I get home at one in the morning and I’m nervous. If she’s up, she’s definitely going to be mad. She won’t have eaten at her regular dinner time (seven, on the dot) and I’ll no doubt get a proper telling off. I open the door to the flat and she’s sat in the middle of the hallway, staring at me. The cat isn’t mad then – she’s disappointed. As I walk past her towards the living room, she starts shouting at me in a tone that sounds exactly like my voice the time that she threw a plant into the toilet.
In the living room, Mog has thrown her food bowls over. She stares at them admonishingly and then looks at me, and I know that I’ve committed a serious crime by leaving her alone for a whole evening.
I thought living on my own would mean that I was no longer accountable to anyone but myself. Instead, I’m accountable to an eight-month old kitten. I’m not sure how it happened, but at some point in the last three months, the cat became my conscience. She’s the niggle in the back of my head that tells me to go home if I’m on a night out. I feel as though I can’t overdo it with my socialising because I also need to socialise the cat, because I don’t want her to grow up to be a dickhead.
Before my flatmate moved out, I received a lot of advice about living alone. Friends who had ventured into that world before told me that I’d absolutely love it. They said it was liberating. Others told me it was something they could never undertake for themselves. I’ve now been at it for almost three months, and I swing between absolutely loving it and being slightly distressed.
So far the advantages are:
- When you come home from a stressful day where you’ve done a lot of socialising and you don’t have to speak to anyone. You can just sit in silence for hours. As an introvert, this is my dream life.
- You won’t believe how long a single onion can last. It’s bloody ages. One onion and that’s basically your weekly shop done.
- If you keep things tidy, they stay tidy. Nothing magically moves. Day-to-day maintenance is easy.
- If you decide to get obsessed with a new home-keeping concept (I’ve recently been riding the minimalism bus), you can implement it everywhere and there’s no one to stop you.
That’s the good stuff. The hard stuff is pretty hard. You essentially have the responsibility for the ENTIRE SPACE THAT YOU LIVE IN. When the communal fire alarm goes off, you have to stand outside and have the awkward neighbour conversation. Issue with your parking spot? Get ready to draft a passive aggressive note. What if you get locked out at four in the morning wearing odd shoes? That’s on you, mate. You have to make phone calls and fix things, and none of those niggling issues ever go away unless you proactively solve them. It gets a bit exhausting.
I really enjoy my own company. I have a generally good time with myself. However, I’m also beginning to learn that have a little bottle of social energy that I need to spend each week – otherwise I go a bit stir crazy. It’s like when you go on holiday with someone who you get on well with, but the holiday is a few days too long and all of a sudden you need a BREAK. Living alone is that, but with my own brain. I’ve had to learn new ways to be alone (in the form of excessive amounts of yoga and a lot of cooking). This has allowed me to start figuring out the kind of habits I want for myself. It’s like having a new housemate, and that housemate is me. It has the potential to be amazing.
There was a night recently, halfway through having my flat decorated, where everything I own was draped with plastic sheets. It was a bit like I’d walked into a crime scene for my own life. I could see a painter’s hat and the flashing eyes of my cat hidden underneath the sheets. It was not a practical situation. I knew that somewhere under all of that stuff was my hairdryer. I needed it for tomorrow. Tomorrow involved a client meeting. If this had happened when I first started living alone, I probably would have gone into overdrive. Instead I pulled out a dining room chair, balanced my laptop on top of the sheets and made some wicked falafel wraps.
So far, the journey of living alone has been about learning to be. It’s allowing yourself to crack on without the distraction of another person, learning to deal with your own shit and responding to the never-ending demands of owning a cat. It’s a pretty exciting challenge. I think I actually quite like it.