At this time of year, we’re surrounded by images and suggestions for gifts. A flat screen TV is a gift. So is a box of assorted chocolates. It’s understandable to have presents on the brain.
But it’s not just stuff that’s a gift, especially around the holidays. People often talk about the gift of family, of those special little moments with loved ones. It’s enough to make the single (or grieving, or displaced, the list goes on) among us want to scream. Because if all of those things are a gift, picked out, wrapped, and chosen specially, why didn’t we get one?
Don’t get me wrong—I think that family, love, and connection are wonderful. Over the years, the holidays have looked all different ways. Sometimes I’ve felt completely fulfilled by my community, other times I’ve been frustrated with family, sometimes I’ve been very lonely. There are moments I look back on as particularly meaningful or precious, parties I’d return to in a minute, or even presents I’d love to open again. I have this feeling that nearly everyone feels this way. The holidays are a mixed bag, it never goes just the way you want it to, all of your gifts aren’t just the perfect thing.
Maybe you’ve heard people talking about their significant others as gifts. I see where they’re coming from. They love this person and feel lucky that they managed to find them. Maybe it was a surprise, like many gifts are. But if you listen too hard to that kind of talk, it can start making you feel like the person without a secret Santa at the party. Did your gift get lost in the shuffle?
Love is like anything else in life: it’s a circumstance. You meet someone, or you don’t. You create and nurture love, or it isn’t the right time yet. But boiling down something as complex as a relationship into the same language we use for TVs and boxes of chocolates erases the very really challenges, sacrifices and difficulties of relationships. If a relationship is a gift, it’s one that requires a lot more than batteries. To call it a gift under a sprig of mistletoe not only diminishes what the relationship actually is, but also places an unrealistic patina on it for everyone watching. Just because you want something and you get it doesn’t mean it’s a gift.
Maybe you run in the sort of circles where people tell you that singleness is a gift, something to be savored and held onto. I’m convinced that these are the same people who go around telling exhausted young mothers that these are the most precious moments of their lives. In both of those situations, there might be moments of beauty, but most of the time I’m guessing it doesn’t feel like a gift. When I’ve been unhappy about being single, the last thing I’ve been able to do is “savor the moment.” Life is not a box of chocolates, and neither is singleness. It’s not a spa weekend or a trip to Paris. It’s just a life circumstance, and for many of us, it’s one that we’d rather not be in.
Not that I want to suggest that some of the best things in life aren’t the sorts of things you can wrap up in a box. Your favorite part of this holiday season might be something unexpected like a particularly good laugh with friends, a game night with your family, or watching your nephew fall asleep under the Christmas tree. Those things are precious, something to cherish and remember, but they aren’t so emotionally charged as gifts. You don’t have to write a thank you note, and you don’t have to return it if it isn’t it your size.
When you start feeling that everyone else got the gift of couple or parenthood, remember that it isn’t about who’s naughty or nice. We’re all just people moving through our lives, doing the best we can.
And if there are things on your wish list, why not let people know? And don’t forget to give yourself a gift or two, you deserve it.
Cara Strickland writes about food and drink, mental health, faith and being single from her home in the Pacific Northwest. She enjoys hot tea, good wine, and deep conversations. She will always want to play with your dog. Connect with her on Twitter @anxiouscook.