Solo living is on the rise – but it’s not a lifestyle that everyone understands. In fact, there are probably more misperceptions about living alone than any other lifestyle, even though it’s an increasingly common way to live.
That means those of us who do it spend a lot of time explaining ourselves. We’ll probably smile and answer your questions politely – but it can sometimes feel like having the same conversation over and over again.
The joy of running a blog and an online community, is being able to set the record straight. So we asked people who live alone to tell us the things they secretly wished their friends and family knew about their lives.
Here’s what they said.
1. Living alone doesn’t automatically mean we’re lonely
This is the single most important thing that we want you to know. When it comes to living alone, there is a huge difference between being by yourself, and being lonely. If I want to curl up with a book, potter around my house, or daydream in a luxurious bath, then being by myself is absolutely fine. In fact, being able to do these things without interruption is one of the greatest joys of living alone! But if I want to download after a hard day and there’s no one to hear me out, then I might well start to feel a bit lonely.
That doesn’t mean though that being alone is a bad thing. Many of us want you to know that we feel far less lonely now than we did when we lived with others – especially where we were in relationships that weren’t working out.
Loneliness does happen, and we know it’s more common when living alone doesn’t feel like a choice (for example, following a bereavement), or where physical or mental health make it hard to socialise. But for every person who regularly feels this way, there are many others who feel loneliness rarely, if at all.
In other words, we may be lonely, or we may not, depending on our circumstances. Unless we’ve explicitly told you that we are struggling, then you may be worrying when you don’t need to be. It’s all too possible that we’re actually connected, happy, and loving our solo lives!
2…but telling us ‘we’re so lucky’ can feel a bit misplaced
Here’s the thing – it’s easy to idolise other people’s lives. Alongside ‘aren’t you lonely?,’ we also hear ‘you’re so lucky’ quite a lot. When accompanied with ‘it must be nice not to have any responsibilities,’ it can feel like a particularly backhanded compliment.
First, no life is perfect – and our lives are no different. We have good days, and we have bad days – just like you. Sometimes we feel on top of the world, other days we just want to sit and eat ice cream. When you tell us our lives must be ‘so great,’ we either feel guilty for having ‘down’ days, or guilty for enjoying ourselves. Either way, it probably isn’t having the impact you intended!
Secondly, it grates when you imply that our lives are somehow more carefree or less taxing than yours. We may not have children living at home (at least not all of the time), but we still have responsibilities. We’re solely responsible for our households, our finances, and our lives. We may have demanding careers. We are more likely than those in couples / families to be called on to support family members who need care, to step in as babysitters for nieces and nephews, and we often play active roles in our communities. Our lives may look different to yours, but that does not make them any less full of responsibility.
3. We’re not all looking for a life partner – and your acceptance matters to us
The vast majority of people who live alone are also single. That means that we’re used to hearing the usual questions. How are our love lives? Are we seeing anyone? Have we found anyone yet?
It’s amazing how often people ask about this, and think it’s okay to do so. We know you’re worried about us, that you want us to find someone special, and that you think our lives will improve when we do. But we don’t owe you details. We wouldn’t ask you about the intimate details of your relationship unless you volunteered them – so we’d prefer it if you could be equally respectful.
It might be uncomfortable for us to discuss our dating lives with you if we are struggling to find someone. It might be early days and we’re not sure how it’s going yet. We may have been through trauma that means we don’t want to be in a relationship with anyone. We may have chosen to concentrate on our own lives for a while. We may have decided that a long-term relationship simply isn’t for us. There are a growing number of people who have made that choice, and are perfectly content with that decision.
When your worry is driven by your own assumptions about what a ‘good’ life looks like, it can make us feel like we’re failing because we’re not living up to your expectations. Or it can feel like you don’t respect the choices we’ve made, or that we have a different world view. We want you to know that living alone doesn’t mean living without love – we just find it in different ways. We may not have chosen – or been able – to walk the same path as you in life. But not all lives unfold in the same way, and living unconventionally doesn’t mean that our lives are less valid or less meaningful than yours.
We also feel bothered that you’re defining you by our ‘singleness’ – especially if your description includes a negative (e.g.: ‘not married,’ ‘not with anyone yet’). Our lives are multi-dimensional, rich, and full of meaning – just like yours. We have friends, hobbies, jobs and interests. In other words, there’s more to us than our relationship status – so let’s find something else to talk about!
If anything, we really want you to respect us for the way we live, in the same way we respect you. We manage our finances and our homes, we have jobs and social lives – we balance everything without help, and we mostly do it well. We’re our own heroes. That should be worthy of your respect, even if you don’t understand us!
4. We need our friends and family more than you know – and it really matters when you cancel on us!
When you live alone, relationships with friends and wider family are your primary connections. We invest a lot of emotional energy into ours – this can make us amazing friends! We know that we are not necessarily your primary connection, and that your partner and immediate family come first. That’s fine. But when you need to cancel or change plans, we can find it disproportionately difficult. That’s partly because we have to plan ahead more than other people to make sure we have a healthy amount of social contact during the week, and it doesn’t take much to throw out the schedule. But it’s also because we don’t have anyone else to fall back on. We may not always show it, especially if we’re introverts, but having time with you is incredibly important to us.
So if you do have to cancel, give us some notice – and please reassure us that we’ll see each other soon!
5. Living alone comes at a cost…but you’d have to pay us even more to give it up
We pay a high price for living alone – literally. We pay 100% of the mortgage or rent, all of the bills and other household costs. And we quite often pay more for goods and services and holidays because we don’t get couples discounts. There’s an emotional cost too. We are solely responsible for decisions about every aspect of our lives. We have to work harder to get the social contact that we need to stay healthy. And society still give us a hard time for not conforming to the perfect nuclear family ideal!
While living alone has its difficulties, it’s a way of life that many of us would struggle to give up. Having our own space and peace is important to us. While it can be scary dealing with everything, it is deeply empowering and uplifting to be entirely responsible for yourself. We know that no relationship is guaranteed. But we have the tools to fall back to be able to build full, rich, meaningful lives for ourselves. We’re not afraid of being alone – and that means we’re confident setting a higher standard for ourselves. We shape our own space, and we make our own decisions. We know who we are, and we prioritise personal growth.
Secretly? We probably think that you should try living alone for a while, too.
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