Single For The Holidays
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Alright, it’s officially three days before Thanksgiving, and my “man of the house” is still a 4-legged, tail-wagging Morkie. Although his manliness is probably a little bit in question, being that he went in for another little Hallmark dog audition last week and they dressed him up as…(ahem)…a girl! I think he rocked it, but he’s now back to happily sporting his favorite Chiefs sweater. ;)
Well, there are no two-legged guys in the picture right now either. So unless Prince Charming swoops in before Thursday, it looks like I will be single for the holidays yet again. And based on a handful of emails and conversations I have had with all you single ladies and guys after starting this series, it sounds like “the most wonderful time of the year” is unanimously one of the toughest times of the year for single folk, if not the toughest. Not always. But often.
So I thought it would be interesting to open up the conversation about how we can all do this “being single” thing well during the holidays.
Somehow I have spent almost every holiday season of my twenties being single, so I definitely have some experience in the area. I’ve had years when I couldn’t wait for the holidays. I’ve had years when I dreaded them. I’ve had holidays that were genuinely merry and bright. I’ve cried the ugly cry alone in my bedroom on the night before Christmas. I’ve spent holidays with friends, I’ve spent them with family. I’ve been thankful for what I’ve been given, I’ve been bitter at times for what I have not.
But through it all, for better and worse, I have at least learned something new each year. So if you’re single this holiday season, or if you have single friends, or if you’ve flown solo for any holiday seasons in the past, would love to hear about your thoughts/experiences in the comments below! Here are a few of mine.
Why I have watched “Christmas Vacation” 50+ times
First of all, I feel like I should state very clearly up front that I am one of those people who loves the holidays. It’s true, I’m totally “that girl” — the Thanksgiving-turkey-carving, deck-the-halls-ing, holiday-music-playing, DIY-present-crafting, ugly-sweater-sporting, cookie-swapping, party-hopping, tree-decorating, carol-singing, Elf-watching, Advent-calendaring, #1 fan of the holidays. Oh yeah. I could dominate on a Christmas version of “Name That Tune”. And Clark Griswold and I are “exterior illumination” kindred spirits. I completely love this time of the year!
BUT, even though it sounds cliche, I mostly love Thanksgiving and Christmas (or Hanukkah, or whatever you may celebrate) because of the “reason for the season”. I love the heart and purpose behind both holidays. I love the centuries upon centuries of tradition behind each. And I also love getting swept up — in a good way — in all of the fun and meaningful traditions that surround them. (Minus the consumerism and stress, of course.)
And you’d better believe I love all of the baking that comes with the holidays. I do my blog name proud this time of year. ;)
So I’ve always been a little annoyed and bummed out that this wonderful season is expected (and often turns out to be) a less-than-wonderful season for so many single friends.
Why the holidays can suck when you’re single
It’s easy to come up with a list of reasons why single people might be expected to have a “blue Christmas”.
There are all of the obvious reasons — having to be the only single one surrounded by couples at family/friend gatherings, being barraged by holiday advertisements all about buying gifts for that “special someone”, awkwardly smiling when that distant relative asks about the latest “developments in your love life”, wishing you had someone to snuggle with when it’s -19 degrees outside, yada yada yada. Believe me, I’ve been there. And those situations can be rough.
But if you ask me, I think that the main reason the holidays can suck is not because of the bad or awkward situations. It’s when those awesome holiday moments happen — both the big and the small — that I simply wish I could share them with someone else.
Believe me, it’s not that single people are at all incapable of appreciating and enjoying the holidays on their own. Or that they have a lack of good friends and family in my life to share them with, and create loads of festive memories together. My holiday social calendar is usually brimming with all sorts of cool experiences. I’m just sayin’ — it would be really cool to have the same person by your side decorating the tree together, and eating turkey at Friendsgiving, and walking into family reunions, and worshipping together on Christmas Eve, and hopefully one day sharing those traditions with kids of your own. I’ve always said that good things in life are meant to be shared, and I can only imagine how cool that would be during the holidays.
