Wednesday, August 27, 2008


According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the proportion of households consisting of one person living alone increased from 17 percent in 1970 to 26 percent in 2000 — and the number of householders living alone in 2000 was 27,230,075 — or 25.8% of the population.

Other than a couple of unfortunate experiments in cohabitation — and even more disastrous attempts to share space with roommates — I have lived alone for most of my adult life.

In the process, I have created quite a nice nest for myself. When people come into my home, they usually exclaim, "Oh, it’s so cozy!" and it is; it’s like a little Hobbit cottage, appealing to all the senses. Visitors cross threadbare oriental rugs and dodge the books and piles of magazines stacked everywhere; they may notice the scent of freesia, my favorite flower, in a vase on the coffee table. Classical music, courtesy of Minnesota Public Radio, plays faintly in the background while my two cats snooze in the wing chairs beside the fireplace. My house is cluttered and untidy, but it feels inviting to guests, who usually arrive confident that they’ll be given a cup of tea or a drink and a nice snack while they’re here.

I do make it look easy, even though I don’t have any money — I’ll scrimp on supper in order to buy a bunch of flowers, instead. I have arranged my life to please myself alone, figuring I might as well be comfortable since God knows I don’t get any sex.

It seems to my friends that I’ve always been alone, largely because I arrived in Minneapolis by myself nearly 20 years ago and have flown solo ever since. People here have never known me as part of a unit.

But I was coupled once or twice, when I was young, and still yearn for that sense of belonging. My friend Linda calls it attachment hunger, when you don’t so much miss the man himself as you do having a partner. So I know what it feels like.

And I am able to be sympathetic to the women who have collapsed in my living room over the years, in floods of tears because they’re suddenly alone and afraid. I know what that feels like, too.

They seem to think I have a secret, that I know something special because I make it seem so effortless, so natural. "How do you do it," they wail, "how do you get through the days?" Long practice.

I give each of my friends a 10- or 12-point plan, and with every sobbing advisee, I realize that maybe I have something here; maybe I do know a few tricks. They’re pretty simple, really — turn on the radio, adopt a pet, reach out to your friends, find some nice gay men to play with, worship at a welcoming church or temple — none of this is rocket science, but it can seem incredibly daunting when you’re just starting out.

Believe me, I know how terrifying it is to be alone, and arriving finally at this place of peace has taken me many years and many tears. Even now, when something goes wrong with the furnace or my car breaks down or I’m driving alone at night, hopelessly lost because the people giving directions assumed somebody would be along to navigate from the passenger seat, I can experience a real meltdown. I get lonesome, too. Like Bridget Jones, I worry that I’ll die here alone and they won’t find me for days and I’ll be eaten by Alsatians.

But I had a real epiphany one morning, standing at the kitchen sink. I realized I was annoyed that I hadn’t got around to having the dripping faucet fixed, and calculated that I feel irritated once or twice a month about being alone. Then I had to laugh, because each of the men I nearly married used to piss me off several times a day.

"You were such a pretty girl," well-meaning friends have said over the years, as if that had anything to do with my forlorn attempts at love, "Why didn't you find a nice husband?" I used to cringe at these questions, flailing away in vain to come up with some reasonable, non-pathetic explanation about how the ones I could catch I didn’t want and the ones I wanted I couldn’t catch, or I’d shrug and say, "I’m still looking, sugar; you available?" Or, as Gloria Steinem observed once, “I don’t mate well in captivity.”

But now, when people ask me how it is that I never married, I reply simply that I’ve had several lucky escapes.

“Enjoy your cats, house and peace, and don't go asking for trouble.”
~ Cathy Madison