You don’t know what you have until it’s gone. Then you miss it. But you can also learn something along the way.
This year is the first that I am living alone, in a tiny studio flat in London. I’m trying to decide whether I like it. On balance, I think not. Having my own space is fantastic – I value seclusion more than most – but only when the seclusion can be suspended on demand. If you’ve ever had to move alone to a new city, you will know that social interactions with people whom you’ve only recently met don’t work like this. I do appreciate the peace especially after a long day at uni, but those only come twice a week, now. As usual, I want to have my cake and eat it.
At home, growing up, I could wander around the house to see what my parents and brother were up to, and school provided at least a minimum of social interaction with non-family members. As an undergrad, I lived in college for two years and in student housing with friends for another. This really was the best of both worlds: my room was my own, but I could count on having friends around at meal times and we would schedule social study breaks. I never hung out with the people on my course, but housemates and university societies kept me more than socially active.
Now, I sometimes go a whole day without speaking to anyone face-to-face. Don’t feel too sorry for me – I’m in a fantastic relationship and my life is pretty great – I’m just pointing this out as an annoying realisation of the cost of privacy. Small spells of isolation are not the end of the world, but over time, they can be pretty draining. I have discovered, through experience, why Sims have a ‘social’ meter on their needs tab. (A feature that mystified me as a child – especially the way it would completely replenish by the magic of WooHoo.)
It’s actually rather profound stuff. We need other people. We’re just not built to be alone for too long. So, even if I have plenty of work that can be done from home, I try not to let a day go by when I don’t leave my flat at some point. When social interactions can’t be arranged, there are a few alternatives. Skype is God’s gift to millennials, but I find that I don’t make the time for it as often as I could. More often, it’s exercise that I turn to. A brisk run is like an orgasm for the endocrine system. Some days, brief conversations with strangers (say, in the supermarket) become valuable interactions! Try not to judge me, I promise this is not as sad as it sounds.
The truth is, I am often too busy to justify the vast investments of time required for short socials in London (this place is bloody huge), so I only set aside the hours when I think it will be worth it. I know, I’m the worst. My horribly calculating brain has begun to treat social time as a transaction, only to be carried out after careful cost-benefit analysis. I also confess that, at this point in my life, meeting new people is an effort, time spent getting to know acquaintances, an investment.
The problem is compounded by my fondness of solitude, or perhaps of the industriousness that comes of it. And I realise that I am starting to sound like a grinchy hermit who chooses to ignore social gatherings by convincing himself that there are important tasks to complete alone. But I’m not too antisocial when my coursework pressure ebbs, I promise! I like going out as much as the next person, but at times there just really isn’t much going on that I can go to. Anwyay, next year I’m aiming for housemates. I’m picky about sharing living space with others – but, as I said, it’s measured on balance, innit?