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Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone. Home · Going Solo: Author: Eric Klinenberg Going Solo in Your Small Business. Living Alone By Eric Klinenberg PDF EBOOK EPUB site. Get Instant Access to Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise And Surprising Appeal. GOING. SOLO. STREE. THE EXTRAORDINARY RISE. AND SURPRISING APPEAL. OF LIVING ALONE. ERIC KLINENBERG. The PENGUIN PRESS. New York.
Not explicitly, since all children share their home with a family or adults of some sort, and schools do not promote living alone as a goal. But today an unprecedented number of children around the world develop the capacity and desire to live independently through another, historically novel experience: Traditionally, most children in the same family shared a room with each other, if not with their parents. This was true, of course, for the children of immigrant families who lived in urban tenements, and of African American children whose families packed into apartments after migrating to the northern states.
But, until recently, it was also true of native-born white middle-class families, and even of some affluent ones. According to the U. Census, in the average family household had 2. Since then, American families have become smaller and homes have grown larger. By the average household had 2 children and 1 bedroom per child, and in it had 1. Indeed, the size of a typical American home more than doubled between and , rising from square feet to more than 2, Adults who love living in city centers will leave for the suburbs so they can give their children private space.
Once a luxury, in recent years it has become an entitlement of middle-class life.
In Europe, the dramatic decline in fertility rates over the past fifty years has transformed the experience of domestic space. Between and , the average number of people per household fell from 3.
Germany, from 3. The trends are similar in Canada, where between and the average household size dropped from 4 to 2. By the late twentieth century, people throughout the developed world could be together at home with their family, but also alone.
Today, of course, we no longer need private rooms to separate into individual environments. Entire families can sit together, and even share a meal, while each member is immersed in an iPhone or a laptop rather than in conversation with those nearby. But the availability of a domestic private sphere for each person in a middle-class residence changed the norms of family interaction long before the advent of social media.
The children do not belong to the same sports teams, play the same instruments, or hang out with the same friends, so the family develops a schedule that allows each one to be dropped off and picked up on his or her own. This process may well still be important, but children who grew up in the decades after Winnicott published his essay have had more opportunities to cultivate an ability to be alone—and not only.
One striking cultural change related to the rise of private bedrooms concerns the way child psychologists advise parents to help their infants sleep. The biological anthropologist James McKenna, who directs the Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Lab at Notre Dame University, argues that in the process of evolution mothers developed an innate capacity to attend to the needs of their sleeping children, even when they themselves are in deep sleep.
While many cultures have used cradles to support sleeping babies, the crib was not widely marketed to or used by middle-class families until the twentieth century. Initially, babies who slept in cribs were placed near their mothers, close to or right next to the family bed. But in late a pediatrician named Benjamin Spock published The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care, in which among other things he advised parents to place newborns in rooms of their own so that they could learn to sleep independently, while also giving Mom and Dad some privacy and peace.
The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care went on to sell more than 50 million copies in thirty-nine languages, placing it among the bestselling books of all time.
In , the chairwoman of the U. Consumer Product Safety Commission was using her office to advise all parents to avoid sleeping with children under the age of two. And she did so with the full support of Dr. If these problems. In the process, they helped acculturate the next generation to the experience of being alone. After growing up in a private bedroom with plenty of personal time, an increasing number of young adults want to maintain the condition when they leave home for the first time—even, or perhaps especially, if they are going to college.
Housing officers at universities throughout the country report that a great majority of their entering students have never shared a bedroom and that many have trouble adjusting to life with a roommate during their first year. Most colleges developed their housing stock before students began requesting singles, however, and today demand for private sleeping quarters far exceeds the supply.
For example, in , Miami University housing director Lucinda Coveney acknowledged that the school had been consistently unable to accommodate most requests for single residences and announced plans to build hundreds of new single-room units.
In previous eras, graduating seniors packed into communal houses to share their final year of college near close friends.
Today, a new spirit is emerging. On first glance, Justin appears shy and guarded. Fortunately, several of his college friends had also moved there, and through them he found a shared apartment where the roommates enjoyed going out together just as they had when they were in school. When you move to a new city, they can help you meet people, invite you to parties, and add to your social network.
And they help pay the rent, which means you can live in a better neighborhood or save money for going out. For years, Justin enjoyed all these benefits, so much that he endured a seemingly endless series of transitions—people moving in and out, being forced to search for new apartments, relocating to different neighborhoods—so that he could keep sharing a place with people his age.
But after five years Justin found himself focusing on the costs of this situation. Is there anyone who has lived with roommates and not escaped with tales of woe?
The roommate, once a friend, who stops paying his rent or his share of the bills. The roommate who steals. The roommate with bad taste. The roommate who never leaves home. The roommate who goes silent. The roommate who blogs about you. The roommate with the TV addiction. The roommate with a drinking problem. The roommate who smells. The roommate who hates your girlfriend. The roommate who hits on your girlfriend. The roommate who becomes your girlfriend, and then breaks up with you. Justin dreaded seeing him in the living room or at the table.
