5 Embarrassing Habits Everyone Develops When Living Alone
I was an only child to a single parent who worked late. I’ve been working from home for nearly ten years. Combined, that’s the kind of alone time that can make neighbors rehearse their “He was a quiet fella, always kept to himself” news report answers in preparation for my inevitable crime spree. I’m by no means a loner or another descriptor that makes me sound like I ride a Harley from town to town righting wrongs with my kicks of justice. I just know how to be fine by myself for long stretches without going completely bonkers.
The word “completely” is key there. I’ve spent enough time alone to have accidentally developed embarrassing habits born from living with nary a soul around to tell me to knock that shit off because it’s scaring them. And if you ever find yourself having to live alone for long stretches of time, you too will find yourself doing some truly weird shit. For example …
You Develop Strange Reflexes
Spend enough time alone, and you start developing a whole new set of reflexes in response to your isolation. With no one around, you’re living in a world that gives the illusion of being consequence-free. The freedom is at first an incredible weight lifted, which opens the doors to so many possibilities. You can do nothing for hours! You can be high and do nothing for hours! Those first two things, plus naked! That’s all fine, but it all soon becomes a corrupting influence which devolves a person into a rude pig-person who does weird stuff with the ease and grace of second nature.
I think the most common form of this is trying to amplify or modify farts and burps, at first to amuse yourself. But it soon becomes just the way you live your life, constantly ripping the loudest, angriest farts you can muster. Bitter farts that are clearly compensating for something. Burps that can crack a window pane and make neighbors come around to find out if you’re OK, since they thought they heard a large bookshelf filled with encyclopedias collapse to the floor.
When you’re doing it in an empty house, it’s fine. Weird, but fine. But over time, it starts to develop into habit — reflexes so ingrained that you will confuse them for normal. And trust me, after enough time, those burps and farts will be busted out when other people around, which only magnifies their inappropriateness.
But those weird reflexes manifest in other weird ways. For instance, in an effort to save time, no matter where I was in my apartment, as soon as I acknowledged that I needed to pee, my dick came out. If I realized I needed to pee while I was in the kitchen eating ham in front of an open refrigerator, instinct would whip my penis out like I was flashing the orange juice. Was it efficient? Yes, absolutely. It shaved precious seconds off of my pee time. But that’s not the point.
It’s the kind of thing you get used to when you’ve got no one around to remind you that you must abide by the tough but fair semantics of bathroom law. Yes, it’s all just rooms, but dignified humans wait until they crossed the threshold of the bathroom door before exposing themselves. Only creeps do it while holding ham in the kitchen. I did it so often alone that on a couple of occasions, I had to stop myself as I was starting to unzip 20 feet away from the bathroom while I had guests over. One of those times was as I stood up from the table during Thanksgiving dinner with my family. I was a few zipper teeth away from flashing my mom and my delicious turkey. Thanks, lonely reflexes!
You Get Audibly Weird Just To Break The Silence
Talking to yourself is a staple of the quirky activities you develop when you’re alone for long enough. One of the big ones I’ve discovered a lot of us have in common is hosting our own cooking show when in the kitchen, assembling our lonely meals of one chicken breast and like four servings of rice. Because portioning rice for one is the saddest way humans express depression via food.
You pretend you’re a TV chef as you make a bouffe brugonone so labor-intensive that you start to wonder if you’re even worth the effort. It’s a fun way to imagine there is someone around who would actually listen to you tell them how to chop beef. So you reevaluate your value as a human, toss out the brugonone, and decide you’re worth a late-night drive-thru visit in your PJs at best.
Another tactic is carrying on two-way conversations with yourself. A lot of us do it to work through thoughts and daily aggravations, maybe to try to find the best thing we could’ve said in a moment that’s passed or to figure out the perfect thing to say in the future, in case the person we’re arguing with is wrong in the specific way we imagined them to be, since we’re only setting the bar as high as we can jump. It’s like playing Street Fighter alone and thinking you’re awesome, then playing against your idiot little brother and realizing you’re the worst player in the world.
It’s all a coping mechanism for dealing with the lack of human interactivity. But the more time spent doing it, the more it evolves into something greater than pretending. It starts to evolve into a weirdness specific to each person.
My conversations turned into interviews wherein I’d interview myself on the subject of why I’m so rad. This interviewer (me) will ask me to explain the thought process behind some of my best works, both real and imagined, like the secret of my guacamole recipe (use avocados) or telling the riveting tale of how I came up with the idea for the NC-17 buddy cop movie that won me an Oscar and a Nobel Prize in physics. For the latter, the movie changes almost every time. It was once an Ernest movie called Ernest Stops Fracking, starring a CGI Jim Varney long before we ever saw a CGI Tarkin in Rogue One.
Those homeless people you see ranting on street corners aren’t crazy; they’re just hoping an angel investor walking by overhears him and agrees that only his patented piss jar technology can defeat the lizard people who run the earth.
