The Rockefeller Christmas Tree is up. All of those cutesy-bootie display windows are on display. The menorahs are shined and ready. The Kwanzaa deviled egg spices have been purchased. The holidays are here, and you’re alone. Just hear those sleigh bells ring-a-ling.
Well, you’re alone, but you’re not alone alone. I’m single, too, and half of America’s adults are with us. For every seraphic couple batting eyes at each other over a single cup of frothy hot cocoa, there are two human adults separately watching all of Gilmore Girls while alternating between popcorn and Thin Mints, something I assume all other single people do.
I’ve been in relationships during the holidays. It was nice. I get the appeal. For the vast majority of my years, though, I’ve sat at family tables with my 2,235 cousins, drinking and stuffing my face, while the subject of “is Jessica seeing anyone?” has been answered with the sight of a lone ginger sleeping on the couch and a marked absence of grandchildren.
I wouldn’t claim that the holidays are easy for people in relationships. There are difficult matters like where to spend which day to hurt the least amount of feelings, what presents to buy, and how to express love in such a way that single people don’t want to set them on fire.
Let’s be real, though. The holidays can be a miserable onslaught for single people. It starts in November with Thanksgiving and it finishes THREE FUCKING MONTHS LATER with the sadistic garbage festival that is Valentine’s Day.
Let’s talk strategy.
Your Guide to Surviving the Holidays while Single: 5 Tips to Get you through Christmakwanzakah
1. For the love of God, stay busy.
Don’t assume that the holidays will take care of themselves. Even with divorced parents, holiday festivities themselves only account for two days, max. Make plans. Heading out-of-state to see family? Call some old friends and schedule something fun to do. Have some project you’ve been telling yourself you’ll do if only you have the time some day? USE THIS TIME. It’s all too easy to lounge around during the break, opening a window to morosely comparing yourself with your partnered, (seemingly) happy relatives.
Remember: the advantage to being single is that you have more freedom to do what you want. Take it! Use that money you didn’t spend on exorbitant significant other gifts, book a spa package, and let the aunts argue over which network Christmas special to watch.
2. Don’t go insane when the stuffing comes out.
Ah, a tip for me! Close friends know that I occasionally eat to the point of vomiting, Rome style, even when no holidays are involved. I alternately call myself “the shark” and “the cow” because I will eat almost anything, and I have several stomach compartments in which to store my food. Year after year, I punish myself with an amount of food that would astonish Adolf Fredrick, a king who ate himself to death. I often end up alone in my room later at night, unable to sleep, so stuffed that I can’t even lie on my belly. It’s not a good scene.
This has nothing to do with weight gain or any shame over holiday pounds, it’s about keeping within the boundaries of day-to-day eating and not catapulting the body into a tailspin of surprise carbohydrates and fats that will contribute to holiday funk.
This year, my plan is to not do that. I fully intend to eat a LOT of food; I’m just not going to make myself sick. My plan is to make one plate and not do seconds. Trust me, that plate will be INSANE, but it will be one plate.
I’ll let you know if I was able to break this trend this year. I think I can do it, and I welcome you to join me. Here’s hoping. Note: pumpkin pie gets its own desert plate. I’m not insane.
3. Allow it to be kinda tough at times.
My beloved sister invited me to Chicago for a holiday party last year. At the time, I was still reeling from a prolonged breakup. I got too drunk and hid in her boss’s bedroom, clutching a glass of wine and sobbing loud enough that several people came to check on me. It was not my proudest moment. Sorry, Nora.
In spite of the shame of that drunk-cry, really wallowing in those feelings is what allowed me to finally get over my breakup and the stress of holiday loneliness. Obviously it’s a fine line between being present in negative feelings and unproductively dwelling on them, but pushing away pain is rarely as effective as examining it with self-love and patience.
4. Have fun with the online dating thing.
A sad fact: the holidays are a terrible time to search for a partner. People don’t want to invest energy in a relationship that could quickly lead to questions of presents and obligations and “what is this” and “I don’t want labels but WHAT IS THIS MY COMPANY IS HAVING A +1 ARE YOU MY +1.”
Okay, so dating during this time is probably going to have a little more of the “bullshit emotional games” factor. Keep that in mind and play! I remember the little spurts of giggles I’d get from messaging guys I’d NEVER go out with – men in California, men in open relationships (no thanks, not for me), men I wasn’t attracted to. I was upfront about my intentions: I’m not interested, but thanks for reaching out, how are ya! and it was almost like being back in the high school days of AIM. A/S/L? Too old for this shit, nothing going on there, Ohio.
That little validation boost that comes from being active and getting messages and hearing that random strangers dig what you present (even if a partner hasn’t yet) can be a nice break. And who knows, maybe there’s another stranger somewhere, in a similarly escapist mood in a similarly low moment, who’ll want to meet up when you’re back in town.
Holiday miracle, blah blah blah, peace on earth.
5. Find moments to, ya know, enjoy the season.
“It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” Well, ok, I guess, if you forget the crunch of autumn leaves on a light sweater day when you want to soak in every last drop of precious sunlight before the earth tilts and is covered in relentless, 3-month gray, or the lazy drift of hot sand between your beer-cooled fingertips as you nap just close enough to the ocean to hear the crash, or the pop-pop-pop of colors as the Brooklyn Botanic Garden explodes with tulips and whisper-pink cherry blossoms. If you forget all those other seasons, winter is a pretty glorious time.
I’m being a jerk. Winter is nice. Some people love it. Stow the bah-humbugs, invite a friend to an outdoor holiday market, and drink just enough hot mulled cider to find effusive Dutch tourists hilarious. Brave the herds for a spin around an ice rink, and peek at those holiday displays. The holidays won’t be over any sooner for sticking your nose up about them, so you might as well smile until it’s fun.
(If you know an unconscionably wealthy person, please trick them into sponsoring me for a ski trip)
There are my five tips, stretching all the way from Thanksgiving to when the miniature fir tree I buy from Trader Joe’s every year dies tragically. The holidays can be really tough, especially if you’re single and most people in your life are coupled. Let’s stick together, singles. I’ll see you at the Union Square holiday market.