The Romance of Living Alone


A few months ago I came across these illustrations by Idalia Candelas which are part of a series called Postmodern Loneliness. I immediately saw myself in them, and recognised a way of living that isn’t much spoken about among my demographic in particular.

I have lived in my current flat for four years, the past two of which have seen me as the sole dweller. I shared the place with a boyfriend for the first couple, and I in no way intend to downplay the value of romantic cohabitation – the comfort and support found in living with your best friend and partner is very special indeed, a cosy chapter of life which I’m currently watching my friends begin armed with their own rosy cheeks and twinkling eyes. But the removal of that comfort, or of not having it to begin with, is a real trigger for growth which I had never stopped to consider.

When I looked through the drawings, nothing I saw said ‘lonely’ to me. ‘Alone’, sure (coincidentally the title of the book in which the series appears), but Candelas said herself that she likes “to show women who exist in solitude but do not suffer … They are not depressed or crying. Rather [they] are safe, exalting in the sense of enjoying the company of just herself.” Living individually, the distinction becomes an unavoidable reality. Loneliness rears its head, but to be alone is something which I’ve come to feel is worth celebrating.

Perhaps it’s a lifestyle which suits me personally, both because of my upbringing – I grew up in a single parent household with no siblings – and because I sometimes feel that I spend so much time in an intensely introspective haze that the air around me is dense with thought. I need the space, ambitions and stale anxieties hanging thick near the ceiling.

But living alone also gave me the opportunity to build a kingdom, an extension of myself, from scratch. You are forced to really get to know yourself to an extent which you can barely imagine when there are other people in your space. When these rooms became permanently empty bar myself (and my cat, not to play to stereotypes here) I was scared and I was sad. I was convinced that living alone at 20 was pathetic, surely the sign of a loner, and a guarantee that I would be missing out on experiences surrounding friendship and sisterhood that my friends with flatmates would enjoy.

I was wrong. So wonderfully wrong. Living alone proved conducive to what I can only describe as personal evolution, producing an end product with more confidence, higher self esteem, and a sharper mind, all borne out of a deep understanding of myself. The result of so much time spent with myself and enjoying my own company.

I always had a decent social life, regardless of habitation or relationship status, but it has never been better than over the past two years (the final years of my degree, too, which probably should have been spent with academic journals rather than copious bottles of Sainsburys’ finest “house red”). Fears I had of missing out were mostly unfounded, and having the space to develop as clear a mind as possible allowed me to strengthen my friendships and cultivate a growing social circle. It’s these friendships which enrich my life during the day, and keep me warm when I return to my empty flat at night. Alone, but surrounded by love and support – it may not be in the next room, but I know it’s there.

And anyway, I have myself in this room.

There are times when it gets lonely, and you long for some minimal-performance company which would be made just a little too much of an organised social event even by the action of texting a friend an invite to come and hang out in pyjamas. It can be a little too easy to go days without crossing paths with another human being, causing withdrawal, resulting in self-imposed isolation, and so the cycle continues. You might spend a few days in bed with the flu before finding yourself looking up rooms for rent because you’re just so desperate to live with someone who might be kind enough to run to a shop when you’ve necked the last of the paracetamol (ahem).

It passes, though, and it’s certainly character building. You might have a rough night spent staring out the window at neighbouring buildings utterly convinced that there is not a soul within a five mile radius, but 24 hours later you’ll be bopping around your kitchen, cooking and listening to music and feeling so glad that you don’t have to share this environment with anyone. And if there’s one thing the illustrations get right, it’s that you will almost always be going around in just your knickers. (We make exceptions for guests, but only the special ones – this is our kingdom and you’ll abide by our customs, thank you).

Having the opportunity to unpack yourself day after day, freeing yourself of the performance required by everything beyond the threshold, creates something almost tangible. You quickly realise that romance involving another person is only one facet of it – some of my most romantic memories have involved dancing through my living room to music (which is always playing here, and which has to be chosen according to only my own interests), late night writing, and sitting on my balcony at 5am as the summer sun rises after a night out. Me, content, wine stained lips, enjoying a warm breeze, perfectly alone.

I feel everything I’ve discovered about myself over the past two years growing like invisible branches from my mind, round corners and under doorways, the tips reaching the walls of every room. I wake up and it’s there. I go out and I sense it as I close the door behind me. People visit and I wonder if they feel the extra effort required in moving through the atmosphere of my one-bedroom flat.

