How to love living alone

If you’re a solo dweller, you’re not unique — 24 per cent of Australians reside in one-person households.

Living alone is the fastest growing trend in Australia, along with most major cities around the world. By 2026, single-person households will outnumber traditional nuclear families, according to the Australian Institute of Family Studies.

Of course, there are those who choose to live alone: university students in their groovy studio apartments; happily single adults relishing the luxury of being in control of their own space. But there are many who never wanted to live alone. Rather — through divorce, getting married later, not finding a partner, or death — their cards were played for them.

One of those is Jane Mathews.

“I never thought I’d be 57 and living alone, it’s not what I had planned at all,” says the Sydney-based author of a new book about living alone.“I got divorced seven or eight years ago. I can’t say living alone and I hit it off straight away.”

With a hunch that solo dwelling required certain skills, a change in mindset, and a plan of attack “to embrace it and enjoy it”, she went looking for a book to guide her through the process.

She had no luck: “I couldn’t find one so I wrote it myself, basically.”

The result is The Art of Living Alone & Loving It. The book covers every aspect of life — from finances and cooking for one, to solo spirituality and relationships.

“It has plenty of hints and tips, and some more profound things about how living alone can actually lead to quite a transformative experience in your life and it’s a really positive thing,” says Mathews.

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Jane Mathews new book is drawn from personal experiences

She believes that to be truly content living alone, it pays to examine every aspect of life — and then take action.

“It took me longer than I thought to enjoy living alone, which is why I wrote the book — I’d rather people don’t have to go through everything I went through to try to get there,” she says.

Learning to not compare herself to others and focusing on the future rather than looking backwards has helped Mathews embrace living alone.

“You can be Teflon or Velcro. If you’re Velcro and you hold on to things that went wrong — regrets — it is terrible. You have to be Teflon, and let them slip off you and move on.”

Combatting loneliness
One intangible test that can ambush those who live alone is what she describes as “nailing the octopus of loneliness to the wall”.

“Loneliness is a huge issue,” says Mathews, an advertising expert and author of another book, Midlife Manifesto.

According to a survey by Lifeline, 60 per cent of Australians “often feel lonely”. Of course, it’s not necessarily those who live alone that suffer from loneliness. Lifeline’s study showed a large cohort of the 60 per cent lived with a partner and/or children.

To protect against loneliness, Mathews does not leave her social interaction up to chance.

“Everyone defines his or her own level of sociability,” she says. “I like going out twice a week in the evening — I book it up, I don’t leave it to chance. I make sure I’ve got in my diary things this week, next week ... markers to look forward to.”

Over the years, she has learnt how to plan around special days and situations that trigger loneliness.

“On my birthday about five years ago, no one at all remembered it was my birthday. From that day, I said I was never going to let that happen again. Since then I always invite friends over for dinner on my birthday.”

And rather than presents, last year she asked her friends for the “gift” of an airport pickup.

“I often feel lonely when I fly in and there’s no one to meet me at the airport. You see wives waiting for their husbands, husbands waiting for their wives ... and you walk past alone to the taxi rank. Recently a couple of friends picked me up from the airport — that was a great birthday present.”

Living alone: “The runner-up prize”
Maintaining your sense of self-worth in a society where being a singleton is viewed (consciously or not) as synonymous with failure is one of the intangible tests that people who live alone have to take on a regular basis, says Mathews.

“Society always makes you feel like you got the runner up prize,” she says. “Even when you fill in government forms, there are boxes to tick if you’re married or widowed ... there’s not a sort of “happily alone” box.”

And a word of warning to those who don’t live by themselves — describing a solo dweller’s housing situation as “temporary” can run the risk of seeming condescending.

“Someone recently asked how I was finding my ‘phase’ or ‘period’ of living alone. To me, it’s not a phase — chances are, it won’t change — I’m 57 and I probably won’t get remarried.

“If it’s not a phase, you really have to take it quite seriously, around how you’re going to enjoy your life. The whole point of the book is you have to think about it.

“You cannot look sideways at other peoples lives and compare yourself — you have to work on your own life, and make it as happy as you can within your means and resources.”

The Art of Living Alone & Loving It, Jane Mathews, Murdoch Books, RRP $29.99.

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