To bring a short series on doing things alone to a close, I invite previous guests Brandon Patrick and Christina Martinez back into the solo studio to talk about living alone. This is too big a topic to cover in just one episode, but we hit many of the highlights as we discuss our perspectives and experiences living alone, presenting pros, cons, and tips. We finish by presenting some tips to those of you who want to live alone.
Listen to Episode #111 here
How To Live Alone – Part 1
To close the short series on doing things alone, I invite previous guests, Brandon Patrick and Christina Martinez, back to talk about living alone. The topic is much too big to cover in one episode. We hit some of the highlights as we discuss our perspectives and experiences living alone and present pros, cons, and some tips. If you like this topic, I will encourage you to revisit the series on solitude and the episode on Financial Freedom with Money Amy, as the financial cost of living alone is not trivial. I hope you enjoyed the episode. Let’s get started.
Twenty-eight percent of households in the United States are solo. That is, they have one occupant. That number is nearly 50% in some Northern European cities, most notably Stockholm. It’s a great place to be single, and I’m going to visit Stockholm this summer. It has to happen. I need to find out what’s going on there and write it off. There has also been a rise in people living alone in collectivistic cultures, such as Japan and South Korea.
I will make a shout-out for a fascinating episode called Meet the Honjoks, which is about this emerging young creative class in South Korea rejecting the traditional forms of status, education, work, and so on. They tend to live alone very minimally. What’s cool is South Korean businesses are paying attention and catering to them, especially with regard to their lifestyle. This rise in solo living is exponential. For much of human history, no one lived alone except for hermits. In the last several years, there has been this big jump. Why?
These guys are so excited to talk about the advantages of living solo. Before I get into why, I will give people a little preview of what we are going to do. We will talk about our experiences living alone. We are all happy solo occupants. We will talk about the advantages and disadvantages, and end with a little bit of advice. Why this exponential increase in single living? One is, there are more singles than ever before.
When everybody got married at age 22, there wasn’t much opportunity to live alone. Moreover, the rise of women in particular, especially in these developed nations, leads to a lot more living alone. That happens in two ways. One is women’s access to educational and economic opportunities means that they can afford to live alone. That wasn’t the case for a lot of human history.
The other one is women are living longer. Everybody is living longer but the gap between men and women in terms of longevity means you have a whole lot of older women without partners because their partners have passed. Even if they wanted to partner, it would be difficult to do it because there’s no one to partner with.
If you are having a hard time getting dates, if you live long enough, your chances go up. Also, later marriages, so there’s more time in your twenties that you might be on your own. One of the fascinating things is also associated with the rise of women. Single women are more likely to own their residence than single men.
I have seen a lot of that on Tinder where they are like, “Homeowner, this and that.” It’s like, “That’s great. I don’t have a home.”
Out of all my girl and guy friends that are single, the girls pretty much own their places. I know very few of my guy friends that do.
There’s that age gap that I highlighted in terms of longevity but we are starting to see educational gaps with men falling behind educationally. The majority of women graduating from college university, both undergrad and beyond, are women. This turns into the ability to buy places. The other thing is innovation. Technology now exists that makes it possible to live alone.
Another reason is the rise of technology. Through innovation, you can now live alone in a way that you couldn’t even not so long ago. At one point in time, if you wanted clean clothes, you had to go to the river and wash them. You need a bucket and a washboard, and that was laborious. You couldn’t earn a living and have clean clothes. The rise of the homemaker was perhaps agreed upon but it was these very clearly delineated activities, both of which were quite valuable, someone tilling the fields and someone making dinner. Nowadays, we have washers and dryers, dishwashers, and DoorDash.
There’s a DoorDash for laundry, too. You can drop it, and they will handle it.
Interestingly, you say this because, in my early days as an Assistant Professor, I was not surprisingly living alone because of who I am. I was so busy. I started buying a lot of pre-packaged like healthy meals at Whole Foods and sending out my laundry. I no longer do that but it felt perilous. Any time I was keeping up my house, my homemaker role was getting in the way of this very challenging endeavor. This is not surprising to anybody reading this. There are more singles and opportunities to be able to own or pay for your way. Women, if they don’t want a man, they don’t need a man. That’s empowering.
