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Erica Abeel

Erica Abeel

Posted: August 12, 2009 10:14 AM

Living Alone: Not the Curse it Used to Be


In a recent interview Nora Ephron (68) was asked if the portrait of marital delight in her new film "Julie & Julia" reflected the happiness she'd found in her own life - i.e. her twenty-two year marriage to writer Nicholas Pileggi. Ephron answered, "Living alone in misery, would I have made this movie? Is that what you're asking?"

Oops. My eye locked on to the pairing of "living alone" and "misery," as if one were the inevitable partner of the other. So 50's, so 40's, a throwback to the pre-Cambrian era. Surely a slip from stiletto-sharp Ephron, betraying the indelible bias of her generation.

Hell, I know people who are living alone and, far from being in misery, actually like it. Two who come to mind are writers -- though maybe we should discount them since writers are peculiar. That said, one celebrated author relishes his newly-unmarried status, eating when and what he wants, roaming naked in his little house, filling it to the rafters with the creatures of his latest espionage thriller. Hostesses complain they can hardly pry this fellow from his happy solitude. I asked him, What if you get sick? He shrugged: I'll hire a nurse. I asked another scribbler, veteran of two marriages, if she didn't mind being alone in the city on summer weekends. "You don't understand," she said, "I love to be alone."

Even for civilians (i.e. non-scribblers), living solo is far from the curse it used to be. Women surround themselves with family, friends, grandchildren - even exes: see recent post by the founder of this site. Moving in girl packs or mixed company, they travel, go to theater and ballet, rent neighboring houses in the country. They value each other as they might a mate, stepping up to the plate as significant other when illness strikes.

Of course -- let's not be naïve - richly adorned independence is an upscale affair, lubricated by money. But unlike the gals of yesteryear, many women now are likely to have made their own bucks - and maybe even pay, never mind receive alimony. As for bachelors, in the place where I summer, truth to tell, they're considered pretty weird. Though far from miserable, they seem to lead narrower, more calcified lives than their female counterparts. They have the option, too, it must be said, of falling into couple-dom pretty much when they please.

Happily or in misery, going it alone has also become more of a relative state. Couples have been known to admit that their well-being thrives on separations and alone time. Like the lovers in my novel "Conscience Point," an ill-starred pair whom I dearly miss now that I've launched them into the world. Today's increasingly common commuter marriages are not only a necessity in a job-scarce economy -- they offer a bonus: no one busts in to ask about dinner when you're trying to work.

Hey, even Ivanka Trump says she's totally okay with bf Jared Kushner's working late into the night. (I come by this information from the New York Post, which can't be all bad with headlines like "Silence is Goldman!" regarding advice from the top not to flaunt the bonuses; the skinny on "Lonely Girl" Jennifer Aniston; and, I kid you not - see Metro Edition 8/4/09 - the lowdown on Tiger Woods' farts.)

Living alone in misery also presumably means no sex. Unlike the couples in "Julie & Julia." Along with food porn galore the film offers dollops of married sex, languorous afternoons between the libidinous Julia Childs (Meryl Streep) and husband Paul (Stanley Tucci). It's been hailed for bringing a new realism to the screen. Another realism might be all the cozily marrieds who opt for a nice afternoon snooze, free of any doctors' appointments. And the woman who woke up with her longtime mate to discover she was sleeping with a relative.

Anyway, what's to keep the un-partnered from a delicious rendez-vous in the discreet linens of the Lombardy Hotel off Park, or the king size bed of an empty summer apartment? Somehow the prospect of Meryl Streep cackling while divesting husband Stanley Tucci of his suspenders doesn't do it for me.

Despite abundant evidence to the contrary, though, there's no denying plenty of folks out there still equate living alone with misery. They die hard, the old attitudes. As a friend once said to me, "I'd rather be with a wife-beater than be alone." And she'd just written a book on the women's movement.