Living alone for some is comparable to their vision of heaven, but others describe it as a hell a living hell, and the depths of despair because of loneliness. It all seems to depend on your reason for being alone newly divorced, recently widowed, abandoned by spouse or a dream come true of finally having your very own space.

After the initial adjustment many people say they love the lifestyle. You make all of the decisions, do what you want when you want and only report to yourself. Aloneness and loneliness are very different conditions. Aloneness is being by yourself. Loneliness is the desire for company and not being alone. It is a normal emotion to have need for contact with other people and not something to be embarrassed about.

Shirley's story

I went from my parent's home to the college dorm, then a shared apartment with five other gals, and then I married. I was married for 40 years and then my husband died. I was alone and it was terrible. I did not know how to live alone and I was overwhelmed. I was emotionally at the lowest point in my life. My life was empty and I craved the companionship of another human.

Nothing interested me; I didn't clean my house to improve my environment, I cried most of the day and couldn't sleep at night. I was a complete basket case and finally decided I had to do something, so I went into therapy.

That therapy saved my life. I now live alone but I am no longer lonely. I have a new kind of lifestyle, but it is not one I would choose because I know that I am the type who craves the companionship of others, so I have developed a network of many friends, so I am no longer lonely.

The number of single households has been rapidly increasing because there is no longer a stigma attached to living this lifestyle. Not too many years back, society thought of those living alone as weird or very strange. The unmarried, widowed, divorced or separated are choosing to live in small, available apartments or condos. The housing industry has built millions of small one- and two-bedroom apartments and over-55 communities featuring small homes for individuals and couples, small houses in downsizing communities. The food industry has also met the needs by introducing one- and two-serving sized portions of soup, desserts and many varieties of frozen dinners.

According to the U. S. Census Bureau, more than 6 million adults age 60 and above lived alone in 2006. Living alone for older people can cause safety problems, but organizations and health agencies are starting to meet the needs with electronic devices and services generated by computer to alert emergency personnel in case of problems. Our present economic climate may force some people to postpone aloneness, but when the economy improves, many will return to aloneness. Many widows and widowers wish they had been the one to die first because they loathe opening the front door to an empty house, eating alone, sleeping alone and finding adjustment to a new way of life extremely difficult, and for some impossible.

The very thought of getting used to living alone is very threatening and many people say they just don't know how to even get started. "I know I am going to have to get used to this and I am trying my best, but it is very hard," one man said. "I have to learn to take care of myself. I can't cook and I haven't the slightest idea how to maintain my house, but I have learned how to start the dishwasher and stove."

Mary's story

When my husband left after 50 years of marriage, I was very depressed. I had frequently through the years known that I should leave, but I was afraid I couldn't make it on my own. When he unexpectedly shut the door on our life together, I was forced to learn how. Eating alone was terrible for me, so I decided to eat from a tray in front of the TV and Dan Rather was my reliable dinner partner.

In the middle of all of my problems I decided to try and avoid my worst times. The weekends were very hard and holidays even worse, so I decided to plan and try something I might enjoy. I started a yoga class, ordered new books, volunteered at the local library, walked the malls and went out alone for lunch at local restaurants three times a week.

One thing I would not do was bore my friends with my problems. I felt that they had enough of their own without hearing mine. I didn't want to talk to any friends but I did have need to talk, so I went to a therapist for help. I dumped my problems on her and I would leave feeling much better.

My therapist said I should not do anything in haste, but I just had to get out of my house, so I sold it. I moved to a new apartment and it helped me adjust to my new lifestyle.

I keep myself busy; I buy myself special treats, gourmet cheeses, good produce and fine wine. I try to look my best especially when I feel my worst. I go to the hairdresser twice a month and also have frequent massages.

I have recently started interviewing the many retirement complexes in my area. I haven't made up my mind, but the thought of potential friends, built-in entertainment, not having to cook and clean, and having health care onsite is beginning to look very interesting for a new life style.

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