You can now essentially outsource almost everything with regard to living alone if you have the means. You can hire cleaners or send out for food. Even your vacuuming can be done automatically. Even if you cook for yourself, it can be done with minimal prep, which I suspect we will talk about. Let’s talk about your experience living alone, Christina. You live happily alone. I have been to your place.
I have lived alone for a few years now. In college, I lived with people, and right after college, I had a roommate.
I want to make this distinction between a home and a home base. I feel like you have created a home for yourself.
COVID did a little bit of this. You had to love the space you were in but more than ever, my house is my little sanctuary. I have things I love in there. I feel so comfortable. I work from home a lot of the time too, so my office is set up the way I want. I spent so much more time there in the last couple of years than I ever did.
Your hobbies are home-related.
They are. I’m a big DIY-er. I have a woodshop in my garage. I go out, run, do other stuff, and meet up with people but I love spending a Saturday waking up, grabbing my coffee, going and hanging out with my garage all day. I’m still just home.
If you looked at the two of us and you are like, “I have some pictures to hang,” you would want to ask me. One follow-up question, Christina. Would you live with someone? Would you take on a roommate?
I don’t think so at this stage.
What about a dating relationship?
I don’t know. Maybe if I’ve got serious and we were thinking that this was going to be serious, permanent. I dated someone for six years. I had never lived with him. I did for a month in between my places timing-wise but that was it.
I did an episode about Alternative Forms of Marriage. There’s this form of marriage called living apart together. It doesn’t even have to be a marriage. It could be a partnership of sorts. It may have many of the other benchmarks of a relationship escalator except over the merging. Does that turn you on?
I hate to be closed-minded at the operation of what could be in the future. You don’t know until you are around someone if you want them around more or not. I value that I have my routine, and my lights are set to my alarm because I know I can snooze the sound pretty easy but I will wake up if the lights get on. I go out, and if it’s winter, I turn on my heater in my garage while I go inside and make my coffee. I go outside and get on my bike because I have a little workout space out there. Picturing not being able to have my alarm lights come on because someone else is sleeping, I would probably snooze through my thing. Even that one stuff would trickle through my whole day.
There’s what I call the compromised couch in my place where the person I was dating for a very long time kept saying I should get a more comfortable couch. It ended up being a good thing. It was from a company. I like their style but it wasn’t the one I wanted. It ended up being influentially correct. It’s more comfortable to hang out, watch movies, and all this stuff. It doesn’t look as pretty as the one I wanted but I’m ultimately happy that I have it now.
The couches should have that form and function.
Every single piece of my house works for me.
The idea of saying, “Never say never,” makes sense to me. It’s hard to predict the future.
I have had a girlfriend who saw a property that was a lot bigger than what I live in. We could totally go in. I can flip something and stay in it for a few years. We would have had pretty much our own separate spaces. She and I have enough of the same vibe that I’m like, “It might be fun to have someone like pseudo living with me if they are not like up in my space.” I know a lot of people that have the main level and a basement roommate where they only see each other passing in the kitchen. That’s something I could probably deal with but I’m so spoiled now.
Here’s the last question. When you date, do you disclose this?
I haven’t gotten to the point where I have had to be like, “I think you are starting to like me too much. You will never get the opportunity to move in.”
I asked this because I do disclose it now because I have had relationships. Not because we didn’t get along but because I did not want the person I was dating to move in. I don’t say, “I will never live with someone,” but I say, “I don’t foresee living with someone.” I want that person to know early because if they have this vision of more throw pillows, they are going to be deeply disappointed at some point down the road. Brandon, do you live alone a lot?
I have a roommate but it’s that basement situation. I have this entire basement to myself. It’s like a finished basement. It’s got a living room and a music studio. It’s not completed but it’s finished. Most of the pictures are on the wall, and I’ve got some posters with albums that I’m like, “I can hang that.”
I know someone who you can call.
I know who I’m going to call. You do wood stuff. I have so many ideas.
Do you generally have roommates?
Yes, but we don’t share a space.
Is that because of financial reasons or do you like having people around but not too around?
Especially a financial thing but it’s also I’m gone a lot. I don’t want to have a place and not ever be there. I think about this all the time if someone would ever date me.
