I have always admired women who live alone. My admiration ran so deep that I had a pink sofa era, named so because I furnished my apartment with a deep awareness that this was to be my feminine sanctum. I was inspired by the women who seemed to retreat to a home where everything existed just as they left it — a home that was a true extension of themselves.

And yet, when you search “women living alone” the main results have headlines like, “How To Stay Safe As A Woman Living Alone,” with tips on securely locking your windows and doors, or articles focusing on older women adjusting to living alone after years of doing the opposite. These may be valid and necessary, but they only tell half of the story. Look closer and you’ll find the safe spaces women create for themselves to house their most intimate joys and solitude.

I was taken by Poorna Bell’s recent essay “In the restful houses of women who live alone” published in her newsletter “As I Was Saying.” In it, Bell describes her home and the homes of cool aunties and women whose sanctuaries offer respite. I admire their restedness, the endless Sunday vibes, and the ease that comes with not having to tend to everyone before yourself. I have seen and experienced for myself that women who live alone are usually living in a space that reflects their inner commitment to less, to unexpired ease. Realistically though, how easy is it for women to choose this lifestyle? And is it the right choice for everyone?

Why are women happier living alone?

While some women are of course happily married or coupled, it’s important to observe the other side of the story with genuine curiosity. Paul Dolan, author of “Happy Ever After: A Radical New Approach to Living Well” and a professor of Behavioral Science at the London School of Economics, has discussed what many may have suspected or lived firsthand.

“If you are a man, you should probably get married; if you are a woman, don’t bother.” Dolan explains this in reference to a study of American Time Use which compared levels of pleasure and unhappiness in unmarried, married, divorced, separated, and widowed individuals. The study found that unmarried, childless women were the happiest population of all.

“A committed relationship or marriage can translate to financial support and less loneliness, but it also raises questions.”

A committed relationship or marriage can translate to financial support and less loneliness, but it also raises questions about other forms of personal or emotional security, such as uncompromised living arrangements, sleeping (every night) in the middle of the bed, and investing ample time in personal wellness.

Dr. Kimber Shelton, a Texas-based psychologist, names the latter as one of the main reasons that women are happier and healthier living alone. She explains that “research continues to show that in comparison to men, women in heterosexual relationships who work outside of the home continue to take on most of the household responsibilities and childcare labor. Working, coming home to cook, clean, attend to children, and meet their partner’s needs leaves little room for consideration of self.”

Occupying the caregiver role may result in becoming responsible for the health and wellness of a partner, too. Making doctors appointments and providing your partner with meals are just some examples. For Dr. Shelton, this helps to explain why “men in heterosexual relationships tend to live longer and are happier than single men. Meanwhile, married women in heterosexual relationships on average die earlier and express less happiness than single women.”

“If happiness is tied to having more time and space for self-noticing and self-nurturing, then there are many reasons why women may wish to delay or forfeit marriage.”

If happiness is tied to having more time and space for self-noticing and self-nurturing, then there are many reasons why women may wish to delay or forfeit marriage and, instead, tend to themselves. “Single women can focus on their needs and wants. If they prioritize their health and wellness, there is the space and opportunity to have these needs met,” adds Dr. Shelton.

Solo living reclaims what society has poorly championed: Happiness in extended solitude. It is the opposite of the tired, familiar narratives, like the pity for solo-living women and the rush to get married. Women who are happy in their self-choosing deviate from the (outdated) norms and may even be called selfish. If it is selfish, it’s a necessary selfishness; a version that is more akin to self-preservation.

Should all women live alone at least once?

Living alone as a woman may bring fulfillment, if one has the resources and desire to do so. A recent study published by Tannistha Samanta in the Journal of Aging Studies explores the lives of upper-middle-class Indian women aged 50–65 who are living solo. While living alone as a woman is not statistically or traditionally a common arrangement for Indian women, Samanta found a possibility to disrupt that norm in COVID-19’s call for social distancing. The study demonstrates the self-actualization and appreciation of solitude that can be found in women who live alone — and aims to encourage its normalization beyond the pandemic.

“Living alone as a woman may bring fulfillment, if one has the resources and desire to do so.”

