The Hard Facts: Living Alone, Together

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

“Living alone no longer suggests an isolated or less-social life. After interviewing more than 300 singletons…during nearly a decade of research, I’ve concluded that living alone seems to encourage more, not less, social interaction..” (“One’s a Crowd” ; New York Times 2/4/2012)

A couple of years ago a friend was talking about an old pal of hers, and how she thought that pal wasn’t ready to get married. “She’s never even lived alone,” she said. I’ll never forget that comment because I, too, have never lived alone.

After college I moved back in with my parents for six months. Then I moved in with a college friend for three years. Then I came to Chicago, where I moved in with Matt.

I like living with other people. It makes me feel connected. In New York, even on the nights when I was too tired to go out, I could sit and watch Law & Order: SVU with Brooke and at least have someone to laugh with. But I’ll admit that there have definitely been moments in my life where I’ve thought fondly about what it would be like to live on my own.

Turns out that living solo makes a person more likely to be social. Simply being single might actually make you more connected.  “Compared with their married counterparts, single people are more likely to spend time with friends and neighbors, go to restaurants and attend art classes and lectures,” according to the General Social Survey.

When you think about young people, this research seems to make sense. Single 20-somethings are out dating, socializing, trying to find their other half. But not so fast. It’s not an age thing. According to this article, “single people 35 and older were more likely than those who lived with a spouse or a romantic partner to spend a social evening with neighbors or friends.”

In MWF Seeking BFF, I talk about this phenomenon of “cocooning,” when a married couple gets so comfortable spending time together that they forget (or just don’t care) to make plans with friends, see family, or say hi to neighbors.

The lesson here? Don’t let living with someone–a husband, a sibling, an old-fashioned roomie–keep you from going out and socializing. Yes, you’re less likely to be at home alone, but you’re plenty likely to be lonely.

Ever lived alone? Were you more social when you lived alone or with someone else? And do you think everyone should live solo at some point?

Remember friendship bracelets? They are awesome, and I’m bringing them back, ’90s style. If you and your BFF (near or far) are reading MWF Seeking BFF together, let me know and I’ll send you two bracelets. You can rock them together like Six and Blossom or the BSC. Like, totally. 

13 Comments

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13 responses to “The Hard Facts: Living Alone, Together

  1. Christina

    I have lived alone for over 10 years now and I love it. It fits me perfectly as I am a writer and photographer and love spending huge amounts of time on my creative endeavors. I’m also a big time introvert so I can’t really answer the question about whether living alone makes you more social or not. Perhaps it does when it comes to taking classes or joining a group for some sort of activity — as you have more time to devote to such things… but I think it really boils down to what sort of person you are and how extroverted/introverted you may be.

    However, with all that being said, I think that there are times where one seeks friendship more than other time. For example, I am more extroverted at work (probably because I get bored with my job… and like to fill up with the boringness with chit chat) than I am at home where I have plenty of things to keep me busy and very, very content.

    • Monica

      In response to the fact that you are “a big time introvert,” I wanted to throw out a book recommendation: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain.

      (I hope Rachel will forgive me for posting a reply that is completely off topic.)

  2. This couldn’t have come at a better time. I’m currently in a huge internal debate, trying to figure out if I should live alone or live with one of my roommates (I currently have 3) when our lease is up in September. I’m not ready to live with my boyfriend (but see that happening in the next 1-2 years), and feel like living along is something I should do before I move in with him. The way I see it, once you move in together you’re living together either forever, or until you break up. So, now would be the only chance I would have to live alone, and I’m worried that if I don’t I would regret it later in life. But on the same note, I love having someone to watch countless hours of Bravo reality television when I want to.

    I worry that living alone could be lonely, but I agree that I think it would encourage me to be social and make plans to counteract my loneliness.

    So, what’s a girl in her mid-twenties to do? Be a girl in her mid-twenties and live with her girlfriends, or be independent and take the opportunity to be on her own??

