The Pleasures and Perils of Living Alone
Many people live alone, and the number is rising in many developed countries. People almost universally see it as a bad thing and a sign of the loss of community, the fragmentation of society and decay of civilisation. On the other hand, many people who live alone choose to do so and enjoy the experience. How can we make sense of this?
We assume others are different to us
Firstly, this seems to be an example of people thinking that other people are different to them. In other words, people think that they could choose to live alone and enjoy it; but when other people live alone it is because they don't choose it and they don't enjoy it.
Living alone is also seen as evidence of narcissism, a total involvement with self and an inability to relate to others. The historian David Potter comments that in literature any story of complete isolation – like Robinson Crusoe – “is regarded as essentially a horror story”.
Certainly, to some people, living alone is forced on them and can be seen as a sign of failure.
Living alone is an achievable dream for many
Yet it seems that the reason that many people choose to live alone is because they can now afford to. Further, it is now possible to use technology to maintain relationships. This was impossible only a few years ago, and a range of services have sprung up to support people living alone.
Just as we change jobs more frequent than we have in the past, so too were we likely to change intimate relationships a number of times in our lives.
It is understandable that each of these relationships is bracketed with a time of living alone. This can be a useful time for considering the past and the future, and consolidating the self. As Eric Kinenberg states “instead of leading to loneliness and isolation, having a place of one's own gives us time and space of a productive retreat. Solitude, once we learn how to use it, does more than restore a personal energy; it also is sparks new ideas about how we might better live together.”
For others, living alone feels like allowing a true expression of themselves.
Exploring living alone
Living alone is one of the issues that psychotherapists help their clients with, as it is one that troubles people. As we take the time to understand it and explore it, new possibilities and insights emerge. I do counselling in Richmond and Sunbury; one of my specialisations is helping introverts cope in an extroverted world.
Tell me what you think in the comments. Now, read about the three types of control you use.
– Tim Hill
Reference: Kinenberg, E. (2012) ‘Going Solo – The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone’ The Penquin Press, New York
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