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Art by Ernst-Ludwig Kirchner


31 March 2023

Things That Go Bump in the Night: Thoughts on Living Alone


When you’re sixteen and an only child with parents who encourage independence, the prospect of living alone doesn’t unsettle you.


I was excited to have flatmates through university, but when I thought about my life after uni, I had a lot of confidence in my ability to thrive alone. It turns out my confidence was misplaced.


Now, I would like to take you to early 2022. At this point, I was in the second semester of my third year of university. I’d learned that I was nowhere near as independent and self-sufficient as a sixteen year old me thought I would be. I’d learned (the hard way) how to look after myself. I’d grown up a little and I’d made my fair share of mistakes. I’d had most likely more than my share of fun and I’d lived through the tumultuous time that was Covid 19 in a Uni town. Throughout all of this, I had never lived with less than 4 other people. I went from big shared halls in my first year, to living with four of my closest mates in my second year whilst simultaneously hopping between my flat and that of my boyfriend. It was my third year, I was living with one other friend, buckling down and dealing with the increased workload. 


I was fine. Then I wasn’t. For reasons that aren’t mine to share, my flatmate (and good friend) made the tough decision to defer a semester. I supported her. With this decision came the obvious follow on. If she didn’t need to be in Edinburgh to study, she didn’t need to be in Edinburgh. Therefore she couldn’t afford to be paying rent for a property she wasn’t living in. 


I tried my best to be pragmatic about the situation. She came back to move her things out of the flat, and we explored all our options. Since I didn’t want to move (Our flat was beautiful and very reasonably priced- an absolute gem especially in the current climate), and the finance office couldn’t provide us with enough support to cover her portion of the rent, we decided to advertise for a flatmate for myself. With one candidate falling through and another having to wait out their lease this took over two months, throughout which I lived alone. 


As I waved her goodbye, I wasn’t too concerned. When I lived in a flat of five, the occasional night alone had been an absolute win. I adored my flatmates but I could recharge my social battery, play my music loud, and, most importantly, have unrestricted access to our one and only bathroom. I went to bed that night quite content. Then I started hearing the noises. Everybody knows what I mean. After a little while of tossing and turning, I decided to pull up my laptop and play an episode of a show I’d watched before (so I wouldn’t get invested) as background noise. Turns out this behaviour would recur quite a lot over the coming weeks. I drifted off.


I woke up the next morning feeling quite relaxed, quite refreshed. I went about my average day, quite enjoying my own space. At around 8pm it dawned on me that I hadn’t interacted with another person face to face since yesterday. Before this point, I always had at least 4 people at home that I could go and annoy if I was feeling anti-social. Now this wasn’t the case. I struggled with this realisation, swiftly packed a bag and went to my boyfriends for the evening.


Over the weeks that followed, I settled into quite a comfortable routine. I was mostly fine, but there were significant stretches of time where I did feel quite isolated and very cut off. Like most people after Covid, I’d discovered I didn’t like being alone with my own thoughts for too long.


Although I enjoyed my alone time, I had lived for two and a half years in noisy, messy flats full of life and laughter, and the silence in the flat quite often felt like it was echoing off the walls. There were no shared memories being created anymore.


As I write this now, I’m living with two of my best friends and I do have to say I prefer it. Having a space to call entirely your own can be quite exhilarating, a place you feel happy and comfortable. I do miss that on occasion. I was happy. But I’m far happier here. There is noise that spills through the hallway. There is laughter that bounces off the walls. There are people coming in and out of rooms, banging doors, running taps, using the kettle. There’s walking into your room to your hairdryer sitting on your bed when you forgot who had it, since it’s been so long since you lent it out. The laptop now only goes on at night if I’m really struggling to sleep as the noises aren’t scary anymore.There are people to be social with right here for the days I don’t feel like upping the ante. There is shared space, shared memories.


There are pros and cons to each. I’ve done both. I know I’m capable of doing both. I know I can do both again in the future. There isn’t one that is better than the other. But I think, at 21, that craving for a sole personal space is one that can wait, when piles of washing up and noisy house parties and shared bathrooms aren't things you want anymore. When I have a flat of my own and I’m not renting off some landlord exploiting students and charging high prices for not so nice flats. But for now, I am content with those things. Until I am that post-university 20 something, I don’t think living on my own is totally for me.

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