Single people, especially those new to a community, experience a unique social challenge as holidays approach.
Holiday conversation dies when we enter the room. Hovering in the air is not only mistletoe but also the unspoken question: “Must I invite this person over for holiday dinner?”
When I literally wrote the book on moving, I included a chapter on special needs of the newly-moved single person. Everyone I interviewed agreed: Skip the invitations: we’ll get our own life.
Most adults, even if they’re single, have calendars. They know a holiday is coming. Their major issue is not, “How will I get through a holiday alone?” It’s, “What do I tell the friends and relatives who call to see if I’m OK?”
Not everybody enjoys holidays with family — their own or anybody else’s. Some have memories of the mom who refereed the family fights, the cousin who had to sleep it off on the sofa and the black sheep uncle who timed his phone calls for dinner time so he wouldn’t have a lot of explaining to do.
When assured of anonymity, people told me how they really spend a solitary holiday. “Put on an old pair of sweats and get some writing done.” “Order Chinese food and watch a video.” “Take the dog and head for the woods.”
Visiting strangers can be exhausting.
Men get off easier. They watch football in the living room, drinking beer, with conversation limited to cuss words, cheers and boos.
For single women, holidays mean always having to say, “Do you need help in the kitchen?” Never mind that, for the rest of the year, our dinners move directly from microwave to paper plate.
Female guests also are expected to join kitchen conversations about childbirth, menopause and/or the latest deep-rooted medical exam. I have learned — the hard way — that it is considered gross to respond with a story about your dog’s irregular digestive system or the time your cat got liver disease and had to be fed through a tube.
True, a very young person may be grateful for an invitation. My friend Sharon still remembers her first Thanksgiving in San Francisco, twenty years ago, when she was alone with a frozen burrito and no credit cards.
But those who can afford a catered meal or a plane ticket are home alone by choice. They wince at invitations to, “Come join the other waifs and strays,” or, “We’re having so many people we won’t notice an extra.” Like…that makes me feel wanted?
However, it is still appropriate to send a funny card, extend holiday greetings, or even ask, “What are you doing for the holidays?”
I’ve been especially honored by people who said, “I would enjoy having you over but I will understand if you say no,” and they do.
We’ll be truly liberated when we can answer openly, “I am spending the day at the dog park,” or, “I’m going to disappear into my recliner with the new Dick Francis and a bowl of organic popcorn.” These are not ways of coping with loneliness but of celebrating solitude and honoring the way we have chosen to construct our lives.
And the would-be hosts might find themselves responding, “Gee, I wish I could join you, if I didn’t have all those darn relatives coming over.”
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