The Euphoria of Living Alone For the Very First Time
08.23.17
Illustrations by Juliana Vido; follow her on Instagram @julianavido.

I have had roommates for the last 29 years of my life if you count my mom and dad. Last June, when my roommate Lev and I closed the door of our shared apartment for the last time, it felt like the end of an era. Effective July 1st, I’d be alone.

Lev and I lived together for five years, but we’ve been best friends since our days as rival high school students. We met in 2004 at an O.C. viewing party, the last one I attended before I admitted to myself that I could not handle the emotional stress of watching important shows in public. On this one particular Wednesday, while standing by a plastic tub of grocery store guacamole, I made a comment under my breath about Julie Cooper’s necklace resembling a penis. Lev was the only one who found it funny. He was barely an acquaintance before that night; in that moment, I suspected he might be in my life forever. It was all very romantic.

Our friendship grew stronger over dances, parties and, most importantly, the SATs, where our true love was sealed over a clump of hair. (A handful I’d picked off my North Face landed on his desk and we laughed about it later. In retrospect, could have been a deal breaker.) We talked about how cool it would be to live together in New York when we got older. One year post-college, Lev got a job in Manhattan. Like two 1940s newlyweds, we found a small apartment together, moved in and slept in separate beds.

The first big decision we made together was a couch. We bought an L-shaped sectional in the very practical shade of IKEA white and spent the next chapter of our lives staving off Sunday Scaries while spilling a painter’s palette of drinks and condiments on it. Every year, we swore we’d buy a new cover or get it dry cleaned; every year, a new excuse to wait one more month. It was funny because it was pathetic; physical proof that no matter how much we matured and progressed in our real lives, as grown ups, as people with actual careers, we were still two idiots who reverted back to teen-hood the moment we sat in a room together for more than 15 minutes. That couch was disgusting and perfect.

Our first few years together were an education in how to live intimately with another person. We petty-fought a lot. It felt different than living with a group of girls in that our lives weren’t expected to connect and intertwine. It was different from living with roommates in college in that we were on two entirely different paths. We left every morning to entirely different worlds and returned at night to one small apartment, each of us with our own private stuff to deal with, grievances and gripes from the day that we’d either share or keep to ourselves while we stewed in the solace of our individual rooms.

That dirty white couch was neutral territory, annoying only after a fight, or when you wanted the entire space to yourself (for a guest or for alone time with friends). Otherwise, usually, it was a place of comfort when the rest of New York City felt like too much, became too real.

Over time, Lev and I learned how to pick our battles. We learned the hard way that passive aggressive comments are satisfying to make in the moment but rarely reap the right rewards. I learned how to be less uptight, less neat, less fussy. Despite my inherent preference for mute afterwork hours and quiet mornings, I learned just how far a sincere and heartfelt “hello!” or “welcome home!” can go. I think we both learned the value of space — of needing it, when to give it, when to share it — especially when living in such a small amount of it. Out of necessity for a peaceful respite, we learned to be better friends. When Lev moved out for a year during grad school and then returned, we entered a late-in-life honeymoon stage, as though we were a couple who’d broken up for a few years and got back together with the intention of getting married. A lot of our bullshit was gone. We had grown up.

We also knew our time together was almost up.

At the end of June, Lev and I parted ways and moved into our own no-roommate apartments. We both got studios. If felt like a mutual, mature breakup with all the sadness you’d expect. It was also really exciting. It meant we did it: We’d conquered Manhattan. We had survived internships, first jobs, asshole bosses, “friend drama,” heartaches, ghosts, breakups. It meant we were successful in hitting goals we’d long-ago set. He graduated from business school into a job, I got a promotion and, suddenly, we could both afford to not split a cable bill.

