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Is a life alone psychologically feasible?
February 10, 2009 2:16 PM   Subscribe

Is a life alone psychologically feasible?

I used to be one of those procrastinating lonely guys who lamented his singleton status, but I made it past that stage, and now, a few years down the line, I'm in a long-term relationship with a more-or-less great woman. And I hate it.

In retrospect, I bought into the hype surrounding relationships: everybody had one, so I wanted one too. But it turns out I'm nowhere near as interested in sex and romance as I thought I would be.

I'm facing up to the fact that this relationship has run its course, and that it would be wrong for me to carry on pretending. I'm having more trouble facing up to the implication that a life on my own is what I truly desire.

What am I setting myself up for? Am I destined to float away into my own selfishness? Do people who live alone by choice inevitably come to regret it?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (29 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
 
What am I setting myself up for? Am I destined to float away into my own selfishness? Do people who live alone by choice inevitably come to regret it?

The first thing you'll discover is that you're your own person again, and you can do all the things that you've been missing out on because of your relationship responsibilities.

I'm not sure what 'floating away into your own selfishness' means. Being single doesn't mean you're selfish, in fact you may be more selfish by clinging to a relationship you know is doomed.

People who live alone by choice are as happy as they choose to make themselves, generalizing about this group is futile.
posted by mullingitover at 2:22 PM on February 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


Naw, there are plenty people who try all kinds of relationships and then end up realizing they're happiest without the constant contact. There's nothing wrong with that. But if you're not happy, or if you do notice yourself becoming mean because of it, then it's time to rethink.

What you may be looking for is a relationship that lets you be alone sometimes. That's kind of what my wife and I have. We love the crap out of each other, but we both have parts of our lives that don't include each other.
posted by roll truck roll at 2:22 PM on February 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


Do people who live alone by choice inevitably come to regret it?

Not to be glib, but you can always change your mind.
posted by desjardins at 2:23 PM on February 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


Please see this comment in a thread that might also be worth a read.

But just because you're not feeling it with her doesn't mean you won't feel it with someone else.
posted by meerkatty at 2:24 PM on February 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


No, and no.

You're ending one relationship - why do you think you're going to spend the rest of your life alone?
posted by puckish at 2:25 PM on February 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


Everyone ends up living alone sooner or later, no matter what they wanted. A lot of people seem to enjoy it. You might just have a head start by being self-aware earlier than most.

Do what makes you happy, and don't be so hard on yourself for wanting it.
posted by rokusan at 2:26 PM on February 10, 2009


Everyone ends up living alone sooner or later, no matter what they wanted.

Or dying first. Don't forget dying.
posted by The World Famous at 2:30 PM on February 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


There was a This American Life a while back featuring a woman who was living alone and was quite happy.
posted by phunniemee at 2:31 PM on February 10, 2009


Here's a previous question, which, while not exactly the same as what you're asking, touches on some of the same issues, and you can find many perspectives therein, both for and against being alone. (On preview, the same thread meerkatty linked to, but it's rather unfair of meerkatty to single out one comment without taking the entire thread into account.)

Just to reiterate some of what I said there, I'm in my mid-30s and choose to live alone, and I certainly do not regret it. I won't tell you that I'm never lonely, but it's rare, and to me far outweighed by the freedom that living alone affords me. I don't think I've "float[ed] away into my own selfishness." I have friends and a reasonable social life. I haven't become a hermit, shunning all human contact, if that's what you're asking.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 2:37 PM on February 10, 2009


Being alone doesn't necessarily imply that you are "lonely" (or "selfish"). There are plenty of people who can live alone and be perfectly fine (because they know how to keep themselves stimulated at a level that is healthy for them.) There are plenty of other people who cannot (live alone in a healthy manner).
posted by jmnugent at 2:38 PM on February 10, 2009


There's a philosopher who said that the most terrifying truth most people face is the fact that they have control over their own life.

