What I’ve Learned From Living Alone

I hate wearing pants.

The first night I spent alone in my new apartment was straight-up terrifying. The radiator bubbled and burped at odd intervals all night. The tick of the clock I had owned for three years was suddenly exponentially louder, and strangely ominous. The wind whistled through the cracks of old, unsealed windows. And every passerby whose voice carried as he or she passed mere feet from where I lay in my bed—head toward the first-floor, street-side window—was obviously moments from breaking in and murdering me in my sleep.

Well, not in my sleep, exactly, because for the first week sleep wouldn’t come. There were too many new depths of new shadows to ponder. Too many worries about footsteps outside the door. Too many plans to make about where the art would hang (everywhere), whether to organize the books by genre or author or color (color), and where to place the TV for ideal viewing (it’s been 159 days and I still haven’t bought one.)

It’s my first apartment.

That’s not technically true. It’s my fourth apartment, technically, and the thirteenth bedroom I’ve inhabited.

But it’s my first apartment.

A few weeks ago, Sara Eckel wrote for The New York Times’ “Modern Love” column about moving in with her then-boyfriend after two decades as a singleton. She writes, “I also worried that my single years were shaping me, hardening me into a woman too finicky and insular for a lifetime partnership.” While she looks backward on 20 years of habit-forming singleness, I’m looking forward who-knows-how-many years of the same with gleeful anticipation. While I certainly see the potential to get set in my ways, I can’t help but relish the opportunity to discover the ways I want to get set in.

There is no second set of eyes or ears with opinions for which I have to account, no alternative strategies toward cleanliness with which to compromise, no guests that aren’t mine to tiptoe around or embrace. There is only my stuff everywhere, neatly stacked or wildly strewn. There are only my denim puddles dotting the path from the front door to the couch. If I’ve learned one thing about myself in the last four months, it’s that I hate wearing pants.

But I’ve learned other things too. I’ve learned I have patterns and habits that were obscured by the patterns and habits of my roommate. I read more now than I ever have before. I wouldn’t have guessed that the delightful patter of a putzing roommate would have deterred me from settling in with my book, but it seems it did. I am more conscientious with my social calendar, since the only chit-chat I will find is the chit-chat I make time to schedule, and a chit-chat-less Emily is a sad Emily. I take responsibility for my own nutrition in a way that was never 100% possible while sharing a fridge. There’s no one generously offering her treats that maybe I wanted (but maybe I didn’t and I’m just eating them because they’re in front of me). If there’s ice cream in my freezer now, I bought it. On purpose.

From its cleanliness (or not) to the stockedness of the pantry (or not), to the consumption of electricity reflected on my bill, it’s all me. It boils down to a sense of ownership of my space that I didn’t know I was missing until now. It’s a source of mostly pride, and occasional embarrassment. When an unexpected guest notices I’m out of hand soap, I sheepishly admit I’ve been using dishwashing detergent until I make it to Walgreens.

Do I worry about becoming finicky and uncompromising? What if I meet someone whose habits don’t align with mine? What if instead of dishsoap for handsoap and denim puddles and public radio, he prefers bar soap and sock bunnies and waking up to Kanye? What then? What then, indeed.  

Rather than being concerned with the shape these single years are smooshing me into, it feels like I’m expanding to fill an exactly Emily-shaped space. Right now, it’s too new and too delightful inhabiting this square footage exactly the way I want, filling it with exactly the things and exactly the people and exactly the music that bring me joy.

Role/Reboot regular contributor Emily Heist Moss is a New Englander in love with Chicago, where she works in a tech start-up. She blogs every day about gender, media, politics and sex at Rosie Says, and has written for Jezebel, The Frisky, The Huffington Post and The Good Men Project. Find her on Facebook and Twitter.

Posted in Life and