My marriage officially ended in 1987. It had gone to pieces somewhat earlier, but the official ruling on the matter did in fact come in 1987. It's not something I think about often, though I've had to think about it recently, mostly because my ex (since remarried) asked me for the actual date of the divorce decree, inasmuch as she was applying for a government job and for some reason they wanted to know that and she'd actually forgotten it, and I, being the sort of person who still has his 1972 pay stubs, was able to find the answer relatively quickly.
Then again, I sometimes wonder if one of the reasons the marriage foundered was because I was the sort of person who still has his 1972 pay stubs. I tend to think of myself as somewhat difficult to live with, mostly because idiosyncratic behavior, for me, is far more the rule than the exception. And during the 1980s, "idiosyncratic" was a polite word for it: being youngish and dumbish, I far too often essayed the role of Complete and Utter Asshat. I was good at it, but there was no demand for it. It would be another 15-20 years before I returned to something resembling tolerability, and that required both life-changing experiences and regular doses of tranquilizers.
Which is not to say that I've become anyone's ideal roommate or anything like that. Even in my allegedly mellowed-out state, I still have moods somewhere between mercurial and Lincolnesque, I clean in binges and then forget about cleaning in binges, and I respond poorly to being interrupted. (We won't mention the wardrobe issues.) And one could reasonably ask, I suppose, why I still pay for cable when the only things I watch regularly on television are Thunder basketball and My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic.
On the other hand, living alone isn't quite the horrifying prospect it used to be, despite the stereotypes of the manchild in his cave with his big-screen and his Doritos, or the spinster in her chair with half a dozen cats wandering about. It wouldn't be too unreasonable, in fact, to suspect that, what with marriage rates in freefall I continue to be perplexed by the fact that gay folk, denied the altar, embrace it, even as straights flee from it in terror our cultural arbiters will attempt to upgrade the Table For One experience to something almost, um, normal:
Lately, along with the compelling statistics, a stealth P.R. campaign seems to be taking place, as though living alone were a political candidate trying to burnish its image. Two notable examples: Eric Klinenberg, a sociology professor at New York University, recently published Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone, a mash note to domestic solipsism, which he calls "an incredible social experiment" that reveals "the human species is developing new ways to live." And last fall, an Atlantic magazine cover story examined the rise of the single woman, a piece in which the author Kate Bolick fondly invoked the Barbizon Hotel and visited an Amsterdam apartment complex for women committed to living solo.
[My own reaction to Bolick's piece is here.]
This, however, seems fairly inarguable:
In a sense, living alone represents the self let loose. In the absence of what Mr. Klinenberg calls "surveilling eyes," the solo dweller is free to indulge his or her odder habits what is sometimes referred to as Secret Single Behavior. Feel like standing naked in your kitchen at 2 a.m., eating peanut butter from the jar? Who's to know?
I admit to all three of those, though never at the same time.
Still, a tendency toward self-indulgence is no big deal unless it spills over into one's interactions with the rest of the world. With apologies to Paul Simon, I am neither a rock nor an island; it would make my life simpler, I suppose, if I were, but being wrapped up in oneself makes for a small package, and if there's anything a man of my age doesn't need, it's a small package.
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Copyright © 2012 by Charles G. Hill