5:00: Stop on the way home and shop for dinner ingredients. 5:30: Prepare dinner. 6:00: Eat dinner; clean up. 6:30: Read the evening newspaper. 7:00: Watch television. 9:00: Soak in a hot tub. 9:30: Crawl into bed with a book or magazine.
That what-to-do regimen for a lonely night at home will never be a pulse picker-upper or give most self-respecting swinging singles even a mild case of the Saturday night fevers. But enough of America’s 17.8 million single house-holders have in fact sought out author Lynn Shahan’s earnest but offbeat tidbits of advice that her book, Living Alone & Liking It!, has emerged as the late summer’s unlikeliest bestseller (the second printing has pushed the total press run to 105,000 copies). Once past the upbeat title, readers find a slim, 189-page survival guide for single life that combines the blandest of “Dear Abby” and Dale Carnegie with none of the sexual joy of Dr. Alex Comfort. “The whole idea of sex being a problem for the person alone is overblown,” Shahan insists.
Instead, the 40-year-old high school guidance counselor in Garden Grove, Calif, serves up such zingers as “Use your periods of loneliness to discover more about yourself.” Singles are told to seek out hobbies (rug hooking is good), easy entertainment (toss a potluck supper for friends) and recipes for one (she even proffers a few like “Dave’s nature omelette” and “Sandy’s chicken cordon bleu,” culled from friends). For a wild and crazy evening, well, why not try “window-shopping alone?”
But meeting people is important too, so Shahan urges singles to chat blithely with strangers. “Say, for example, that you approach a fellow passenger on the deck of an ocean liner and ask, ‘Pardon me, but do you live around here?’ It may sound corny, but it can’t be said you aren’t trying.”
Of course, even a dedicated go-it-aloner can sometimes slip up. When Shahan’s publisher suggested a promotion tour for her, Lynn did the unthinkable: She asked if someone could accompany her (the publisher is mulling it over). “I did myself in,” she reckons. “But I guess there are times I don’t like it.”
Shahan’s Baedeker for lonely hearts evolved out of her own crisis coping with singlehood. At age 30, after nine years on her own, she walked into the living room of her new house one Saturday evening and collapsed in tears. “I put on the stereo and just sat there and cried. I felt so alone in life. I could not face the world,” she remembers. “I thought Prince Charming wasn’t going to come along.” Later, through courses in psychology at the University of California-Irvine and Pepperdine University, Lynn managed to pull herself out of “a depression so severe I thought I was going to die from it.” Gradually, over a five-year period, she began writing down her thoughts on being a single woman. By then she was living in a condominium, where she started informally polling her unmarried neighbors about life in the single lane. In May 1980, taking the advice of another self-help book, How to Get Happily Published, Shahan sent a manuscript off to Robert Ringer, author of Winning Through Intimidation. Ringer, who happens to employ Lynn’s sister Ellen as the editor of his Stratford Press, offered Shahan exactly $1 for the rights to her book—thereby living up to the lessons of his own Looking Out for #1. But he also agreed to publish it and spend more than $100,000 on promotion. A paperback deal is still ahead, from which Shahan hopes finally to receive more than Ringer’s $1.
As a child in Arizona, Lynn never lived alone. The eldest of seven children born to a farmer, she shared a bedroom with three sisters. At Arizona State University she majored in liberal arts and started a teaching career in 1963. Along the way there were two intense but ultimately dissatisfying romances. “My biggest problem with men is that I’m choosy and fastidious. I don’t want a slob in my house or in my life, even if he’s wonderful in every other way,” she sighs. “Some shrink would love to get hold of me and work on this.”
Today Shahan lives the well-rounded single life she preaches. She industriously fills her spare hours with gardening, crewelwork and cooking, but admits that all is not bliss. “The biggest burden of living alone is making all the decisions, paying all the bills, carrying out the trash,” she confesses. “And sometimes, I’ve wanted to parade out in front of a delivery person and ask how he liked some outfit I’d bought. Once I did, and he said, ‘Take it back. The color’s all wrong for you.’ ”
Given such indignities, if Shahan were offered her choice, would she shuck singlehood? “I feel that getting married is an option, and if I don’t get to exercise it, I’d be shortchanged,” she admits. Her romantic ideals, however, are tempered with pragmatism. “If I have to spend the rest of my life this way,” she adds firmly, “I’m going to make it good.”