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