It should be if someone would ever date you for long enough. Brandon has a contact form on his website. You can check a box for like, “Book me for a show,” and he has an option for a date.
People get to the website, and they are like, “How do I date this guy?” I make it as easy as possible.
You do date but the long-term stuff alludes to you. Would you live with a partner?
I talk about it all the time. We have to have separate bedrooms, frequent sleepovers, whatever. I have my stuff perfect. I love everything about my space. My bed is the bed that I love. My couch is the couch that I love. There’s no compromise couch. That’s the couch that came from the basement. It was the perfect house. It’s the perfect everything. I would love for her to have that as well. Her perfect wouldn’t be my perfect. She doesn’t need a piano room or any of that stuff but I want that stuff. I want her to have whatever her equivalent is.
The ideal relationship is we would have a three-bedroom house. It’s my bedroom, your bedroom, and a hobby room for whatever her and my hobbies are if they could co-exist in the same room. If she’s into selling, that’s not compatible with piano and guitar playing or whatever. If she’s got reading and stuff, that could be in the room.
This is the point. You are already stipulating what can go in that bonus room. That’s so sweet.
It’s a simple four-bedroom house that would do it.
You want her close but not too close. What if she lived down the street?
That would be perfect. I would love that.
For the living apart together, anybody who doesn’t want to merge their lives and lifestyle, you have these degrees. Separate bedrooms, for example, or maybe separate apartments or condos in the same building. Maybe separate houses in the same street neighborhood, and you can start going further away within a city, different cities, and states, depending on the frequency in which you want to see the person, lifestyle stuff, and job things. I met this guy on Clubhouse in the early days of SOLO. He’s like, “I want my wife to be my neighbor.” He was very clear and unapologetic about it. I gave him a virtual high five.
I have a friend that got married. We have had a conversation. She was like, “We put his house on the market. He moved into mine.” She’s lived alone even longer than I have in that house. I know how her house is. It’s exactly how she wants it. I’m like, “How is it having someone in your house? Now it can’t be your house.” He can’t be rude to him. She’s like, “It’s hard.”
I will put in the exhibits. If you had not seen the scene from When Harry Met Sally, as far as romcoms go, it’s great. It’s one of the best. Harry and Sally are friends and end up becoming more. They have a couple who are friends and move in together. There’s a scene in which they are having a huge fight because the guy has a wagon wheel coffee table. She does not want it. No one should want a wagon wheel coffee table. It’s a very funny scene.
I also do think there’s something, too. If you guys have very different schedules, it might seem less burdensome.
There’s overwhelming pressure for people on the relationship escalator to move in together to share the same room and the same blanket. I have a friend whose partner has different temperature preferences. They use different blankets, and her mother or mother-in-law finds that offensive. It’s too much. Part of what I want to do is license people if living alone is right for them. There are a lot of boxes that you have to check. It’s not for everyone.
This is only semi-prescriptive for people who are unhappy with living arrangements. It would make them happier if they lived alone. I recognize there are strong needs. You need some extra income and certain psychology in terms of enjoying the solitude. My story is I have lived alone all but two of the last several years, and I am good at it.
It’s honestly one of those things that I feel like before I had the experience that I thought I wanted. When I first moved in by myself, it was a little weird being alone there. Once you get over that hump, you don’t know how great it was. Whatever you were thinking like, “I wish I had,” it’s better. If you have an inkling that you want it, it’s going to be even better than what you have expected.
Especially if you are cut from the same cloth as the three of us, I don’t have a don’t-live-alone balanced perspective on this show. We have already started diving into the advantages and disadvantages. What are some of the advantages, Brandon?
To take it to the gutter immediately.
I don’t think you have to finish that thought.
When your space is your space, you can do whatever you want in your space.
Do you walk around naked a lot?
Yes. Most of my clothes are not folded now because I’m sad and they are on the couch.
Brandon is having a mild bout of depression.
It’s okay. We will get through it. I will take a shower, and then I have to go to the living room and say, “What are we going to put on?” It’s like, “I wouldn’t have this if I lived with roommates.” I would have to fold your clothes, put them up, be a man, grow up. I have no interest in that.
You can get naked whenever and however you want.
For whatever reason, you don’t have to dress to impress. I feel like I’m always dressed moderately well.