He started avoiding home, or rushed straight to his room when he got there. It was awful, he remembers: It totally sucks. The new place was better, but Justin felt himself still longing for more privacy.
The conversation the next morning can be even worse. As Justin hit his late twenties, he had plenty of friends and enough money to afford a one-bedroom apartment downtown if he cut out some other expenses and gave up any hope of accumulating savings. The choice was easy. He decided to live alone.
The experience was transformative. Having roommates feels sort of unadult. DePaulo grew up in Dunmore, Pennsylvania, a small town where children learned that getting married was all but obligatory. Before she went to college, it never occurred to her that she could opt out, but as an adult she recognized that this was exactly what she wanted. This is who I am. The ideal of achieving security in a marriage or with an intimate partner remains fundamental to our culture, and it is instilled in the minds of our young.
Children in modern societies may well have more private space than they did in previous eras, but they are still raised in homes where there is at least one adult and often other children, too. Our early experiences living with others shape our expectations, establishing the shared household as a norm, if not an ideal.
They also form our characters, leading us to develop skills, techniques, and models for sharing domestic space that we carry into adulthood, consciously or not. Hardly anyone lives alone until they are grown up, however, which means that those who go solo quickly discover that doing it well requires a lot of learning.
Thoreau, Siddhartha, or Helen Gurley Brown may be inspiring, but there is no guidebook for domestic autonomy, at least not the contemporary kind. Living alone is challenging, no matter how excited one is to do so, not only because it entails facing oneself in an intimate setting, but also because it puts people in novel situations and generates a distinctive set of personal needs.
Some of these challenges are pragmatic: Learning to shop and cook for one. Balancing solitude and social life. Other challenges are more profound: Dealing with loneliness. Confronting fear that living alone is a sign of social failure.
Being discriminated against in the housing market and the workplace. Relating to friends or family who are uncomfortable that someone close to them is unmarried or who presume that this makes them unhappy, too. Although each person who develops the capacity to live alone finds it an intensely personal experience, my interviews suggest that some elements are widely shared. Today young singletons actively reframe living alone as a mark of distinction and success, not social failure.
They use it as a way to invest time in their personal and, above all, professional growth. Such investments in the self are necessary, they say, because contemporary families are fragile, as are most jobs, and in the end each of us must be able to depend on ourselves. On the one hand, strengthening the self means undertaking solitary projects: But on the other it means making great efforts to be social: Most people who live alone into their thirties eventually find that their community weakens as close friends get married and have children, and that work, however rewarding, cannot satisfy their deepest needs.
This puts them in a predicament. But the argument is hardly persuasive.
Going Solo Eric Klinenberg Sparknotes
Whether or not they are actively searching for a partner, they expect to find one and eventually to get married. Today 84 percent of American women have been married by the time they reach age forty, and 95 percent have married by the time they reach sixty-five.
True, the generations born in, say, and have profoundly different views on marriage—just not on the question of whether they will have one. Contemporary Americans may be skeptical of the institution, but about 90 percent of those who have never been married believe that someday they will.
Today the median age of first marriage is higher than it has been at any point since the census began recording it: In addition, an unprecedented number of Americans in their forties have never married: How do they use that time?
In Against Love, Laura Kipnis argues that avoiding binding relationships will free people for more play. She even suggests, provocatively, that such liberation could threaten the status quo. What other demands would come next? In modern economies most of us are free agents, competing against one another for good jobs. Instead, each of us works more and more in hope of getting established on our own, especially during the early part of our careers. For a rising generation of aspiring professionals, the twenties and early thirties is precisely not the time to get married and have a family.
Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone
Rather, it is the life stage when we can pour ourselves into school or work and make an impression. We surrender control of our time to those who educate and employ us, and what remains we give to the task of improving ourselves.
We learn new skills. Demonstrate our versatility. Build a network. Develop a reputation. Climb the ladder. Go on the market and find something better. Do it all over again. All of. There is a price for prosperity in the contemporary economy.
The work world makes extraordinary claims on the lives of young workers. Give yourself to business during the prime of your life, or give up your hope of achieving any real success. This is true in for-profit corporations, but also in seemingly less exploitative workplaces, including universities and nonprofit organizations that are dedicated to improving our quality of life. When I was in graduate school at Berkeley, for instance, I knew several students in their late twenties whose adviser, a pioneering female scholar, actively discouraged them from entering serious relationships before they had made their mark.
Academia has become extraordinarily competitive, she argued. Tenure-track jobs are disappearing everywhere, and teaching jobs that pay the bills are scarce. Relationships are demanding and distracting. They can slow you down or, worse, compromise the quality of your work. True, the lucky ones can occasionally enjoy a Ping-Pong game or free food in the office, but they also face enormous demands on their time and energy.
