I’m 31, Divorced, and Living Alone for the First Time in my Life

There are a thousand ways to go home again

by Laurel Fitzpatrick

A white picket fence

At thirty-one, I live alone for the first time in my life. Sure, there were a few single dorm rooms during college, but I mean alone, alone. Pay my own bills, choose my own furniture, no one else’s stuff is here. Alone.

A Room Of My Own

My apartment is a tiny studio. It’s about 350 square feet, and there are very few people I know who would choose to live here for longer than an AirBnB night or two. I moved in after a summer of drifting between my stepmother’s rustic cabin in the woods behind the house my father built; onsite yoga trainings, where I slept on an old friend’s air mattress in a room she deemed “Laurel’s room”; in a rustic cabin with an outhouse on an island in Maine; and in the guest room of my mother’s lovely, rural home, where I always felt the need to straighten and neaten, though no one told me to. After an abrupt and painful divorce, an unexpected and swift exit from the town, state, and life I was in, and leaving a job and a promotion I was excited about, I was beyond grateful for and in dire need of the help. But it was not easy. I am a homebody: I love creating beautiful spaces. I love to be home, to snuggle on my couch, to light incense, to arrange flowers, to paint walls white and furniture bright, to bake pies, to be at ease, to dwell in quietude.

My Ex-Husband And Me

While I was married to my ex-husband, I tried to create cozy spaces that made me feel loved and safe and free. I learned a lot about myself and about other people through those attempts and that relationship. One important lesson I took with me: you cannot change someone’s priorities. My ex-husband didn’t much care about where he lived. College concert posters haphazardly taped to the wall were fine with him. He did not want to spend money on furniture or art or flowers or kitchenware. He had other priorities, and while it was impossible for me to fully accept his approach during our marriage, in hindsight, I see that his outlook is okay. Not everyone needs to carve a space, a sense of place, a sense of rootedness using an identical mold. Some people want to feel untethered and free and compelled to answer only to the whims of spirit. There is no denying these innate longings. For myself, I learned what I need and yearn for above all else: a home, a nest, respite, space to think and feel and see clearly. This idea goes beyond physicality, beyond nice things, beyond fanciness, beyond singularity. It could be a Vanagon or a small cape in a 1950s neighborhood or a 350 square foot apartment in an old brick building with high ceilings that crack and wood floors that need to be refinished or a tent or a converted barn or whatever I can dream or conjure or that which reverberates in my bones.

Where Does The Road Lead?

Two years ago, I could not have fathomed what home looks like now, and I cannot now fathom what it will look like two years down the road. Today, it’s a small seaside New England town. It’s one room filled with objects I made or found or bought myself: a hand-painted teal dresser with thrifted copper knobs from a 1970s Sears Roebuck catalog; paintings and prints and art done by my mother and my stepmother and my mother’s friends and local artisans in places I’ve traveled; purple pillows; floor-length cotton curtains from Ikea that flutter in the wind; vases of dried Eucalyptus and thistle; a wall-mounted pot rack reminiscent of Julia Child’s; a chipped, retro mint green toilet that made my step-niece giggle with delight; a vintage coat rack that tilts to one side on the uneven floor. It is imperfect in every way and filled to the brim with my heartsongs.

In my new relationship, our priorities and our aesthetics are much more closely aligned. If we move in together as we plan to do in the not-so-distant future, I know our home will be interesting and beautiful and eclectic in its own way. But I also know that, in choosing to live with someone else and maybe someday a family full of someone elses, I will be giving up this hard-fought sense of freedom, of complete comfort in knowing every inch of my home is representative of me—earned, assembled, appreciated by my eyes, my hands, my heart before and above all others. I will learn from my partner; we will compromise. Our collective wisdoms and inspirations and creativities will mingle and develop into something I cannot even begin to visualize. It is and will be wonderful and joyful and bittersweet and heart wrenching and worthwhile all at once. As is life. So I recite often and remember always: “…there are a thousand ways to go home again” (Rumi).

Laurel Fitzpatrick

Laurel is a teacher, yogi, and pie enthusiast. She loves the outdoors, has been married and divorced, and believes in love in all its forms. She is a New Englander through and through and is currently and constantly transitioning from one version of herself to another.

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  • Amy March

    I don’t always love living alone, but I think it is such a useful thing to do. The freedom and the responsibility I have found is just an excellent way to get to know yourself, and I’m glad you’re enjoying it!

  • Angela’s Back

    I really enjoyed this essay… between roommates in college and grad school and then moving in with my husband, I’ve only actually lived all by my self for the space of a year, my first year in my first job, and even though it was a shitty apartment in a not great part of town, it was all mine and there was a part of me that was so sad to give that up when my now-husband moved in with me. I also feel really strongly about decorating my space, pretty much the first thing I do when I move somewhere is put up all the wall art. My cubicle at work is by far the most decorated but I need that space to feel like mine, especially since I have to sit there for 8 hours a day.

