The office holiday drinks meet was going along just fine; then everyone began swapping marriage-proposal stories. “Of course, no one asked for mine, haha,” said Gina, the only single person in her office. “It was painful to sit through, but I survived.”
After that, Gina gave herself permission to decline invitations that she thought would make her feel uncomfortable about her unattached state. She recalls the New Year’s Eve party hosted by a married friend who mostly hung out with other couples.
“I politely declined, not because I didn’t value her friendship, but because I didn’t see any benefit in putting myself in that position when the clock struck twelve and all the couples around me started celebrating, kissing etc. I explained it to her, and (I think!) she understood,” she said.
I hope Gina’s friend understood, but either way I’m glad Gina had the good sense to take care of herself like that.
It can be hard to decline invitations, especially during the holidays. Somehow the mandate that single people “get out there” feels even more intense during the time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. Saying no can make you feel like a bad sport or a hermit. While friends and family are heading out, curling up with a book and cocoa can make a person feel isolated or out of step. Also: “You never know!”
Except that very often you do know—or at least have a pretty good idea. And in those cases, there is nothing wrong with opting out of a situation that experience has shown to be painful or awkward.
I don’t want to make too much of this—of course, many single people adore the holidays (and many people in couples loathe them). But many readers have told me that it can be tricky to be unattached during a time that’s so heavily focused on children, family, and romantic love.
One reader explained why she no longer attends an annual New Year’s Eve dinner with several cousins and friends. “I was always the only single,” she writes. “It was painful, especially because in my everyday life, I didn’t feel like being single was much of a big issue anymore.”
That’s the rub, isn’t it? You’re going through your life feeling just fine about the day-to-day. Then the holidays kick in and suddenly you’re bombarded with situations and images celebrating a very particular model of happiness, one that often doesn’t resemble your life right now.
Saying no can be a way to quietly reject that monoculture—to step away from those notions of who you’re supposed to be and how you’re supposed to behave. Instead of trying to wedge yourself into that mold, you can simply say, “You guys have fun. I’m going to do something else.”
Of course, there is a difference between blowing off your grandmother’s Christmas dinner and sending your regrets to your co-worker’s New Year’s Eve bash. When the holiday in question concerns people who love and care for you deeply—and will be truly hurt by your absence—then it might be time to take a deep breath and go. But as I mentioned in an earlier post, you can go with a different attitude. If your primary concern is giving your grandmother your love and attention, rather than, say, justifying your life choices to a know-it-all uncle, I promise you will have a nicer time.
On the other hand, if the only reason you’re heading to a dreaded party is the vague feeling that you’re supposed to “get out there,” you might want to reconsider.
We all know couples who have no trouble admitting when they have quiet holidays. We were so boring! We fell asleep before ten! Couples who say this don’t worry about being perceived as sad. They’re simply grown-ups who like to be at home.
This choice is just as adult and empowering for singles. The people who wrote me realized they don’t have to “get out there”; they aren’t fugitives on the run. They’re grown-ups who enjoy their own company, people with nice homes who simply realized there was no place they’d rather be.
Sara Eckel is the author of It’s Not You: 27 (Wrong) Reasons You’re Single. You can get a free bonus chapter of her book at saraeckel.com. You can also find her on Twitter and Facebook. Ask her any questions here.