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

There are a thousand ways to go home again

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).

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