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3 Secret Strengths of People Who Live Alone

People who like living alone have secret strengths that defy stereotypes.

Key points

  • Many single people have been resilient during the pandemic, perhaps because they’ve already cultivated valuable skills while living alone.
  • People who live alone have often already found solo activities they enjoy, and they find time alone enriching and restorative.
  • People who live alone also tend to be skilled at staying connected to their support system, even from afar.
Source: GaudiLab/Shutterstock

People who are single and living alone can feel contented, resilient, and fulfilled — even if they are at an age when many of their peers are coupled or married, even if they are living in a place where very few people live alone at any age, and even if they are living during a pandemic.

That statement is surprising to a lot of people who are accustomed to hearing more dire depictions. Yet when I queried single people about how they were doing during the pandemic, I found that many were quite resilient and doing well. I think that is because single people who live alone and like it have some special skills and preferences that are rarely recognized.

I have always been careful to acknowledge that for some people living alone, just as for some people living with a spouse or other people, life can be miserable, especially during a pandemic. But when I wrote about single people doing well, I focused mostly on people who are single at heart, the single people who most love being single. For them, single life is their best life.

Now I think that some of the secret skills of the single at heart (not all of whom live alone) are also shared more broadly with some single people who may not embrace their single lives as enthusiastically as the single at heart, but still get some deep satisfaction out of living alone.

For that insight I thank Tannistha Samanta, whose study of midlife single women in India living alone during the pandemic was published earlier this year in the Journal of Aging Studies. It is a small study, based on interviews with just four women, so it is more suggestive than conclusive. I think it is significant nonetheless because the people Samanta interviewed were part of a very different demographic than the single people who are most often studied and written about, and because her conclusions are consistent with what I’ve found and with other, bigger studies of people who live alone, such as the research reviewed in Eric Klinenberg’s Going Solo.

Single Women Living Alone in India

The women who were interviewed at length for the study were between the ages of 50 and 65 who were living alone. They had been professionally employed for much of their adult lives. Three of the four were previously married. I don’t know if any were single at heart, but none intended to go back to living with family. They were all members of an online Facebook community planning to support each other as they age.

In many places around the world, the number of people who live alone is substantial and has been growing. For example, 2020 Census data from the U.S. show that 28 percent of all households are 1-person households. In Scandinavian nations, that number is much higher. In India, though, Samanta notes, fewer than 5 percent of households consist of one person. Women who want to live alone in India can face other challenges, too. Yet the women in Samanta’s study showed the same resilience for the same reasons as other single people who live alone.

The Secret Strengths of People Who Live Alone and Like It

How do solo dwellers live in joyful defiance of all the stereotypes of them as sad and lonely and isolated, especially during a pandemic? I think they have three secret strengths.

1. Some of their favorite activities are solo pursuits. When I researched the pandemic experiences of the single at heart, I found that:

“The day-to-day lives of many of the people who told me their stories have a comfortable continuity with the before times. Because they cherished their solitude before the pandemic, they had already cultivated the kinds of interests that have turned out to be pandemic-proof.”

Those interests included, for example, reading, meditating, do-it-yourself projects around the home, and exercising. The women in India also mentioned reading as well as other solo activities such as gardening and taking workshops on photo-editing. Those women also noted that the kinds of activities that they had long appreciated were enjoying newfound respect because, during the pandemic, couples and families were discovering those kinds of joys and getting attention for doing so.

2. They live alone, but they are connected to other people. One of the most important findings of Klinenberg’s research on people going solo was that, contrary to stereotypes, they were not isolated, but in many ways even more connected to other people. They go out and socialize and engage in civic life more than coupled people do, and even when they are home, they maintain their connections online. Those kinds of findings have now been replicated and extended by many other studies of single people and people living alone.

All the women in the study in India had a confidant they talked to routinely. “The pandemic, all of them noted, hasn’t changed the way they engage socially,” Samanta reported.

Most of the people I interviewed (men and women), as well as the women Samanta interviewed, missed seeing people in person during the pandemic. But they already knew how to maintain their bonds with other people when they were home alone. They’ve been doing that all along.

3. Their solitude isn’t scary, it is restorative and enriching. Samanta asked the women living alone if social distancing made them feel lonelier. What they said in response sounded a lot like what the single at heart had told me:

“All of them noted that while they miss going out of their homes, they have always appreciated the ‘solitude’ of living alone. The pandemic has only deepened that experience.”

The women described an experience that was also common to many of the men and women I interviewed: Although they enjoy being with other people, they also truly love coming home to a place of their own. Their solitude is enriching and restorative.

In the abstract of her article, Samanta said that the women living alone in India have an appreciation for “intimate solitude.” She never defined that in the article, but I think she was referring to how solitude is experienced by people who welcome it. Time alone can be relaxing, fulfilling, and rejuvenating. It offers opportunities for reflection and for spirituality. Solitude can feel familiar, even intimate. There is a word people who are single at heart often use when telling me about their home — they call it their “sanctuary.” That sounds like a place of intimate solitude to me.

Facebook image: GaudiLab/Shutterstock

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