Shelley Bridgeman 's Opinion

Dwelling on injustices, bad behaviour and modern day dilemmas.

Shelley Bridgeman: Is living alone divine or dangerous?

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When you live alone you can do anything, guilt free.Photo / Thinkstock
When you live alone you can do anything, guilt free.Photo / Thinkstock

If I wasn't a wife and mother I could easily imagine myself living on my own as I did for a couple of years in my early 20s. I loved not having to abide by any societal norms, and not having anyone to judge me and my strange ways. I could sleep all day and stay up all night. I could crush multiple Cadbury Flakes directly into a 2-litre tub of hokey pokey ice-cream for supper. And I could don legwarmers and a fluorescent leotard, and bounce up and down on my rebounder to Kylie Minogue's Locomotion. (It was the 80s, okay?)

If it had been a reclusive weekend, greeting a work colleague on Monday morning could have been the first word I'd uttered since Friday afternoon. "Oh, yes, she lived alone. No one ever saw her. She was quite strange, really - eccentric. A loner," my neighbours would have told journalists had I been the perpetrator of some horrific crime. At that time living alone seemed independent, indulgent, subversive and anti-social. Yet I never considered that living alone could also be hazardous to the health.

It was for 41-year-old Hannah Betts - the author of When illness strikes, living alone can be dangerous - who had severe appendix problems when no one was around to help her. It's a weird little story. The first two people she asked to deliver painkillers to her didn't. Then the doctor's receptionist refused to help and the writer, herself, was reluctant to call an ambulance for fear she was overreacting. When Betts finally made it to hospital and was able to call her father she "failed to make myself heard". She didn't have the telephone numbers of most of the people she needed to call so she settled for posting updates on Facebook and Twitter.

Nonetheless Betts draws important messages from the mayhem. When we're ill we're not necessarily thinking clearly or capable of making our best decisions so a concerned other person can be crucial to take control of the situation. She points out the need for a "gate-keeper" - someone calm and coherent who can be relied upon to call the ambulance and let family and friends know what's happening.

Despite the pitfalls, living alone is an increasingly common phenomenon. We're living longer, and many of us are steadfastly remaining single and prizing our solitude.

Statistics New Zealand reports that: "One-person households are projected to be the fastest-growing household type ... increasing ... from 363,000 in 2006 to 602,000 in 2031. One-person households will account for 29 per cent of all households in 2031."

So if living alone really is dangerous, what are our options if we're without a romantic partner? Should we establish pragmatic relationships for the sake of companionship? Do we go flatting in later life like those awesomely grouchy people in the Westpac television advertisement? Should we wear an emergency communication device around our neck even though we're not geriatric? Do we take in boarders?

I've heard of elderly live-alone women who have a friend ring them every morning at 8am to check they haven't died in the night. I've always wondered about the logic behind this, though. I would have thought that having died in the night, by definition, means you won't be around to worry about having died in the night. But perhaps I'm missing something.

Do you live alone? What are the benefits and pitfalls? Have you been in danger because there was no one there to assist?

Shelley Bridgeman

Dwelling on injustices, bad behaviour and modern day dilemmas.

Shelley Bridgeman is a truck-driving, supermarket-going, horse-riding mother-of-one who is still married to her first husband. As a Herald online blogger, she specialises in First World Problems and delves fearlessly into the minutiae of daily life. Twice a week, she shares her perspective on a pressing current issue and invites readers to add their ten cents’ worth to the debate.

Read more by Shelley Bridgeman

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