So when you hear single friends talking about feeling extra “lonely” during the holidays, understand that they are probably not talking about a lack of family and friends by their side, or a lack of things to do and parties to attend. It’s just that at the end of the night, they simply come home “alone” — the root of the word lonely. They are probably not sitting around whining or saying woe-is-me, or feeling ungrateful for the cool people in their life. They would just like to experience the goodness of it all with someone.
Why the holidays don’t HAVE to suck when you’re single
But here’s the thing. I kind of resent the fact that it’s expected — in society, tv, movies, songs, etc. — that single people will be depressed around the holidays. Because (a) that’s ridiculous and assumes that single people have no control over the matter (b) the holidays can be fantastic when you’re single (c) the holidays can be fantastic in part because you’re single.
There are definitely some perks to being single during the holidays. You get to choose exactly what you want to do when you want to do it. You only have one work Christmas party to attend. You can have as many dance parties in the kitchen as you want to your favorite
N*Sync Sufjan Stevens Christmas album. But most importantly — you can plan and celebrate a totally meaningful and memorable holiday season on your own.
But that said, trust me, I’m no poster child for having lived through single holiday seasons as well as I might have liked. In fact, I had a string of fairly depressing holiday seasons in my twenties — especially in the years just after college when my younger sister got married and I really wanted to be married — when my singleness felt like this big dark cloud hanging over all of the festivities and fun. And I’m pretty sure I contributed more than once to the “whiny” or “mopey” rap that single people can get around the holidays.
But while some of that was circumstantial, I realized that the ball was way more in my court than I thought, and many of my bad moments were due to:
- my own lack of planning and setting mental expectations
- lack of communication and honesty with those around me
- feeling obligated to family traditions and friend invites galore
- stressing myself out with a ridiculously full calendar
- focusing on what I didn’t have, instead of what I did
- forgetting what the holidays are even about
This list may sound cliche, but let me assure you, it was true.
The good news is that these things didn’t have to stay true.
I’m no single saint with the holidays now, and I still have my moments during each season for sure. (They come.) But here are a few thoughts on at least how I’ve focused on making the holidays all the merrier.
4 tips for
surviving enjoying the holidays when you’re single
1. Be Honest About It
Chances are, your holiday season — like any season — is going to come with its fair share of ups and downs, especially with regards to being single. You will probably have a few moments of feeling lonely, or you may be the only single person in the room, or you may have to tell your uncle for the 500th time that yes, in fact, you are “still single”.
But just be honest about it!
Be honest about it to yourself. If you’re having a down day, don’t ignore it or plaster on a fake smile. Figure out why you’re feeling down in that moment, acknowledge those feelings, figure out if there’s anything you need to do about it (share your feelings with a friend, skip or attend a certain holiday event, resolve to do something differently in the future, or even just having a good cry about it), and then move on. Do not just let things build and build and build. That’s a holiday meltdown waiting to happen.
Just as importantly, be honest about it to those around you. Tell your friends and family when you’re having a hard day, and also be sure to tell them if there’s any way they can help. Even though I seem to have this hardwired assumption as a girl that the world will read my mind, strangely, they can’t! :) But when I get up the courage to tell someone what’s on my mind, or call a friend on a hard day, they are usually completely encouraging and supportive and happy to talk about it. And even when I’ve had to have hard conversations with family or friends about things that aren’t working or comments that are hurtful, the understanding and long-term relief that comes from those conversations far exceeds the tears getting through them. And I’m sure they would agree.
So have the courage to be honest.
2. Reevaluate Your Holiday “Musts”
Take a good hard look at some of the “musts” that come with your holiday season, especially the ones that leave you feeling drained or discouraged.
Maybe it’s attending so-and-so’s holiday party? Or eating too much food? Or spending more days than you’d rather at home with your family? Or spending too much money on Christmas presents? Or even watching that favorite romantic holiday movie that somehow always leaves you more depressed than happy at the end?
I know there are probably plenty of things during the holiday season that are non-negotiables. And I want to be clear that I’m not encouraging you to be totally selfish or only do the things that are your absolute favorites, as there is a certain spirit of giving and selflessness that can make the holidays special and meaningful.
BUT. Just because you’ve done something “always” doesn’t mean that you can’t tweak or stop doing it every single year ahead.
