I love living alone.

22 Dec

I love living alone. I love coming home and not having to talk to anyone. I love being able to read or write or sit and think without having to take anyone else into account. For eight hours a day (at least) I am at the service of others, doing things for others, listening to others, helping others, and it’s so nice to just come home and be still.

I have two colleagues who, bless their souls, go on and on about all the people they have to answer to and the mouths to feed and the blended families to accommodate over Christmas. Just listening to them makes my head spin.

I recently fielded the very common question, “Oh don’t you get lonely living alone?” As always, my answer is “Not at all.” And I wonder, “my God, don’t you get sick of all the people around you?” but I know that’s not a socially acceptable response.  I found this lovely essay that expresses my view very well, and I reproduce, for your reading pleasure, this excerpt:

I have never given much thought to living alone, because it wasn’t something I decided upon, it happened to me naturally. What with a childhood amid a vast family, then the convent, I was rarely alone. I shared a bedroom with my sister, life with my brothers and mother. One set of grandparents lived next door, the others across the road. Many aunts, uncles and cousins were only a yell away. The convent was black with nuns, its dormitories and classrooms packed with other girls. I left home when I was 21.

Almost immediately, I fell in love with a man who was, vaguely, married. An open marriage, it would be called today. For a decade or so, I wanted to be available for him, so I moved into a bedsit above a salt beef bar in St John’s Wood. That was 1964. I was 26, and I have lived alone since.

I very much liked being in love and repeated it all too frequently. But I also hated it. I have a photograph of myself aged two, in a pram outside Melbourne zoo. My chubby legs are battling to get out: the look of struggle on my baby face is tremendous. That is how I felt each time I fell in love and spent extended periods with the beloved object. Often it was boredom: hours spent doing what the beloved object wanted, rather than pursuing the thousand things juggling in my own head. When I was in love and thought of marriage, I always came to feel like that child in the pram.

Tussling with this incapacity came to an abrupt end once I started to work. I had been raised to think of work as a prelude to husband, children, home. Once I started Virago, in 1972, and then, from 1982, working at Chatto, too, boredom vanished, and the days and years fled by.

What do I like about living alone? The greatest blessing is the number of friendships you can indulge in, the number of people you can love. I love to hear their stories, follow their lives. This can become frenetic but you can always cross through a night in the diary with BED in capital letters and there is no one to say nay to that. I wouldn’t have minded having the children I could have had, but I have insufficient self-esteem to need any duplication of myself in the world. In truth, I have fretted more about my friends, my work and about understanding what is going on in the world than I ever have about failing to “wax fat and multiply”, as the Catholic marriage service instructs.

Living alone means freedom, never being bored, going to bed at eight if I feel like it, feeding myself as I like, thinking, pottering and yelling at the radio without feeling a fool. I am never lonely as long as I am at home. I can decorate my house to suit my eccentricities – not everyone wants to live with 200 jugs and thousands of books. Every object in my home reminds me of one loved person or another. Knowing all my friends are dotted around, going about their business but available at the end of a phone is enough.

There are, and have been, great tediums. Men – Auberon Waugh and Lord Longford spring to mind – have occasionally insisted to my face that I was lesbian. I felt this to be an insult to women who are lesbians as well as to myself. I hate getting invitations addressed to “Carmen Callil & Friend” and am often tempted to bring my dog.

But there is so much to do, and to think about, and so many friends to love. They are my rock. If I am in trouble, they help me, and I don’t – and never have – worried about dying alone, because everyone does.

Carmen Callil is a publisher and author, and founder of Virago Press.


One Response to “I love living alone.”

  1. Sandra Hexner June 20, 2017 at 11:55 am #

    I absolutely love your Townhouse Turnaround blog. This post really hit home because I have been living alone for the last 5 years. It was a huge adjustment at first, but I totally agree that I have complete freedom and my home is simply everything me. Thanks for putting my exact thoughts into words.

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