Confessions of a bachelor

Charles 13 Comments



Posted by Richard Rawlinson
There aren’t many taboos left but what I’m about to say somehow feels like a confession: I’m among the 2.5 million people in the UK aged between 45 and 64 who live alone, without spouse, partner or family member. Whether due to relationship breakdowns or genuine life choice, this figure for middle-aged single occupant households is growing. And yet mid-life singletons are often stigmatised as ‘on the shelf’ because they’re a bit odd.

We oddballs already account for a third of the 7.6 million total of home-aloners, which includes the over 65s, who may have lost cohabitees to death, and the under 45s, who may not have yet found (and lost) their home sharer. Whatever the circumstances, almost one third of the UK’s 26 million households are now single occupiers.

In dark moments, I’ve wondered what would happen if I fell down the stairs and broke my neck after I’d just started a week off work, and the cleaner wasn’t due for several days. The office would only send out a search party if I was absent without leave. Friends and family, however, are quite used to me not replying to calls, texts or emails immediately, naturally assuming I’m simply busy elsewhere rather than dead on the hall floor.

The same might be true of someone ringing the doorbell, or the barrista who chats each morning when handing me my double espresso. If I failed to turn up to a social engagement after said fatal fall, I like to think those I was due to meet would view my no-show as suspicious rather than rudeness or absent-mindedness as I’m usually reliable. But what if my diary happened to be blank for several days?

The worst case scenario is a nasty shock for the cleaner, and the unpleasantness of a rotting corpse for those involved in the process of seeing me to my grave.

Then there are the funeral arrangements. You’re perhaps more likely to discuss ceremonial preferences with co-habiting partners than with less immediate friends or relatives. And even if you’ve had the foresight to write down these preferences, partners are perhaps the most likely to know where to find such a document.

But I don’t want to digress here into discussion about the wisdom of notifying loved ones, solicitors and priests (or whoever) about funeral arrangements. This musing is about the growing number of home-aloners, which, in my experience, is about introversion increasingly becoming a life choice.

There’s been a major reappraisal of the introvert/extrovert definition recently. A fine example is Sophie Dembling’s book, The Introvert’s Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World.

Here’s a summary of her take on introverts, who might be neither shy nor loners and who may even want an ‘extrovert’ funeral (a very poor attempt to stay on message!).

Introverts alternate between phases of work, solitude and periods of social activity. At work, they can be confident public speakers even if not enjoying chitchat in large social groups. Performers like Lady Gaga, and an estimated 40 per cent of CEOs identify as introverts. At the same time, writers like JK Rowling are drawn to the solitary, creative activity of translating thoughts to words on a screen.

In solitude, introverts are less prone to boredom than extroverts, who need more external stimuli. Unproductive downtime is a blessing, allowing introverts to recharge their batteries. They tend to get tired and unresponsive after being out and about for too long. Fascinatingly, a Japanese study revealed introverts have lower blood pressure than extroverts and so their bodies need to conserve energy.

Socially, introverts may dislike small talk but this isn’t the same as a dislike of people. Small talk can create a barrier between people. Introverts can be deemed intense at social gatherings due to their penchant for philosophical conversations and thought-provoking discussion of books and films.

They’re more likely to go to parties to spend time with people they know rather than to meet new people. If they meet new people, fine, but that’s rarely the goal. They also screen calls, even from friends, calling them back only when mentally prepared and having gathered the energy for the conversation. ‘I like having a long phone call with a friend as long as it’s not jumping out of the sky at me,’ says Dembling. ‘To me, a ringing phone is like having somebody jump out of a closet and go ‘BOO!’.

As I ignore a call while sitting at my laptop, I empathise. But what if it’s an emergency? Better check the message, just in case.


  1. Charles

    A fascinating and useful post Richard. I’ve long thought the usual intro/extravert category was too simply applied, but I wasn’t sure why. Then I realised the obvious point that introvert doesn’t = shy, and extravert doesn’t=confident inside. And now it seems there may to some degree be a physiological basis to it, as well as the psychological ones about relative levels of boredom.

    One of the benefits of mindfulness meditation (sorry, had to get it in somehow!) is that it trains you how to use what would once have seemed like unproductive and tedious little parcels of time – I won’t say it abolished boredom, but it sure helps. So maybe extras can make even better use of it than intros, if they suffer from low tolerances of boredom.

    I’m getting more and more cack-handed at social chat,now I don’t have to do it at work. Perhaps age can increase either extra- or intro-tendencies?

    Your practical point has often occurred to me. Those of us with children can distress ourselves thinking of their distress when we die, but they will be there to do Stuff. Is this more evidence of the need for a Cowling model of co-operative preparedness? In settled communities of old, I suppose people would be missed from their usual routine much sooner.

