My whole life I've been told that teamwork is golden. The clichés say it all: Two heads are better than one. The more the merrier. There is no "I" in "team." I grew up to view being in the company of others as the de facto ideal state. And for many years, it was true: my senior year of college, I lived with seven of my closest girlfriends in one house. Just as I predicted, it was one of the best years of my life. No matter what time of day or night there was always a friend to bounce an idea off of, a shoulder to cry on or a late-night snack buddy. It was domestic bliss for a 22-year-old.
So when I decided to stay in the same city for graduate school only to see all of my friends move away, I was crestfallen to realize that, for the first time in my life, I would be living alone. I moved into a studio apartment in downtown Evanston, Ill., prepared to be overwhelmed by a crushing loneliness. Turns out, I loved it.
Living alone gets a bad rap in our society -- on top of the loneliness and security fears (if I had a nickel for every time someone asked, "Don't you get scared all by yourself in the big city?"... well, I'd never have to complain about shouldering the whole Internet bill again) -- there's actually some hard data that solo dwellers may be worse off health-wise.
But before you let that news keep you up in bed (alone) at night, consider this: I've found that with the right lifestyle and support network, living alone can be an incredibly positive experience.
I'm hardly the first to notice the appeal of being your own roommate -- 31 million people are living alone in the U.S., making up 28 percent of households, according to Eric Klinenberg, author of the recent, definitive history of living alone, "Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone" (I started reading the book in my New York City apartment, alone, on a recent Sunday afternoon). In NYC, the number jumps to 1 in 2. Compare that national number to the 9 percent of households with someone living alone in 1950, and we have a trend on our hands.
In his book, Klinenberg explores some of the reasoning behind this phenomenon including, of course, changing demographics that have women outliving men overall. But I'd also argue that the decision of those 31 million is a function of the myriad, though perhaps less easily measured, pleasures there are to live alone. Here, a breakdown of just a few of the health perks I've found to flying solo:
A chance to recharge. In a society built around extroverts, who get their energy from being around other people, we're just now beginning to recognize that some people, so-called introverts, build energy and strength in being alone. Susan Cain, author of the recent book "Quiet: The Power of Introverts," explained in a Q&A with Scientific American: "When you're working in a group, it's hard to know what you truly think. We're such social animals that we instinctively mimic others' opinions, often without realizing we're doing it. And when we do disagree consciously, we pay a psychic price."
People are often surprised when I tell them I identify as an introvert -- I'm outgoing and enjoy being around people, but I also need time to myself at the end of the day to regroup. Living alone allows me to build my energy back up so that I can go and spend it with others.
Time for self-discovery. In my experience, so many people are afraid of being totally alone. But I've learned to really enjoy my own company. When I first started living alone, I had this weird discovery that I could go a whole day without using my voice -- sometimes I'd hit the grocery store and buy something I didn't need just to test that I could say "thank you" to the cashier. But then I discovered something far easier -- I started talking to myself.
We all remember that seminal "Sex and the City" episode where Carrie explains the concept of secret single behavior -- those little things we do when we're all alone that we'd never do around someone else. For me, it's a running back-and-forth chatter with myself. Sometimes I find myself walking out into the hall toward the elevator, still talking.
"What emerges over time, for those who live alone, is an at-home self that is markedly different -- in ways big and small -- from the self they present to the world," Steven Kurtz wrote in a New York Times article about the subject last month. "We all have private selves, of course, but people who live alone spend a good deal more time exploring them."
A sense of independence. When my carbon monoxide detector goes off unexpectedly at 1 a.m., there's no one but me to figure it out. When I can't reach the top shelf in my closet, well, I figure out a way to get there. When I buy a new piece of furniture for my apartment, I have to build it. For someone who had previously only lived with others (a calm friend who could figure out the alarm, a tall friend to reach the shelf, etc.), living alone means I'm completely self-sufficient, something I've really enjoyed becoming. Even if or when I choose to live with people again, there's a confidence in knowing that I can be self-reliant if need be.
Decreased stress and responsibility. Call me selfish, but at a time when I'm so focused on my career there's something liberating about knowing that at the end of the day I can come home and not have to worry about the needs of anyone else. No one will have left a dirty dish out (well, except maybe me) or the cap off the toothpaste.
Living alone isn't the same thing as living lonely. I enjoy my own company -- so much so that sometimes I fib that I have plans on a Saturday night so I can stay home for a date with my TiVo and a glass of white wine. But when I am feeling a need for connection, I reach out for it. For me that can be as simple as walking downstairs and into a coffee shop. Or it can mean picking up the phone to call my family or dialing into Skype to video chat with those amazing roommates from my senior year of college. It can also mean meeting up with a friend -- one who lives alone or not -- for a quick catch up.
When the time is right, I hope to live with a partner and even raise children (being a crazy cat lady isn't in the cards for me -- I'm allergic). In the meantime, it's just me and me. And we like it that way.
Why do you live alone? We teamed up with the Today Show to ask readers to tweet us with #WhyILiveAlone. Here are some of our favorite answers -- please share yours in the comments!
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