They are not only vying for market share in fiercely competitive industries, from software to cinema, advertising to art. In Free Agent Nation, the business writer Daniel Pink reports that self-employed entrepreneurs in a wide variety of fields also experience work as completely consuming.
As one of his sources puts it: The best part is that you get to choose which twenty-four. In these and other high-power, high-paying professions, some employers demand that young workers spend most of their waking hours—seventy, eighty, ninety per week—in the office, or traveling on business, or checking in from a BlackBerry if they stray into personal time. Today young professionals routinely cancel lunch dates, evening plans,.
Needless to say, their relationship soon ended, and eventually he began to plan his life around the realities of his vocation. But I was also avoiding it because I prioritized my career and spent my social time with coworkers. One attorney we interviewed says that, after two years of seventy-hour work weeks, his gay colleagues had become his primary peer group.
I do a lot of interacting, talking, e-mail, bopping down the hall to discuss a story or just shoot the shit. And we have sports teams from outside of work. A tennis team, a softball team. One woman we interviewed, an attorney in her early thirties who works in politics, tells me: This behavior is not unusual. Although we often associate living alone with social isolation, for most adults the reverse is true. In many cases, those who live alone are socially overextended, and hyperactive use of digital media keeps them even busier.
Not that they are homebodies. According to a Pew Foundation study of social isolation and new technology, heavy users of the Internet and social media are actually more likely than others to have large and diverse social networks, visit public places where strangers may interact, and participate in volunteer organizations.
They eat out in restaurants more often, are more likely to take art or music classes, attend public events, and go shopping with friends.
But so, too, do their married friends and family members and, really, most everyone during some periods of their lives. Finding a partner or a live-in companion is not enough to solve the social pain of loneliness, which is a fundamental part of the human experience. Mark, for instance, says that staying single through his thirties allowed him to experience things that his friends who married and had children could only dream about: Living in different countries.
Taking adventurous vacations. Dating lots of women and figuring out what kind of partner he wants. As he approached forty, Mark began to believe he had missed out on something important: Of course, as a successful man in a city crowded with single women, Mark enjoys certain luxuries that women his age do not.
Women who live alone in their thirties and forties face far more social pressure. Whether single by choice or by chance, most of the women we interviewed report that, after their twenties, concerns about whether and how to find a partner and have children became an inescapable part of their lives.
They notice that certain people—friends, family, even recent acquaintances— are always calling attention to their domestic status. These are the ones who, in nearly every conversation, quickly ask whether they are dating anyone or start suggesting eligible bachelors, and treat everything else as secondary. But nearly all report that it makes them feel stigmatized.
On the whole, man was not meant to live alone, and neither was woman. Women who live alone are all too aware that delaying marriage means reducing the odds of having a biological child.
They may not have read the recent study showing that, in the s, only one in ten American women. Even the most confident and successful solo women we interviewed openly questioned whether they had made the right choices for themselves. Molly, a Web designer in her late thirties, defines herself as a fierce individualist. I was also, like, the rodeo clown.
Everybody always put their stuff on me, and I had to run interference. When I went off to college, I was so excited. I felt like enormous amounts of weight were lifted off of me. She went out a lot and had a few relationships, but nothing serious. After six years she moved to New York City, and when she could afford it got a place of her own in Kips Bay. And I just always opted against it. She was working long hours, and using her hard-won free time to meet men felt wasteful, even self-destructive.
This has made her happier than dating, and so she has decided to stop searching for a. Usually she feels fortunate to live at a moment when going solo is a viable option. When you live alone as a woman, confidence is something you have to build.
Ella, a public interest lawyer in her mid-thirties, is brazen and brilliant, with long blond hair, big blue eyes, and muscular arms. She is also particularly attuned to the challenges of learning to live alone as a woman, and her efforts to overcome them are worth exploring at length. Ella believes that most women would be better off holding out until they find what they are looking for, and if not, learning how to live alone. Perhaps Ella would view things differently if it was clear that marriage generated tangible benefits for someone in her situation.
At this point, her family, close friends, and work projects are her greatest sources of meaning. The challenge, as she sees it, is to make the most of them, and to learn how to enjoy both the solitude and the companionship that her lifestyle affords.
Ella has done this deliberately.
She became a regular at a local yoga studio, where she not only learned how to focus her mental energy and feel more at ease with herself, but also developed a new set of friends. And I really love having lived in one place long enough to walk around and run into people I know every day.
With work and her busy social life to manage, sometimes it feels better to keep to herself. But getting this way took some effort. The elaborate process of planning, shopping, preparing, cooking, and eating felt strange and wasteful when she did it all solo.
Moreover, Ella shared the sentiment that some nay-saying singles conveyed to the food writer and editor Judith Jones: Why would I want to go to all that trouble just for me? It was a challenge worth pursuing, because the skill—as those who have mastered it attest—transcends the kitchen. Fundamentally, it is about learning to take care of yourself.