  • Abs

    This is so good. I loved living alone for a lot of the same reasons discussed here. It was such a good experience that I was really concerned about moving in with my now-husband. As it turns out, living with him was lovely right from the start, but home with him means something so different than home by myself. I still have a soft spot in my heart for the little apartment I lived in by myself. The layout was insane, the electricity was dubious, and there was flaking lead paint everywhere, but it had a clawfoot tub and beautiful light and I will probably never love any place more. Or at least more out of proportion to its actual merits.

    • AP

      Yes! The little cottage I lived in had termites and was furnished with the most awful stuff (including a prize marlin the own had caught and mounted on the wall, with explicit instructions not to move it.) But dang, I loved it.

    • AmandaBee

      “I loved living alone for a lot of the same reasons discussed here. It was such a good experience that I was really concerned about moving in with my now-husband.”

      Same – I love my husband and love living with him, but I not-so-secretly still mourn the experience of living alone. Although my solo-woman apartments were tiny and furnished with things I’d drug out of the trash, they were also where I came into my own skin and learned to understand, appreciate, and rely on myself.

    • Zoya

      My studio apartment where I lived for three years was a converted garage with dodgy heat and a persistent bug problem. But it was MINE. I still miss it sometimes, slugs on the kitchen floor and all.

  • Pickle

    This was so beautifully written and perfectly encapsulates how I also feel about home.

    It also makes me feel really grateful that my partner and I decided to have separate bedrooms, though we still sleep together many nights. I love that there’s still a space in our shared home that’s just mine where I don’t have to compromise at all on how its set up. If you can afford it, I highly recommend it!

    • penguin

      I think there was a big discussion on this on APW a while back! I’m always curious about people who sleep separately, although I definitely understand the appeal of having your own space.

      • Katharine Parker

        I am also always curious, probably because it does not appeal to me to have separate bedrooms, so I am interested by those who love it.

      • ManderGimlet

        (I commented the similar above so sorry for repetitiveness!) we don’t have totally separate bedrooms, but we have a guest room that usually 2-3 nights a week one of us will use. We both snore, our schedules aren’t always the same, he likes to sleep with the TV on, neither of us are “sleep cuddlers” (in fact I get boiling hot and don’t like to be touched/spooned when sleeping) so it is a great option for us. We are much nicer and easier to live with when we aren’t sleepy! It is also my crafting room and has some of his music equipment in there, so it’s like a separate living/activities room if we need some alone time when we’re awake as well.

        • Colleen

          I often sleep in a guest bedroom for many of the same reasons you list above. His sleep apnea, my desire to stay up later than he does, our preference for personal space vs. spooning when actually trying to sleep, not be romantic. I love having a different room to go to when one or both of us needs it!

    • Zoya

      I still dream about separate bedrooms sometimes. I have an office for working from home, and I’m considering adding a futon for occasional sleeping-by-myself. Because “I’m writing and need to stay in the flow” or something.

      • NolaJael

        One of my favorite movie scenes ever is in Evita where Juan Peron comes and knocks at Eva’s (Madonna) boudoir door and she hears but doesn’t answer. The sense of female self-determination in that wordless scene is immensely empowering.

      • Pickle

        If you really want it but are worried about your partner’s reaction, I can say that I was initially the hesitant partner (and by hesitant I mean lots and lots of tears and trying out different systems that would feel good for us both), but now I really love it.

        • Zoya

          Nah, I’m just lazy and furniture shopping is the worst. :P

      • ManderGimlet

        We have a guest room that frequently one or the other of us will sleep in. We both snore, one of us is often getting up earlier than the other, my fiance likes to sleep with the TV on, etc etc. It’s awesome! We are so much better together when we are both well rested. It was weird at first because you are indoctrinated into thinking that “healthy couples always sleep in the same bed” but it’s just not true, every relationship is different!

    • e.e.hersh

      I would, someday (after my lottery win) love to have two residences. Not huge or anything, but I’ve always loved the idea of a little place in the city and a little place in the country. Husband and I could be at either one together, or taking a little break at either place apart. I feel like this would be my ideal setup. I ascribe to the idea that you can’t miss someone if they’re always around!

      • Laurel

        This is my dream, too! A little A frame in the mountains and a small farmhouse near the sea…life goals.

    • ManderGimlet

      Currently we are only at “separate bathrooms” but it really makes such a difference, I never realized that this would be a “necessary luxury” for me! We joke that it’s the secret to our happiness lol

      • Angela’s Back

        If I could have my own bathroom I think I would die of happiness…

      • penguin

        Separate blankets on the bed are our secret to happiness! Individual blanket burritos are the best, no fighting over the covers.

      • Colleen

        Separate bathroom joy is no joke. It’s real and honest and true and wonderful and totally a secret to at least some of my happiness! We’re also separate blanket people (and sometimes separate beds people, thanks to sleep apnea (even with C-PAP…sigh)). My mother is a supporter of having “spaces in your togetherness,” by which she means maintaining friendships, pursuing hobbies, etc. that don’t always directly involve your partner. Basically, making sure you’re still filling your own tank. I’m also a huge fan of “spaces.” Some of mine just happen to be physical spaces, in addition to the emotional ones!