The first morning I woke up in my studio apartment and realized that I was wonderfully, gloriously alone, that I could dawdle in front of the bathroom mirror without having to be considerate of another person’s time, was as liberating and as boring (and then liberating again because it’s boring) as it sounds. The first evening it occurred to me that the place would stay as clean as I left it was a thrill. The first long night after a long day that I realized I could come home and be sulky and selfish was exactly what I have craved since whatever age I realized you cannot do so in civilized company. My stuff goes untouched. The temperature stays where I want it. Like a magic trick, no one eats my food except for me. I don’t get scared; I don’t feel lonely. I’m fully adept at changing a lightbulb. I don’t have to be polite, clothed, nor do I have to think.

Being alone in this place with my things and my thoughts is a comfort, a luxury that I’m well-aware lives in a tiny, ephemeral bubble that will inevitably pop. I can be reclusive like one, but I’m not a hermit; I’ll eventually share my space with another human being. Thanks to Lev, I’m sure I’ll be an easier person to live with than if we hadn’t gone through five years of training. For now though, I bask in the joy that is living on my own. Everything in its proper place, including me.

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  • Erica H

    Can Lev write a companion piece to this?

    • Amelia Diamond

      The E! True Hollywood Story:
      Lies, Love and Lev: What Amelia Didn’t Want You to Know

  • jdo719

    This is lovely. Living alone is a joy. I lived alone in NYC for almost 12 years(!) before recently moving in with my boyfriend (in a new city). There’s something about living in a space that is purely yours– and that you made happen on your own– that is wonderful and empowering and thrilling. I love living with my boyfriend now, but I do sometimes miss when it was just me and my pup and an apartment of our own.

  • Helen

    Living alone is the greatest decision I’ve ever made. I feel extremely lucky to be able to do so.

    • Sarah Hassan

      Preach! I feel lucky every day to wake up in a place that is all mine, and that everything I have around, above, below, and in front of me is because I, and I alone, am able to support myself. I never could imagine how soothing, gratifying and satiating the act of living alone is. And I count my lucky stars each day.

  • patyof

    I loooooooooooooooooooooove living alone. The only roommate I ever really got on well with was my sister, who was absolutely the ideal roommate in all ways (I was probably annoying to her but as the big sister she was obligated to put up with me :P). I would probably live with her again. But now after like 4 years of living alone I almost don’t know if I WANT to live with another person. (Sorry, boyfriend). It’s so peaceful and centering and I just…… love it 🙂

  • Basil

    My time of living alone was brief and unexpected (I technically had a flat mate, they were just never at home). For that reason I don’t think I really got to enjoy it as much as I would have, and now I’m married and have children, it would basically take a lot of sadness (divorce / death of spouse, children moving out) to be in that position again. I do miss putting stuff down and it STAYING THERE and having full control of what TV shows I watch.
    Enjoy this time! You never know how long it lasts. And having stuff constantly not being where I left it makes me doubt my own sanity

    • Amelia Diamond

      “d having stuff constantly not being where I left it makes me doubt my own sanity” hahaha

  • Emily

    I went from living with roommates in my sorority house in college straight to living with my boyfriend…It’s my biggest regret. I always dreamed about living alone in my city (I don’t live in NYC), and I feel like I’ll never get the chance. That thought makes me terribly sad.

  • Leaving roommates behind, no matter how good the next step is, is so hard. I’m about to leave behind my best friend and roommate of 3 years to move in with my boyfriend. I know the next step is going to be great, but I can’t help but feel sad about letting go of her.

    • Hayley

      I hope the move and transition go well for you!

    • maiadeccan

      going through the EXACT same thing right now (except my god i just realized it’s been 4 years for us!) and i am such an excited emotional wreck. so many tears!

      • SO many tears! And at the most inappropriate times!
        But then a friend shared this with me and it helped: “We can’t just park in one spot for the rest of our lives.” Plus all the ‘change is good/it’s nice that the experience was so rewarding which makes it so hard to leave’ wisdom etc.

