I live alone. How do I feel less isolated in my neighborhood?

A man stands in the dark staring in to an empty room. His shadow shows that his hand is up against the glass. Illustration.

Curbed’s advice columnist wants to help you solve even more of
your biggest solo-dwelling dilemmas

Welcome to House Rules, Curbed’s advice column; today, our
columnist answers questions about the psychological side of living
alone. (The last column explored
whether living alone is worth it
.) Other house-related
dilemmas? Send them to advice@curbed.com. There are many
mornings when I struggle to find the motivation to get out of bed
and face the world. Living on my own, it’s far too easy to just
turn the alarm off, roll over, and go back to sleep, or to lie
there in bed thinking about how tired I am and how pointless
existing is. There’s no one to hustle me out of bed or to put the
kettle on for me, and likewise no one that I have to be out of bed
to hustle or make tea for. This isn’t a cry for help—I’m
getting good mental health treatment and medication has worked
wonders for me—but I could use some practical suggestions of how
to make getting up in the morning seem like a goshdarned good idea!
—Snoozing in Connecticut

When I’m emerging into consciousness, I sometimes miss being
awakened by my mom, who angelically brought me coffee in bed every
morning when I was in high school. But I’m also deeply thankful
I’m no longer in danger of being awakened by my dad, who would
start each day of our childhoods by snapping on our bedroom lights,
pulling off our covers, bellowing “Up and at ’em!” at us,
and, if that didn’t do the trick, squeezing water from a cold
washcloth onto our faces.

My adult life is devoid of such carrots and sticks, but it’s
still possible to improvise some external motivation. Here are some
tactics to try:

  1. Leave your phone and laptop in another room. If you’re a
    social media addict like I am, curiosity about what’s happening
    on the internet may tug you out of bed. And sleeping without
    screens nearby is supposed to be good for you anyway.
  2. Buy an appliance that will brew your preferred beverage so
    it’s ready when you wake up. Pretty much every electric coffee
    percolator is programmable. You could also get a “teasmade”—a
    combination alarm clock/tea maker that has been around since the
    1890s. Though mostly made for the British and Commonwealth markets,
    they can be found
    in the U.S.
    as well.
  3. On that note: Try an alarm clock that will wake you gently with

    light
    , or an alarm clock that is actually a cozy rug that must be stood on to be
    silenced!
  4. Bribe yourself with breakfast. I like to get up in time to make
    myself an egg sandwich, but some people are motivated by the
    pursuit of bagels or burritos in the outside world. You know what
    will work for you.
  5. Develop some kind of morning routine that infuses meaning into
    your day. Read a page of a life-affirming book while you brush your
    hair, look out the window at the sky and take some deep breaths, or
    light a candle and say the names of a few people you love.

Waking up may never quite seem like a good idea, but it can at
least include some things to look forward to.

I am a single, middle-aged woman with no children who has lived
alone for the past six years. As a homeowner in a neighborhood
filled with couples close to my age who have multiple children, I
often feel isolated and “out of the loop.” While I am out every
day walking my three dogs on my street, the neighbors don’t seem
to know what to do with me or how we should interact (and vice
versa). They are not unfriendly, exactly, but I don’t get invited
to block parties or cookouts and I’m not included in any of the
impromptu conversations that seem to spring up organically between
them. We are all vaguely polite to one another, but I know almost
none of their first names. How do I get to know my neighbors when
we lead such different lives? How do I feel less isolated in my own
neighborhood? —The Neighborhood Eccentric

It’s so great that you have dogs! You have a totally
legitimate reason to wander by your neighbors’ houses every day,
plus you have a natural topic of small talk with any neighbors who
might also have dogs. As a non-dog owner and occasional dog-sitter,
I am often amazed at how much discussion between strangers can be
derived from comparing notes about dogs’ breeds, ages, histories,
temperaments, tricks, ailments, and the stories of how they got
their names. When you see a fellow dog owner in the neighborhood,
ask them a question or two about their dog. I guarantee you will be
on a first-name basis with many of your human and dog neighbors
pretty quickly.

Other options to explore, both for you and for people in similar
situations who don’t have dogs:

  1. See if there’s an online neighborhood group for you to join.
    Online groups or neighborhood pages can be a window into your
    neighbors’ political views that you might regret seeing, but they
    can also be a way to find out about cookouts, yard sales, book
    groups, holiday celebrations, volunteer opportunities, and other
    chances to mingle.
  2. Check the local library or coffee shop bulletin board to find
    out about neighborhood happenings, and attend the ones that
    interest you. If you can’t find one, consider starting your
    own.
  3. If you have a stoop, front porch, or verandah, sit on it, and
    wave and say hi as people walk by. (You can even
    add some plants
    to make it more welcoming.) Be the friendly
    neighborhood face you want to see in the world!