I look forward to sharing a space with someone again one day and I welcome the learning curve that it’ll bring too. But for now, I’ll continue to be my own crutch. I really believe there’s no greater power a woman can have than to know herself completely. Living alone is a hell of an effective way to get there, and it’s magic.
Now playing: Best Coast – Fear of My Identity


Transparency Is Underrated: An Introspective Look

“We’re more connected than ever, and yet we’ve never been so alone.” Blah blah blah. Insert comic strip depicting a millennial with posture ruined by the gravitational pull of an iPhone, as appropriate. Maybe a coffee shop chalkboard informing customers that there is no wifi and that they’ve to talk to each other. With their faces.

This line of thinking is, obviously, entirely inane and a discussion better suited to a think piece in 2014. But it might be a tired, flimsy springboard from which we can reach new branches of thought. The digital world may not be as destructive as the Daily Mail would have you believe, but it could shine a light on the parts of us which are unchangingly fleshy and human.

If what the anti-smartphone community says is true, with today’s society obsessing over Tweeters and Grimstagrams, surely the way we talk to each other should have become somewhat standardised. And yet that’s not at all the case. Our interpersonal communications are just as messy, unskilled, and unpredictable as ever – it just might happen over an instant message or a text, and someone evidently dragged here from the underworld decided to introduce read receipts as an emotionally distressing bonus. But while we can get in touch with anyone we like in a matter of seconds, communication emerges as a very much separate practice.

Communication involves a lot of time spent explaining things in painstaking detail, watching helplessly as it goes right over the head of the recipient, and reacting one of two ways – becoming frustrated with their complete refusal to engage with you, or understanding that even the most similar of people can have communication styles which are worlds apart. Those styles might need a lot of work and understanding to fit together effectively, or they may just be entirely incompatible. Technology hasn’t changed this.

And just as I am someone who interacts with others on social media daily, I am also a woman obsessed with transparency. I crave authenticity in my relationships, and become positively giddy when I get to know someone who will instinctively lay everything out on the table without being pressured to do so. As a fairly intuitive person with a sometimes debilitating habit of reading between the lines, I feel refreshed when communication is as straightforward as possible.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not someone for whom all social conventions and manners go out the window in favour of ‘just being real’. There are people who champion honesty to prop up their own obnoxiousness and wear their bluntness like a medal. I am a slave to Grice’s Cooperative Principle (shout out to that linguistics degree, currently gathering dust), and hopefully a nice enough person. But I have a preoccupation with productivity, in terms of my relationships more than anything else, and dancing around a point or allowing things to go unsaid causes me to spiral into a self doubting rut.

I’m loyal – unwisely so at times – and it takes a hell of a lot for me to completely shut down on a person, but lying is one way to have me remove myself from you entirely. Truth, authenticity, communicative efficiency, all my favourite things. But I often wonder why, if I was always this way inclined, or if it’s something I grew into. After a few years of compulsive introspection, I have concluded it to be a result of two things: experience and anxiety.

The former is rather self explanatory. Extensive experience in getting less than the truth, and fighting it hard, meant that moving forward complete transparency was a priority of mine. Knowing people who don’t communicate the way we need them to can sometimes be the most informative, most beneficial-to-personal-development way to see your blood pressure reach dangerous levels. When we learn about others, we in turn learn about ourselves.

The latter is something which drives everything I do. I cannot leave something left unsaid or unquestioned, as it will very quickly become an echo bouncing around the caverns of my skull. Sensing that someone isn’t being entirely upfront with me on something significant can result in a loss of appetite. Shrugging something off, pledging to worry about it at a later date when I’m more at liberty to do something about it, is not a privilege my brain chemistry allows me. This is where I feel like something of a contradiction (testimonals include “an open book” and “very guarded, difficult to get to know”). Sure, I’m going to be anxious about this one situation, but my anxiety will also make me hyper aware of everything I do and thus unable to broach the subject for fear of appearing, y’know, not chill.

I am also completely averse to conflict. It generally terrifies me. There are maybe a couple of people who I can call out comfortably, without feeling that uncomfortable layer of awkwardness descend upon me, but self doubt and a desire for harmony will almost always win out.

It is as a result of this need for transparency that I tend to weave my own vulnerability into more interactions than I probably need to. I’m far less likely to hold my cards to my chest in an act of self preservation, instead laying them out for the other person and hoping they don’t take advantage. Wanting everyone to be on the same page means a lot of unnecessary sacrifice on my part – but, in that moment, I will feel a weight lifted off me and if it backfires later on, I’ll view it as a reflection on the other person’s character rather than my own. I’m still working on locating that middle ground, because hey – communication is messy. We can all do better.

Mostly, I value time. The people around us, and the time we have to curate these relationships, is too limited to waste treating conversation like a game – whether face to face or while miles apart. We have language and we have complicated, fluctuating, enriching, carefully crafted relationships with each other. Both are brilliant, and it will always be my priority to use one to benefit the other.