This includes whether you are with someone (or not) and what you allow yourself to feel (or not). Whatever you decide now, remember it isn't set in stone and there's no deadline. I second the poster above who said you can always change your mind- there's no right/wrong answer.
posted by variella at 2:41 PM on February 10, 2009 [15 favorites]


Well, let's be clear here: you aren't asking if it's psychologically feasible to live alone, i.e. completely deprived of human contact. The answer there is "Not and maintain what most people would call 'sanity.'" People kept in complete isolation for extended periods of time rarely enjoy the experience and are often different people when they come out of it. Prisoners and ascetic hermits come to mind. Isolation is actually a pretty effective form of punishment/torture for most people. A certain amount of human contact is all but essential for staying mentally oriented.

But I don't think that's what you're getting at. What you are asking is if it's possible to be a well-adjusted adult who is not in, and has no desire for, a permanent "significant" relationship. The answer there is "Absolutely." Some people, either because they're spectacularly bad at relationships or unusually good at being single, are better off that way.

Make no mistake: there are things about yourself that you cannot learn outside the context of a committed relationship. But there are also things that you cannot learn about yourself while in a committed relationship. Likewise, there are things that being married with kids lets you do that being single does not. If nothing else, being married opens up social--and sometimes even professional--options that being single precludes, but the reverse can also be true.

That being said, it is entirely possible to choose singleness out of selfishness, i.e. to be so completely self-absorbed that sharing your life with someone in a serious way is not worth it to you. If you find yourself wanting the benefits of committed relationships, particularly the sex that tends to go with them, but not wanting the responsibilities that inevitably go along here, well, yeah, you may just more selfish than you'd like. But if you're conscious of what you're doing without/trading for (I don't say "sacrificing" because there are indeed benefits to being single) your singleness and you are okay with that, then a diagnosis of selfishness makes less sense.

As such, if you are going to remain single, make sure you capitalize on the benefits that go along with it. I'm currently single and I'm doing my best to take on responsibilities in my community that marrieds with kids usually don't have time for, e.g. coordinating ministry activities, bookkeeping and logistical work for my church, pursuing an advanced degree. But if you're just staying single so you have more time for your own pleasures, than yeah, you may be a more selfish person than you're comfortable admitting.

Ultimately, the answer you're looking for is "No, just because most people do wind up getting married or engaging in a series of "committed" relationships does not mean that you cannot be normal without them." As long as the choices you make here are made with your eyes open, both being single or being in a relationship equally valid modes of life.
posted by valkyryn at 2:41 PM on February 10, 2009 [7 favorites]


I've been a solitary person my entire life. The only relationships (not counting friends - have lots of those) I've ever had were ones that I've stumbled into. Have no regrets in that department, and thankfully they all ended (more or less) amicably. Some people are simply built that way. Maybe that's you. Maybe it isnt.

I have, however, come to realize that one needs to know oneself before you can truly be with another person. Well, to make it work anyway. Maybe you just need some time to find out who you are, without the pressure of also trying to be with someone else. Nothing wrong with that. If you discover that you are really are more comfortable being solitary (dont use "alone", thats depressing and inaccurate unless you are a hermit) then embrace it. If not, then hopefully your bit of self-reflection will have made you a better person for a future relationship.

There's a huge difference in feeling or being alone, and preferring your own company.
posted by elendil71 at 2:47 PM on February 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


What am I setting myself up for? Am I destined to float away into my own selfishness? Do people who live alone by choice inevitably come to regret it?

Eh, there are a ton of options here and most are okay. I'm sorry you're in a relationship that you're not enjoying. It seems like the first thing for you to do is get out of that relationship if you can't turn it into one that pleases you.

The next thing, I suppose is to figure out whether it was THE relationship that was the problem or just ANY relationship that would be a problem or... and this sounds weird but hear me out, if you're just not a satisfied person generally no matter what your status is.