    A friend with a house it Tuscany (lucky bastard…) tells me there is an old lady they know who lives on her own, and walks up the road to the shop at exactly the same time every day. She wouldn’t be left for more than a day, at most.

    1. Charles

      I like your insistence on the ‘extra’ spelling; I never realized it was an option, but it’s the obvious one, isn’t it. Thanks for that, GM; and as Charles says (miles and miles above wherever this comment appears, probably, in the now-mysterious ordering regime), please do go on about mindfulness meditation…

      1. Charles

        Even though I used the ‘extrovert’ spelling above (nicer visual symmetry with introvert), I agree the ‘extravert’ spelling makes more sense and is faithful to its Latin root. Thank you pedants, Jonathan and GM.

        PS I sometimes write for a magazine demanding house style is American English: spellings such as center and organize and vocab such as trash and sidewalk. As a consequence, I now inadvertently talk about movies instead of films. Regrettable!

  2. Charles

    Hi GM, it’s hard to know whether the under 65s or older single occupants have better neighbourhood watch networks. While some elderly are lonely, they may be checked regularly as death is deemed more likely. Then again younger single occupants, deemed not high risk, might lead more active lives meaning their absence would be missed more quickly. However, it’s common in big cities like London not to know one’s neighbours. A morbid musing, eh?!

    ‘Mindfulness meditation’ sounds interesting! In introverted hours of solitude, it’s invariably the internet that keeps boredom at bay for me. This Saturday was a hangover recovery day during which I wrote the above and watched several episodes of Breaking Bad back to back on Netflix. Bliss! I also answered an online questionnaire about internet addiction. I passed (ie I’m not deemed clinically addicted) even if questions included those related to watching back-to-back TV and blogging. Maybe because I’m not a big social media user and have never played a computer game in my life!

  3. Charles

    There is an interesting story about Muhammad that springs to mind here. A lady near his house used to accost him in the street regularly shouting abuse and pelting him with eggs. One day as he passed her street he wasn’t there and he passed unabused. This made him wonder where she was. He asked where she lived and called to find her ill and in need of help which he duly provided.

    Gloria, it has often occurred to me that the single thing I could do which would most improve my quality of life would be learning to meditate. I have tried several times and it just doesn’t seem to be happening. I have a serious case of ‘monkey mind’!

    1. Charles

      Hi Jenny,
      It’s really very helpful – some would say all but essential – to do the one evening a week eight week course; it’s much harder, for most people, to start up on your own. But if you wanted to do so and just couldn’t get to a course, then the book “Mindfulness,” by Mark Williams and Danny Penman, seems to suit many people. It has a CD, and each exercise is not too lengthy.

      When I was a teenager I bought a book on How to Mediatate. “Sit quietly, in a crossed-leg posture, and empty your mind.” Dammit,” thought I, “if I could do that I wouldn’t need the bloody book!”

      We’ve all got “monkey mind,” to some degree, haven’t we – it’s what minds do – and the 8-week course sets out to address that.It’s a series of simple techniques – simple, but demanding in a particular way.

      I hope it doesn’t sound too pretentious to say that it’ll be there waiting for you when you are ready to get going.

      I’d better stop soap-boxing in Charles’ blog. I’m a poor example myself, but if you wanted to discuss mindfulness meditation, I’d be happy to.

  4. Charles

    My brother lives alone in a village in the North – I got a phone call (to Surrey) from the lady who runs the village shop to say he hadn’t been in for his daily paper! She’d asked a neighbour to call but he got no answer. My brother was ill in bed with flu, but it’s very reassuring to know they cared enough to call. On the other hand a man died in his house in my road and nobody realised for 4 weeks. He was a private man – didn’t socialise, got furious last year when a neighbour called the police when she hadn’t seen him for a while… symptomatic of ‘busy lives’? lack of community? Introvert/extravert – does it matter if you’re dead on the floor? His chosen lifestyle was ‘intro’ private, curmudgeonly even… did he want to die alone? Did he mind? We’ll never know. We in the road felt incredibly guilty – for a while. Now we’re back to driving up and down – passed who knows what behind all those closed front doors….

  5. Charles

    Just a thought but for older and/or disabled people, there is the pendant alarm service. This is often available from your local housing authority (whether or not you live in social housing) at a weekly charge. In my area (Derbyshire), it is the system whereby a person who has had a fall (and is still conscious) is able to press the alarm and someone will either be alerted or a warden will visit. Also helpful if someone is too ill to get out of bed. Sometimes can arrange a regular warden phone call or visit just to check.

  6. Charles

    My mother still can’t understand how we (my hubby and myself, my sister, my brother, etc.) can be pretty content going about our affairs with very few chosen friends. When we entertain, it’s usually with a handful of the same people, quietly, conversationally. We don’t like crowds, banquets, or the sort. She’s the opposite.
    I don’t think I’m completely introverted but I can certainly relate and empathize.

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>