    • Ashley

      I was in your same situation and I chose living alone just to see what it was like. I did it for a whole year until my sister broke up with fiancee and moved in🙂 But during that year, I learned a lot about myself that I didn’t know before. I got into decorating my very own place, watching the shows that I liked, listening to music I got to chose, and going to bed or staying up as late as I wanted without bothering anyone. You’d be surprised at how much you’re comprimising when living with someone else – most of the time I hardly noticed. I think it’s just something everyone should do once if they can.

  3. Megan

    I lived alone, but also in combination with having just moved to a brand new city where I knew no one but my great aunt (who’s in her late 70s). So, at first, I had no one to socialize with and it was unbearably lonely. I’m glad I had the experience, though: the benefits of living alone were definitely highlighted by my time in the Crazy 8 (yes, that’s a house with eight OTHER women).🙂

  4. This reminds me of the book “The Lonely Polygamist” by Brady Udall. The main character had like 4 wives and 48 children and was very very lonely. Many people I explain the premise of the book to say “How can that possibly be?”. Well, there is the feeling of social isolation for you.

  5. I moved out when I was 19 and lived on my own for 9 months. Following that, I lived with a boyfriend for 2 years, but then after that I have been living on my own ever since. I am 35 years young and I love both facets of living alone. You do get lonely sometimes, so it does force you to be more social for sure, but I do love the solace of being able to do what I want and when I want because I am at liberty to do so. Thanks for a great commentary, Rachel!

  6. I am so forwarding this to a friend of mine…she’s convinced that if she buys get own place and lives alone it’s like sending a message yo men that she never wants to live with anybody. A single-gal death sentence, if you will. I keep telling her she’s crazy, so maybe she’ll listen to you.

  7. Heidi

    I lived alone in my early 30’s, and it was a great time for me. I had time to myself, but was also very social — a lot more social than I am now that I’m married and have children. Extra people in the house — for me — take up more time and energy than living alone. But I always hit the half-way point on the tests for being introverted/extroverted, so I think it depends partly on your personality but also the types of things you think about living alone too. I thought buying my own house was single gal hell too, but instead it seemed going ahead and living my life on my own terms made me more attractive and I married not long after buying. Who knew?!

  8. I’ve lived alone for the last almost 7 years. I went from living with my parents to living with roommates in dorms all through college. By the time I graduated I was ready to live on my own. Aside from a brief period in 2010 where I lived with a roommate for 5 months in which I wanted to kill myself and her. We basically kept to our own spaces and barely ever interacted and yet I found the act of having another person in the house exhausting.
    I love living alone. I honestly don’t know how or if I could ever live with another person. But does it make me more social? Perhaps not but I’m a big introvert. I’m very social at work but by the end of the day I’m ready to be alone. I never have been and never will be the person who can go out for drinks after work. Not unless it’s a Friday night and I’ve had it planned for a few weeks. I thought if I had a roommate I would be more social which is partly why I experimented with a roommate after 5 years of living alone and it just doesn’t work for me. I figure I’m almost 29 and I am too set in my ways for a roommate.

  9. In my mid-20s, my live-in boyfriend and I broke up, but none of my friends were looking for roommates, so I chose to live alone. I made a point to get an apartment close to a few friends, but decided I was at the point in my life where I didn’t want to live with a stranger. The comfort of having my own place helped heal me from my breakup and gave me plenty of “me” time. And the close proximity to friends made sure I got out and had fun on a regular basis. I lived there for 2 years until I moved in with another boyfriend who is now my husband, so it literally was the last chance I had to experience that sort of self-sufficient freedom.

  10. since I have turned 20, moved out of my parents home, I have been living on my own, except for the 5 years I was married. I am 42 now, so that means 17 years of living alone. Which is funny, because I bought a 3 bedroom 2 bath home with a full basement.

    What I like about it is I can do what I want, when i want. I can walk around nekkid, go from bathroom to bedroom or where ever. I also consider myself a very introvert type of person. I can go weeks without talking to my neighbors, or friends, or family. Although I do want to be married again and have that very special person with me. She is already picked. She is the most amazing woman in the universe. I love her so much and I care about her children just about as much. So buying the house was not in vain.

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