You see, if you're just fidgety whether you're partnered or single, you might find more benefits to being partnered (longer life expectancy, companionship, a witness to your life) than you might otherwise. If you truly enjoy being alone in a way that you just do not enjoy being in a relationship, then sure, being alone is a valid life choice and one you should pursue.

I like being alone, though I'm also in a partnered relationship. It took me a while to figure out what I really wanted, but me and my boyfriend live a few hours away from each other, see each other regularly but infrequently [every other week or so] and spend a lot of time living our own lives when we're not together. This works for us. I have to deal with a certain amount of "when are the two of you going to move in together?" questioning from well-meaning people, but I know what I want and for now this is pretty much picture-perfect IT so I just say "not anytime soon" and let my happiness speak for itself.

The only reason I bring this up is that it may be that the answer for you isn't being truly single and isn't being truly partnered but some combination in between and that's totally okay too. Breaking up with one person who wants something specific does not mean splitting from the world of relationships, though when you first leave a bad relationship there's a certain excitment about being single. If that sticks, go with it. If you decide you've met someone who you like to be with, go with that. If your friends give you a hard time, find new ones. Second guessing your choices is a bad way to enjoy your life in the present, so move towards your own personal happiness and don't worry too much about how your happiness compares with other peoples'. Best of luck.
posted by jessamyn at 3:31 PM on February 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


You're in a relationship that you're unhappy with, obviously for reasons of things inherent to relationships.

Who can blame you? Relationships and marriages and having children are necessities for some, but at their core, they are illusions—utter fabrications meant to trick us into thinking that the human condition desires, even requires, other people.

The original question: Is a life alone psychologically feasible?

Yes, it is. A life alone has to be. Such is the only thing human beings know.
posted by trotter at 3:38 PM on February 10, 2009


As such, if you are going to remain single, make sure you capitalize on the benefits that go along with it. I'm currently single and I'm doing my best to take on responsibilities in my community that marrieds with kids usually don't have time for, e.g. coordinating ministry activities, bookkeeping and logistical work for my church, pursuing an advanced degree. But if you're just staying single so you have more time for your own pleasures, than yeah, you may be a more selfish person than you're comfortable admitting.

There's absolutely nothing selfish about it, even if you don't spend your free-time volunteering. Pursue what makes you most happy in life. If that's not a relationship, then so be it. There's no need to start bookkeeping to justify your decision.
posted by Relic at 3:57 PM on February 10, 2009


You said that you're "a few years down the line". Don't know how old that is, but it does come into the picture. You've asked if it psychologically feasible. But there's a physical aspect of this as well that is painfully evident as soon as you're old enough to have an increasing number of disabling illnesses: who's going to help with the mundane tasks, needs, chores, etc, if or when you're laid up for even just a few days? That is the lamest (/pun) part about being alone. "...In sickness and in health" seems a very valuable part of committed partnership, or at least extremely convenient, and one that is easily taken for granted in days of healthy function. Personally, I couldn't imagine partnering with someone just for that reason alone. I'd want there to be love, attraction, affection, et al, of course. Just something to think about.

As for now, one way to know is simply to try it out. Being alone doesn't mean you're doomed to "break" your present interpersonal nature. Once you're there, it seems to me that you'll either get into a groove or feel like something important is missing.

Is a life alone psychologically feasible? Sure it is. Is it what you want? Smoke it and see.
posted by buzzv at 4:02 PM on February 10, 2009


I'm facing up to the fact that this relationship has run its course, and that it would be wrong for me to carry on pretending. I'm having more trouble facing up to the implication that a life on my own is what I truly desire.

It seems quite possible that a life without your current relationship is what you desire. The fact that you're unhappy in this relationship doesn't mean you wouldn't be happy in a different one. You're taking two separate decisions and turning them into one, in your head.

