On Wednesday, Eric Klinenberg, author of Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone, came to speak about his new book and the trend of single living sweeping America. Future Cat Lady, Claire Friedman, was in attendance.
Going to a lecture about a book entitled Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone, I expected to emerge full of vaguely depressing life tips (how to zip up a dress by yourself, how many cats is too many cats, etc.). I was pleasantly surprised, however, when the lecture took a more sociological turn and focused on living alone as a rising social trend instead of an upsetting reality. The author, Eric Klinenberg, spoke about today’s unique social situation that has more people “going solo” than ever before.
According to Klinenberg, one out of seven Americans lives alone. In cities, the numbers are much higher, reaching almost 50% in major metropolitan areas. For anyone who’s ever felt like they’re the only one of their friends who’s not part of a couple, this statistic might seem strange. After all, doesn’t the “American Dream” include a spouse, 2.5 children, and a white picket fence? Klinenberg debunked this myth within the first five minutes of his lecture, saying that America’s “dream” of the nuclear family is simply a remnant from a different time. In today’s more urban America, more and more people are choosing to live alone.
Klinenberg claims that, “We are most ourselves, by ourselves.” It makes sense, then, that the main demographic for “solo” living is young people (oh, to be young again!). People fresh out of college need the time to figure out who they are outside the confines of a campus or a dorm room. According to Klinenberg, living alone is when you truly “grow up.” These neighborhoods, filled to the brim with single-living young people, actually make a positive impact on the cities they’re in. There’s no way you put thousands of young people together without at least some of them leaving their apartments in search of fun. Because they’re still very much “willing to try anything,” these neighborhoods full of single people are actually doing wonders for the local economy. Bars, clubs, coffee shops — singles reinvigorate the neighborhoods that they are in.
You might be surprised to hear that Klinenberg himself is a happily married, surprisingly in-the-know (he made a “Girls” reference during his lecture), family man. So why the preoccupation with living along? The reason is actually a bit more depressing than one would think. Klinenberg’s first book focused on the 1995 Chicago heat wave, a natural disaster that lasted for three days and killed over 700 people. Of those 700, hundreds died alone. From this depressing statistic, an obsession was born — Klinenberg latched onto the idea of isolation and didn’t let it go until this year, when he published Going Solo.
From Klinenberg’s point of view, living alone is not the truly depressing thing; it’s living with the wrong person. Given the expensive cost of living alone, most people would appear to agree. Instead of living with another person, people are willing to shell out thousands of dollars to live in a smaller space. This sentiment reflects the rising importance of independence in American culture; you have to figure out who you are by yourself before figuring out who you are with someone else. In this way, Klinenberg’s look at solo living is also a look at self-definition. Through living alone, people are trying to define themselves.
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