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Living Alone in My 30s Looks a Lot Different Than It Did in My 20s

Reflecting on what "home" means to me now.
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I’ve lived alone in LA at two very different times in my life, but it’s genuinely hard to say whether I actually like it or not. Ask me today and I may say I love being able to take a Zoom call in the middle of my living room without worrying about bothering anybody else. But ask again tomorrow and I may say I wish I had another party as invested as I am in the paint colors I’m choosing for my walls, or someone else around to make cooking an actual dinner feel a little more worth it. My satisfaction with living alone is mercurial at best, and certainly different during a global pandemic than it might have been otherwise. I often wonder what this chapter would have looked like in a world where COVID-19 never existed, and whether I’d even be living in the apartment I moved into this spring (probably not).

The first time I ever lived alone, I was 23 years old and had only been living in L.A. for a year. “Home” was a tiny mint-green studio apartment in Hollywood with bars on the windows and no dishwasher or laundry on site. I took the metro to work five days a week and often walked the mile home in the dark. My evenings usually looked like a Trader Joe’s bag slung over each shoulder as I dodged people on the sidewalk and made my way past the bright lights of the W and down to Sunset Boulevard, retracing my steps over the Hollywood Walk of Fame that I had made that morning on my way downtown. I watched The Bachelorette on my old MacBook Air from college while I ate popcorn for dinner, and went to bed early. It was 2012, and Instagram was barely on my radar –and Facebook was already starting to feel passé–I spent precisely zero time “creating content” on the weekends and still barely had any friends. That year I discovered online dating and went on two dates with a nice guy who I turned down for a third date solely because he wore Chuck Taylors, and briefly dated a British accountant who broke up with me when he decided to move back home to England (and then didn’t because he met his future wife, and I’m pretty sure he still lives here). After a year, a friend from Minnesota who had moved to L.A. a year after I did asked if I wanted to move in with her and get out of Hollywood. I don’t think I could have said yes to her faster.

The next time I lived on my own, I was 30. I never expected to be living alone again, but was eternally grateful I’d done it before. I still didn’t have a dishwasher, but at least this time I had a door separating my bed from my living room, a couch that wasn’t from IKEA, and a laundry machine downstairs. I chose an upstairs unit in a safer neighborhood because enough years had gone by to make me either wiser or more fearful (or probably both). I chose my location based on its proximity to work and reasonable rent prices for a one-bedroom, but otherwise didn’t know anyone in the area except for an ex-boyfriend I’m still friends with. (Though we never did get a chance to grab that cup of coffee and catch up.)

After living in my “pandemic apartment” for almost a year and a half, I moved into my third solo apartment back on the Westside of L.A., earlier this year–an area that feels a little like “home” to me after living there for almost five years. It’s amazing to think about how many times I’ve moved since leaving my parent's house in Minnesota: 12, to be exact. This is the third apartment I’ve ever chosen to live in without anyone else’s name on the lease, and I find myself often reflecting on the experience of living–or really just being–alone, perhaps a little more than I should. Being in my 30s this time around has brought with it so many positives–the ability to afford a nicer apartment with a washer and dryer in unit(!), money to spend on furniture and decor I actually love, and a willingness to put in some effort to make the space truly feel like home. Sometimes it feels freeing, like I’m a powerful woman who makes her own money and decisions, who pays all her own bills on time, and can either eat cereal or order expensive take-out for dinner because she wants to. But other times I feel insignificant, like nobody cares enough about me to actually come over and see my space, or appreciate where I live, or what it’s like to be me for a day. I rarely had visitors when I lived alone in my 20s, either, but back then I was young and never felt like I had anything to prove.

It’s hard to compare my experiences of living alone in my 20s and 30s to each other because it feels like several lifetimes have passed in between them. I was living on my own again for only three months before the pandemic hit, and I’ve only recently begun to emerge back into the real world and reunite with friends I didn’t see outside of a tiny screen for a year. I haven’t come home to an empty house after a night out with my girlfriends, the music still buzzing in my ears and a wine stain on my brand-new jeans, or returned home at 9 P.M. after a long day at the office. I work entirely from home now, and didn’t even have enough room for a desk in my first solo apartment; a tiny space I never spent all that much time in since I was at work late almost every single day.

The last year has changed everything in so many areas of my life, not least of which are the ways in which I’ve thought about where I live, what I want, and what the idea of “home” even means to me. Like so many others my age, I suddenly had the urge to buy a house during the pandemic, whether I could afford it or not. I longed for a concrete, yet still malleable thing that I could actually call “mine”–that I could bend and shape and change to fit my personality and lifestyle even in the years to come. 

I’ve been thinking a lot about living in Los Angeles–a massive city with so much to offer, but with some major drawbacks that have led many of my friends to leave–and what it meant to me in my 20s, and how the place I’ve called home for the last decade may not actually fit who I’ve become in my 30s. And that’s okay. Because what is “home” these days, anyway? Where you’re from? Where you’ve been? Where your family members are? Or is it not a place at all, but rather the people you’re with? Something I’ve caught myself saying more than a few times this year is, “I have a lot of questions, but not a lot of answers.” And in this case, I think it fits. But there’s something comforting in that, too–when life gives you questions, it’s up to you to keep working on finding some of the answers.

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