For example, I’m an introvert, so five weeks in a row of unending Christmas parties (even ones that I loved) used to leave me stressed and exhausted. I figured that out, so I now pick and choose the gatherings that are most life-giving and fit in a reasonable schedule, and give myself a pass on the others (being sure to thank the hosts for the invite). I also realized that I don’t do so well being the only single child during the holidays at home after about 3 days. So instead of spending my entire holiday vacation time at home with my parents (whom I love), we instead together plan a really awesome three days of togetherness and soak it all in. And then before I get too lonely or tired, I head back to KC, which I think is a win-win for all of us. Also, that whole pressure of signing up for online dating with the rest of the world around the holidays (their top sales time by a landslide)? Yeah, decided that’s not my thing either. At least for me personally, I don’t need the daily reminder of my single status from potential “matches” giving me the thumbs up or thumbs down.
That said, you may have holiday traditions in place that are totally awesome and in no need of changes. If that’s the case, then live them up! But if there are “musts” to your holidays that seem to cause stress or unneeded tough times year after year, take time to re-evaluate and see if there is are alternatives. There probably are.
3. Make A Plan
Before you find yourself smack dab the middle of the December chaos and have to react to every invite and comment and feeling, why not be proactive this year and make a plan beforehand that you will feel good about!
Make a plan for your calendar. Figure out before the holidays how many events you can and want to do this holiday season. If two nights out a week is your limit, then stick to it. If you really want to get out and avoid nights at home, then tell your friends and plan nights out and know who to call when you want to be social. Resist the urge to people-please here. Figure out what social events are life-giving and bring lots of joy and meaning and memory-making, and live those up to the fullest!
Make a plan for your finances. The holidays can be stressful enough without having to worry about finances on top of that. Figure out beforehand what budget you have to spend on gifts, and then stick to it. If you need help with affordable or DIY gift ideas, there are a zillion online. But especially if you’re single, don’t feel like you need to match the monetary gift value of your couple counterparts on your own (or pay double the cost to buy expensive gifts for both). There are ways to do this affordably and thoughtfully.
Make a plan for your mental health. I’m serious. If you tend to get extra-down around the holidays, then figure out in advance how to hope to take care of yourself. If that’s asking a friend to check in with you regularly, or scheduling to see a therapist during the holidays, or just planning a schedule that you know will be life-giving, be sure to do what you need to do so that those down moments don’t take you too far down. For anyone who has lived through a tough holiday season, you’ll know how important this can be.
4. Give thanks, and lots of it
Unfailingly, the most effective thing I’ve found in life to refocus and encourage me (especially on tough days) is gratitude. Plain and simple gratitude.
I know this isn’t news to anyone. But especially during a season when everyone seems to be moving 100mph, with brands bombarding us with pitches for stuff that we “need” to have, and when it’s tempting as a single person to feel like you’re missing out on something — gratitude is essential. It’s still a bit of a mystery to me how the simple act of giving thanks has such power to lift my mood or transform a perspective, but somehow it wonderfully does.
So in whatever way works best for you, I would completely encourage you to set aside a few moments each day to give thanks. That may be through prayer, through journaling, through talking with a friend, through writing notes, through jotting 3 things you’re thankful for into your iPhone notepad, through Instagram-ing, you name it. Instead of focusing on what relationship you don’t have, focus on the many amazing ones that you do. The holidays are an awesome time to spend extra time with those you love. So soak that in, and give lots of thanks along the way.
And most of all, whether it’s Thanksgiving, or Christmas, or whatever holiday you celebrate, don’t forget the “reason for the season”. At the end of the day, that is hopefully what it really is all about.
Ok, thanks for making it to the end of a long post. With all that said, I wish you all a sincerely good holiday season this year, overflowing with peace, hope, joy. And hopefully lots of delicious cookies. ;)
What are some of your experiences with being single for the holidays? (Or being around single friends during the holidays?) Any tips to offer or lessons you have learned?
More posts about being single:
I love this..you are so inspiring and brave, my friend. And I can’t handle the perfection of this photo!
Love you, girl!