  • My roommate spends more and more time at her girlfriend’s house these days so I essentially live alone in a 2-bedroom place by the park. After spending post-high school bouncing around between shitty roommates and parents who wanted me out, I have four entire rooms to myself!! I love nothing more than waking up and puttering around before work in the morning because it feels so luxurious. I would be happy to have a partner come live with me in my place and eventually want a townhouse, but for now I am very content.

  • “We met in 2004 at an O.C. viewing party” told me everything I needed to know about how much I’d like Lev.

    Also this was wonderful to read and yes, if you can swing it, living alone is a true, absolute delight.

  • Hannah Laub

    Loved reading this because I LOVE living alone. At first I thought something was wrong with me because I have never been lonely/missed having a roommate in my new studio, while my other friends cant imagine living alone. For me, it almost feels like therapy. If you have even an inkling of introvert tendencies, I think living alone goes from being scary to an enormous relief in about two seconds.

    • Hayley

      I found it to be extraordinarily relieving, too. It’s so nice to come home and not feel the need to socialize with housemates.

      • Hannah Laub

        YAS. The pressure to socialize caused me so much anxiety. The second I heard my roommate come up the stairs my entire body tensed up (and this was a person I am close friends with). Even when I was in my room, I never felt truly alone. I cant even explain the amount of freedom and relief I feel knowing that when I’m home, its just ME.

        • Hayley

          Ditto, girl.

  • Hayley

    I lived alone for my last year at college, and then again for my first year of graduate school, and MAN OH MAN did I love it. I’m an only child, albeit a highly extroverted one, but I really loved having my own space to do with as I pleased (and really to just enjoy the silence and read a good book). Like you Amelia, I’m very organized/clean, and like things to stay in their “homes” if you will, so I really cherished that time. Thankfully, my husband is a neat person too so he’s easy to live with. I just wish we had our own bathrooms!

  • Geraldine

    I enjoyed reading this piece and comments. I just moved into my first adult apartment with my best friend and love it. My mind is so relaxed. I live just outside of city life but close enough.

  • Maria Fernandez-Davila

    I live with three people and two dogs in a small brooklyn apt….and let me tell you, I cannot wait to get my own place when our lease is up next year! I find myself daydreaming about it a lot lately. So much I even apartment hunt online during lunch breaks sometimes! I’m in NYC but my sister in LA has had her own place for two years, just her and her dog. Everytime I visit her I get a twinge of jealousy that she has this whole private space she’s completely decorated and carved out for herself. This just made me that much more confident that it’s my time do the same!

  • Courtney Johnson

    YES- this article exactly captures my thoughts on living alone. I JUST started living alone (as of a week ago) and the thought that I can be my true freakishly clean self is so liberating.

  • Jennifer

    Yay, Amelia! Congrats! I politely request a Studio Tour soon 🙂

  • Laura

    I just started living alone in May and after a couple of days of adjusting, I LOVE IT. The downside is no longer feeling accountable, like I can totally watch hours of Netflix without judgment and that may not be the best thing for my productivity, or just in general for any human being.

  • I lived alone for about 2 years in the cutest little jewel box of a studio apartment you ever saw — visual proof lives in infamy here: http://www.teenvogue.com/gallery/kallie-feigenbaum-bedroom
    I am really glad I did that, if only to teach me that I absolutely hate living alone. Hate it more than anything in the world. GIVE ME COMPANIONSHIP OR GIVE ME DEATH.

  • rachelh

    “alone in this place with my thighs and my thoughts” if you don’t use this as your memoir title, I will.

    • Amelia Diamond

      ugh i wish i said thighs!!! you can use it. (dammit!)

  • Kelsey Alyssa

    It is SO important to live alone! I only got to be on my own for about six months and it was glorious! My own messes, my own decor without compromise. Plus it gave me the space to really figure out who I was and where I wanted to go in life! Have fun!

  • Abbey Dandy

    I love the illustrators you guys use.

    • Amelia Diamond

      Emily has been finding some really cool women to work with!!

