Last night I got a big chuckle reading Steven Kurutz’s article in the New York Times “One is the Quirkiest Number: the Freedoms, and Perils, Of Living Alone”. If you don’t have time to read it, the article focuses on how living solo is becoming more prevalent and talks about how this leads to people developing quirky habits. The article tells the stories of a handful of people across the United States all living alone and practicing odd behavior. One woman never closes the bathroom door anymore, one man has increasingly erratic sleeping habits, two people eat bizarrely, and one woman treats her whole apartment like a messy dorm room.
The habits of school teacher, Amy Kennedy, are by far my favorite.
“Among her domestic oddities: running in place during TV commercials; speaking conversational French to herself while making breakfast (she listens to a language CD); singing Journey songs in the shower; and removing only the clothes she needs from her dryer, thus turning it into a makeshift dresser.”
(She is definitely someone I could be friends with!)
The article concludes with a conversational inquiry into whether or not so much alone time is healthy. Many of the single people express their fear that the longer they live alone, the harder it will be for them to adjust to living with another person. One woman says she doesn’t believe it will be that hard to readjust, “You pull yourself back together.”
It seems like the writer of the article, Kurutz, doubts that it will be so easy for these people to pull themselves back together. He follows up her statement, and ends the article, with a story about Ms. Kennedy in which she absentmindedly left her apartment without a skirt on one day. He says of her, that she “has developed the kind of quirky, absentminded habit that’s great if you’re an eccentric character in a Southern novel, but not if you want to be seen as good roommate (or romantic) material.”
This article reminds me of the type of articles that my friend Nichelle, who is also chronically single, likes to send me. Except hers are usually specifically about coping with singleness. Especially coping with singleness as a Christian (since Christians are notorious for persecuting and pressuring singles in their midst). Though these articles usually make me smile, I don’t relate very much to them.
Unlike most of my single Christian friends, I feel very little pressure from other people to get myself married off. Sometimes I feel so little pressure it actually starts to worry me a little. I mean, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve ever been asked if I have a boyfriend (it’s only happened twice ). Though I’ve told all my married and dating friends to feel free to set me up on a date not a single one has taken me up on it. (Much to my chagrin! I think it would be awesome to have a few blind date stories, especially if they turn out to be disasters). Come on, don’t the people in my life have faith someone will want to date me?
Setting aside this neurotic and petty fear, the point is that I can’t really relate to most of the articles I’m forwarded about coping with singleness. Beyond the fact that I’m rarely harassed, I don’t feel like singleness is something that I have to “cope” with. Being single is much like living alone. It is incredibly easy (besides the inevitable bouts of boredom and loneliness), but it has its own hazards.
That New York Times article touches on what I feel is the greatest hazard of singleness. It’s also my greatest fear about my perpetual singleness. Kurutz’s states, “For people who are comfortable and even good at living alone, there is often another concern: a fear that the concrete has set, so to speak, on their domestic habits and that it will be difficult to go back to living with someone else.” Similarly, I fear that if I’m too comfortable single, too good at it, that I’ll become so eccentric, so self-absorbed and independent, that it’ll be that much more difficult for me to be in a relationship. (Note: I said difficult, not impossible).
The people in my life who know about all my absurd crushes (which I feel my friends take way too seriously) and pseudo-relationships may think it’s laughable that I’d fear being “too comfortable single.” But they forget how solitary I am and have always been. I can be as reclusive as a shut-in. Even when I live with people, I can withdraw so much that I might as well be living alone. Being alone has always been easy for me, too easy.
As Ms. Kennedy observed about living alone, the longer one is single the less flexible you become, the less considerate of other’s needs. Fun as it can be to live in a world with no other rules but our own and no other needs to consider but our own, it isn’t healthy. It brings out our quirks more than our strengths. What we can learn about ourselves alone is a room is normally not half as meaningful as what we can learn in relationship with other people.
If I have one complaint as a single person, it is when people tell me this fear is foolish, that I need to just focus on me. That I need to work on myself more before I can claim anybody and not worry about all this time single.* “Lots of people get married when they’re older.” It’s as annoying and useless as when someone tells me that I should quit drinking soda to lose weight, when I don’t drink soda.
Like the people in Kurutz’s article aren’t unhappy living alone, I’m not unhappy single. Sometimes I’m a little too happy single (I call it singleness bliss).** My fear doesn’t threaten my contentment; it just helps me to stay open. It prevents me from allowing myself to be entirely wrapped up in my own head and my own emotions. In short, it helps me to keep reaching out for connection. Not just for romantic relationships, but for friendships too.***
*I’ll admit, that little line is a big pet peeve. As if I’ll need to be perfect to be in a relationship! The more couples I interact with, the more I see that it doesn’t matter that much how well you know yourself before you get married. Or how well adjusted and whole you are. What matters is how compatible you are with your partner and how willing you two are to put in the work that all good relationships require.
**Eventually I’ll write I fun little post about singleness bliss and singleness angst.
***Yes, this reaching out is why I’ve had so many crazy crushes and pseudo-relationships. I don’t think this is entirely a bad thing. Crushes can be both as harmlessly amusing and constructive as having an imaginary friend as a child. My pseudo-relationships have been wildly beneficially even though the last one was heartbreaking.
****I’ve titled the post after my theme song “Merry Happy” by Kate Nash.