I live alone, and for a while over the last year, even though I’m
lucky enough to be generally healthy, I was filled with anxiety
about getting sick or hurt and/or dying and the thought that no one
would know. I made one of my sisters and several friends promise
they’d follow up if they hadn’t heard from me in a while. This
wasn’t really enough. Would welcome advice on how to deal with
such anxieties! —Probably Not Sick or Dying in California

Your anxieties are both mostly unfounded and very common. It’s
highly unlikely that a healthy person will suddenly drop dead and
rot undiscovered, but in freaking out about this distant
possibility, you’re following in the grand tradition of thousands
of solitary dwellers, including the legendary Bridget Jones, who
famously worried that she would be found half-eaten by
Alsatians.

You have a few practical options. You could buy that thing from
the
“I’ve-fallen-and-I-can’t-get-up” commercial
from the
’90s. You could also call or text someone at the same time every
day, or whenever anxiety starts to rise. It’s useful to cultivate
friends in different time zones so you can check in with someone at
any time of night.

In extreme situations, don’t hesitate to reach out to medical
professionals. When I was dealing with insecticide in my eye in the
middle of the night, I called the poison control hotline and talked
to a very reassuring person.

But not every moment of living-alone anxiety will have a
practical or immediate solution. If the anxiety is persistent and
severe, you should reach out to a mental health professional.

Additionally, perhaps in between bouts of anxious texting, it
might be worth trying to face your fear, and seizing the
opportunity to reckon with the meaning of mortality. I haven’t
done this yet, but I’ve been thinking about trying.

As a single woman who has lived alone for half a decade, I still
have not figured out how to manage a fundamental sense of
loneliness that pervades every corner of my house. I try to keep
busy, see friends. I have pets, have joined a bootcamp, a
writers’ group, a book club. But I still have to take a deep
breath before entering my house. I keep the television on
constantly, even when I’m not watching it, for company. How do I
grapple with the existential loneliness that often accompanies
living alone? —Alone in the Lone Star State

There is no living situation that can cure the loneliness of
existence. Existential isolation can sweep over you without warning
as you lie in bed next to the snoring stranger you’re married to,
or as you hold your tired toddler on your lap. No one is immune to
loneliness, not even your most coupled-up friends. But there is
still a particular kind of solitude that is the special challenge
of people who live by themselves. There are also some ways to
navigate that solitude to make it feel less overwhelming.

I find that if I go for a day without some kind of interaction
with someone I love, whether in person or on the phone, I start to
get depressed as early as the next day. As a result, I rely on
daily phone dates, group texts, and social media interactions with
close friends and family to remind me that I’m loved and
connected. I also try to meet up with friends often and to have
them over regularly, even if it’s just for takeout and TV. People
who live alone can’t rely on live-in partners or housemates to
keep them adequately socialized, so making plans and taking
initiative to reach out are essential.

Similarly, if I go for over a day without talking to another
person “IRL” (whether I love them or not), I start to feel a
little nutty by nightfall. As a result, I try to make sure that I
get out in the world and have a human interaction every day, even
if it’s only to buy milk or stop at the fruit stand. I’m also a
regular at a local bar, and I’ve made friends with other regulars
there. It’s a lot like Cheers, only more diverse. You may or may
not be a bar person, but it’s worth looking for social places you
turn into a home-away-from-home—a gym, a club, a coffee-shop.

Still, eventually it’s closing time and we all need to go
home. It sounds like you’re already doing a lot to populate your
house with pets and sitcom stars and to put yourself in places
where you’ll interact with people. Beyond filling your house with
friends as often as you can and becoming a “proud plant parent”
of some sociable succulents, there might not be much more you can
do. But remember that your loneliness connects you with every human
who ever lived. And while you wallow in it, remember to enjoy to
the fullest all the various perks of solitary living, including
sprawling across the mattress, hogging the blanket, and getting to
choose the channel.

Briallen Hopper is the author of Hard to Love:
Essays and Confessions
and the co-editor of the online magazine
Killing the Buddha. Her
writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Review of Books, New York
magazine/the Cut, the Paris Review Daily, the Seattle Star, the
Washington Post, and elsewhere. She teaches creative nonfiction at
Queens College, CUNY, and lives in Elmhurst, Queens.

Source: FS – All – Architecture 10
I live alone. How do I feel less isolated in my neighborhood?