for myself, there are moments when I know I’d like to share my time with someone else. But then, I remember what it’s like to relinquish my privacy and aloneness while involved in a roommate situation.
Maybe it’s simply a matter of inertia, or maybe it’s selfishness, or maybe a combination of both. It all boils down to my preference for living alone.
There is a practical cost to living alone. It is an expensive living arrangement. We cannot do it unless we can pay the rent and afford our own living quarters. Having a roommate or spouse is a big help in maintaining or improving one’s homelife.
A suitable substitution for a roommate is urban singlehood. People can live in one-person households within a neighborhood of other one-person households. They are free to socialize together, yet can enjoy the benefits of having their own places. Thus, you can have a community and collective experience of singlehood.
I’m among the minority of singles in one-person households who lives alone in a conservative, rural area. The lifestyle is more akin to that of laborers in the Western territories during the 1800s. The neighborhoods almost exclusively consist of multi-person or family households. Vehicle ownership is absolutely mandatory to enable one on one connections with family and friends. If, for some reason, you cannot drive, you have a big problem. Being single, here, is still somewhat of an anamoly. That’s one reason that many of us cast a longing glance towards the city. But I can appreciate being a singleton living in the boondocks, too.
I see the experiment of living alone as a sublime spiritual experience. I can enjoy the benefits of solitude without having to sequester myself away from society as a monk. I can get away from the organized brutality and barbarism of our civilization. I can observe and affect society in my own ways, but I don’t need to be fully immersed in it.
I can be and have been a part of the astonishing power and greed of modern corporations and private enterprise. But I can also disconnect from the maddening crush of society, by simply going home, turning on the answering machine, and not turning on my digital devices. I have the complete freedom to do this, by living alone.
Because I view participation in general society as an option, I will probably never receive nor accept a dinner invitation from President Obama or even the mayor of Norfolk, Nebraska. The ambitious or religious ordinary person will never really know and understand what love is, until he secludes himself alone, in long-term solitude.
If that person closely guards his access to all media and other people, he will likely need to find a way to enable going alone. Solitude is total responsibility, action, and living. Solitude allows a person to develop self-knowledge. I think I’ll continue with my social experiment awhile longer.
The Blue Jay of Happiness ironically notes that becoming deeply aware by means of living alone enables better integration with society and other people.