My sister-in-law is in her late 30’s and single and I absolutely know she could 100% relate to this post and appreciate your honesty.
Happy Thanksgiving! Just think, at least you don’t have to share the leftover pie? (Story – last week I made pie and I saved the last piece for breakfast the next day… only to come downstairs to find Nick ate it before he went to work. )
This is beyond fabulous Ali!! Thank you. :)
I have found that it is helpful for me to think through what I am going to say to all my well meaning friends and family who ask about the latest developments in my love life ahead of time, so that I don’t look like a deer caught in the headlights when they ask. And thanks to some of your previous posts on this topic I feel way more confident in my answers this year!
I just adore you and your honesty and these posts. I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving! xo
kudos to you Ali, these are some really really great tips.
This will be the last holiday season of my twenties and my sixth being single. All of what you’ve shared here is so very appropriate. I’ve even been fortunate enough to come so far as to embrace single life, even through the holidays. I could go into endless detail on the slow progression from a strong and fulfilling relationship to an equally fulfilling appreciation for single life, but this is your blog and I’m far too long-winded : )
All I will say is that when I am asked the inevitable relationship questions by family members, I can smile warmly, breathe a small sigh and say with utter sincerity, “No one right now, but I’m happy.”
Thank you for this amazing blog. Best wishes for a most wonderful holiday season.
These are just wonderful tips. I love your honesty always in these posts! Have a great Thanksgiving :)
You are a joy. An absolute joy. These tips are perfect for anyone, regardless of their couple status.
I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving, Ali!
Love this, Alison!!! :) Ironically, many of the same issues can come up with married people who don’t have kids yet, especially as the years tick by. I think it is a parallel issue in a lot of ways. It is deeply personal, we are well aware of our age, there are often complex reasons behind the wait, and it can be hard to face the expectations of society and what a “normal” age is for having babies! I am bracing myself for the next round of inquiries, although it is much like the single thing in that I will tell everyone as soon as it happens! ;)
Great post, Ali! Although I love having my boyfriend around during the holidays, it is a little bit stressful to try to find ways to include him in the family traditions I’ve been sharing with my family my entire life. You made a good point that you can do exactly what you want to do when you want to do it! I hope you have a very happy holiday season. :)
This year, I am only seeing my family for Thanksgiving. I would like to see them for Christmas too, but I couldn’t get a flight and I figured it’d be for the best because I turn 31 (right around Christmas) and I really don’t want to turn 31 and still be single in front of my family and celebrating my birthday with other single friends seems better for me mentally. It feels horrible to distance myself away from my family (even if they mean well and don’t say anything about me being single) because it feels like I am avoiding an issue rather than confronting it. Regardless, I am spending a big chunk of December with friends (lots of holiday and birthday parties), but as an introvert, I am carving out time for myself too. My New Year’s resolution for 2014 is: Believe in Love.
This is such a wonderful post, Ali. I love your emphasis on gratitude and focusing on a life-giving holiday season instead of a people pleasing, duty fulfilling season.
Great, practical suggestions Ali! Love it!
Thanks for sharing, Ali. I definitely had an ugly cry last night in my bedroom before I went to bed. I had just spent a week surrounded by family (including my cousin’s two-month old baby boy – the first of the next generation in our family), and as I got ready for bed in my empty house, I was overcome with loneliness. I poured my heart out to God and my dog, Indy :) and then slept peacefully. Sometimes, you just need to let it out! I am determined to enjoy this Christmas season (my favorite!) by keeping my focus on the true Reason for it. Happy December!
Thanks for posting, Ali. I definitely had an ugly cry last night in my bedroom. I had just spent the whole week with family (including my cousin’s two-month old baby, the first of the next generation in our family), and as I got ready for bed in my empty house, I was overcome with loneliness. I poured my heart out to God and my dog, Indy :) and then slept peacefully. Sometimes, you just need to let it out! I am determined to enjoy this Christmas season (my favorite!) by keeping my focus on the true Reason for it. Happy December!