It’s so interesting you say this. I’m teaching this consumer behavior course. I used this goal framework. People have goals, and their goals determine their preferences. They may have wildly different preferences depending on whether one goal or another goal is activated. An achievement goal, you are going to dress a certain way.
A comfort goal, you are going to dress some other way. I can’t believe I told my students this, “I have two sets of lounging clothes.” When I say lounging clothes, I mean hanging out around the house and going to watch movies, especially it’s winter here. It’s my comfy clothes. The comfy clothes I wear when I’m not entertaining are shockingly ugly.
It’s that stuff you have collected over the years, and it’s like, “It doesn’t matter.”
It’s too big. They don’t match. They are but they are more comfortable than the entertaining comfy clothes.
I’m curious about it. At home, I dressed differently. It’s comfort. It’s sweatpants, shorts, whatever.
When you said gutter, you meant if you have a guest. You don’t have to modulate your behavior. You don’t have to coordinate.
You don’t have to go to the bedroom. We are in the living room. It’s happening in the living room. It’s great. My roommate is way upstairs. There are two sets of stairs to come down to where I’m at. It never interferes with what I’m doing. It’s always awesome.
The opposite of what you were saying about your mess being everywhere is I love that everything is exactly put away right where I want to. I love the organization. My house is not ever that messy. I wake up, I do my thing, it stays pretty tidy, and they love that. There’s nothing strewn left behind by someone else.
Both of you are talking about the same thing but with different values. It is control.
We like our situation will look the way we want it to look.
One of the members of those SOLO Slack channels, which you can apply to be a member of at PeterMcgraw.org/solo, wrote, “I love having full control over my own space, and I enjoy my alone time. I like having control over little things like always knowing where things are. I also like not having to worry about how my pets will get along with roommates.”
I feel the same way. I have a pet idea for a project about this idea of tidiness. People who like to keep a very tidy life may gravitate towards living alone in a way that someone who’s a little more flexible on that. My big thing is I do these big projects. I write these books. It’s a several-year process. I do it analog. I have my paper, physical books, and a pile. I create piles. Every chapter is a pile.
I’m redoing my class. Every class is a pile. Sometimes that’s on the kitchen counter or the living room floor. I will clean it up if I’m entertaining. I can imagine it would drive someone probably crazy to have these piles there. For me, it’s important because I need to be able to pick them up and work on them as necessary. I do think that you have to give up a lot of control if you are going to have someone else in your space regularly. What else have you got?
We already touched on it with that beautiful table you were describing. I would not let a wagon wheel table come into it. I was going to say the decor and everything else we had been talking about with the furniture and stuff.
You called it the compromised couch.
She looks at that couch with disdain every day.
I used to, and now I have grown to be like, “It was perfect for what I need now.” I’m like, “I paid several thousand dollars for the couch. I’m using it.” I believe there are several things worth spending the money on, and couches are one of them. You spend too much time. They are the focal point of view.
Not everybody is lucky enough to inherit the perfect couch.
I love my couch. That’s all I spent with my bed. I have dated people with bad beds, and it’s like, “This will never work.”
My biggest other thing, and I already said it, was like, “My house is my place I find peace.” That is largely because it’s whatever environment I make it. I can’t imagine having to alter constantly. I get to come home, and it’s where I find silence, I can stretch or do whatever. I can curl up on my compromised couch and read. I don’t know that I would have that same feeling about it if someone else were there.
That resonates with me. I care about aesthetics. It’s very fun to set up your space, be welcoming to yourself, interesting to other people, comfortable, and stimulating. I feel that way. I feel like my apartment is a refuge. I go out in the world, mix it up, travel, and work hard but I get to come home to this place that’s very welcoming to me and supports rest, restoration, and creativity.
I feel like if I was still compromising when I came home, having to be on or answering someone when I needed to be in my own head, I wouldn’t get the full recharge that I feel now.
I used the word refuge. It feels more like a refuge when it’s 100% me.
You can curate the space towards your space. When I walk in, I get an idea of who you are or I don’t. Some people have bland houses like mine. You know who I am. One of the things I love about living alone is that everything is my fault in that house. If it’s dirty, that’s on me. I can handle that but I know how to anticipate that. When I used to have roommates, you would come home, and it’s like, “You guys haven’t done dishes this month. That’s cool. They are everywhere.”
