I used to think that I could never be truly happy if I lived by myself. I just always assumed that I would get married and have children, so the idea of a solo existence did not appeal. But life had plans for me that I knew nothing about and I ended up exactly where I didn't want to be. So I tried to learn and adapt, mostly with more failure than success.
And then I read a book that changed my life. Actually no, I'm just kidding, I didn't. That just sounded like something someone would say in that instance. What I did do, however, was read a book that made me laugh and look at my life from a different perspective.
The book is called Live Alone and Like It, The Classic Guide for the Single Woman. It was written by Marjorie Hillis, and was first published in 1936 (yes, you read that correctly), and then again in 2008 with a new preface by Laurie Graff. With chapter titles like, "Who Do You Think You Are," "Etiquette for a Lone Female," and "Setting for a Solo Act," Hillis, in her stern, matter of fact manner, lays the groundwork for any woman who wants to thrive while at the same time living on her own.
Hillis, who lived alone by choice and worked for Vogue magazine for more than 20 years, believed that there is a technique to living on your own successfully that stems directly from your attitude. "You've got to decide what kind of a life you want, and then make it for yourself," she said. Indeed.
Right from the start Hillis makes it clear that she'll take guff from no one, saying that "anyone who pities herself for more than a month on end is a weak sister." With her no-nonsense attitude, she then proceeds to lay out a plan for living well on your own, complete with case studies of anonymous single women living solo to varying degrees of success. Miss H. of Wilmington, we are told, is "rich as a bootlegger and as smart as paint," while Miss J. gets "the small end of everything and the worst seat on the bus."
No topics of discussion are left unturned, and include friendship, etiquette, leisure time, and interior design. There are chapters entitled "Pleasures of a Single Bed," and "A Lady and her Liquor." It really is an A to Z guide on how to prosper as a single lady.
I find it quite remarkable how much of the advice still applies today. But maybe the point is that I shouldn't, because basic human instincts and traits change very little over time. At the time the book was written, single women were rather rudely referred to as "extra women." We may have altered our terminology since then, but when we say that we feel as useful as a third armpit or a fifth wheel, we are describing the same sensation of feeling extra, or leftover, or not needed. The technologies we use to live our lives may have changed, but our feelings stay the same.
As you may have guessed by now, with the help of this book I have accepted that my favourite living arrangement is now the one I am currently in - just me and my cat. I now see that at this point in my life, living alone is the best option for me. As a writer I find that my creative mind doesn't follow a regular schedule, so I sleep at odd hours, I eat at odd hours, and I just generally live kind of an odd life. But that's okay, because I like my life and I am perfectly content to have my home be my solitary sanctuary - designed for me, and me alone.