Yesterday I had lunch with a big gang of my old colleagues. They're a groovy and sunny bunch of 20-somethings. One of my favourites, Xavier, told me that since we'd last seen each other he'd moved from an inner-city share house to his own seventh-floor beachside apartment. By his own admission, the rent was so high he couldn't afford to eat but, he said, it was worth it. I got a faraway look in my eye. Imagining Xavier. In his apartment. Alone. Doing nothing.
And I got nostalgic for aloneness. I have about 15 minutes a day where I'm truly alone, and that's when I'm in the car on the way to work at 5am. I really miss being alone. I miss time. I can't even go to the bathroom uninterrupted. In fact, as I write this piece, one of my "housemates" has taken a break from collecting keys in his trike basket and is prodding my foot every five seconds or so with a pair of kid-safe scissors. It may come as no surprise that this is supremely annoying. This never happened in the good old days when I happily ticked the "spinster" category on the census form.
More Australians than ever before are living alone, and before you're quick to conjure images of overweight, bearded ladies with cats, eating out of open cans on the ironing board, consider the figure of almost one in four. Yep. A whole quarter of the population are returning home to find the kitchen exactly as they left it.
So why do we feel so sorry for them? People who live alone say they often feel marginalised and looked upon with pity, as they have yet to hit the conventional "life jackpot" of partner/kids/someone to steer the Winnebago with. My gran lived to be 86 and never remarried after her husband passed away when she was only 51. That's 35 years of meals for one. When I asked her why she never hooked up again, she said, "Why the hell would I want to do that?"
Living alone seems to be the ultimate in thumbing your nose at society. To live your own life and be accountable only to yourself is to shirk the responsibility of becoming a wife/mother or husband/father. What happens to people who don't want these titles?
I got nostalgic for aloneness. I have about 15 minutes a day where I'm truly alone, and that's when I'm in the car on the way to work at 5am
Ten years ago, I was living alone with two cats and loving it. If my nearest and dearest were worried, they never said anything to me about it - then again, I was probably too busy arranging my CDs in alphabetical order or high-fiving my gran to worry. I've always loved living alone. As soon as I could, I moved into my own place. I'd cook and organise and nap and read the newspaper cover to cover. I fell completely in love with who I was.
I also liked how being alone allowed me to truly be myself. Who could be mad at the wet towels on the bathroom floor? Or dinners consisting only of brown rice and tuna? Or watching back-to-back episodes of Survivor? No-one, that's who. Bliss! I spent many a cask-wine-fuelled evening in the then-revolutionary "chat rooms", just to see what was doing. I was mad for it. It didn't matter that a simple conversation consisting of "Hi, how are you? What do you do for a living?" took about 45 minutes via dial-up modem; being in the midst of it let me feel as if I was at Central Perk from Friends, without even having to put a bra on.
I worry that if I hadn't been plucked from my singular existence, it would only have been a matter of time before emergency crews would have been fighting through stacks of newspapers and stockpiled tins of chickpeas, only to realise that the only way to get me out was via cherry picker. If you're lucky enough to enjoy your own company, living alone can be a slippery slope to Hermitville, population: you. Having no-one to answer to and be responsible for can be as addictive as crack cocaine and, as anyone footing the rent for a one-bedroom inner-city apartment will attest, just as expensive.
Living with people (my partner and two little ones) means I have to keep myself nice and live like a normal person. But sometimes I crave the good old days, and I get jealous of those who have a little flat somewhere and a car with no baby seats in it. Those living that life right now should enjoy every minute because chances are it won't last.
One day, like me, you'll find yourself begging your tiny housemate for some privacy, with aforementioned housemate alleviating your distress with questions like, "Will a laser beam help?"
Chrissie Swan is the co-host of Mix 101.1's breakfast show in Melbourne and 3pm Pick-Up nationally.
This article first appeared in Sunday Life.