In his book Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone, sociologist Eric Klinenberg explains why people who live alone are the most socially and communally engaged of household units. "In fact, compared with their married counterparts, they are more likely to eat out and exercise, go to art and music classes, attend public events and lectures, and volunteer," he writes. This may come as a major surprise considering that the word "alone" signifies all sorts of bleak sentiments like loneliness, alienation, and insularity.
But as Klinenberg explains, it's worth considering how solitude has the capacity to be liberating and soothing, too. In fact, according to this study from the University of Michigan, living with someone who engages in risky behaviors has slipover effects, and an anxious roommate can make you more on edge while a happy roommate won't necessarily have a positive influence on your mood.
After living with a stranger-turned-friend as well as a group of close friends, and then a high school acquaintance followed by a now ex-friend, I can say with certainty that my experience of living on my own has been (unexpectedly) my best. Since I know the ups and downs firsthand, I decided to come up with a list of tips for first-time solo dwellers as well as some anecdotes that reveal all the benefits of living alone. Get the full details below so you can decide if it's the lifestyle choice for you.
Living Solo Lesson #1:
When I studied abroad in London during college, I shared a kitchen with a few others but otherwise lived alone (my bathroom was so tiny that the toilet was literally in the shower). I was so terrified by the idea that I didn't even look into the visa process until the night before my flight overseas (don't worry; despite my irresponsibly avoidant tendencies, I still miraculously had enough time to get my documents from the bank before takeoff). And while the adjustment period of living alone in a new environment was a rocky one, it was also a pivotal moment and opportunity for growth.
Without anyone to answer to, nor a stale routine to abide by or a social media feed I felt pressured to update, I was able to reflect on much more important personal plights that I hadn't the time and privacy to acknowledge before. I'm not saying that living alone is a one-way ticket to self-discovery and a cure-all for loneliness. But when you're quite literally alone, you can't keep your loneliness at bay. This discomfort became my teacher once I allowed it to. And by the end of my experience, I was traveling all over the place, completely content on my own—so much so that campus security showed up at my door to see if I was missing because I was away so often.
Living Solo Lesson #2:
When I graduated from college, I had three rough plans: Find a job before my lease was up, run away, or move home, in order of preference. Luckily, I got a job offer a week before my move-out date, but not so luckily, this gave me three days to find a place to live. Since I didn't have the time to coordinate with another person, I looked for studios and one-bedroom apartments. On the third day of the hunt—which also happened to be a day before I started the new job—I was sitting in my parked car on the verge of a meltdown thinking how much easier it'd be with a partner in crime when I spotted a West Side Rentals sign on a home in my dream location.
I had to lower my expectations and pay a price, but overall, I loved my first real apartment and managed to find it against all odds. If you find yourself in a similar position, try to accept your feelings, but also trust yourself. Thinking that a roommate would expedite or ease the process is simply not true. I promise the anxiety of the hunt will actually prep you to better navigate the other smaller stresses on your own, like finding an emergency locksmith and plumber or paying utilities and other bills by yourself (honestly, it can even make the emergencies easier since you only have to worry about yourself). And more importantly, building self-sufficiency is just a growing pain that'll help you earn your own trust and take better care of yourself.
Solo Living Lesson #3:
One of the most common concerns about living alone is that you won't have a social life anymore. I assure you this is not the case. When I lived alone, I knew my apartment would always be empty unless I was in it, so alone time was less precious and social interactions were more valuable. When I lived with a roommate I didn't know and another one I didn't get along with that well, I'd let our small talk count toward my daily quota of human interaction, which wasn't the best idea. And when I lived with my friends, and later with my partner, it was so easy to hang out that I didn't make as much of an effort to mix things up with different kinds of people, even though that's really important to me. Plus, spending time with people you don't live with will make you cherish our time together more.
What I'm trying to say is that if socializing isn't built into your day, you'll be more motivated to seek connections, whether it's through social interactions, community-based activities, attending fun events, keeping in touch with long-distance friends, dating, or even just exploring your own passions more. It definitely depends on your personality, but being a solo dweller made it a lot easier for me to actively nurture the relationships I valued, no matter how tempting my Netflix queue was.
Solo Living Lesson #4:
I consider myself an ambivert, which means I have both extroverted and introverted tendencies. As such, I need my own space to decompress and get in touch with my needs after a busy day. If I don't have the private space and time to do so, I find it really difficult to engage in the things I enjoy or need to do, at least not to my full capacity. When I lived alone, there was no need to put my energy toward the pleasantries of small talk and manners. Beyond that, it's hard to get quality "me" time when I'm living with my best friends because all I want to do is hang out and laugh with them for hours, even though it will drain me.
Plus, as with any situation in which you aren't the only person involved, there are bound to be diverging opinions, feelings, and priorities at play. So when lifestyle habits differ, or your concepts of respect and communication aren't in line, roommate frustrations can quickly become arguments and escalate to tense living environments or broken relationships. I've seen the most innocent of sponge mishaps snowball into hostile rifts. The 100% guaranteed prevention method? Live by yourself. This way you can be as neat or as lazy as you please without putting any relationships at stake.
Up next, here are all the questions to ask a potential roommate before moving in together.
This post was originally published on May 11, 2017, and has since been updated.