Knowing how to enjoy going solo outside the home is just as important as living well inside of it. For many, traveling alone is particularly daunting. Single women are often warned about the dangers of going on the road without a companion. Even travel writing that encourages women to do so can easily convey the opposite message.
Ella, who lived abroad as a student and now travels regularly for work, has turned herself into an intrepid traveler. She takes adventurous treks and ambitious group tours to remote countries as well as silent, weeklong yoga retreats outside the city, because her apartment does not offer a sufficient escape from the stress of urban life.
Like most singles, Ella perceives that the travel industry is designed for couples. Hotel rooms and car rentals, for instance, typically cost the same for one person as for two, and advertising usually targets couples and families. In recent years, however, she has noticed that the market is beginning to accommodate the emerging demands of independent tourists. According to the Travel Industry Association, singles and solo dwellers account for 27 percent of the domestic tourism market, and about 10 percent of leisure travelers go alone.
Recently a number of hotels, spas, and cruise lines have taken notice. In February , for instance, Norwegian Cruise Line announced that it would install studios for solo travelers on its Caribbean tours. These guests would pay the same per-person rate as members of couples, a major change from standard industry practice, which demands that single travelers pay for two.
They all work long hours. This is a common complaint. There was just a very big difference in the workloads. Another popular feature is a forum for singles to discuss discrimination in the real estate market. Sherri experienced this personally when she moved to New York City and started working with a real estate agent. She found several co-op apartments appealing, yet the agent steered her away from them: But I had this great job. I had money in the bank.
And this guy was, like, no. Three strikes.
It was ridiculous! In fact, the spike in housing downloads by singles is one of the most remarkable changes related to the fast rise of living alone. This was also inspired by an important legal reform.
The Equal Credit Opportunity Act, which Congress passed in , prohibited lenders from rejecting applicants on the basis of sex or marital status and from asking women what kind of birth control they used or whether they planned to have children. Singles, particularly women, were suddenly able to enter the housing market. According to the National Association of Realtors, in single women represented 10 percent of all U.
Single men and women also made up 12 and 24 percent of first-time home downloaders, respectively, or more than one-third of the market. From an economic perspective, the cause of the change looks obvious. Today more women have received advanced education and established themselves in successful careers than ever before. In , for instance, 36 percent of all college graduates were women, compared to 54 percent today. In the s, the median income of full-time female workers was about 52 percent of what fulltime male workers earned.
By , it was up to 71 percent. Single women.
After all, on average single men continue to earn more than single women, yet they are much less likely to download places of their own. Whereas not long ago most women viewed getting married as the key moment in the transition to adulthood, today there are other ways to make the change.
Men who live alone in their thirties and forties show little interest in committing to a home or a neighborhood, and they rarely feel the need to settle down. But for a growing number of single women in early adulthood, downloading a home has become a powerful way to pivot from one life stage into another. Kimberly lives in New York City and works in the film industry; her shoulderlength brown hair frames a pale complexion and a sweet but somewhat sinister smile that conveys her confident and mischievous side.
It took several years to address the pain related to her own unmet expectations. Like, you know, you wake up on a Sunday and you just have nothing. And I was scared, scared to put myself out there.
For three years I would call my brother every weekend [to complain]. It was a stretch, financially and psychologically, but it was important, because it signaled that she was no longer waiting for a man to help her jump into a new life stage.
She was doing it independently, on her own terms. And I had to stop and take a look at that. I sort of resisted it the whole way through. So good, in fact, that Kimberly kept changing things.
She decided to remake her body, got a personal trainer, began biking on weekends with a group, and lost thirty pounds. She renovated her apartment, opening up space so that she could throw dinner parties.
She reached out to people, inviting friends out, putting herself on the line. She cut back on her TV viewing and kept herself from falling into a vicious cycle of depression, social withdrawal, and loneliness. Then Kimberly made an even bolder move. She reached out to Single Mothers by Choice, an organization that supports women who want to become parents but refuse to settle for an unsatisfying partner, and began to consider having a child on her own.
As Kimberly saw it, she had become so strong and self-sufficient while living alone that she could now handle the responsibility of caring for another. But Kimberly no longer felt sorry for herself. There is another, more popular alternative for people who want to live alone but also need someone to care for or something to help stave off loneliness: Animal companions are a common feature of Western cultures.
Pets, as dog owners know, often serve to promote interpersonal interaction rather than to prevent it. Moreover, people who live alone are far less likely to own a dog or a cat than people who live in couples or in multiperson families.
In , for instance, roughly one out of five solo dwellers had a dog and one out of four had a cat, while for families of four about one in two had dogs and more than one in three had cats. Another said that owning a dog has been transformative, but mostly because taking care of it has made her leave the house and engage with other people more often.
