“The collective project of living alone grew out of the culture of modern cities,” says Eric Klinenberg, a New York University sociology professor and the author of a 2011 book about the phenomenon called Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone.
He interviewed 300 singletons – people who live alone but aren’t necessarily romantically single – and found that downtown dwellers easily extended their home beyond their own walls and into the “sanctuary in the city,” the urban playgrounds of gyms, restaurants, bars and coffee houses that allow people to get their social fix even as they maintain an exclusive domestic space.
This abundance of choice may lead to a collision of values: Those who live alone, especially if they’re healthy and financially secure in an urban setting, tout its freedoms and opportunities for self-realization.
Others predict solos will regret it later, when they begin craving marriage and children or are left infirm and uncared-for in old age.
Some critics of the new wave of singles look askance at the formation of solo ghettos dominated by careerist “transient twentysomethings” who raise dogs, not children. An article last year in Toronto weekly The Grid asked, “Is Liberty Village family-unfriendly?”
One commenter fired back, “Aren’t we allowed to have neighbourhoods too? You don’t hear us complaining about feeling unwelcome in your ‘family-friendly’ residential neighbourhoods with schools and big houses. A lot of us can’t afford houses in Toronto anyway.”
Others warn about the perils of the female biological clock, from Lori Gottlieb’s polarizing 2010 book Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough, to the collective scream that rose up around “All The Single Ladies,” Kate Bolick’s 2011 Atlantic article about being unbetrothed at the age of 39.
It closed in Amsterdam at a housing complex where applicants must be female and “commit to living alone.” Enchanted, Ms. Bolick concluded, “A room of one’s own, for each of us.”
Detractors warned that she would rue her choices, symbolized by a photo of Ms. Bolick sipping Champagne as a wedding bouquet sailed over her head.
Prof. Klinenberg argues that with today’s extended lifespans, people inevitably pass in and out of relationships, a fluid cycle in which it sometimes makes more sense to go it alone.
Andy Rosso, a 37-year-old cameraman, has lived on his own for a decade in Toronto. “It’s not 1975, where if you were 27 and you didn’t have four kids, you were washed up,” he says. “You’re trying to get yourself right before you move onto the next stage of your life.”
While Mr. Rosso isn’t opposed to living with somebody, the second bedroom in his Liberty Village townhouse is occupied by golf clubs for the time being.
“I look at it from the perspective of not wearing pants a lot, which is good,” he jokes about his bachelor pad. “You can do what you want. You’re on your own clock.
“It seems like a selfish thing to say, but it’s indicative of our generation. Is it selfish, or on the road to self-actualization? What’s the difference between the two?”
While plenty of guys like Mr. Rosso have moved to Liberty Village to live close to work, “the single female aged 25 to 35 has been a major driver,” says Scott McLellan, senior vice-president of Plazacorp, a developer with four towers going up in Liberty.
“They don’t look at this as a transitional move, the ‘I’ll end up marrying somebody and moving to the suburbs.’ I don’t think that’s part of the agenda any more. They see this as long-term. Monday to Friday is completely dedicated to career growth and a lifestyle that supports it.”
That’s an apt description of Katie Tobin, a 26-year-old wardrobe stylist for broadcast, entering her third year of living alone in Liberty Village.
Unfettered by familial surveillance or the squeeze of roommates (she had five of them in university), day to day she’s tethered only to her dog, a toy poodle named Ranch.
“I come home and I love it,” Ms. Tobin says of her very pink one-bedroom townhouse apartment. “Some nights, my house is a disaster, but I don’t even care and I put on a movie. I don’t have to satisfy anyone.”
Being on her own only bothers her the occasional Sunday, a day she still links with childhood family dinners. “You’ve had fun all weekend, you’ve been busy-busy all week and now you’re stopping for a second, sitting there. You’re not distracted and so you notice it: ‘I am alone.’ ”
But the intermittent loneliness, for her, is a small price to pay for her independence.
Amanda Kirkland feels the same way. She has lived alone in Liberty Village for eight years, currently in a two-bedroom-plus-den condo. “The downtime I have at the end of the day, that’s when I need to go to the gym, decompress, walk the dogs,” the 45-year-old says. “There’s no way of it sounding besides me-me, but it’s what I gotta do.”