  • Kay Nguyen

    I have been living alone for 2 years now and I don’t think I want to change it anytime soon! It’s one of the best things that have ever happened to me <3

    https://www.myblackcloset.com/

  • I loved reading this! Last December marked the first time I lived alone in all my 29 years. Last month I moved into an apartment I picked out all on my own (my ex-fiancé and I shared the one I lived in from Dec – July) and it feels incredible! I like it…maybe a little too much 😉

    26 and Not Counting

  • Imaiya Ravichandran

    a youtuber i follow once talked about this in one of her vlogs. she said in a perfect world, she and her boyfriend would live in separate apartments across the hall from one another. that way, they could have their personal space, but still hang out whenever they want. i know she was joking but…that sounds kind of amazing?? and conducive to a healthy relationship, strangely enough.

    • Liv_ja

      I know a couple in a similar set-up and it’s worked fantastically for them for a very long time. They are my role models.

    • belle

      My dream is a row of townhouses that my best friends live in, and we can all get to each other’s places through the yards. And maybe my townhouse is a duplex and my partner lives in the other half, so I can still have my own bedroom and bathroom and we can have sleepovers but only when we feel like it.

      • Lyla

        Like in Big Love?

        • belle

          lol i haven’t seen it but probably, ya know, minus the poly

  • I’ll read anything you write
    [heart hands over left chesticle]

    • Amelia Diamond

      I frame all of your comments

  • My brother and I lived together for 4 years, and I found myself getting antsy this spring, but then he suddenly took a job out of state and I got sooooooo sad to move away from him. At almost-28, I’m a month into living alone for the first time ever, and I do like it! Immediately started talking to myself and pondering pet ownership, but it’s real nice that everything is Mine and mine to do with as I please.

  • Such a beautiful, touching and hilarious piece Amelia! More of this please! The relationship with a roommate is exceptional because you share a very intimate space with someone that is neither your boyfriend nor family, so you’re forced to reveal your quirks and scars to someone that would otherwise just be a good friend. This closeness can be very dangerous. I moved in with a good friend three years ago and was scared that it would make us grow apart, that our friendship would at some point be reduced to passive-aggressively asking the other person to clean up or buy toilet paper. We’ve had a lot of fights, but nothing has taught me so much about my character and behavior like living with her. We’re like sisters now.

    PS: Also loved Juliana‘s illustrations!

    • Amelia Diamond

      Are you guys still together? I loved her illustrations tooo!

  • Ormond Otvos

    Living alone is stifling.

  • Zoe Penina Baker

    This is so sweet! I’m gearing up to move to a new city this fall (NYC>>>Montreal) and am seriously considering living alone for the first time and it’s very scary! Anyone here have advice/words of encouragement or otherwise?

  • irembezek

    I live alone since I was 16, (now I am 22) because that I was at a boarding school back then, and at college I rented a house by myself, and I love it! I cant stand people walking around the tiny apartments all the time, I love guests but I love when they leave and I stay alone, silent, me time. Every chapter has enjoyable parts, so enjoy it! Good Luck 🙂

  • I moved into my own place a few months ago and have the same exact feelings. It can be boring but also great, I don’t feel the pressure of acting a certain way because of another person. Plus, I can decorate however I want!

  • Em Berlin

    I loved reading this. I am 24 and want to move out and get my own place, but it would drain what I now call disposable income. My friend wants to move out as well so I was debating whether or not we should go together, like, isnt 24 too old to share even if it is 50% cheaper? Im in melbourne which is like, australias closest version of NY. It feels good to know that living in flat share until 29 is a done thing!!

    • Amelia Diamond

      I have friends who are 35 with roommates! It’s super super common in NYC!

      • Em Berlin

        I am glad! Thanks Amelia:)

  • Hannah

    Me the past four years of living solo during school: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qIT9Gbn7Zh8

    • Amelia Diamond

      hahaha