The dog really did open up my world. I got her right away. My relationship with the cat is pretty huge. She greets me when I come home and she keeps me company all the time. She can leave the cat alone with a big bowl of food and water if she goes away for a few days. She can shut her out of her room if she brings someone home. She has her own room to play at night. So my finances have spun out of control.
She decided to leave her job, enroll in graduate school, and move to a cheaper city. That the cat would accompany her was never in doubt.
Like Angelina, most pet owners are convinced that they get tangible physical and psychological benefits from their relationships with animal companions, and a good deal of research though not all supports this belief. For some, pets increase the opportunities to meet people, while for others pets permit them to be alone without being lonely.
In public, some who live alone may feel stigmatized or stereotyped. Some feelings—loneliness, regret, fear of failure, anxiety about what lies ahead—are said to be common among singles. As people who live alone are quick to point out, however, people who are coupled up, or have children, or live with friends and family experience no shortage of difficulties—loneliness included.
The young adults we interviewed were not shy about discussing the hardships of going solo. But their thoughtful attempts to meet the challenges generated by living alone were productive, and often successful. Young adults can and do learn how to live well without a domestic partner, and they benefit from this knowledge when they move in with someone, as the great majority ultimately do.
Even those who are seeking relationships are not dating frequently. About half 49 percent had been on no more than one date in the previous three months. But the rewards more than compensate for the difficulties. I fear not being able to relinquish what I get out of being single.
I like my friends, but something could happen, something tragic, or our relationships could change. So I try to grow less reliant on my friends and more reliant on myself. Living alone is an embodiment of that. But when caution turns to cynicism and leads those who live alone to shield themselves in safe houses, the situation can be perilous, too.
As we see in the next chapter, one reason so many people separate is that they are lonely with each other. Women were talking about abortions that their husbands were never going to know about. Women were having affairs. They were miserable, and they were alone inside their situations. On the one hand, she and her middle-class peers were finding new opportunities in their professions and breaking through old barriers that confined them to the domestic sphere. On the other, they still faced overwhelming pressure to find the right man and organize their lives around marriage.
But I also know that I need, above all else, a loving partner in order to do the work. Helen returned to New York and got a teaching job. I got married because I knew I needed to have a husband in order to do the work. After two and a half years together, they divorced.
Helen held on to her faith in the importance of marriage. But despite the different particulars, the result was the same. Two and a half years later, she asked for a divorce.
Nobody was gonna take care of me. Once that happened, you had experience. And once you had experience, the whole myth of romantic love as salvation came to an end. But it also cast millions of people into an ocean of uncertainty. According to the federal census, today about one out of every five adults has divorced.
For many, the solution is to remarry. Americans, ever hopeful, are more likely than people in other nations to give marriage a second chance—and quickly! In the United States, the median time between a divorce and a second marriage is a mere 3. But a close look at the numbers shows that not everyone is in a hurry to tie the knot a second time. Young divorcees remarry far more often, and more swiftly, than the middle-aged and the elderly, as do those who live in the South and in rural areas, where cultural conservatism, fewer professional opportunities for women, and a less vibrant singles scene make marriage a compelling choice.
Overall, remarriage rates dropped precipitously during the second half of the twentieth century, even in the United States. In , for instance, two out of three divorcees remarried within five years, whereas in only one of two did.
Why have so many of us given up the supposed benefits of wedlock for the tumult of being single and the possibility that we will spend the rest of our days living alone? One reason is that modern women, untethered from traditional economic and sexual constraints, have discovered that going solo can liberate them from the many unrecognized, unappreciated, and unrewarded responsibilities they still take on as homemakers and caretakers, and allows them to attend to their own needs.
Another reason is that men who are unhappy in their marriages develop fantasies about. The booming singles culture of contemporary cities does, however, allow those who separate from a spouse to be socially engaged and personally stimulated rather than isolated and withdrawn.
We also opt out of unsatisfying marriages because we cherish freedom, personal control, and our search for self-realization.
Going Solo by Eric Klinenberg - review
For both men and women, living alone is a tempting way to achieve these goals. The great majority of those we interviewed say that they recognize the benefits of being married or cohabiting, at least when things are going well. Separated women tend to emphasize the value of small, everyday intimacies. I miss the rhythm of his steps.
Both men and women affirm what the statistics tell us: The ability to afford a larger home or a better neighborhood and to split expenses that are the same no matter how many people use them, like cable, Internet, and utilities. The luxury of pooling income for savings, or blowing it on things that are better when shared. Moreover, decades worth of careful research confirms that most divorces result in a substantial decline in the standard of living for both parties, with women suffering far greater losses than men.
Like most wives of her generation, she did most of the domestic work. But Sam says he reciprocated by taking over other household tasks, and this, he insists, not only made his home life pleasurable, but also made him a better man. When I was married, I would make sure that the clothes were always washed and there was not a big pile in the corner, that I put away my shoes and washed my dishes. I become a couch potato. I have a hard time finding somebody to date. Others reported that while living with a partner made sex more accessible, it was hardly guaranteed.
