Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Ramblings: Living On Your Own

As I’ve described before on here, I left home at 17 and moved in with an unsuitable older man who was 24 years my senior. I wouldn’t recommend this as a course of action for anyone. It felt like an escape from the constraints of the parental home but I didn’t realise I was actually going to lose more independence as time went on and I’d be dragged into a claustrophobic nightmare of a relationship for the next twelve years.

I was desperate for an adult identity and hated being a teenager. My parents were openly disapproving and condemning of my sexuality as I entered my teenage years and the atmosphere at home was uncomfortable at times and infuriating at others. From the age of ten, I wanted to fast forward time and be an adult, with a job, a home and no parents. I grew up being very independent and was frequently praised for this but as I grew older it became a frustrating time as I longed to get away, any way possible. Being independent became constraining and restrictive.

My mother has a cat who hates to be cornered. She’s a handsome elderly ginger cat (a rarity in the cat world, most ginger cats are male). She’s happy to be stroked and petted and will gladly follow you around but if you try to pick her up or hold her, touch her in a place she doesn’t like to be touched or fence her in, she goes a little bit crazy. I feel an affinity with that cat.

I always craved solitude as a child and as I grew older and was allowed to be left in the house alone would find excuses to be left alone. I’d invent reasons why I couldn’t join the family on outings, refused to go on holidays and would even feign illness to get a day of school so I could be alone in the house. I used to find that if I didn’t spend a certain amount of time alone each week, I’d get crabby and irritable and crave my own company.
Luckily I'm from a small family. I have only one brother and we all always craved our own company to an extent. My father would be sitting reading, my mother would be watching TV or knitting and we'd be in our respective bedrooms listening to music or reading, alone. My idea of hell is to have a huge extended family. It feels like an oppresive thought.

I hated team sports or group work at school and although I also craved company and was often garrulous I paradoxically wanted to be alone too. It wasn’t that I was depressed or shy. I just liked being on my own. It wasn’t loneliness, although I did want attention and friendship and didn’t always feel I had enough, it was a desire to be by myself. I still hate team work and if there’s a work or college project to complete I’d always rather do it alone. It’s quicker and needs less negotiation. I can just get on and suit myself.

Given all this, it is perhaps surprising that I didn’t actually live alone until I was 28. I’d split up with the older man and after a difficult extraction of myself from his world, I rented a small flat in the city centre. I was petrified. One of his ploys to keep me with him was to convince me I was useless and unable to manage without him. He paid all the bills (with my money) and kept my bank card and would often reiterate to me how hopeless I’d be without him. He played on my fair colouring and called me the dumb blond.

I wasn’t of course and it came as a shock that I was able to manage money very well, pay bills, negotiate household repairs (but not do them myself, of course) and entertain myself with my own company. It was liberating to have my own rooms where everything was mine. I painted the whole flat within a month in a total frenzy of decorating. I was drunk on the thrill of choosing my own paint and buying things I liked. It was totally liberating. I chose things that he would have hated but which I loved and the flat was beautiful, if a little chilly and damp. It was airy and full of books which felt perfect.

I wasn’t happy of course, having been in a relationship for 12 years it’s hard to be single and I felt like I lacked a limb. I quickly sought out and found another partner and met the next one within a short space of time. I moved in with him after six months and left my flat behind and abandoned the luxury of independence and living alone for love. It didn’t feel like I was losing anything at the time. I felt it was a practical move and I was very happy to be living with someone else again. The relationship began well (as they usually do) and lasted a good few years. It was cheaper and more practical to live with someone else too. Living alone is expensive. You use as much heat and light as two. Food is cheaper for two and the small reduction in Council Tax single people get doesn’t really equate to good value.

 In many ways it was great, but not so much in others. I was back to spending lots of time compromising on things and feeling I needed more time alone but equally enjoyed the company and the relationship was good. This relationship wasn’t oppressive, either. He worked shifts as a fireman; I worked shifts as a nurse. It was either feast or famine. We either saw each other all the time or very little at all, it depended how our rotas coincided. I liked this. It felt like the best of both worlds. He wasn’t so condemning or judgmental either as my parents and the older man had been before him.

When we finally split up after 7 years it felt earth shattering. I felt totally adrift and knew inside that this time it wasn’t a temporary period of solitude heading my way to be tided over with a rented apartment, but a more semi-permanent state.

I decided to buy a house and after a period being nurtured by my closest friend, bought this house. It was a daunting prospect and I felt shivers of panic, but also it got me through the break up. I’m good at home making. It felt horrific but also positive to be living alone again. It wasn’t easy at first. I was 35, had spent only six months of my adult life living alone and was decidedly apprehensive.

I amazed myself with how quickly I adapted. My father was ill by this time and dying and I had no one to turn to for help with minor household repairs. I also, again, had no one to please but myself. No one disapproved if I went to bed at 7pm or took lengthy afternoon siestas. If I left the house tidy in the morning it was tidy when I came home. Everything in the house is designed to please me. It’s all chosen with me in mind. I haven’t had to compromise or think what other people want. Naturally I have a lot of books everywhere again.

There are downsides to living alone of course, but I’ve definitely come to enjoy the positives over the past 4 and a half years. I’ve had a couple of short relationships which weren’t so great and am now in one which is pretty bloody fantastic and I feel content with what I have. My house is small and my mortgage statements show that I own about 5 bricks and a window so far. I have negative equity and bought at a bad time but who cares. It’s mine and it’s lovely.

Maybe had I not lived alone then I wouldn’t have ended up drinking so much or having periods of promiscuity but that’s life. You sometimes do things which are bad for you when you’ve got no one to keep you in check, but you also do lots of things which are good for you too when you have the freedom to.

The big question is would I live with someone else again and the answer is: of course I would. I can easily imagine living with Paul when the right time comes. It doesn’t scare me at all and doesn't seem to daunt him either. I’m sure we’d orbit each other in the most beautiful patterns. I think it maybe should scare him though, as I do like things very tidy and my rules are quite hard to fathom. As long as he remembers what order the tins are positioned in the cupboard he’ll be fine. It’s the consequences of living alone. You can get a bit particular.

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