Adjusting to living alone

Antonia (author of Taking Out the Trash) was twenty-four when she married the first time and twenty-eight when she divorced. She was married again for two years in her early thirties. Now, at thirty-nine, she’s mastered the art of living alone. Here’s Antonia:

[contemplate1] I was never spoiled, but my father worked very hard and my sisters and I, we each got a car on our sixteenth birthdays, we each were sent to college, no questions asked, but I was oblivious. My world was this cute little bubble. My father once said to me about ten months after I got my license and my car,

“Let me ask you a question: have you ever figured out how you just drive around and never visit a gas station?”

“Hmmm, no I never realized. It is always full,” I said.

“I’m just wondering how after 10 months you thought you were running on the first tank of gas?” he asked.

dishwasherI didn’t realize he would just gas up my car for me.

I didn’t have any traumatic things happen to me. I got my first house with my husband and I started crying because our furnace broke. I didn’t know how to deal with anything.

I just started living alone starting three years ago. In between my divorces I had a roommate to help me with my bills and then after my second marriage, I had to live with my parents till my house was sold. So three years ago was the first time in my whole life that I ever lived alone.

I bought a condo, I moved in, and about a week later I sat down on my couch and I literally had a meltdown. I was scared, I was afraid to be alone, I didn’t know what to do, my whole life flashed before my eyes, all the terrible choices I made, how did I get here?

I had to just spend a lot of time alone which was when I figured all of this out and was when I started writing. I really turned it around, from the glass is half empty to the glass if half full, and,

“Wow I did get here, I am a survivor!”

But it’s a comedy of errors. Picture a thirty-seven-year old girl, at Sunday dinner, we always have to have macaroni on Sundays at my parents’ house and I asked,

“Do you think it’s weird that every time I run my dishwasher it smells like burnt toast?”

and everyone’s like “yes, it’s going to set fire, you need a new one!”

I just didn’t know what to do. My father was so nervous. Or I would have half the light bulbs not changed, and I’d just go “I guess I have to change the light bulbs, huh?” It was very funny.

Then I just started to become very independent, and now I don’t even know if I could live with somebody, I’m so independent.


I couldn’t resist including Antonia’s story about her father gassing up her car – that really made me chuckle. It reminded me of when I first moved to the U.S. I bought a stackable washer/dryer for my condo but the dryer never really worked probably. I’d never had a dryer before and just couldn’t figure it out. I didn’t know anyone well enough to ask to help without feeling like an idiot so each week, I would just hang my laundry in the spare bedroom to dry. It was literally years later when I was renting out the condo, that my husband discovered the loft insulation covered the dryer vent which meant that as soon as the dryer reached a certain temperature it shut off the heat. To think all that time, there really was nothing wrong with the dryer!

Having spent several spells living on my own, including a couple of years after college and then again for a couple of years after I moved to the U.S, I was surprised to talk to women who have never lived on their own, especially women who are younger than me. I think it was just something I’d taken as a given that everyone does.  Jolene had never lived before her divorce and didn’t like sleeping alone in her house. Carolyn was twenty-seven when her marriage ended and she found herself living alone for the first time in her life.

It doesn’t seem to matter whether or not you’ve lived alone before, being alone after marriage is an adjustment and incidents like Antonia’s dishwasher are inevitable. That’s the practical side of single living – nobody was born knowing how to manage a household. It’s something that everyone has to learn and there is only one way to learn … by doing it. It helps to have a handyman to call for emergencies or jobs you don’t want to learn but you’ll be surprised how quickly you adapt.

There is also the emotional side of living alone, just getting used to being alone. That’s part of the learning to love yourself that Antonia shared earlier. And yes, that can feel very uncomfortable. I know at first, even the realization that I was going to be alone in my house without the kids made me feel anxious. But like the practical tasks, there is only one way to learn how to be on your own – you just have to do it. And for me, it’s been well worth learning.

