The Hard Facts: Living Single

It’s Research Wednesday! Where I share the latest, or most fascinating, in the science of friendship.

“One of the most remarkable facts to emerge from [the 2000] census is that one out of every four households consists of one person only. The number of one-person households has been increasing steadily since 1940, when they accounted for roughly 7 percent of households; today, there are more people living alone than at any point in U.S. history.” (The Lonely American, by Jacqueline Olds and Richard Schwartz)

I’ve never lived alone. I went straight from rooming with a friend in NYC to living with my now-husband. I’ve heard some people posit that you’re never truly ready to marry until you’ve lived alone—that’s how you find yourself, they’ll say—so maybe I missed an important step.

There are certainly days where I wish I had tried it out. I would have enjoyed hodgepodge meals of peanut butter and half an avocado and some toast (that’s the kind of feast I create when left to my own devices) and hours-long Law and Order: SVU marathons on my couch. But it never really made sense for me.  New York City rents weren’t worth shouldering alone. And my roommate—aside from being one of my closest friends—was always up for an SVU marathon. Elliot Stabler? Yes, please.

These days many of my single friends live alone. They’re sick of sharing bathrooms and bills, and they’ve built up successful careers that afford them the means of shacking up solo.

Olds and Schwartz present their data in The Lonely American as evidence that people are taking independence to a place of loneliness.

“One-person households are most likely to be found in major metropolitan centers. Manhattan leads the pack. 48 percent of all households on the island are one-person households”

I’m a huge fan of Olds and Schwartz, but I don’t find the fact that almost half the residents of Manhattan live alone as that shocking or depressing. People get married later these days, so they don’t wait to be whisked away to a palace. They find a place they love and move in. At, let’s say, 28, some women feel they’ve outgrown labeling their food in the fridge.

On the flip side, people live longer too. So they might inhabit a one-person household after they’ve lost a spouse.

And obviously there are plenty more women now who choose not to marry or who’ve gotten divorced than there were back in 1940.

In my experience, people who live alone are often more social than those who live with one roommate. If you’re solo at home and want friendly contact, you’ve got no choice but to call a pal and get out into the world. When you live with a roommate, it’s easy to rely on that one person and not socialize outside your twosome.

What do you think? Does this statistic further the argument that we’ve become lonelier as a people? Or is it merely a sign of independence and taking care of yourself? And who do you think is more social, someone who lives alone or with a roommate?

9 Comments

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9 responses to “The Hard Facts: Living Single

  1. I have lived alone for 6 years and I do not think of myself as lonely, whatsoever. I would say I have a much busier social calendar than most of my married friends, actually. I love living alone. I lived in a sorority in college and then had a terrible roommate my first year out of college so after that, I was like – enough! I think I have really grown and become so much more independent since I have lived alone. But I don’t think I am lonely compared to other friends. The only time I miss living with someone is when I am getting ready to go out on a date or something like that and need help with the outfit selection. 🙂

  2. LizC

    I had roommates for all of college but as soon as I started grad school (right after college) I got a place by myself. I lived by myself for 5 years and I would say I was less social, but that was also because most of my local friends ended up moving away and I didn’t.

    This past May I decided to try living with a roommate again for a multitude of reasons (I hated my apartment, I wanted to try to save money, it was a bigger place, it was closer to friends) and no. I couldn’t do it. Fortunately it had an expiration date to begin with and my roommate moved out in October and I will happily take the higher bills to living with a roommate. We weren’t even more social because even though she was a friend (someone I’ve known since childhood) she never wanted to do anything. I would invite her out when I did stuff with other people and she’d turn me down. She was trying to save money but even if it was stuff that wouldn’t cost her anything because I was driving & it was a cook-out at someone else’s house she wouldn’t go.

    After 5 years of living alone it was impossible to go back to living with someone and I don’t ever want to do it again. I’m not even at all sure I could live with a boyfriend or a husband because I need my space that’s completely my own.

  3. I lived alone for one year during college and one year after college. During college, it was basically just a place to occasionally sleep. After college was a whole ‘nother story. There were definitely times I got lonely that year, despite having many friends in the area. There’s something about hearing someone else putter about the space that’s really comforting. Knowing if there’s an emergency or if I get really sick in the middle of the night, there’s often someone down the hall to help. So, after a year of that, a college friend and I got a place together. What a change! Weekly potlucks, movie marathons, cold winter nights with friends spent around our fireplace (that came with the large apartment we could now afford), monthly themed parties, etc. She worked nights, I worked days, and we were smart enough to find a place with bedrooms on opposite ends of the apartment for the times when we needed privacy. Not all roommate situations before or since then have been quite as great as that one, but I can honestly say, even in our mid-20s, if we lived in the same city today, we’d most likely be living together as roommates.

  4. I definitely see living alone as being independent, not lonely. I lived alone for 4 years and really liked it. I had a few opportunities to live with friends, but didn’t want my good friends to turn into bad roommates (you never know, and a lot of people just shouldn’t live together, no matter how much they like each other). I’m glad I lived by myself because now I know that I can be alone and I’ll be okay – emotionally and financially. I have a lot of friends nearby, and I did have a pretty active social life because it did force me to get out of the house. My boyfriend and I got an apartment together 2 years ago, and I am happy to cohabitate, but I’m so glad I had the chance to be by myself first.

  5. san

    I never lived alone either and sometimes I wish I had tried my hand on it…. just for a short period of time. I do believe that you’d learn things about yourself that you’d never discover with a roommate. Also, I like being alone.

  6. Jamie Collyer

    At 30, I finally moved out on my own! After college, living with roommates, marriage and divorce, and another roommate. I love living on my own!! I love the fact that everything is MINE and I dont have to share the living room with anyone. Not everyone needs to live on their own… however, it works for me!

  7. I lived alone for seven years, but my current husband was my boyfriend/fiancee during that time. I loved having my own space and sometimes crave those days of watching tv, eating whatever I want, and lounging around.

  8. Lisa H.

    I lived by myself for four years while I put myself through college. It wasn’t easy certainly, but it gave me the peace of mind I needed.

    I tried to live with roommates for a year but kept running into so many problems. From not being “allowed” to label my food because it offended the other roomies (and yes they kept eating mine even when I tried to hide it) to annoyances of being surrounded by unwanted drunken parties. The final straw was having some of my computer equipment stolen. After that I went searching and found a one bedroom apartment I could mostly afford and never looked back.

    As for loneliness, yes I suppose there were times that I got lonely but I could have been surrounded by people and still felt lonely. Living by myself was liberating. In fact, I was probably more social living alone than I would have been with roomies because I got to choose who I was around and when. I didn’t have company thrust into my space unwillingly so I didn’t get worn out socially.

  9. I’ve lived alone, I’ve lived with roommates, I live with my husband … and I think that having another person around doesn’t necessarily make me not lonely, and living alone doesn’t automatically make me lonely.

    The only time that I was extremely grateful not to be living alone was when I was going through chemotherapy. Otherwise, living alone is nice.

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