My roommate moved out on Valentine’s Day. We hugged goodbye and promised to see each other again. Friends have asked me what it’s like having the place to myself now. The truth is the apartment feels too big and too quiet without her.
It sometimes feels like my friends who live with family or roommates envy the quiet. There are advantages to living alone, of course. The place stays cleaner. No one steals scoops of your ice cream in the freezer. You can set the temperature exactly to the degree you are most comfortable.
But I wonder if the same friends forget about the disadvantages. When you live alone:
- you eat more meals alone (which may risk your health, according to research studies).
- you develop bad habits that no one helps you to curb (if no one sees you eat five cookies for dinner, did it really happen?).
- no one will wake you if you sleep through your morning alarm.
- no one will perform first aid or call an ambulance if you have a medical emergency at home.
- it takes more time for people to notice if you are missing (who would know if you didn’t make it home?).
- you do all the cooking and cleaning because there’s no one to share the tasks.
- you most likely have to care for yourself if you get the flu (your place becomes a quarantine zone even the closest friends don’t want to enter).
- you often have to choose between being lazy or being social because seeing your friends usually means going out.
- you rarely get to enjoy sitting in the same room with someone without feeling the obligation to maintain conversation.
- you are the only one who will protect your home from spiders (and other invaders).
Another aspect to consider, and possibly the most dangerous, is what might fill the quiet. In the best case scenario, quiet makes room for personal reflection and conversation with God. The “still small voice” can be easily drowned out by daily life’s chaotic noise (1 Kings 19:12). It’s important for us to get away from the noise and seek space to listen. Jesus would go up a mountain when he needed time alone with God (Matt. 14:23; Mark 6:46; Luke 6:12). At times, quiet is good and necessary.
The quiet also makes room for other voices though. It’s normally when we find ourselves alone that our enemy comes out. He lies to us and accuses us. He picks at our deepest doubts. He takes advantage of our vulnerabilities. Remember that Jesus was alone in the wilderness for 40 days when Satan tested him (Matt. 4:1-10; Luke 4:1-13). Of course, he was able to stand firm against the attacks, and we can look for the Holy Spirit’s help when we are in similar situations. But even Jesus would later desire the comfort and strength of company (Luke 9:28; Matt. 26:38; Mark 14:32-34). When we live with others, they have more opportunity to notice when we’re getting down, believing lies, or feeling stuck. They can call it what it is and give us the encouragement we need.
The writer of Ecclesiastes noted, “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” (Ecc. 4:12). Two people are stronger than one, and three are even better. Although God does give us strength and encouragement directly, he also helps us through the words and actions of people around us.
Along with helping us when we’re low, the people we live with can challenge us to be better people than we are now. Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” When people get together, they tend to refine each other. But it takes time. The more time you have with people, the more you will grow. If you live alone, then it makes sense that you will have less time with people. And the less time you have with people, the less you will grow. The quiet rarely reveals what we need to improve. It’s easier in the quiet to ignore our selfishness, impatience, and generally bad attitude.
Besides, the people that you only see in public might not see you in your worst moments. Even if they do, they have limited motivation to call you out on your flaws. It isn’t worth it to them. They don’t have to live with you. Home is where we take off the masks and show who we are underneath. It’s also the place that others are least likely to put up with our bad behavior. The people who live with us see the ugliness that we try to hide, and they inspire us to go beyond what we think is “good enough.”
Some people are content living alone, and others would if they could afford it. But even if you can live alone, are the benefits really better than living with others? Is it the best for you? Maybe you have enough money and are not afraid of the possible disadvantages. But are you missing something more? How can you replace the encouragement, growth, and companionship of that comes with sharing a home?
And if you are already living with others, whether family or roommates, please don’t envy the quiet of your friends who live alone. You may never know what the quiet is for someone else. Instead, invite them over to your home. Let them sit on your couch and tell them there’s no obligation to make conversation.