Last Christmas I asked Santa for a book and Santa always brings me what I ask for—even if it’s a rare vintage copy of a book published in 1936. Unfortunately, Santa was not able to deliver the swoon-worthy 1936 dust jacket, which, I’ll admit, I wanted as badly as the actual book, but, nevertheless, I am now a proud owner of the classic (and revolutionary) book by former Vogue editor Marjorie Hillis, Live Alone and Like It: A Guide for the Extra Woman.
“One of the great advantages of your way of living is that you can be alone when you want to. Lots of people never discover what a pleasure this can be.” – Marjorie Hillis
I first spotted this book on the Instagram feed of the fabulous and unapologetically extra Ampersandria, and I was like WHAT IS THIS BOOK, IS THIS FOR REAL. It was mere moments before my youngest was leaving for college and I was about to truly live alone for the first time in my life—and here was a book promising the very thing I wasn’t sure was possible.
I think perhaps all my people wondered if the moment I had some empty space over here I’d launch into a dating frenzy in a desperate attempt to not be alone. Anyone who knows me knows that I struggled tremendously leading up to my empty-nest transition. For the entire year prior, my heart was breaking from all the letting go.
Because of that, it has come as somewhat of a shock that not only am I still happily single (although, granted, technically not living alone now that I got a crazy, whirling little puppy), but guess what?? This might rank as one my new favorite seasons of life.
“You will soon find that independence, more truthfully than virtue, is its own reward. It gives you a grand feeling.” – Marjorie Hillis
That’s right, people. I am legit single, living alone, AND LIKING IT.
In so many ways, it doesn’t feel like I’ve chosen to be single, but, really, I have. In every adult relationship I’ve had so far, a point has come when something toxic or corrosive or just not-right reared its head, something that didn’t match what I want or deserve. To be clear, this was not always all about the man I was with—I had my part in the equation as well—but, in most cases, that thing was something I wanted to work through together and he didn’t, or wouldn’t.
Each time, it was excruciatingly painful to disconnect, but I did it for the sake of myself, my children, and the hope of more. Each time, the initial singleness felt foreign and raw and miserable. Each time, it took me ages longer to recover than I wished it did. (And way longer than it seemed to take other people?) In some ways, I am still recovering from all those endings.
But in another, very real, way, each time, I’ve come to life again, more and more. Each time I’ve discovered more about myself, grief, pain, resilience. Each time I’ve worked my buns off to own my part in the breakdown, to learn from it, to grow. Each time I’ve become stronger, and wiser. Each time I’ve moved closer to being the kind of person I want to be.
Being single is so much better in every way than settling for something unhealthy, and I’m happily single because of that.
“Standing on your own feet is extraordinarily exhilarating, and being able to do it very well (when it’s necessary) without your friends, relatives, and beauty, not to mention your enemies, makes you feel surprisingly benign towards all of them.” – Marjorie Hillis
I recently realized that I’ve been not-married for almost as much of my adult life as I was married. This was a shocking realization, because I was married for many years. For a long time, at some level, I think I’ve unconsciously seen myself as a “previously married” woman, as if that was my most accurate descriptor. But why? I don’t define myself as a formerly buck-toothed fourth-grader, although I most certainly am that.
I started thinking—and hear me out here, I know this sounds crazy, but—what if I am not a divorced woman or a single woman? What if am actually just a woman.
What if I’m a woman who happens to have been both married and single? What if I’m not defined by either? And what if this particular woman happens to be generally happy with herself and her life? Yes, this woman has endured many periods of heart-slicing pain. Yes, she fights a constant battle with self-doubt, loneliness, and ache. But generally, at her core, on most days, this woman is happy. Single or not.
“For the basis of successful living alone is determination to make it successful… You’ve got to decide what kind of life you want and then make it for yourself.” – Marjorie Hillis
We single people enjoy many benefits our married friends don’t. One of these is the as-yet unfulfilled dream of a potential future. True, married people have exciting, unknown things ahead too. But we single people get to indulge in a certain kind of dreaming that married people don’t. We get to fantasize about all the possibilities for love out there. Who will the love of my life turn out to be? Where will we meet? When? What will he look like? Will our connection be instant? Or tantalizingly slow?
