We can find ourselves living alone at any stage or age in life. When, years ago, I decided to leave a London flat-share for a large bedsit it wasn’t because I yearned for solitude. No, it was to escape the tyranny of flatmates. I’m talking about people who put me on a rota – for doing housework, using the bathroom in the morning, using the kitchen in the evening; people who ate everyone else’s food, drank the last of the milk, never went out into the cold to fetch paraffin for the bathroom heater, and whose food cupboard contained only an electric handshake.
Sorry, it was in fact more complicated than that, as I had started a new job a few months earlier, and I also saw an opportunity to save to buy my own home. It was as if I sensed a change in the rhythm of my life, of wanting to be able to dance to the new tune in my head, feelings that propelled me forward onto a new path. I think many people will recognise this scenario.
My point is that my driving force wasn’t that I wanted to live on my own. And it’s fair to note here that, although I would be living on my own, and was still a young woman of single status, I was not ‘alone’. I had a partner who I knew would be at my place quite a lot, and who I would be out with socially, as a couple.
Not everyone starts their live-alone life in such an upbeat way and with the luxury of choice. In today’s society, the change in the rhythm of life for many people is when they find themselves living alone as a result of the breakdown of a marriage or partnership, or the death of a spouse. As well as the loss of the valued relationship, people have to cope with a change in status and living arrangements as a result. These changes can happen to any of us at any age or stage of our lives. And I must add here that living alone may be merely a temporary stage. Many people in such circumstances, may have never lived alone before, and find it difficult to adapt to living alone mentally and emotionally: survey results show that people who live alone are more likely to express feelings of loneliness than those who live with a partner.
For those who live alone, it is not, for example, the day-to-day domestic chores or the cooking for one that create fear and dread. It’s the social side of life, once there is no-one to sit opposite you in a restaurant or bar, or next to you at the cinema or the football match. And feeling that it would be impossible to venture out alone. The fear of being seen to be alone in our couple-based society can prevent people from going out at all, and having very little social contact or connections.
Fast forward a few years from above, and my own relationship broke down. Suddenly single and living alone, I didn’t want to miss out on social activities that I would normally have engaged in as a couple, for example, going to the cinema or an exhibition, trying a new café or bistro. Even though I appeared to be a confident person, I felt the fear of being seen to be alone, and so started to develop coping mechanisms and strategies to overcome it. I taught myself how to take part in social activities that I would otherwise have avoided, because I would have had to turn up on my own. They have stood me in good stead and been part of my life ever since.
Quite by chance, I have had conversations with a few people recently who told me that, like me, the time that they spent living alone in a foreign country or a British city, changed their life because of the social self- confidence and self-reliance they learned. But, no-one has to experience living alone in order to develop those skills. They just need to learn how to do more things on their own, rather than always in a couple or with a group of friends. How much better would people be able to cope with living alone if they had developed ‘solo skills’ earlier in or, better still, throughout their lives?
In our ageing society, with more and more people living alone, and with loneliness at such epidemic proportions that the Government has a ‘strategy’, perhaps ‘solo skills’ should be seen as skills for life, that are well worth learning. Could you cope if you suddenly and unexpectedly found yourself without a partner and living alone?
My self-help guide Solo Success! You CAN do things on your own is available on Amazon, in good bookstores and via http://www.cjiwrites.com