Living On My Own: A Learning Opportunity

It’s not the ideal situation, but I have learned more about living with myself.

Welcome. (Yes, that’s my front door.)

Living on your own is something everyone experiences at one point or another, for a variety of reasons. At 26, it is the first time I am truly living on my own. When I left home for college at 18, I had a roommate first in my dorm and then in the off-campus apartment I rented. Although I had an on-campus job, my parents were of the mentality that school was my job and assisted me financially. Then, at 20, I got married, which meant I was, again, living with someone. (Before you ask, no, we did not live together before we were married.)

But sometimes life throws you curves. My first “big girl job” required a move across the country. While many other factors contributed, this move meant another change: my husband and I separated. While I want my marriage to succeed, and I want to work through our issues, the opportunity to live on my own has actually contributed to me being better prepared to move into the future.

Why? Because it has allowed me an opportunity to grow in myself. It has helped me practice patience. It has helped me to not rely on another person (which is something I did in my marriage). It has helped me to see what I can and cannot live with, and what I cannot live without. It has forced me to prioritize better than before. It has forced me to see myself for who I am — good and bad.

Chores. I have to do all of them, even the ones I don’t like. I admit, I used to make my husband do certain chores because I simply didn’t like them and therefore didn’t like to do them. When those chores didn’t get done, and I, inevitably, had to do them, I did them with a resentful heart. This is a childish mentality, and it’s something I’ve come to realize is not fair. I have learned to do the chores because I enjoy the outcome, even if I hate the process.

Doing things myself. Not that I didn’t think I could, but I feigned disinterest and inability before. I recently purchased an outdoor patio table and chair set, and I had to put both chairs and the table together. I realized I was happier with the outcome — even if it was imperfect — because I did it. I get frustrated when pieces don’t fit the way they should, so I also have to practice patience, and sometimes I have to walk away for a bit. I now feel how my husband might have felt when he would put our household things together, and I understand the frustration.

Productivity. My husband and I had different work styles and (of course) different jobs. Productivity was, therefore, measured differently for us, and we often tried to put our version of it on the other person. I’ve come to realize that having different versions of productivity is okay, but that you have to be willing to express this difference to someone else, if just for understanding. As long as the work that is supposed to be done gets done, I feel productive.

Taking breaks. On a similar note, I’ve also learned that if I need to get up and walk away, I can. As an online instructor and a writer, I spend a lot of time on my computer. My eyes start to strain, I start to get headaches, and my body begins to hurt. I used to think I had to sit there until I got through everything. The truth is, I feel better about completing the work if I take a break, and my work often turns out better if I’ve taken a break. I may take my dog on a 30-minute walk or go to the gym. And there may be days when I don’t get on my computer at all and instead entirely recharge by taking my dog on some sort of adventure — a hike or going to a dog beach. And that’s totally okay.

Interactions and experiences. While I enjoy spending time by myself, I also get very lonely when I spend too much time on my own. On the same thread, I get overwhelmed if I spend too much time with people; I need my alone time. I experience the world around me through my senses in ways others may not. I have to touch everything, feel it, run it through my hands. I take deep breaths on hikes because the air just feels cleaner as it works its way through my nostrils. I experience my faith in these moments. I often need to take a break from others when I have these experiences to absorb them. I would much rather hike on my own with my dog than with someone, especially right now. At the same time, though, I need community. I have learned — or at least, I am working on — how to balance these things. But I am the happier for it.

Being myself. I began to realize I lost myself within my marriage. Once out of school, I didn’t know who I was if it didn’t relate to my husband. Being on my own, I needed to figure that out. While I am still learning about myself, I have a better idea of who I am than I did a year ago. I’m more comfortable with me. I don’t have shame in the things I enjoy anymore, and that actually brings relief. I don’t always feel like an adult — and that’s okay, because we all need to let our inner child out once in a while (especially to enjoy The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.)

Adulting. This is the biggest one, and I’m sure it’s something everyone who has lived on their own has experienced. After all, that’s basically what “adulting” is. But I’ve learned that adulting doesn’t look the same to everyone, not even to everyone in the same age group or generation. I used to think that to be a “proper adult” in marriage, I (or we) had to have certain types of jobs; we should have bought a house by 25; we were supposed to be planning for, or having, our first child…the list goes on. The thing is, though, that our life experiences, our goals, our dreams shape our life. And this may not happen on the same timeline for everyone. I cannot allow society to dictate how I navigate my life, because I won’t ever truly find joy that way. To me, “adulting” means getting by one day at a time and being content with, and grateful for, what I have.

So, cheers to a learning opportunity, but also a hopeful future.

Alexandria enjoying a glass at the Mount Vernon Wine Tasting Festival.