All of those magical moments are still ahead for us single people. You married people already had yours. (And you may be questioning whether you like them or not.)
Trust me, I’m not naïve here (remember, I’ve been married). I know that the future “love of my life” will not be perfect. But as long as I’m on this side of that reality, I get to imagine whatever I want, and there is a happy indulgence in that.
Later—someday—I hope to be able to work through the messy, bumpy, imperfect reality of actual life with that man. For now, I get to enjoy the magic of possibility.
“If all this sounds a little dreary, think of the things that you, all alone, don’t have to do… You don’t have to get up in the night to fix somebody else’s hot-water bottle, or lie awake listening to snores, or be vivacious when you’re tired, or cheerful when you’re blue, or sympathetic when you’re bored. You probably have your bathroom all to yourself, too, which is unquestionably one of Life’s Great Blessings.” – Marjorie Hillis
Okay, let’s get to the everyday perks of being single. You single people know what I’m talking about:
You get the idea.
Also, when my kids come around, I get to focus 1000% on them. No sharing of attention or navigating of awkward dynamics. Not to mention, no extra sets of relatives to visit on the holidays.
Would I give up (or at least compromise on) many of those things for the right guy? Yep. But for now, I’m savoring every last one.
“The first rule is to have several passionate interests. There must be at least a million to choose from—like collecting stamps, or reading up on the famous mistresses in French history, or writing good or bad plays, or doing needlepoint, or learning fancy skating. You should have a least one that keeps you busy at home and another that takes you out.” – Marjorie Hillis
Related to space is time. I have evenings and weekends to fill as I please, without a go-to person to fill it by default. Granted, this is sometimes the very thing I don’t like about being single, but I also recognize—and love—the gift of this time. An important part of this time is the opportunity to be with myself, get to know myself, and learn to enjoy myself. I get to take myself on dates. I get to see what I enjoy when no one else is involved. I get to whittle away the hours any way I’d like. And, as it turns out, I’m a pretty fun person to hang out with. This moment in time is a treat, and a privilege.
As a person who thrives on one-on-one connection, I already find it challenging to fit in dates with all the people I love – and I know how much harder that becomes when I’m in a relationship. Having open expanses of time to explore new friendships and deepen old ones is another gift of being single that I won’t easily give up.
“…one of the great secrets of living alone successfully is not to live alone too constantly.” – Marjorie Hillis
Until reading Marjorie’s book, I didn’t realize what a nuisance I am to all the couples in my life. Apparently they’ve been carrying the burden of worrying about me for years, and it would be much more convenient for all of them if I’d just get married. Apparently also they’ve had to continually try to figure out where to seat me at their dinner parties (and whether to invite me at all) since I’m the “extra” woman.
Or at least, that’s what was apparently true in 1936, when being the single woman in the crowd meant that you were the odd woman out—the “extra” floating person who wasn’t coupled up.
Back here in 2019, I’m going with the new meaning of “extra”: over-the-top, excessive, dramatic, way too much. I don’t think I’m described in those words very often, and I think it would actually be good practice for me to try those traits on for size once in a while. Marjorie has some great insights on how to achieve this. For example, “You might go in for collecting little china dogs, old bottles, snuffboxes, or even monkeys. Or you might take up Greek or tap-dancing, genealogy or making jewelry.” Or, if you happen to be a lady who lives alone with one servant in a five-room apartment in a suburb of New York, then you “may expect the maid to do everything—except, perhaps, clean the windows and wash the sheets and bath-towels.”
It means that I’m happy. I’m content. I’m inspired. I’m growing. I’m becoming. I’m not waiting for something better, I’m living something good and real and rich right here and right now. My story is to be continued, just like yours, but I’m already living happily ever after, so I’m not too worried what the next chapter brings.
How about you?
Julie Rybarczyk is a freelance writer, fair-weather blogger, and empty-nester mama who’s living alone and liking it . She’s perpetually the chilliest person in Minneapolis—so most of the year you’ll find her under layers of wool, behind steaming cups of tea. Or at shortsandlongs.net
BY Julie Rybarczyk - February 24, 2019
Thank you for being here. For being open to enjoying life’s simple pleasures and looking inward to understand yourself, your neighbors, and your fellow humans! I’m looking forward to chatting with you.
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