But in fact middle-age men who have remarried are more likely to have sex regularly than those who have divorced and gone solo. Consider how those who have remarried or moved in with a lover answered the AARP survey about their sexual activity during the previous six months: Compare these figures to the responses from divorced women who had remained single: Their responses to the celibacy question were.
But they self-report the same frequency of masturbation: Whether coupled up or single, 7 percent of divorced women over forty do it once a week or more. Admittedly, the AARP survey does not tell us everything we might want to know about the sex lives of middle-age divorcees.
Overall, however, the sexual benefits of getting remarried appear just as significant as the economic ones. Their own negative experiences are one key source of this skepticism, but so are the experiences of others. She married young and had two children before divorcing four years later, and in her view the kids are the only good things that resulted from the relationship. She raised them as a single mother and has been living alone since the youngest one moved out a dozen years ago.
Initially, it was difficult: It was extremely lonely. And it was scary. I mean scary— like the killer is under the bed or in the closet downstairs. When I feel like being bothered with somebody, I am. And it is totally self-indulgent.
But after a bad marriage and two decades as a single mother, Charlotte feels entitled to put her own needs and desires before those of others. When her children left home, Charlotte plunged herself into the local art scene, and she spends many evenings and weekends going to galleries or painting in a shared studio.
Yet she keeps her contacts at a distance. While Charlotte once enjoyed entertaining, these days she rarely invites anyone into her home. The most intense relationship she had after her divorce was about twenty years ago.
She wondered what would happen to her if she lost her job or got a serious illness. She questioned whether her self-indulgence had gone too far. One of her cousins always tried to set her up on blind dates, and although Charlotte was usually skeptical, recently she agreed to give it a try.
It worked. At the time of her first interview, she was spending two nights a week with her boyfriend and things were heating up fast. Recently, he even brought up the possibility of marriage. Charlotte is struggling to make a decision. She enjoys her uncompromising lifestyle, the freedom to do what she pleases whatever the hour.
But like many veteran single women, especially those who have been through a divorce, Charlotte doubts that a husband would protect her from the ravages of aging or dying alone. The survey also shows that middle-age divorcees are more afraid of failing in another marriage than of not finding someone else. Most of the divorced women we interviewed reported that they were open to moving in with another man someday, but only under the best of circumstances.
Others said he would have to respect their hard-won autonomy and understand that they already had lives of their own. You sort of self-select. Although divorcees often fear the specter of social isolation, the General Social Survey GSS , which is the largest study of American social behavior, shows that single women above age thirty-five divorced as well as never married are more likely than their married contemporaries to do the following activities: Fifty years ago, single women who lived alone stood out in their families and communities.
They were odd and unusual, and this made them objects of pity if not scorn.
Helen, for instance, says that when she first lived alone she felt lucky to be in Greenwich Village, which was full of women in her position. On the Internet, people who live alone—including a surprising number of middle-age divorcees—use social networking sites to find new friends, romantic partners, and groups of people who share their interests.
For no matter how much time divorced and separated women spend with friends and neighbors, they find it hard to escape at least an occasional pang of loneliness, and in some cases the pain lasts longer.
Compared to women who live with a romantic partner, women over thirty-five who live alone are twice as likely to report feeling lonely four times a week or more and about half more likely to report feeling lonely at least once a week.
Ten thousand mornings I wake up and just go through the day, and the aloneness is like a cubic force in me in a way. She spent decades in therapy, and she has trained herself to think and write about her feelings rather than running from them in the predictable ways—whether sleeping around, drinking, or filling time with TV. But to Helen it seems necessary, because the challenge of making herself feel right is so great.
Like many divorced women we interviewed, Helen copes with her own feelings of social failure, in part, by dismissing the notion that another marriage or romantic relationship would alleviate them. So you become a little island all to yourself. At a personal level, the real question is: When does life feel better? Living alone is hardly painless, but for many who have endured a failed marriage, it hurts less. According to the General Social Survey findings, men above age thirty-five who live alone both divorced and never married are more likely than men who live with a romantic partner to see or visit a best friend at least weekly, spend a social evening with neighbors or friends, and belong to a social group.
But the only one of these activities they do as much as women who live alone is socialize with friends—in every other area single women are more socially engaged. Men who live alone also have relatively high rates of loneliness. As with women, this loneliness might be the cause rather than the consequence of living alone.
They are twice as likely as men who live with a partner to self-report feeling lonely at least one day a week and about three times more likely to feel lonely four or more days a week. Lou, a fifty-seven-year-old attorney and parttime musician who lives in a small, ground-level apartment in West Berkeley, has had his own place since his second marriage collapsed fifteen years ago and he relishes the autonomy it affords him. I can practice my trumpet whenever I want. I have my own space and I feel comfortable in it.
