One-person households are the fastest growing demographic in the world. Author Jane Mathews celebrates the art of living alone
It’s like Marmite: you either love living alone or hate it. Either way, we single dwellers are a mighty army. There are now almost 8 million one-person households in the UK, according to the UK Office for National Statistics, rising to 300 million globally. This makes us the fastest-growing demographic in the world.
Most people who live alone have had their hand played for them: it was chance, not choice that got us here. Being by yourself presents a raft of challenges, including cooking for one, going on holiday, eating out alone, juggling finances and not succumbing to the siren call of wine, UGG boots and Netflix. Plus, less tangible tests can ambush you, like holding your head high in a culture where living alone still carries a stigma.
I fell into solo living (following an unanticipated divorce) not so much with an elegant swan dive, but a graceless belly flop. I was unprepared for it and, like a dodgy blind date, I can’t say we hit it off straight away. How times change. I now appreciate and embrace it, and actually prefer it. I don’t see it as a compromise, a holding pattern, a runner-up prize or a bump on the road to sunny coupledom.
It isn’t always easy living alone, but it sure teaches you a lot. For one, don’t let other people’s stereotypes of living alone define you. Yes, we live alone and yes we do have friends, we can land a man, we don’t all have cats. Several studies quoted by Eric Klinenberg in Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise And Surprising Appeal Of Living Alone has proven that some of the strongest, most capable, sociable and loving people in the world live alone. It proves you are independent, and can not only bring home the bacon but whip up a bloody delicious single-serve carbonara while you’re at it. Define yourself by picking three adjectives that capture who you are/want to be. Act like that person and you will become it.
My second learning is to like yourself. Nothing else will fall into place until you nail this one. Develop an armadillo-like, unshakeable sense of self worth. ‘Easy to say…’ you’re thinking, but be kind to yourself and ensure some of your 50,000 thoughts a day are positive ones. Replace your ‘to do’ list with a ‘done’ list; learn a new skill and you’ll be on track. You, and only you, are responsible for your happiness. It lies in your hands − the safest place for it. You can choose to be Velcro or Teflon, attracting and retaining blame, regrets and worries (and turning yourself into a human shit magnet in the process) or let them slip off you.
Ultimately, living alone does not equal being lonely. The fear of it has the power to upset us more than loneliness itself. Identify your triggers and develop tactics to cope with them. The danger of living alone is that it is always potentially leggings o’clock. So, instead of dwelling on your solo state, focus on living your life to the full. Get on top of your self care − finances, housekeeping, cooking and exercise − then get ‘markers’ in your diary, like dinner dates with friends, evening classes or a holiday. Do something you’ve never done before. Remember, you are stronger than you think. You’ve got this.