Bella DePaulo, social scientist and author, writes about living in joyful defiance of the stereotypes of singlehood. DePaulo’s book, “Single at Heart,” explores the misconceptions about single life and the deep fulfillment that can come with choosing singledom. In one essay, “The Stereotype-Defying Strengths of People Who Love Living Alone,” DePaulo makes a case for three special skills that enrich living alone for the single at heart: Having solo pursuits as favorite activities, being connected to others, and having restorative rather than intimidating solitude. 

Accessing joy in independence can be honed, but it may be overwhelming for those who haven’t experienced the happiness of solitude. Loneliness may arise for some women, particularly if their lives have been filled with constant company and cycles of cohabitation. Dr. Shelton reminds us that being lonely and alone are not the same thing. In fact, there are several methods to cherish alone time. “Single women living alone do well when they create a life that nurtures their interests and hobbies. This might include trying new recipes, visiting museums, traveling, going on hikes, watching movies, reading books, and exercising.”

“Living alone doesn’t mean being alone — and finding a balance between sociality and solitude is key.”

Beyond this, Dr. Shelton prompts ideas about redefining what it means for single women to be in community with other women, building friendships, or enhancing family ties. Single women can also explore noncommittal sexual partners or open relationships, if they’re interested.

Living alone doesn’t mean being alone — and finding a balance between sociality and solitude is key. If you’re interested in cultivating this balance, or you already feel at peace in solitude, then living alone could be a good option for you.

How can you live alone while married or in a relationship?

The experience of living alone may seem like a far-off dream to those who are in a happy, cohabitating relationship, even if it is of interest. But, there are ways to experience the joys of living alone either in small doses or as a practice.

“Trust and communication in long-term relationships is more important than the living arrangements.”

– Dr. Kimber Shelton, PhD

For cohabitating couples, living alone may look like moving into a new space with different boundaries or dividing an existing home space to create separate quarters. This can carry with it a new sense of self-identity where one’s living space is removed from other external identities such as wife, mother, cook, etc. Women might also consider traveling alone, perhaps for an extended trip, as a way of attending to their own needs, thoughts, and desires.

It is important to note that choosing to live (or travel) alone while married or in a relationship sometimes causes guilt. According to Dr. Shelton, combatting guilt is possible but open communication is a must. “Trust and communication in long-term relationships is more important than the living arrangements. If all parties agree to the separate living arrangements and trust the commitment to the relationship, having separate living spaces should maintain or enhance the relationship as the arrangements were mutually desired.” In other words, a healthy agreement is one where trust is present and both parties’ desires are honored.

Strategies for choosing to live alone

Choosing to live alone can be a big emotional undertaking since it runs counter to many of our societal expectations and learned behaviors. Exploring and addressing feelings, including guilt, is crucial as you explore solo living. With Dr. Shelton, we’ve put together a list of some practical tools to navigate this.

Notice, without judgment, if there is any lingering guilt. Firstly, notice the source of any guilt. Does the guilt stem from narratives of what you are “supposed to do” or the life you are “supposed to have?” Or, is it from not living the life that someone else wants you to live? Figure out the reasons you feel guilty and if it is coming from a narrative that does not fit you or your lifestyle, then work to create a narrative that matches your desire.

Be clear. If you are not interested in a long-term relationship or marriage, let dates or potential partners know this upfront so they can make informed decisions about exploring a relationship with you. If you are part of a relationship now, have an open conversation with your partner about your interest or desire to live alone.

Lean into your support system. Spend time with people who affirm your choice to live alone. Do things with other single people who are comfortable with their choice to be single. Build connections with others where relationship status is not a central focus. Try seeking out relationships based on your interests, and this should follow.

If you want to unpack more, pursue therapy. Professional support can help to overcome stigma, shame, or guilt for our relationship status and choices. Building a relationship with a therapist can help you learn more about yourself, your limits, and how you function in your interpersonal relationships.

Are you interested in living alone? Do you live alone already? We’d love to hear your stories of joyful solitude in the comments.

Amara Amaryah is a Jamaican essayist, author, and wellness and travel writer born in London. Her life writings are interested in voice — often voicelessness — and reclamations of identity through definitions of home. Her freelance journalism explores health, joy, self-knowing, and more. Amara now travels and lives slowly in her favorite places around the world. She writes the “Life Is In Love With Me” newsletter.