It’s also the smell. I’m so picky about that. I light a candle every day. Very much part of making your space your own is having that touch.
If you want a good candle. SOLO is sponsored by Wax Crescent. You can go with SOLO20 for a promo code. For Kym Terribile’s amazing candles. She had a game night and she brought solo candles. You can find a picture of them on my Instagram.
It’s something as simple as that. I want to make it smell. I don’t want to walk in and smell a sweaty gym bag or something I have no control over.
The advantages are pretty obvious at this point, even though we are gushing. What about some of the disadvantages? What are some of them for you specifically or more generally?
When I get sad, I tend to isolate and stay to myself. When you don’t have a roommate or someone else around, you don’t have that impetus to get over what you are going through. You are like, “I can live in this forever.”
What might that look like for you?
I ordered a lot of food and smoked way more weed than normal. I get sad in the basement, write and play sad songs.
You are creating melodies. You are not just sitting in front of the tube.
I don’t know that I can ever not create. It’s the quality and universality of what I create is the influx.
How long might this go? If you have a bout of depression where you get into this malaise, is it days? Is it weeks?
It can be weeks. Luckily, I’m on the road so much. I have to physically go out to do my job. Once you are out, “I will go out.”
You can get isolated and get stuck in a rut. It is true when you are alone. You get to make any choice that’s there. Having a roommate, a partner, someone in the house, a family member can help you do something that you wouldn’t have otherwise or someone you can talk to. That very clearly would be. If I’ve got depressed, I would understand. Each of us is having a bad day differently. Brandon is depressed. I’m angry. Christina is anxious. It’s a whole range of negative emotions.
I had a bad day. I came home, and there was no one who said, “How was your day?” Unfortunately, these two were coming over, and we’ve got to chat a little bit but if they hadn’t come over and I wanted to process this, I would have to pick up the phone or I would have to make some impromptu set of plans that’s there.
To the point of the homeowners, you were talking about before it feels like everything breaks at once or everything has to be done at once. It would be nice to split the workload. I know we were talking about splitting bills and what I wouldn’t give to pay half of everything. On top of that, luckily, I don’t have a yard to mow. I have a lot of other gardening stuff I have to do but it seemed like the laundry list never ended. It would be so nice to divide and conquer.
You have to talk about this. Why is it that people tend to live together? Economically, it’s superior, and then also the workload is superior.
I don’t even know how often you have to mow your lawn. If you are in those months when it’s warm and you are mowing every couple of days, that’s a whole another environment.
You are paying someone to do it either with your time or your money. Even making a meal, it’s nice to have someone preps and cleans up. It cuts the workload. When you make the meal, now you have to decide on the same thing. The coordination exists in that sense. We should, at some point here, when we talk about the device, talk a little bit more about money. There are a few workarounds that might exist but in general, if it’s so rewarding, you are going to pay for it. The only people who get away are the people who are very happy with roommates or a partner. Those folks get all the benefits.
They are easy-going. They happen to be simpatico, and it works. Those are folks I would never try to convince to live alone or even encourage them in any way. I’m like, “That’s working for you. That’s fantastic because you get the best of both worlds,” especially if you can go out in public and do things alone. You are home. You are together. You have someone around.
If you need that solitude, that space, and you are comfortable doing that out in public, going to the movies, coffee shops, museums, and for walks, then you have the full range. I don’t think I have much to add in terms of disadvantages. Brandon, you had mentioned this to me offline. If something goes sideways, you are on your own. I once fell down my stairs.
I flew through the air and landed on my back, head hitting the bottom stair. It was spectacular and bad too because I was on the phone, cackling, laughing at my friend, and I was in socks, wooden stairs, and went down. I was a little banged up but it wasn’t a bad thing. You could imagine a situation where you are totally on your own and incapacitated or something like that.
I do woodworking a lot of stuff around my house and have been in a few situations. I have a 22-foot ladder to get on my roof. My house is tall. I take all the precautions. I tie things off and do everything. There was a moment where it wiggled a little. I had a moment that I was in the backyard, and none of the neighbors could see me if I fell behind this fence. It does make you think like, “I need to be even extra careful.” It’s not that I was trying to be careless but if I fall, I don’t know when someone will find me.