If you're unhappy in your current relationship, end it. After that, you can decide if you want to be alone, or if you're interested in a relationship with some other woman.
posted by number9dream at 4:09 PM on February 10, 2009


I'm single by choice. I consciously avoid dating and relationships, and have done so - with varying rationales - for about the last 8 years.

Sometimes I'm lonely. I worry that I may be damaging my ability to be happy in the long run by working so hard on being happy as a single person, even though everything around me tells me that that won't be feasible as I get older. (I'm 32.) But on the other hand, the idea of getting into a relationship, even a very casual one, makes me want to recoil.

So. My experience says: I'm not filled glorious love and light, but overall, my life is pretty good and I'm mostly happy most of the time. I have a good job, and pretty good friends. My life is very much within my control, and I like that. I don't want to deal with the unpredictability and incredible lows that relationships bring, and because i've never truly experienced the highs - and I don't believe i ever will, for various reasons, - its easy for me to prefer stability. But I'm definitely becoming a more selfish person (in a 'macro' life-goals way; in a micro way i'm still a pretty giving person on a day to day basis), and I think I'm turning into a person with weird sensitivities and insensitivies. (i.e. I am quite resilient and have a thick skin in order to handle alone-ness, but I think i'm getting worse at recognizing my own feelings and behaviours, because there isn't a day to day reason to.)

I am sad sometimes, but not in a depressed way. Just being a little sad is sort of my 'neutral' mode, and it never feels like its about anything in particular. Its easy to feel defeated when there isn't anyone in your corner.

Anyway. Maybe that helps?

(Actually - maybe that just helped me. Huh.)
posted by Kololo at 4:13 PM on February 10, 2009 [4 favorites]


I've been single for about a year and a half, and completely happy. Though many people always ask me such things as: why am I still single at 34? How do I manage solitude any given day and, specially, on Valentine's or Mother's Days? When am I going to "grow up"/"settle down" and find somebody nice and have kids? and, of course, if it doesn't hurt to death being celibate... my answer is that being single, FOR ME, is fabulous. I don't mind being referred to as a loner o a spinster, because I am not alone (since I have myself and I like myself a lot) then, I have no problem at all with the idea of spending the rest of my life without a partner, rather the opposite, it's exciting to think of the great possibility I have to do, go, choose and feel just whatever I want, and above all, I think: why stay in a relationship that has run its course and that you hate with a more-or-less great woman when you are nowhere near as interested in sex and romance. You could go for much more than that! And I definetely mean ON YOUR OWN; though, I get the feeling that in fact you just haven't found what you're looking for in a romantic relationship with the person you are with, so... move on! Don't doubt yourself and enjoy singleness, there's still a chance someday, somewhere around the corner you find someone who makes you change your mind or forget all your worries, good luck!
posted by mooney at 5:09 PM on February 10, 2009



The first thing you'll discover is that you're your own person again, and you can do all the things that you've been missing out on because of your relationship responsibilities.


Some people actually DON'T "miss out" on things because of "relationship responsibilities".

I'm trying really hard here to think of something I *don't* do because of my relationship of 5 years. Oh, wait, that's because I still do everything, and more besides, because I acquired new interests because of the relationship.

to the OP: I don't think the problem is that you're destined to live alone forever. There isn't a time limit. People date in nursing homes. I think, however, that you may have stopped working on your relationship, buying into the myth that once you become encoupled, everything is great and you don't have to do anything else if you are TRULY HAPPY *cue birds and flowers*. If the woman you are with is honestly more-or-less great, it sounds like you two just let it founder.

But, if you really want to be on your own, then have at it. I suspect, though, it's just that the relationship has run its course. If, however, you're in your late 80s or something, then maybe you might have to resign yourself to aloneness.
posted by micawber at 5:28 PM on February 10, 2009


I'm having more trouble facing up to the implication that a life on my own is what I truly desire.

