What is it about the holiday season that makes being single feel worse than any other time of year? You’re convinced that every partnered person is basking in meaningful moments: Cuddling in front of fires, exchanging thoughtful “I totally get you” gifts and spending special times with family. The single person, on the other hand, worries she’ll be left alone in the cold, saddled with longing and trying not to burst into tears the next time Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas is You” comes on the radio at the grocery store.
It’s true. Whatever pangs of loneliness you might be able to endure any other day tend to be magnified amid everyone else’s imagined comfort and joy. Plus, the world doesn’t even give you the courtesy of letting you wallow in private. You’ve got to publically stand by your status while your family members grill you about your love life. (Of course, no one ever asks your sister, “So how’s your marriage holding up?”)
It would be great if singles could sail through the season by summoning a little resilience and maybe making an extra hot toddy. That’s because the way we manage the temporary misery can have serious consequences for the rest of the year. A University of Toronto study found that both women and men’s fear of being single caused them to settle for less in romantic relationships. “Sometimes they stay in relationships they aren’t happy in, and sometimes they want to date people who aren’t very good for them,” says psychology researcher Stephanie Spielmann about the study that was published in the December edition of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. “Now we understand that people’s anxieties about being single seem to play a key role in these types of unhealthy relationship behaviors.”
So don’t let the fear of missing out wreck your romantic life:
1) Put the family inquisition in perspective.
Whenever my mother would visit me in New York City from San Diego, I’d get all worked up in anticipation that she’d comment on my housekeeping. “Don’t just come in here and find dust on the top of my refrigerator and make some remark,” I’d warn her. Her response: “So what if I do? I’m your mother. I’m always going to make some comment about something.” I laughed and realized she had a point. So what if she did? I’d survive. It was my choice how to react.
You can count on your family and friends asking, “You seeing anyone?” They don’t know it feels like a kick in the gut to you. Most likely, they’re rooting for you. At the very least, they’re just trying to make conversation. You can waste energy being annoyed or trying to come up with clever comebacks. But sometimes it’s easier to respond, “I’m making an effort to date. Know anyone I should meet?” Don’t give it more power than it deserves.
2) Be grateful for the people in your life now.
No one wants to hear the “It’s great being single” speech when you’re wishing for a holiday honey. (For most of us, having the bed to ourselves and getting to watch whatever we want on Netflix aren’t that awesome.) But as satisfying as good relationships are, they come with logistical challenges. You’ll have to juggle visiting two sets of families, for example. You may be hosting holidays or attending your partner’s parties. I’m not even talking about adding kids and step-relationships into the mix. If this is the year you get to spend Christmas morning in your yoga pants making Lego houses with your nephew, enjoy it now.
As irritating as your friends and family are with their questions, they’re here to stay for a while, so you might as well enjoy their company. As for all those close couples you know, they’re probably exhausted from all of their meaningful moments and are looking forward to hanging out with you too.
Besides, your single status doesn’t preclude you from some seasonal fun. There are parties, after all. So get your glitter on and get out there.
Does being single during the holidays stress you out? How do you deal with it?
About the Author:
Sarah Elizabeth Richards is a journalist and the author of Motherhood, Rescheduled: The New Frontier of Egg Freezing and the Women Who Tried It. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Marie Claire, Elle, Cosmopolitan, Slate and Salon.