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.
Darrin Klimek/Photodisc/Getty Images
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.
For someone who hates everyone all the time, I sure do enjoy other people, and I like working with others. I like collaboration.
That's why every third article I write is based upon a prompt I receive from a vagrant I pay in a bucket of huffable gasoline.
But hey, some people are loners. And in truth, sometimes that's me, too. I can write my novel or edit videos with very little interaction for hours. But there are such things as two-person jobs, and when you live alone, you're just not getting that helping hand.
On my first day in the apartment, I was met with such a challenge. I decided to make an omelet, and you know the old expression: "You can't make an omelet without somehow swishing the egg right out of the stirring bowl onto the counter where it then slides 4 more inches and drops down in the 2-centimeter crack between the counter and stove, forever trapped and festering." Oh, that's not the expression. Funny, because that's exactly what happened. I still don't understand it. I did half a swish, and one of the two eggs achieved liftoff before turning my counter into a slip 'n' slide and making its way to freedom.
Squirmed to freedom through this tiny space, brave little guy.
I couldn't image a worse smell than a festering raw egg, so I acted quickly. With the strength of 10 Cracked columnists (or five normal-bodied men), I pulled the stove from the wall, grabbed a sponge, and then squirreled my body into the crawl space like an X-Men.
Yes, that one.
Here's the thing, though. Once I took the first stab at cleaning, I needed to keep rinsing out the sponge in the sink, and I couldn't get to the sink without finding a way out of the crawl space each time, like some sort of X-Men.
No, we're still talking about Nightcrawler, but thanks for the compliment.
So something that would have taken three minutes to clean took like 15 because I didn't have a buddy by the sink, rinsing the sponge and complimenting me on my cleaning agility.
Without a doubt the biggest thing about living alone that you need to get used to is the absence of surprises. When you live with other people, nothing stays the same. The garbage gets higher and higher, and/or someone empties it. The number of eggs in the fridge goes down. Things get better and things get worse. Someone is cooking something special that night, or someone is a friggin' slob who couldn't even microwave a chicken pot pie without getting that viscous goo all over the place.
But when you live alone, for good or bad, everything is exactly as you left it. No one did the dishes you left, but no one made new dishes either. That little tiny bread twist tie that you dropped on the floor on the way to work is still there. No one has either picked it up or dropped another one next to it. No one stole that frozen Snickers you were leaving in the fridge for a treat, and no one brought home ice cream on a whim either. There is an insane sameness that I have never ever experienced in my life.
Also, if you don't feed the gimp before you leave for work, don't expect anyone else to.
I'm not used to no surprises. I have three children and many roles to play in life. One world has always been precariously balanced on the other, and typically a small child would bump into it, scattering it to the floor. Now there is more stability. There is quiet. There is an almost oppressive sameness that needs to be disturbed by other people, and will be. But for now, when my children stay with me and turn the newfound constancy of my world upside down in one whirlwind mess, I am very, very happy.
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Movies are never more unrealistic than when they're showing us exactly what a dollar can buy.