With No One Else To Be Responsible For, Your Scheduling Goes Nuts
Before my wife became a steady and dependable presence that gave me a reason to structure my life, I started making dinner whenever I stopped working for the day. I stopped working whenever my face had slammed onto the keyboard out of exhaustion for the fourth time that night. And even that depended on what time I got started that day. When I got started was dependent on when I went to sleep, which happened only after dinner, which I forgot to eat again. Alone, I was living the life of someone who can’t sleep until they find their child’s killer. In a relationship, dinner was at 7:30 or this whole marriage was liable to come crashing down in a rage of low blood sugar.
All of this is because living alone takes a herculean effort of will to not abuse the freedom and schedule flexibility five times an hour. Bad habits of overwork, erratic bedtimes, and terrible eating are easy to slip into when you don’t have someone to keep you in check. It sounds counterintuitive to our childhood dreams of freedom, but it’s nice having someone to tell you to stop dicking around and go to bed. I don’t think people realize how much of their schedule is dictated only by the presence of someone else living in their home. Add that person and everything will fall in line soon, if for no other reason than to not be a slovenly loser with an increasingly judgy audience of one.
But that schedule correction isn’t just about avoiding judgement. It’s about common courtesy for other people in your house. Being left to your own devices means your daily to-do list is dictated by your most chaotic moment-to-moment whims. Staying up late because you just didn’t feel like sleeping can disturb your partner, who has a normal working person’s sleep schedule. So over time, you start to adopt their bedtime. Eating whenever you feel like it screws the other person, because they might not be hungry right at that second … so they’re stuck eating cold food or cooking another meal for themselves entirely. It’s just more efficient to eat together, so you stop basing your meals around your stomach’s signals of “Oh, by the way, you’re about to go into shock. Humans need food.”
Being Very Specific About Where Everything Goes
There are two schools of thought on the placement of objects in a home when living alone. The first is the belief that everything has its place. French chefs call it mise en place, the idea that workstations should be arranged in the same way every day to maximize efficiency. It ensures that any item can be reliably found in its specific spot every time. Which could be hilarious if someone’s operating on pure muscle memory and you decide to replace the flour with a feral cat.
The second school of thought suggests the first school can fuck itself. Shit will be dropped or thrown in random spots as soon as it’s no longer useful. Or even if it is. It’s up to the user to remember where it landed or be doomed to accidentally stepping on it during a late night stumble to the toilet for a piss. This is the “I live like an infuriating pig” philosophy, and it’s a staple of college dorm life.
I am a proud graduate of the school of mise en place. I developed my persnickety senses in the thousands of hours I spent by myself at home as a kid. Doing chores unprompted just to kill time, I began to see my bedroom as a kingdom under my rule. If my kingdom looks like it’s been trampled in a stampede of peasants on PCP, it reflects poorly on my reign. But if everything stays in line during every waking moment of my tyrannical rule, then I must be pretty good at running shit, and nobody needs to be beheaded.
I married a woman who graduated magna cum laude from the school of infuriating messes, then went back to get her master’s degree. She believes objects should be placed in the one spot both of us will be least likely to look when we need it again. I have to go on a scavenger hunt for the brush if I want to use it. There’s a constant tug of war between our mismatched instincts which results in our home falling somewhere between “We survived a trailer park tornado but lost everything” and “If you move the salt shaker an inch to the left, I will have a panic attack.” This can make entertaining guests an anxiety-fueled nightmare when their grubby little hands hover around my stuff with no regard for my mise en place. How do they expect me to remain so efficient? The bastards are lucky I don’t take my dick out 20 feet too soon to show them a thing or two about saving time.
Pretending To Be Active
Being alone for long stretches doesn’t lead to an active lifestyle. It’s mostly a lot of sitting and staring at things — TVs, phones, books. You can work out and attempt to be physically active, but when you come back, you immediately pick up where you left off. The passivity starts to weigh on you after a while, and since you can’t work out ten hours a day, it leads to making nothing feel like something. I’ll give you an example.
After realizing I had functioning legs, I decided one day to stand while doing activities that are normally associated with sitting. I’d just stand there watching TV or reading for an hour, like my ass was on the fritz and sitting would only cause permanent ass damage. The more I did it, the more my body got used to it … and before I knew it, I was binge-watching entire seasons of shows while standing. Standing then turned into pacing, and now I can’t really do much of anything in my house when I’m not pacing.
It’s a way to trick my brain into thinking I’m doing something that isn’t lulling me into a state of complacency. I’m no longer sitting around watching four hours of Arrested Development. I’m walking while watching four hours of Arrested Development. In the previous scenario, I am a lazy, shiftless asshole with nothing going on in my life. In the second, I’m walking. See? Huge difference. I might be the only person on Earth who has ever pulled a hamstring while watching Jessica Jones.
After a while, I started to notice this technique cropping up when I was around other people. We’d all be huddled around a TV watching something together, and I’d start off the night sitting in a chair like everybody else. I’d eventually find reason to stand, only to come back and continue watching while standing, sometimes pacing softly in my friend’s periphery. This is a solid way to freak people out. I think hovering around just out of view but close enough that they can feel you looming over them gives them anxiety that you’re about to tell them something bad. Or they think you’re about to cut across the screen but you’re afraid to interrupt. The anxiousness of thinking that you’re about to interject never pays off and they realize this is Hell. I’m a demon, and me not sitting down is their eternal torment.
It’s a blast.
Other than a few feet behind you as you read this, you can find Luis on Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook.
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