When I was a kid, the only woman I knew who lived alone was my aunt Margie. Although Margie was nice enough in a peppermint-scented, pilly-sweatered kind of way, I figured she lived alone because she had no other choice: She wasn’t pretty enough to get a husband or cool enough to have friends or lucky enough to be a mom. Living alone might be better than being dead, I thought, but just barely.
I had no desire to ever live alone myself, and I didn’t think I’d ever have to. I moved from my parents’ house to a college dorm room, and from my dorm to an apartment with my first husband, and when my teenage marriage broke up, I moved in with a group of friends.
Eventually, though, I found myself too old to keep labeling my cheese but not ready to move in with my adorable but oh-so-tenuous new boyfriend. And so at twenty-three I signed a lease on my first solo apartment. I was thrilled to finally be embarking on a phase that was defined by nothing more than my own moods, schedule, and agenda. But I also dreaded discovering that, alone with my own soul, I’d find nothing very compelling. What if even I didn’t want to be with me?
It was one of the first pedestrian chores of having my own place that ended up banishing my worry: I had to paint the walls, a job that clearly fell to me alone. But at the same time, I realized, no one else had any right to decide what color I painted those walls, or at what hour, or how I configured the rest of the space around them.
I remember so vividly what a thrill it was to transform the room that I can still see the gorgeous color I chose, the palest shell pink, spreading like a blush of excitement across those walls. There was an important revelation in that moment: Living alone meant pleasing nobody, not even for one second, but myself.
Of course, there were lonely moments too, and those filled with terror: As keenly as I remember the pleasure of blasting “Desperado” for five days running after a painful breakup, I remember how desolate I felt lying alone on the floor crying over him. I recall how horrible I felt upon discovering a mouse swimming desperately in my toilet. (If you must know, I shut my eyes and -- yes, shoot me -- I flushed.) How terrifying it was to wake up from a nightmare at 3 a.m. and feel there was no one on earth I had a right to call at that hour to comfort me.
There was also a sense that I was doing this until something better -- i.e., a permanent man -- came along. But while I was waiting, I was also amassing important life skills available only to those who live alone. How to single-handedly haul a dresser up five flights of stairs, say, or how not to eat all the ice cream in your freezer. Where to fortify a door so no one can get in, and when to kick that guy in your bed out.
When it’s only you within those pink walls, on the peaceful sunny days as well as the fretful nights, you get to know yourself in a way you don’t, you just can’t, in any other situation. There’s no one else to blame the mess on, to absorb the anxiety, to break the silence. You’re forced to confront your own weaknesses as well as your strengths, to figure out exactly what you want out of living with a lover or a friend (if you end up wanting that at all), and why being alone may be just perfect.
Due to love or money or some combination of the two, I moved into and out of my own apartments throughout my twenties, finally getting remarried and having my first child in the whirlwind eighteen months before my thirtieth birthday. Except for a week or two when I’ve been traveling, I haven’t lived alone since.
But here’s the important thing: I know that I could. I know that -- undoubtedly like my aunt Margie -- I’d like it. I even know what color I’d paint the walls.
PAMELA REDMOND SATRAN is the author of the novel "The Possibility of You" and the forthcoming humor book "Rabid," as well as a creator of the website nameberry.com. A mother of three, she intends to look and act thirty-seven forever.
This piece is excerpted from Glamour's "Thirty Things Every Woman Should Have and Should Know By The Time She's 30."
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