How do you know when a particular way of life, such as being single or living alone, is right for you? For Meghan Daum, one of the most gifted writers of our time, it is the life you just keep coming back to. She calls it a “situational set point.”
In “Same life, higher rent,” an insightful contribution to the new and engaging anthology, On Being 40 (ish), Daum describes her life in 1997 and 2017. Both times, she is living alone in New York City, often spending Friday nights on her writing. In between, she got married and moved to California.
When the marriage ended and she returned to her previous life, she realized that:
“this return was less a defeat than a homecoming. I did not know that the life I was living in my twenties, a life I was certain was a temporary condition, was in fact the only one for me.”
In my TEDx talk, “What no one ever told you about people who are single,” I talked about people who claim to be interested in coupling, and maybe even tell themselves that it is what they want, but somehow never seem to do what it would take to find a romantic partner. I wondered whether living the coupled life is not what they want at all – amidst all the matrimania, they just don’t realize it yet.
Daum has come to realize what suits her best. She’s still dating, even now. But her dating patterns, she tells us, are nearly identical to what they were two decades ago: “sporadic, half-hearted, and marked by an attitude that lurches between grouchy and what would now be called DGAF.” (Look it up.)
The most recent dates were with men who were “interesting and smart…”:
“But they were still no match for the solace of my apartment and the familiar rhythms of my own company. I couldn’t imagine going home with any of them, partly because there’s nothing I like better than going home by myself.”
What’s so great about being home alone? Everyone who loves living alone as much as Meghan Daum does (and as much as I do) probably has their own answer. Here’s Daum’s:
“I love eating when and where and what I want. I love sleeping when I want and socializing when I want and being able to travel at the last minute without throwing another person’s life out of whack as a result. I love talking to my friends on the phone for hours without worrying about someone overhearing me and (at least in my imagination) silently judging me for all the cackling gossip and bombastic complaining. I love hosting parties by myself. I love drinking that first cup of coffee in the morning while standing by my window and (did I mention I pay more rent now?) looking out at the barges floating by on the Hudson River.”
Twenty years previously, Daum notes, she was doing the same thing and loving it. “The only difference was that I didn’t realize how much I loved it.”
You probably have a “situational set point” too if there is a way of living that you return to again and again. A way of living that just feels right. If your situational set point is being single or living alone (not all single people live alone), you may end up trying coupling or even marriage before realizing that married life is not the life for you. As the mythology of marriage is more often challenged rather than swallowed whole, maybe fewer people who are single at heart will need to try marriage to know that single life is the life for them.