… ooh, writing about Antonia, has just reminded me .. I need to take my trash out tonight :)

Photo credit: tidefan

  • Missy June

    I lived on my own after college and loved that season of life. Still, the emotional transition to living alone after marriage has been challenging. Most of all, I sense the weight of responsibility to manage the home, keep up yard work, repairs and such. It’s helped to ask for help when I really need it. I’ve also learned to try things on my own first in order to save money. I’ve repaired a sink leak and garbage disposal problem. I’ve painted, I’ve mowed grass – many things I thought would be the role of another person.

    Oh, I suppose I don’t really live alone, since my three little ones are there! But they just make more work…it will be nice when the boys are old enough to help with the lawn.

  • April

    And this is one of the reasons that, for me, being a homeowner is not the best thing. I can manage a household for the everyday, but I appreciate being able to call a landlord for things like dryers not heating and air conditioners breaking down! I think part of learning how to be independent is figuring just how much we want to take on. It doesn’t make us dependent to call a landlord; I mean, our rent is paying for that service! It’s deciding how much we can take on and handle effectively.

    • Anonymous

      @April – excellent point. A landlord, especially a good one would be an excellent member of your post-divorce support team.

  • Anonymous

    I was married for 30 + years and have never lived alone. Getting a divorce and just thinking of being on my own was the scariest thing I’ve ever gone through. It’s been 5 weeks in my own new place. I chose to rent because I don’t want the yard work or repairs to worry about. So far it’s going good, I have awesome friends and family to help with things I don’t know how to do. I am proud of all that I am learning! But there are times when I’m incrediably lonely. At these times I need to do talk to myself, and remind myself how lonely and unhappy I was for the last 4 years in my marriage. I might be lonely but I am happier. I am finally getting my confidence and self worth back and learning who I am and what I like!!

    • Anonymous

      @rgaff -sounds like renting was a good choice for you and like April says, it’s all about figuring out how much you want to take on. Some people laugh that mastering a household chore can give such a boost in confidence but I’m with you, I’m smiling remembering removing the dead mouse from the mousetrap for the first time and thinking, I can do this. And I do think all those little tasks contribute to building your confidence and as that builds, the loneliness will get less.

  • Fab@42

    I am in the process of getting divorced, and have not moved out yet. I am so scared of what it will be like to live alone for the first time. But I realized, reading this article, that I might be ok. I have changed light bulbs, gassed my car. Heck, I can even use a cordless drill. I’m good to go!

    • Anonymous

      @Fab – you will be more than alright. Just take it step by step. April had some good advice – think about renting or a condo and then you’ll have someone else sharing the responsibility.

  • DivorceUtah

    Everyone has a choice of how to live their life. We no longer have to ask others but ourselves if we want to stay alone. If you are strong enough inside nobody will object what you do.

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    Thank you so much for all you have done! ~ lacey – United States, Ft. Lauderdale, FL.

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    I enjoyed reading this article because I have come to realize that my husband (second) does not love me like I love him. For example he has tried on several occasions to contact his ex-wife so they could catch up on old times, I found out about it by accident at first I just over looked it and said noting will happen but I came to me again. My heart fell so I contacted her and she stated “She’s not interested in him, but he keep on persistence that they meet” and I brought it to his attention i was very calm about it but of course he said noting but looked very stupid. I told him do understand to be in love with some else and married to another can be hard, but you should have worked that out before you asked me to be your wife so don’t be unhappy with me just leave and we both will be happy in life but don’t allow me to assume that you want to be with me. I notice that sometime when he would come to me with a problem that has happen to him either at work or just anywhere I would give him my attention and pray with him about it, giving him advice even helping him financially. But ever time I have a problem that I want to share with him, he show no interest and sometime he would even say “I don’t want to hear” and walk off I would get mad and really go off, but this is the last time. Life is a circle and I do believe it will come back to you but worse, I am ready to live alone again. I wanted to share my life with someone who loves me and I him, but I have learned when life throws you shit take it and make a vase with it – place in some flowers and learn it to will pass. The written is on the wall for me. Thank you for listening :)

    • Mandy Walker

      Your husband is clearly emotionally unavailable and that makes any marriage a very lonely place to be. Kudos to you for recognizing that this is not the relationship you want. I wish you courage and strength as you move forward.