Everything about it is how I want it to be. I just go. Occasionally, however, this freedom can be oppressive. I just take it as it comes. He has filled his days and nights with work, music, commuting, and television, and the absence of more intimate human companionship—sex, but also simple, everyday contact and the rhythms of being in a shared space—is haunting him.
He struggles to sustain his relationships with friends and family, and has even more trouble meeting new people or finding dates. When he gets down or lonely, he spends even more time on work and music. I become a workaholic, working way too much, like a hundred forty hours every two weeks. And it leaves me very little time for fun. Still, Sam says that he feels good about his situation. It was my companion and my first love.
Sam has been sober for several decades now. As the Stanford anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann has shown, a growing number of contemporary Christians including the nearly 40 percent of all U. Today, clergymen and -women frequently offer special ministries for people who live alone. In their book about living alone after the end of a marriage, the Christian educators Herbert Anderson and Freda Gardner argue that people can enjoy rich and spiritually fulfilling lives if they maintain close connections to God.
God comes to each one as a friend and, in accepting that gracious offer from God, no one need feel that she or he is all alone. They may not have as much contact with their friends as women do, but they are far more likely to date and be sexually active, and often they take so much pleasure in the liberties born of going solo that they lose interest in commitment altogether.
Steven, a policy analyst in his late forties who lives in New York City, divorced his wife six years ago and says that he never anticipated that living alone would be so compelling. He has a flexible work schedule, and on most evenings he stays up late exercising at the gym, watching sports and movies, or socializing in restaurants and bars.
He dates often, and remarks on how easy it is for a successful man his age to find smart, attractive, and available women in the city. Steven got married in his early twenties, before he had much experience with other women, and became a father soon after.
He adores his children, but he grew estranged from his wife as their interests veered in different directions. His career took off and the world opened up to him just as his home life began to be constraining. Steven spent years pouring himself into work— partly because he liked it and partly, he now believes, to avoid confronting his family situation. Eventually the problems grew impossible to ignore. The marriage could be justified only for the sake of their children, and who could say that they were better off living in an unhappy home?
Two years after the separation, Steven got involved with a younger woman. She might not have been a perfect match for him, but she seemed pretty close.
She moved into his place, and Steven enjoyed sharing a home with her.
The surprising benefits, to oneself and to society, of living alone
The problem, he realized, was that living with someone—even a women he loved— meant denying himself the chance to enjoy an unfettered existence: Dating new women. Staying out as long as he wanted and not worrying about anyone else. Watching sports. Seeing movies. Meeting friends.
Steven had grown to appreciate the virtues of living lightly, without obligations. He was willing to give up some of this, but after his girlfriend had moved in, the relationship took on more weight than he could handle. When she started bringing up marriage, perhaps even children, everything snapped. And part of it is that I really like living alone right now. Some get previews of how challenging it might be during episodes of severe illness or injury. Fortunately, Sam has always been close to his sister in Washington, and she offered to look after him if he could move in with her.
But Sam took away a different lesson: His family would be there for him when he needed them most. Not everyone shares this confidence.
So what would he do if he were bedridden, or worse? They also tend to be more active social planners, which helps them stay connected even after their marriages fall apart. Most of her closest friends are single women who live alone too,. Madeline sees her behavior as more than simply strategic, however, because she enjoys the experience of putting herself out there and seeing what happens.
In recent years Madeline has started using social networking sites quite often. A site like Meetup. She also decided to get to know some of the gay men in her neighborhood whose social world had always seemed closed to her.
I can go out every night with another young gay man and they are wonderful to me—wonderful company. And I never again want anybody living with me, nor do I ever want to live with someone else. Putnam used it with great effect to dramatize the fact that participation in bowling leagues had fallen during the second half of the twentieth century, as had participation in a number of historically significant civic associations and membership groups, from the Boy Scouts to the Elks clubs and the League of Women Voters.
The truth is, Americans continue bowling together, but with friends and friends of friends in their social network, not in formal teams or organized groups. The distinction is important. When Bowling Alone was published in , pundits and policy makers worried that families were watching TV together in their living rooms rather than interacting with each other in the public sphere.
We are, as headlines tell us: All of this should affect the way we understand how and why we live alone today. Whether or not we go solo, most of us are immersed in one or more social worlds, and today a growing number of critics have begun to worry that we are in too deep.
But does this really signal the end of solitude or individualism? In fact, we interviewed a number of people who said living alone was a way to buffer themselves against the intense pressures of social and, especially, vocational life.
To be sure, this strategy for protecting the self means something different for affluent and middle-class people than it does for the poor, the mentally ill, or the physically frail. The disadvantaged men we interviewed were even more likely to report motivations like this. For those with financial security, a busy schedule, and a dense social network, living alone can be productive because it offers access to privacy, restoration, and personal development.