That's telling you something. It sounds like you want to be out of this relationship, but not necessarily alone. If you really wanted to be alone, you'd be thrilled at the thought, but you're not. You're just bothered by the societal definition of what a relationship has to be, instead of what you want it to be.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:39 PM on February 10, 2009


Talk to some old ladies who can't find many people who want to hear how happy they are now that their husbands are dead and their children are gone - not that they didn't love them and they wouldn't want to change a thing, and "Harry and I had many wonderful years together but"....
posted by Lesser Shrew at 6:43 PM on February 10, 2009


There's a fine line between relationship-building based on neurotic neediness and relationships that truly enrich one's life.

Anyway, it's completely psychologically feasible to live one's life "alone"--i.e. without a romantic involvement.

But "alone" without a small, close number of dependable friends or any other noteworthy social contact? There's quality of life as well.

Many, many people who live their days without a romantic partner have other nigh-familial relationships, such as a pet(s). There's a reason why medical studies consistently find that individuals with partners or pets simply live longer, too. Just consider what "alone" actually, really means.
posted by Ky at 6:47 PM on February 10, 2009


Single is not the same thing as alone.

You can have a life full of people who love you even if you do decide not to pursue a lifelong monogamous romantic relationship. Conversely, you can be in such a relationship and still feel very lonely. That might be what you're feeling in your current relationship. End it, get on with your life, and make decisions about future relationships as they come.
posted by decathecting at 7:33 PM on February 10, 2009


I've done both the serial monogamist LTR thing, and the longterm singledom thing - right now, I think I'm up to I think around 4-5 years of singledom, and am not bothered enough about it to make anything but the tiniest efforts towards changing my status. If something falls into my lap, OK, but there's no active trying to find dates, pimp myself online, go to pickup bars or anything like that.

As others have suggested, you sound like you're making the mistake of assuming that not being in a relationship = being alone. In my experience, the opposite is almost more true: I have more involvement with friends & a bunch of different social circles now than probably at any time within longterm relationships.

The thing is, we have limited spare time, energy & resources, and people in couples almost inevitably end up spending greater & greater proportions of these on their significant other, to the detriment of their wider social circles. You could call this "being alone with one other person" if you like.

Conversely, with more freedom to socialise more widely & spend your time where you - and only you - think best, you might just find yourself less alone, and with a more varied & resilient social ecosystem to thrive in.

Your mileage may vary, of course, but while I don't think badly of my relationships, nor do I feel any great urge to return to that way of life.
posted by UbuRoivas at 10:00 PM on February 10, 2009


I think it can be done. I have friends that do not have "primary relationships", but have tons of confidants and actual friends. They aren't lonely; they have deep, loving friendships and people that they can chat about day to day stuff.

And there are tons of people who have primary relationships and are still lonely. And as others have said, you can always change your mind later.
posted by gt2 at 10:34 PM on February 10, 2009


I think others have done a good job of pointing out that you've got two issues going on here. 1) Your current relationship might be fading out does not necessarily mean 2) You are hard-wired for singledom for the rest of your life.

That said, it always amazes me the kind of assumptions people make about you if you're single and in your 30's. And I'm a guy -- I'm sure it's an even more obnoxious phenomenon for women. Would I like to meet someone and fall in love again? Sure. But I've seen far too many family members and friends make the most idiotic compromises in order to simply be in a relationship, not to mention marriages that are doomed to fail spectacularly or worse, slowly grind both participants down into sullen, dull shells of their former selves.

Also, I have no desire to have children. Zilch. If I did, I'd probably be singing a much different tune.
posted by bardic at 1:32 AM on February 11, 2009


Count another in the "I have different relationship needs, which include but are not limited to significant personal space and time" category. I have done the long-term, live-together, get-dogs relationship. It wasn't for me. I found myself trying to explain to my partner that maybe separate bedrooms would be good for us. When really, I wanted a separate location.

Sometimes, like Garbo, I just vant to be alone.
posted by greekphilosophy at 9:53 AM on February 11, 2009


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