When I was a high school senior, I made a promise to myself that I would never live alone. I decided I would always find a roommate, or a boyfriend, or a husband – I was just not the “live-alone” type. I jumped at every unfamiliar noise and would never fail to convince myself someone had broken into the house if I was left alone for even just a few hours. With graduation in the near future, I knew I would soon be moving away from home. I was aware that this would indubitably place me in a position of independence, but I figured that if I always had someone to live with I could share that independence and responsibility. Nothing felt scarier than the thought of living alone, and I wanted to be safe.
It might seem absurd, then, that just two years later I am finishing my second year at a university in Scotland, over 4,000 miles and an ocean away from home. For someone afraid of independence, I did not pick an easy transition into being on my own. But perhaps more unexpectedly, I am also in my seventh month of living alone.
As you can imagine, living alone was not my first choice. After poor planning and an unusual string of events, I finished my first year of University in a situation where all of my friends had made flat arrangements for the next year and I had not. Having spent my first year struggling to transition into being independent and consequently being plagued by constant anxieties, I was terrified to realize that my only remaining option for living arrangements was to look into single flats. But here I am, seven months later, living on my own. And you know what? No one has followed me home to murder me. I have not choked on my dinner and died because there were no flatmates to give me the Heimlich maneuver. I have not burned down my flat. I have realized that living alone does not place you in a constant state of danger and vulnerability.
Independent living does present certain challenges, and demands extra attention to responsibility. If I forget my key (something I did on a weekly basis during the first year) there is no one who can let me in. If I leave without turning off the stove, there is no one else who will use the kitchen, notice, and stop me from burning down my flat. And, since alcohol is a prominent part of student life in the UK, every time I go out with my friends I am aware that if I end up drinking a little too much, no one will be at my flat to know if I’ve made it home safely, or to make sure I have not stumbled into a wall and seriously hurt myself. There is no one there to act as an insurance policy for mistakes, and no one else but myself to blame.
And I have made mistakes:
One morning I woke to a weird tapping noise coming from my utility closet. I decided to ignore it, shrugging it off as my overactive imagination, and left for the library. That night I had a few friends over and they offered to help me check out the noise. When we opened the closet, we realized the boiler was leaking and the closet was already starting to flood.
I have come into my flat after having had a few drinks on a night out and accidentally kicked a shoe that proceeded to wedge itself in the front door and leave it ajar. It took me a while before I noticed.
I found a menacing flying bug in my flat the other night, and instead of trying to kill it I barricaded myself in my bedroom and hoped for the best.
I am not the poster child for living alone (I have too many dirty dishes and clothes lying around in just about every room). But I’m managing surprisingly well. And I have learned a lot about myself along the way.
I have learned that I still need to work on being independent. I need to practice cooking and cleaning, but I also need to learn how to be a better friend to myself. When you are overwhelmed or sad and living alone, there is no one there to hug you and tell you things will be all right. It is easy to allow yourself to drift down the path of constant stress and self-hate, but you have to be the one to direct yourself elsewhere.
But I have also learned that needing to work on being independent does not mean that I am incapable of doing so. Just because I want to be safe does not mean that I need to take baby steps to get to where I want to be. Two years ago, I thought being left alone in my rural Texas home for a few hours was the scariest thing imaginable. Then one year later, I moved to Scotland, where I had my own room in a flat with five other students. I developed sleep problems from the stress of all the change; I consistently struggled to fall asleep before 3 a.m., or to wake up before noon. I overslept countless classes and also had occasional spells of sleep paralysis. But now, yet another year later, I am living alone. I wake up on time every morning, and my only problems have been a few slip-ups here and there.
I think I can call that growing up.
Most importantly, I have learned that living alone does not mean that I am on my own. My parents are just a FaceTime call away and my friends are there for me when my closet is flooding because I ignored my leaking boiler. The world is inarguably a scary place, but growing up does not mean you need to do everything by yourself. It is just about trusting yourself enough to know that you can.
Now, instead of forever looking for a flatmate, or a boyfriend, or a husband, I will focus on looking for situations that challenge me. And I can do this with the knowledge that my fears do not need to dictate the way I live my life.