‘Alone’ here means more than simply unshared accommodation: recent research indicates that a quarter of the US population has no-one with whom to discuss important matters.
Selfishness might appear to be at the root of this: living solo allows us to focus on our own needs, to ‘discover who we are’, as pop-psychology has it, and to determine what gives our lives meaning and purpose. But every sociologist needs a paradox, and Klinenberg’s is that solo living is just what we need to help us reconnect as a society – that it allows time to mature; it grants sexual freedom and room for social experimentation. It’s a rite of passage rather than an end in itself and offers little comfort to those who lead solitary lives through no choice of their own, especially when old age looms and the support networks are absent.
Case studies reveal heartbreaking moments – such as the elderly, twice-divorced man who complains of loneliness, but whose aggression and bile drive company away. There’s no conclusion, other than that this seems to be how we’re living now, and we need to get used to it.
GOING SOLO: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone by Eric Klinenberg, Duckworth Overlook, £8.99