  • sage

    I love that feeling of rootedness described in this piece. In 6 weeks I will move out of my one bedroom apartment where I’ve lived with my dog the last 3.5 years to move in with my fiance; I know the transition will be bittersweet, but I’m looking forward to sharing space and finding a new normal.

    • Zoya

      From experience: give yourself time to grieve for the old living-alone you, if you find yourself needing that. The transition from living alone to cohabitating was stressful as hell for me–the actual merging of lives was shockingly easy, but I spent so much time feeling weird and sad about giving up my studio apartment.

      • “I Don’t Knowww, Margo!”

        I felt the same way! I LOVED my own little apartment. It was hard to give it up, even though cohabitating with my now-husband was so easy and so fantastic. It’s been five years, and I still miss my old place, but I’m done with it, except in my memories.

  • emilyg25

    My first and only solo home was such special place and I’ll treasure it always. A 400 sf one bedroom apartment in an old Victorian house, with wood floors and tall windows and a truly miniature kitchen. But it was mine, and moreover, I moved there, to a new city and state, entirely alone. Now I’m happy to share a house with my husband and son, but grateful that I’m able to turn a spare bedroom into my craft space, a room of my own, with blush pink walls and a gold chandelier. I joked about putting a sign up that says “NO BOYZ ALLOWD.”

  • AP

    I could have written this, from the living alone for the first time at (for me) 28 years old, to the divorce, move, and job loss that happened within a 6 month span. The time I lived alone holds some of my most cherished memories. I feel all of this essay so hard, but especially this right now as I’m expecting my first child:

    “But I also know that, in choosing to live with someone else and maybe someday a family full of someone elses, I will be giving up this hard-fought sense of freedom, of complete comfort in knowing every inch of my home is representative of me—earned, assembled, appreciated by my eyes, my hands, my heart before and above all others.”

    Hoo boy, not crying at work. Nope, not me.

  • Eh

    The only time I really lived alone was after my ex and I broke up. The therapist I was seeing at the time told me I should stay in the apartment I shared with my ex (since he was moving out) and find a roommate. I promptly got a new therapist and found myself a tiny one bedroom apartment. During that time I needed to grow and move on and I needed my own space to do that. I have so many good memories in that apartment and that time in my life (it’s the only time I really “dated”). Eventually I met my now-husband and he moved in with me, and it’s where we lived until we bought our house shortly after we got married.

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  • Kara

    After university, I had my own apartment for 3 years. My then boyfriend (now husband) and I were long distance. I loved having my own place. We moved into an apartment together about 3 weeks before the wedding, and I had to prepare myself mentally and emotionally for the changes that would come–sharing a space, even though I was sharing the space with the love of my life. We bought a house 4 years ago, and I’m grateful for the space we have.

  • Eenie

    The thing that got me ready for marriage the most was moving out of the shared house with my then boyfriend, now husband. I hadn’t ever lived by myself and wanted to know I could do it (plus that’s where my job offer was). Spoiler alert – I could! Those 18 months aren’t months I’d up ever change, even though it meant a long distance relationship. It makes me appreciate our shared home more, knowing just how much work it is to keep an apartment by myself. I see it as giving up some control for the team effort that makes most things easier.

  • ManderGimlet

    This really touched me. I love my fiance and our home, but the sense of freedom and movement and the ability to be truly ALONE almost whenever you want is something I struggle with having only lived by myself for 12 or so years. Great essay!

  • e.e.hersh

    Beautiful – thank you for sharing this. I miss my years of living alone for the reasons you mentioned, but what’s striking me now about this piece is the loving of objects and the curation of a “home space”. My husband and I just moved, so this idea of filling our space with the things we cherish is at the forefront of my mind. It was easy and fun for me to do this alone, but definitely harder with more people’s stuff and taste to consider! I’ve been doing a lot of the Marie Kondo “does this object spark joy?” test, and trying to fill our space with things that I actually find meaningful instead of things that were pretty and on sale at Homegoods. That feeling of a beloved home space is truly important to me as well – best of luck to the author moving forward!

  • Jay Fitzpatrick

    A cute place in a great town, near your favorite beaches. Home is where the heart is. Wherever you go, there you’ll be, with your new best friend, collaborating (not necessarily compromising) through life with smiles. Love you.

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  • Another Meg

    Oh my f*cking god. This was me. This was me HARD.

    This is so beautifully written and it just aches with familiarity. When I left my ex-husband, eight (!) years ago, I moved into a tiny studio in the attic of a big old house in a college town. Everything in it was given to me by friends as they moved up in the world, or bought second hand and spruced up. Only one of my cookie sheets was small enough to fit into the tiny oven and the pantry was a hole in the wall with a shelf stuck in. To this day, it is my favorite space. It was 100% mine at a time when I was finding myself again after an emotionally abusive marriage.

    I’m in a good, solid marriage now in a very different home with two cats and a chubby, adored baby. I was only able to get here because of the discovery that happened in that tiny studio. The freedom I had there still follows me around. I think I can keep it, in a way, because I’m choosing to be part of something bigger. I choose my family every day.

    I hope the writer continues on her path and keeps some of that freedom in her heart, wherever she goes.

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