I recently started doing something I'd never done before: live alone. I grew up with my parents and two older brothers. When I went away to school, I had a roommate in the dorms, and then later, I lived with friends in off-campus housing. I lived in a dorm again during grad school, and my girlfriend practically lived in my room. Then that girlfriend became my wife, and we got married after graduation. Then we had three kids. That's a lot of not living alone.
Divorce has changed that, though, and I recently moved into a basement apartment 5 miles away from my kids. Perhaps the change wouldn't have been such a big deal if I'd continued my normal experience of a busy workday, mostly just crashing at home. But instead, I brilliantly timed a week off from work so I could finish the second book in the Notes from the Internet Apocalypse trilogy, which meant I got to spend hours and hours by myself in a small quiet space.
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OK, my apartment is a little nicer than that.
The good news is that I learned some stuff. Stuff I didn't expect to learn. So for any of you venturing out of your parents' house or a failed relationship or what have you, here are five things no one tells you about living alone.
The first thing I had to do was set up the apartment. I wasn't going to be one of those single guys living off McDonald's, pizza, and TV dinners. I was going to eat healthfully and inexpensively. So the first thing I did was go to BJ's, which is not an oral sex palace for newly divorced men, but a discount grocery chain akin to Costco or Sam's Club.
Except it's funnier to say than any other store except Dick's Sporting Goods.
But here's the thing: Because I was used to shopping for a family, I forgot that you only save money at BJ's by buying in bulk. So yeah, it was a good price on two giant peanut butters, but why would I need two giant peanut butters or 12 soaps or 500 feet of aluminum foil? So I bought the staples that wouldn't go bad even in bulk, like pasta and chicken I could freeze. (Yes, freezing plus the fact that I eat an insane amount of chicken.) Then I ended up bringing over like three packs of macaroni and cheese, three boxes of pasta, four soaps, one giant bag of shredded cheese (that started as a two pack), and one tray of about 36 eggs to my old house, because overbuying is inevitable in a store like that and makes no sense when you're shopping for one.
Incidentally, I then overshot the other way and continued my shopping at the dollar store while avoiding purchases that could kill me, like, y'know, dollar store meat. Here are some of the wonderful popular name brands you might recognize from my shopping experience.
Mmmmmm, name brand quality.
Now, I knew I talked to myself. That doesn't make me crazy. I just enjoy the sexy and witty comments that come from my own mouth, and I see no reason to deprive myself of such joy. It's the same reason I read my own columns and listen to my old college band's demo tapes! Extreme self-indulgent narcissism shouldn't just be limited to selfies!
Speaking of selfies, if you buy this book jacket photo of me, the novel comes free!
But in truth, I used to mostly talk to myself in the shower almost unconsciously, or I'd exclaim something if I touched a hot stove. That sort of thing. I never actually straight-up talked to myself.
Until I lived alone. Then, wow, I suddenly had a commentary on everything. In my mind there was still an audience. Someone in the room or the next room. Like "Yeah, I think that looks nice there" or "Hmm, I think I'll open a window." I caught myself doing it multiple times, and I'm positive that when the words left my mouth I had no intention of talking to myself. They felt like things you'd say to other people, or at least in the presence of other people. But they bounced off the wall and came back to me, and even though I miraculously agreed with the eloquence of the expressed sentiment each time, I had to admit it was weird to notice how much self-speak was going on. At least I'm wonderfully supportive of me.
"Yes, Gladstone, that combination bookshelf/liquor cabinet was a great idea!"
There's a lot more quiet time when you live alone, and with that quiet time comes thoughts. Sure, you might spend this time in quiet reflection and realize things about yourself and society that you've never before pondered.
"Whoa, what if all the jokes that are missing from Felix Clay's columns are like all living together in a bungalow in Spain?"
But more likely they will be busybody, unhelpful stupid thoughts. Thoughts like "Is that a lump?" "What is that smell?" "How loud can I be here before my neighbors hear?" and "Seriously, what is that smell? Carbon monoxide? Will it kill me while I sleep? That's stupid. Carbon monoxide is odorless. But wait, are there things that smell that can kill you in your sleep?"
Or better yet, you can wonder what would happen if you slipped in the shower or cut yourself. How long would it take for your body to be discovered before anyone knew you were dead?
These are the thoughts that go away by increased contact. It doesn't have to be running after children or laughing with a spouse. It could be yelling at your roommate to do the dishes or fantasizing about murdering your roommate for not doing the dishes. It's just that when you throw more people into the mix, it creates a buzz, a hum, and that noise often helps to drown out the stupid, stupid, stupid voice that is you.