Phil is a successful journalist in his late forties, and he says that working and living in Manhattan requires giving so much of himself that at the end of the day he needs to shut things out. I need time to recharge. I not only live alone. He believes that the time he spends alone helps him to be a better writer, a better thinker, and a more engaging person. Like the late psychologist Anthony Storr, Phil argues that solitude can bring us closer to ourselves, and he can rattle off a long list of great artists and authors who spent most of their lives in a place of their own.
As he approaches fifty, he realizes that if he stays single there will be new challenges ahead. There are divas, and egos that you have to manage. I have to cuddle, cajole, threaten, be passiveaggressive. She has moved from a shared apartment into a place of her own twice during the past ten years, and while having money to pay the rent was necessary, in both cases she made the change to escape domestic relationships that were dragging her down.
The first time was in Los Angeles, where she had been living with her brother after graduating from college and cycling through a series of bad roommates. Not only did it make her feel like a real adult, it also restored her sense of autonomy and self-control.
The second time was more painful. She was in New York, where she had moved in with her boyfriend and begun to imagine their life together. But she poured herself into it because she was in love, and she knew they could make things work.
As she later learned, her boyfriend was secretly dating a woman in her early twenties.
These men are struggling to shake off a heavy load of burdens: The ranks of men in this situation have grown steadily since the s, due not only to the collapse of the industrial labor market and the fact that employers in the service sector are reluctant to hire them, but also to the rise of women in the paid workforce, the vast expansion of the penal system, and the retrenchment of social services for the poor. That is up from about 6 percent a quarter century ago.
Among similar men ages thirty-five to thirty-nine, the portion jumped to 22 percent from 8 percent in that time. Not long ago Greg was hospitalized after a heart attack, and he worries about a recurrence. It could be a disadvantage. It might be good if I have somebody around me. Greg used to be a drug addict, and for roughly twenty years he lived between jail cells, abandoned buildings, and the streets. Their mother died recently, and these days he rarely sees his other family members.
Eventually, Greg would like to spend more time with his children, and maybe with other family, too. Although he has been off drugs for nearly a decade, he knows that day is a long time off. For now, Greg has devised an alternative strategy for soliciting care and attention after a heart attack. If I got in the hallway and fell, somebody coming down the next floor probably see me. But if I got out in the hallway somewhere down the line, somebody coming in gonna see me.
Back in those years, we just thick and thin, everything was us together. We do our drugs together, go to homes, abandoned buildings together. Ava complains at the way her daughter bores on about her failing marriage, while Joan, a retired psychologist, snaps that her year-old granddaughter is "incredibly manipulative. Not to be trusted an inch. Yet Klinenberg is equally careful to attend to the shadow side of such upbeat accounts.
SROs — single room occupancy facilities — started in the s as "plain hotels for plain people", but are now essentially hostels for capitalism's casualties. Here live a gang of "unmarriageable men": poorly educated, unskilled and often struggling with chronic ill health caused by multiple addictions. They live alone because, more often than not, they are too ashamed to go home to Wisconsin or Mexico — they worry about the welcome that awaits them.
So instead they hunker down, developing what Klinenberg calls "defensive individualism", a spiny armour designed to repel neighbours who may be planning to pop round to rob them or suggest getting high. As Tim, a veteran of Manhattan's SROs, puts it: "I'm not anti-social but I have a hard enough time with my own problems without other people's problems. The first, and most profound, thing to do is acknowledge that solo living is actually a fantasy underwritten by the very real presence of the family, communities and the state.
The year-old woman who loves her aloneness does so because she has a dry-cleaner on the corner and a regular Sunday yoga class. Klinenberg's elderly widows are fine in their own homes as long as there are meals on wheels and visits from friends who play a mean game of mahjong. The unmarriageable men are able to live stable lives because housing charities have continued to invest in the SROs and attendant services.
Even Thoreau, it turns out, used to get deliveries of home-cooked meals from his mum. What we need to do, Klinenberg concludes, is craft new ways of living alone together, ones that acknowledge and nurture the links between the solitary and the communal. It sounds wonderful.
There's a library, a gym and — it must be a Swedish thing — a "weaving room". There's even a dedicated space for parties. I was just about to go online and put my name down, when I stumbled over this sentence: "Every six weeks a resident must help with the cooking and cleaning.So one thing I learned is that living alone is not an entirely solitary experience.
The group even included a singular Bay Area celebrity: Living alone is more the rule than the exception in places like Manhattan, half of whose residents live by themselves, and many of America's largest cities, where more than a third of the population does. The typical American will spend more of his or her adult life unmarried than married, and for much of this time he or she will live alone.
By the late twentieth century, what was once a distinctive bachelor subculture was such a big part of urban culture in general that the concept lost its salience. Will the nations where aging alone has become rampant invest in social programs that help those who become isolated, frail, and sick? Brown, who supported them, developed a firsthand appreciation for the struggles and aspirations of working women in her generation.
When I went off to college, I was so excited. She was raised by her mother; her family was poor, and her sister had polio. The stage and street merge.