SOMEWHERE between the cocoon of the family home, the chaos of flatmates and the quiet contentment of living with a partner, living solo is something that we should all experience. But for a growing number of Irish people, it is becoming a way of life and not just a pitstop on the way to cohabitation.
The number of those choosing to live alone is growing steadily. The 2011 Census also indicated that there are now 392,000 one-person households in Ireland increasing by 62,500 in the previous five years.
A recent study funded by the Economic and Social Research Council also found that women who live alone rate their lives as happier and healthier than if they cohabited. What's more, single-person homes will be one of the major social trends of the next decade or so, accounting for 70pc of the growth in the number of households by 2026, according to official figures.
According to the market research firm Euromonitor International, the number of people living alone globally is skyrocketing, rising from about 153 million in 1996 to 277 million in 2011 -- an increase of around 80pc in 15 years.
Just last month, after a brief and ill-advised flirtation with house sharing, I turned the key in the door to my own place again. Save for those dreaded few months in which I suffered a flatmate -- oh, and a couple of years trying cohabiting with disastrous results -- I have been living alone for close to 10 years.
It's the fringe benefit of being single; where others forge partnerships and tag team over housework and groceries, I live by my own haphazard set of rules. It suits me perfectly; no having to make inane small talk with others, no wondering about who will clean that manky toilet bowl, no remote control wrestling and no designated shelves in the fridge. Honestly, what's not to like about it?
Well, quite a bit really. "I definitely have more 'dark night of the soul' moments than the girls I know who live with their boyfriends or have flatmates," admits one friend. "You just have a lot more time to think about things and that isn't necessarily a good thing."
Says psychologist Owen Connolly (www.counsellor.ie) about the introspection that can befall the lone dweller: "You can be in a crowded room and still feel lonely. Self-regulation within ourselves is important, so as not to entertain certain types of thought. If it does happen, be very clear and tell yourself you're not going to go there. Better still, write down your negative thoughts."
Alas, it's not all naked dancing, Pot Noodles without judgment and farting when you want. There are also the bills that you don't get to split with anyone.
As a solo dweller, your behaviour goes largely unchecked. Solo dwellers I know will admit to not showering for days or watching four hours straight of some brain-drain TV like Take Me Out.
Living alone also creates a certain inflexible, control-freak, anti-social mindset that those who live with other people cannot really fathom. If you're not easy in your own company, this is a combination that quickly becomes a recipe for disaster.
Happily, it's a phase that most lifers go through: "It's common that people who go through the letting-the-dishes-pile-up phase," observes Connolly. "People do it for a year or two before they get settled and want to take ownership of their space and routine."
Most of us see living alone as a sign that we are successful and independent, but it hasn't always been this way. It wasn't so long ago in Ireland that, in a society where most people lived with their families, the sole spinster or bachelor was something of a sad loner.
"For people aged 25 to 45, living alone can be a choice, and an accolade, because you have youth and ability, and your life is ahead of you," explains Connolly. "It can certainly feel lonelier from your 50s onwards and from that age on the instances of depression or isolation can be greater. There is disappointment and hurt often attached to living alone."
There are no shortage of cautionary tales. Last month, the body of 62-year-old Alan Moore -- who had lived alone in Wexford town for 10 years -- lay undiscovered in his house for more than three months. While in the UK the body of Joyce Carol Vincent (38), was found in a London bedsit in 2006. Her story has been made into the powerful film Dreams Of A Life, starring Zawe Ashton.
Crucially, there is a difference between living alone and being lonely. Chances are that the solo dwellers you know have a wide social circle.
Facebook and Twitter also take the chill out of isolation, although Connolly issues a caveat: "These are essentially artificial connections. It's all very well keeping in touch with people on Facebook but to upkeep a sense of wellbeing we need an emotional connection with others, and you simply can't get this through Facebook, emails or texts."
There are myriad ways of enjoying living alone while avoiding the pitfalls. Indulgences such as Two & A Half Men marathons should probably be the exception, and not the rule. It's essential that solo dwellers don't get into a rut where getting dressed for a Saturday night is seen as a hassle. Better still, invite people over to your house weekly. It'll also provide an incentive to cook something that doesn't require a microwave... and address that manky toilet bowl.