I’ve been single at Christmas for the past 12 years… I thought this year was going to be different… I had met a guy on January 3 and everything felt right about him but after 9 months and a very, very HARD breakup, here I am single again… My daughter has had boyfriends the past few years and I’m happy for her but I don’t know how to not cry every day… I’m going to try and take some of your tips and put them in place… Hope I get thru… :-/
This is a wonderful post with so many good ideas! I went through a very rough break up last year right after Thanksgiving with my boyfriend who I had been dating over a year. Long story short we weren’t on the same page. :( Not being at Christmas and Thanksgiving was tough for me since we had created such good memories the year before. But with these tips I feel like this Christmas will be a better one that last year! Thanks for the post! Much needed!
I’ve been single for many holidays and these tips work for me.
– I try to only go to the social occasions that make me feel good and don’t focus on my lack of a partner. Lots of times this means house parties where everyone is mingling instead of going out where the partners stick together and I’m on my own.
– I limit my alcohol at parties and have a planned treat for when I get home, like new sheets on the bed or a glass of wine and a good book. This gets me moving out the door so I’m not closing down the party.
– I have favorite movies that I can watch over and over, like Ali does with Christmas Vacation. I save these for the holidays. I look forward to these and they make me laugh.
– Like Ali, I try to keep the reason for the season in mind, but I don’t go overboard. Christmas week is just a week, New Year’s Eve is just a night. If I choose to not celebrate this year, that’s ok. Maybe my celebration is the week before Christmas at my favorite party, and while I’ll do some small things on the actual day, I might spend a large portion of it reading a great book or painting. When anyone asks about my Christmas, I focus on the part of the holiday that most represented the season for me.
– I splurge on healthy food that makes me feel pampered, not guilty.
– I might choose one (small) thing to focus on, like organizing my spices and work on it a little bit at a time, so at the end of the holidays I can look at the progress I’ve made.
– And I give my dog lots of walks and pets!
Thanks for the post!
Made it all the way through to the end, think I’ve probably watched The Holiday just as many times as you’ve watched Christmas Vacation…actually probably more!
I strongly recommend Tip #4! It’s really quite important, an attitude of gratitude :)
At the ripe OLD age of 52 I suspect I’ve had more quiet Christmas’s than most visitors here but here’s the thing, I know this is very twee but
Tip #5 Happiness really is a choice, it comes from inside you, you make that choice……so I choose it!
Now…..where’s that Holiday DVD…?? ;-)
Ali, you said exactly what I’ve been feeling. It’s not that I’m lonely. I just want to share these moments with someone, anyone. Someone who actually cares, not just a coworker shooting the breeze. I’m an introvert as well and ended up skipping my work’s Christmas party because every. one. is bringing a guest and I have none. And it’s hard enough for me to socialize with coworkers, let alone coworkers and their spouses. I’ve been to the party before, so at least I tried the years before, right? Anyway, I feel like you and I could get coffee and talk about being single for hours! :) Pretty much everybody I know is in a relationship.
Love, love, live your Blog! Turning 31 this year, 11 days before Christmas and 3 days after you end a long distance relationship is never fun. I love my life in general and the holidays, but agree that sharing it with someone makes it just that much better. Thank you for reminding all of us singletons, and the non-singles too, about remaining thankful, joyful, and HoPEFUL to share the love one day. Hope you have a fabulous start to 2014!
Omg! Love this post. I like your sense of humor and honesty. I 120% relate to this. I am just now learning how to be comfortable with my single status. Thank you so much:) This will encourage and help us single ladies through this xmas and oh my! NEW YEARS!
This holiday season marks the third year since my last long-term relationship went to crap. The first year, I got around it by just working a lot (I was managing two hotels, so I just didn’t have the time to worry about the holidays). Last year, I had a boyfriend from Thanksgiving until New Year’s Day (that’s another story). This year, I’m planning to go back to just being too busy to care.
I think I’d enjoy the holidays more being single if I enjoyed the holidays to begin with, but I’m just… not a Christmas or Thanksgiving type of person. I’m more of a sunshiney summer day kind of person. Winter just stresses me out.
Well at least i know why i really hate the holidays when they come around. A very excellent reason for me.
Sucks to be single for the holidays for so many of us single men that really hate it.