Time magazine's cover story this week features the 10 ideas that are changing our lives. Somewhat surprisingly, the first thing mentioned is that living alone is the new norm.
In 1950, only 4 million Americans lived alone and they made up only 9 percent of all households. And even then, it was usually a short-lived stage on the road to a more conventional domestic life.
But that's not true anymore. According to 2011 census data, the number of people who live alone is up to 33 million and the percentage of total households living alone is 28 percent. Those numbers mean people living alone are now tied with childless couples as the most prominent residential type, more common than the nuclear family, the multigenerational family, having a roommate or living in a group home. And instead of it being a transitional state as it was in 1950, today people who live alone are more likely to remain in their current state than anyone else except married couples with children.
And this is a world-wide trend. 25 percent of all households are people living alone in Russia, 27 percent in Canada, 29 percent in Italy, 31 percent in Japan, 34 percent in Great Britain and a remarkable 47 percent in Sweden.
I've lived alone for the past eight years, after going through all of my life before that living with somebody else. I lived with my birth family until high school graduation, had roommates in college, lived with my parents once again, got married and after twenty five years with my wife, I moved to McCook with my boys who went to college here and lived with me. Will followed Michael to Lincoln to attend UNL in 2001. By then I had gotten a divorce and was madly in love with the love of my life. She was here often for the next three years or so before she broke up with me so it wasn't until 2004 that I could describe my life as "living alone."
The magazine story discusses the pros and cons of living alone with the biggest con being loneliness, although most of the people living alone don't experience that very often and I haven't either.
I get to wear what I want, watch what I want, eat what I want and do what I want without needing anyone else's permission and that's a very liberating thing after having to gain some kind of consensus from the people I lived with for the first 50 years of my life.
But, as a sociologist, I know that a basic need for humans is interaction with other humans and I get that from my job and my social life. I'm involved with Rotary, some of my colleagues and I have lunch once a week, we talk to each other in the halls, I make life-long friendships with some of my students and I have my friends away from college that I see most every weekday for a couple of hours in the afternoon. So by the time I get home, I'm glad. The solitude of my own place, away from the rest of the world, often times brings me a peace like nothing else can.
Sometimes I get lonely too. Lonely for someone to share my life with, someone who cares about me and the things I experience, someone to hold hands with or watch television with, someone who loves me as I love them.
But when I get in those moods, they tend not to last long because there's only one person I want to share my life with and she didn't choose me. I dated a couple of girls after her but eventually stopped dating at all.
When you've found the best, there's no need to look at the rest and that's what I finally concluded about my own life. Living alone is a distant second to living with your soulmate that you share a deep and eternal love and passion with.
But it's far ahead of making the wrong choice. In fact, the magazine article says there's nothing lonelier than living with the wrong person and, although I've never had that misfortune personally, I know some who have.
I won't make the same mistake they did.