The Underappreciated Virtues of Being Alone

Thursday August 15, 2019 Written by Ben McLeay

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I am like most people under the age of 30.

For the bulk of my adult life I’ve spent half my income renting a lightless, dank room in a crumbling sharehouse whose walls would fall apart instantly if they weren’t held together by a healthy and vibrant community of rats.

Splitting the rent with seven of the most unhygienic, erratically scheduled people alive suited me for a time. But there came a point when I realised I would rather not be able to afford food than have to use a pressure cleaner to get someone else’s week-old korma off one of my plates in order to eat.

So I scoured Gumtree for the cheapest one-bedroom apartment within three days’ hike of a train station that wasn’t currently a murder scene, and I found the flat that I have now: the smallest, oldest, worst-smelling place that it’s legal to live in – essentially the same situation I had in the sharehouse, except with my own postal address.

From what I’ve been able to piece together, the apartment block was originally a six-car garage that was converted into three flats with little consideration for the differing needs of an automobile versus a human being. From the smell and the burns in the carpet, it’s clear the apartment was previously inhabited by at least four generations of indoor smokers. Which is alarming, because one of the other prominent smells indicates a slow gas leak.

The carpet is well past the point of ever appearing clean again, the plumbing is unreliable at best, and it’s almost impossible to completely lock the place securely. (Note: please do not rob me.) And yet I pay more than I ever would in a sharehouse to live in what can only be described as a “filth yurt”.

Why, you ask? Because living alone is heaven. Being alive is by far the single most stressful thing a person can do. You know what’s not stressful? Coming home to find that everything is exactly where you left it.

This is not to say I’m a particularly clean person. All I want is to know that if I open the door to a disgusting mess, it’s the disgusting mess that I made because no one was around to judge me for assembling tacos on the floor in front of the TV. The socks on the couch are mine, it was me who drank all of the wine, and I have no one else to blame for the smells in the kitchen (except the gas leak, obviously).

At heart, I am an extremely simple man of simple pleasures. I like watching 12 hours of Farscape in one sitting without having to explain why that one woman is blue, or feeling self-conscious for watching a show starring a blue woman. All I want is the freedom to cook in my underpants, and the freedom to fall asleep uninterrupted on the couch (also in my underpants) three nights a week.

Do you know how much emotional energy it takes to make small talk with someone every time you need to do something in a communal space? Not all that much. But do you know how good it is not having to do it? Indescribable. It’s the blissful, monastic existence of never entertaining a fully formed thought between waking up and leaving the house. Living in what is effectively a shoebox with light fittings that might well pre-date colour television is 100 per cent worth it for the priceless luxury of not having to make eye contact with any one you don’t feel good and ready to.

It doesn’t matter what happens in the future. I might marry someone. I might at some point have children. But even if those things happen, I will be the sole occupant of my domicile until the Grim Reaper himself wraps his bony hand around my ankle and drags me screaming into hell. Which sadly, from what I hear, is full of other people.

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This piece was originally published in Smith Journal volume 21, originally published Dec 2017.

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