On Living Alone

BLOG Living Alone

portrait dave pollardA substantial proportion of bloggers, I would guess, live alone. More than most who live with others, they have the method, the motive, and the opportunity to blog. Just look at the demographics:

In North America, Northern Europe and Australia, about 15% of the adult population lives alone, more than anywhere else in the world; these are also the countries with the highest proportion of bloggers. Between 35% (North America/Australia) and 50% (Northern Europe) of these solitary dwellers are over age 65 (women outnumbering men about 3:1), another 35% are age 45-64 (the fastest-growing segment, women outnumbering men 4:3), and the final 15% (Northern Europe) to 30% (North America/Australia) are under age 45 (men outnumbering women by almost 3:2). The geographic differences in the age distribution of those living alone is attributable to the high cost of housing in Northern Europe and the lower proportion of seniors in North America/Australia). In Southern Europe, young people are far more likely to stay living with their parents until they marry, and seniors are far more likely to end up living with their children, so the proportion of the population living alone is lower. So is the proportion of bloggers.

There are three demographic ‘bulges’ of people living alone: (1) young people not yet married (about 60% males, since men tend to get married older), (2) middle-aged people separated or divorced (about 60% females, since men tend to remarry sooner and oftener), and (3) seniors (about 75% females, about 80% widowed). In our hyper-social, monogamy-indoctrinated society, these people are generally depicted as tragic, lost, vulnerable to physical and mental illness, incomplete — and of course, lonely.

I will soon be entering the second demographic group, certainly once our house finally sells, or earlier if I move to a warmer climate before that happens. It occurred to me that I have spent less than 10% of my life living alone. When I have been traveling out of town lately, especially when I’ve been staying by myself, this fact of up-and-coming aloneness really starts to dawn on me. I find myself wondering what I will do with myself, once I retire from my ‘day job’, once I’ve finished my day’s writing, playing, exercising, imagining, reflecting, walking in the woods and on the beach, conversing, exploring, demonstrating, telling stories and learning. Will these activities, a mix of solitary and mostly-virtual collaboration activities, be enough to make me feel connected, or will I find myself asking if this is all I’m meant to do, and looking and longing for ‘real’ connection?

I think I have my answer: On these recent out-of-town travel occasions I’ve found myself going to restaurants and hotel bars and chatting up waitresses and asking bartenders what their dreams are. Flirting in subway cars. Looking for face-to-face meetups with people I ‘know’ only in that disconnected, online kind of way.

The personality tests I have taken reveal me to be socially schizophrenic — there are times I want real-time, real-space connection, but when I’ve had my fill of that I want to get away, and be alone. There is a verse in Neil Young’s song On the Beach:

I need a crowd of people, but I can’t face them day to day.
Though my problems are meaningless that don’t make them go away.

Now I’m living out here on the beach,
But those seagulls are still out of reach.

That pretty well sums me up. The times I have lived alone have been either the worst times of my life, periods of mourning, or the best times of my life, paradoxically periods of whirlwind social activity when I was constantly meeting and getting close to new people and rarely at home at all.

So I’m looking for the best of both worlds — a warm and beautiful place of quiet retreat to pursue my solitary passions, that is still close enough to people I love, or might love, or love to play with. The rare times in my life I have felt lonely (“anguished, dejected awareness of being alone”) have been in moments of despair over the loss of love. They were long ago, and haven’t always coincided with times I’ve lived alone.

I think it may be that the ‘place’ I live is always larger than my official ‘home’. The place I live includes the places I explore nearby. As I am someone with an aversion to wearing clothes, it includes anywhere in the vicinity where I can be comfortably naked, whether that be alone or not. Any place I can sing, play, dance, or be silent as I choose. Any place that has ancient moss-covered trees or gentle surf or cats or dogs or wild animals that are not terrified of human company. Any place I can imagine, or that welcomes my imagination. Any place I can be undisturbed and at peace with my thoughts, free from the noise of civilization, and free from the noise inside my head. Any place that has warmth, and beauty that does not take practice to appreciate. As long as the collective space of all these places close at hand and close to heart is large enough, I am home, and I am never lonely.

And never, and always, alone.

photo by andrew

Category: Being Human

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2 Responses to On Living Alone

  1. I enjoyed this post, especially as it sort of reflects my own experiences. After quitting my job over a year ago I have spent my days often alone, although connected in cyberspace in Second Life. At the same time I have been working with a bunch of people (becoming my tribe) to create an Eco-village outside Stockholm.Having bought some land, which has one house on it, we all decided to congregate there over the summer to run courses, continue planning and just hang out.I went from being alone most of the the time to being surrounded by people (up to 15 in a six room house) all of whom have something on their mind to talk about or a “project” I can join in on. Talk abut love, conversation, community. You get it instantly. It can be really tiring but extremely stimulating, especially as we have been doing a lot of physical work like like clearing trees, building mud buildings, gardening, etc.Coming back to the empty flat in Stockholm has been quite a shock, but real luxury!My take on it after the first “summer with the tribe” is that:The living alone thing is a reeeeeeaaal drag, you tend to just put the TV on for company, which felt normal before but sick now.Doing physical work with others is a real blast, the conversations are amazing and deep friendships arise. Especially as you are “problem solving” together often.You still need your quiet, private times. After all, in the stillness is Gods gift gift to you,,, yourself and it’s wonderful to at least once a day just sit quiet and appreciate that gift.After 6 months of Intentional Community I would strongly recommend people to get together , buy a place that’s a starting point and evolve it together. It’s fun. It’s just gotta be sustainable!Keep up the good work with How to Dave the World!

  2. cindy says:

    I don’t think I have ever felt lonely for personal reasons, but have the sense of loneliness related to work a few times, when things I was advocating felt on deaf ears. Things that I thought was(were) important nobody seems to care. Loneliness is a state of mind, as we were told by the mind-experts. Since my mind is constantly so busy with some important and many silly things, there isn’t really space for loneliness. Although I can feel very ALONE even when there is a huge crowd milling around me. I am sure I am not the only one that have this experience. How about taking up a job as a bar-tender and ‘heal some lonely hearts’? :) Not entirely a joke. Many, many years ago I took a bar-tending course (I am a certified bartender. During my training time we, my fellow-future-bar-tenders and our instructors, spent good time discussing the by-role of a bar-tenders!! Good bar-tender is more than just pouring and mixing a perfect cocktails!

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