From Our Readers
July 26, 2014 12:33 pm

For my entire twenty-two years on this earth, I have always lived with someone. Sometimes that someone was my family, and, in more recent years, roommates. I enjoy people, and even when you become engaged in silent battles of wills over who will do the sink full of dishes, I think having a roommate or roommates is a wonderfully comforting thing. Who else will have dance parties with you to terrible pop songs, patiently listen to your love life woes, and share a Pepperidge Farm Cake with you for dinner?

This year, however, will be the first time I have an apartment on my own. This decision was not up to me, but rather it was how the cookie crumbled. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little nervous over this prospect. I have never had to spend copious amounts of time with myself, so beginning this process has been an eye-opening one. After settling into this apartment and being here for a few weeks, I have learned that, much like anything else, living alone has stages.

STAGE ONE: Hesitance

Where should I put these dishes? How the heck do you decide what cable provider to use? HOW DO I USE THIS BLENDER? Stage one is characterized by indecision and endless questions. All of a sudden YOU are the one who chooses where everything goes and how you will arrange the furniture. You also are in charge of paying your electric and gas bills on time without someone constantly reminding you that you owe money. You feel wary of everything and overwhelmed by anything. Your helpful, jolly band of merry moving friends may help you move into your apartment and they may or may not witness you having a breakdown over the fact that you forgot to buy a potato peeler, and they will love you anyway.

STAGE TWO: Joy

When all of your furniture is finally moved in (after many yells of “PIVOT, PIVOT,  PIIIIVOOOOOT!” to your increasingly less jolly band of merry moving friends), and your cable is turned on, the place starts to feel a little more like home and a little less like a prison sentence. Your pictures are up on the walls. Your clothes are in the closet. And dang it, your favorite foods are in the fridge. This is your kingdom and you are its benevolent ruler. The magnitude of the situation hits you all at once: YOU CAN DO ANYTHING YOU WANT. Pant-less cooking? Check. Watching a three hour marathon of trashy television (Oh, Pretty Little Liars, you never let me down)? Check. Eating anything you want without the fear of judgment? Can I get an “AMEN”? Check check check check check. You will live joyfully and lavishly and pant-lessly for at least several days, simply because you can (and, let’s be real, you hate pants).

STAGE THREE: Fear

The euphoria of stage two starts to wear off just a little now. Loading the dishwasher is a little less exciting because, let’s face it, it never was really exciting, you just temporarily lost your mind with your newfound freedom. Cooking whatever you want has lost a little of its magic too, because you also have to do all the clean-up. Bumps in the night become terrifying because what if a serial killer had climbed your balcony and is waiting for you to fall asleep so he can slit your throat? You start to sleep with a frying pan under your bed because it was a good weapon in Tangled, right? You have a tiny fear that you might slip, fall, and hit your head in the shower and drown and nobody will find your bloated, decaying body for weeks. However, you hide these small fears and keep your chin up—it possibly can’t get any worse than being in your own head like this, right?

STAGE FOUR: Abandonment

Oh, it can and will get worse. The novelty is wearing off and the parties and gatherings of friends who celebrated your independence with copious amounts of food and laughter have trickled away. Many times, the only person in the apartment is YOU. By this stage, all of the starry-eyed wonder of living on your own is gone. That romanticized, honeymoon phase has met its demise. Now, all you feel is this sort of irrational hurt at EVERYONE (let’s all think back to my post about being an unlovable human sometimes. This would be one of those times magnified by about one thousand. So if you easily get uncomfortable by gratuitous self-pity, you might just want to click out of this right now.).

You feel like the people who are supposed to love you the most in the world have picked up and left you (in reality, most of them are only about 30 minutes away. Some are only a three minute walk away.). You are at your most vulnerable, and there is no one there to tell you it is going to be okay except for you—and that is scary as hell. You spend a lot of time lying on the floor, staring at the crack on the ceiling while eating popcorn. Like, an inordinate amount of time. Sometimes you cry. Sometimes you won’t even REALIZE you’re crying, you’ll just start wondering why your eyes are blurring as you’re trying to cook your chicken and BOOM—you’re weeping. You may also crawl across the floor because that feels like it’s the only appropriate way to express your emotions. Stage Four, in short, is a slow motion train wreck.

(Note: Let’s all keep in mind that I’m somewhere in between Stage Four and Stage Five at the moment, and like any halfway point, it’s a little awkward and weird. So I’m going to name Stage Four and a Half after myself. I feel like that says it all.)

STAGE FIVE: (WO)MAN UP!

You are getting sufficiently tired of lying on the floor eating snack foods. You pick yourself up. You put on clothes that aren’t yoga shorts and a ratty T-shirt. Basically, you realize that the pity-party is SO not endearing, so it is time to face it: This is what your life will be. Along with this surge of self-loathing at the pity you have been wallowing in, you have a little anger. You’re feeling a little wronged (even though you haven’t been), and this stage sometimes comes with striding around the grocery store, angrily picking out produce and aggressively responding, “YOU TOO” when the cashier tells you to have a nice day. Basically, you’re a grown woman who don’t need no man (or a roommate, for that fact)!

STAGE SIX: Acceptance

You gradually settle into a routine. Once again, living alone starts feeling less like a punishment and more like an opportunity to grow. There are going to be bumps in the road; it is inevitable. It begins to dawn on you that being alone doesn’t have to mean being lonely. . .but you also (wisely) realize that sometimes being alone DOES mean being lonely, but that is something you must learn to cope with (healthily). You probably start doing yoga or meditating or writing a really witty memoir about being in your twenties (I don’t know, I haven’t reached this stage yet, guys. I’m pulling things out of the air!), or starting your magical journey to becoming a master chef. But maybe, just maybe, it’s as simple as waking up in the morning in your bed with the sunlight coming in through your window and feeling like you are exactly where you belong at this moment in your life.

Shelby Cowles is a middle school teacher, shower singer, and living room dancer. When she’s not grading papers, she can be found flipping through Netflix, doing yoga, and spending time with her merry band of family and friends. You can find her on her blog twentysomethingtriumphs.wordpress.com where she published the original version of this essay.
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