Nothing guarantees anything. This is a terrible story. A brother of a friend around my age was in the basement working out, finished a workout, had a heart attack, and died. His wife found him purple and dead. If she comes down earlier, maybe he lives. If it’s me, I’m done. I’m gone. It’s not that because you live with someone doesn’t mean it heads off all of these possibilities but it does reduce them.
You might do less risky stuff because there’s sometimes, I’m like, “I should wait until I get someone to help me with this and I can do it.” If I knew I had someone coming home in an hour, I would be like, “Can you hold this up while I do whatever?” Whereas if I know someone is not coming over for the next week, I take chances with it.
Brandon, did you have an experience that led you to bring this up?
When I had COVID, I had roommates that I was not close to. They had COVID, too. It was like, “I could die in this room. They won’t know until the first of the month when the rent is due.”
I have had the flu that was so bad that I’m like, “I understand why people die of this.” I was on my own. I’m good at being sick alone.
If I have even a little bit of a cold, I’m like, “Can you bring me yellow Gatorade? It has to be yellow.”
I have this stiff upper lip. I’m like, “I’m fine.” I’ve got one of this Rotavirus or whatever, where I was crazy sick, fever, aches, vomiting, the other end, too. I was in LA with my girlfriend at the time. I was in her apartment, and she was back home for the holidays. I was in her place, so less familiar. Bless her. She sent me food. It was soup, some soda, crackers, and a bunch of this stuff. I was so sick. Bless the delivery guy. He found his way into the building, got up to my floor, and knocked on the door. I couldn’t even stand up.
I limped over to the door and got that stuff. At one moment of time, I was lying in bed, and thought, “Should I call 911?” It was one of those moments. If there were someone else in the household, that wouldn’t be as anxiety-producing or I wouldn’t necessarily have to call 911. We could get in the car and drive. I survived but it felt a little touch and go for a month.
You don’t know what weird situations you are going to be in until they happen.
The fall thing was interesting. I don’t know if you have caught this but there’s an Apple Watch commercial that I saw. I assume other types of smartwatches have this fall detection. It’s a compelling commercial because it’s a shot of a forest. There’s a phone ringing, and it’s Siri’s voice. It says, “The owner of this Apple Watch has taken a hard fall and is unresponsive. They are at longitude and latitude so and so.”
This message will repeat in five seconds, and there’s a call from 911. We talked about the technological innovations that exist. This was like someone that did mountain biking, crashed their bike, and they were unresponsive. There’s a joke back in the day about the device. It’s the, “I have fallen, and I can’t get up.” This is the modern-day version of the Life Alert.
Honestly, I don’t wear my Apple Watch a whole lot anymore. That would make me put it on before I start all my stuff for the day.
I’m less concerned about that thing but it is true. There are risks. I think about this when I’m in another country sometimes. No one knows where I am. Some people don’t even know I’m out of the country. I can be a little too loose in that.
When I go into these new cities, they don’t know I’m there until an hour before the show. No one knows what I’m doing.
I am going to digress here. I want to point out the obvious, which is if you are single, you can do way more things than you do. You could do anything you want in some sense. We don’t. You could take some chances. You could try some far-out stuff without any accountability even when you are home alone. I think of that sometimes. I’m like, “I don’t even know if I take full advantage. If I could do anything I want,” that type of thing. We are Jason here, let’s talk safety.
- Brandon Patrick and Christina Martinez – Past Episode
- Brandon Patrick
- Christina Martinez – LinkedIn
- Financial Freedom with Money Amy – Previous Episode
- Meet the Honjoks – Previous Episode
- Alternative Forms of Marriage – Previous Episode
- When Harry Met Sally – YouTube
- Wax Crescent
- Life Alert
- Instagram – Peter Mcgraw Instagram post
About Christina Martinez
Christina Martinez is an outdoorsy DIYer living in Denver. She holds a degree in Marketing and HR from the University of Colorado.
Christina spends her free time with her dog, cooking and restoring her 1968 Dodge A-108.
About Brandon Patrick
Brandon Patrick is a stand-up comedian, storyteller, and host of Burritos with Brandon.