Putting Life in the Context of the Holiday Season

Thanksgiving Day is this Thursday, and I have no plans.

Well, that’s not true: I’m running a 5-mile Turkey Trot that morning and then coming home to cinnamon rolls and coffee and an entire day of Netflix, Christmas movies, hanging up decorations, and the turkey and cranberries with butternut squash and chestnut risotto in this week’s Blue Apron delivery. And rose. I’m gonna need a lot of that this Thursday. And then strong coffee on Friday morning because I have to work.

But I have no plans with people. On the day you are “supposed to” be with friends and family, enjoying each other’s love and being grateful that you survived the storms of life for another year of blessings, I will be 1,200 miles away from my family in my studio apartment in Arlington, Virginia hanging out with myself.

Okay, this sounds like the start of a terrible Lifetime holiday chick flick that even I would have turned the channel on. I’m actually kind of scared to write a post like this because of how depressing it sounds. But after watching Giada DeLaurentis, the celebrity host on this morning’s Today’s Take, say that she has no plans with family or friends this Thanksgiving, I felt a sense of relief that I won’t be the only one. And I felt a little validation for feeling like it’s totally okay to be okay with it.

That took some coming around on my part though. Maybe it’s the child in me who, growing up with 7 brothers and sisters, took for granted that I would never be alone on a holiday like Thanksgiving. I also don’t remember ever thinking I would be living in a place as far away from home as Washington, DC. Maybe the holidays were something I used to spend all year looking forward to because, when you’re a child, the holidays are all about magic and moments and being with the people you love. But now that I’ve grown-up, I know that the holidays sometimes mean something else.

The holidays are supposed to be a time of reflection. Thanksgiving is a time of gratitude, so it’s natural to reflect on what happened during the year and realize all that you have to be thankful for. Christmas is another time to reflect, naturally as you remember everything that made the holiday so special growing up and realize that you’ve somehow changed, too. Follow it up with a holiday that is ripe for new beginnings and change and reflecting on the past year. It’s impossible not to put life in the context of the holiday season.

But life doesn’t always match up from one holiday to the next. And reflecting can sometimes mean looking back on what went wrong so you can figure out what’s next.

As grown-ups, we romanticize holidays, hoping they will be a day that changes the course of our lives. On the big screen, holidays are days when you reconcile with long-lost family members and it’s all water under the bridge. You fall back in love with someone who comes back into your life, and the pain is gone. You meet that perfect stranger in a designed-by-heaven “meet cute” when you’re stranded at the airport bar. And it’s all perfect because that’s what major holidays are for: perfect moments and memories, when love and joy are amplified. That’s the stuff “holiday magic” is made of. I don’t ever want to lose that aspect of the holidays, but I have trouble balancing that side of my youth with the reality of being an adult and seeing that some of the things that make life worthwhile take time. Every year, I keep praying for big moments, because they do happen. It happened to me last year at Christmas, actually. But not every year, and not always at the holidays.

What’s hard to remember as the holiday season starts up is that some of the most amazing moments of my life with people I love did not happen on a holiday. Some of those precious moments happened when I was commuting home on the Metro after a bad Tuesday at work and he kissed my fingers and reassured me that I was somebody… sitting in a crowded airport with crappy coffee and, after 8 weeks apart, I looked up to see him standing there waiting for me… when I was half-drunk on chardonnay at 1:42AM before the bar closes singing Journey songs with colleagues and being cut off by the bartender… roasting marshmallows over a candle with roommates during a hurricane. Those moments I think about probably more than I think about the memories I made on holidays.

Unfortunately, 2016 hasn’t been a year for a lot of great moments like those, and to distract myself from it, I made lots of plans and I barely had any time to myself. I didn’t want to be alone: I was afraid to be alone. But making so many plans to distract myself from a crappy year was the wrong kind of distraction and it made me miserable because I wasn’t with people who made me feel worthwhile.  And I realized that, in some cases, I was actually happier doing things on my own, even though it scares me (present tense). Eventually, I realized that scrambling around to make plans with people who had a tendency to bring me down just for the sake of not being alone was actually backfiring on me. And instead of facing what I needed to face, I was putting it off.

In between all of that, I have been able to strengthen some friendships with people who have helped me get my perspective right on a lot of things. Some of them are at very different stages of life than I am, and I have come to realize that where they are in life isn’t a walk in the park either. It seems the collective “we” have started to realize just how normal it is to live with something that makes us feel grossly inadequate almost every day, no matter where we are in life. We all feel the same things. And we’re talking about it now and learning from each other how to deal with it. Those are the people I want to surround myself with. They are brave, and I want to be brave, too.

As it turns out, for Thanksgiving 2016, I had several offers to be with some very good friends this Thanksgiving, but they all sort of collapsed on each other. I didn’t choose to be alone on Thanksgiving by turning down every offer that came across my door, nor would I reject plans that might happen at the last minute. But I’m also not frantically running around trying to find something to do just so I don’t have to spend the day alone. I’m letting one Thanksgiving that will eventually become blurred in the mosaic of Thanksgivings pass me by.

It’s really hard to write something like this. I don’t want to be perceived as that crazy loner who calls the Butterball Turkey hotline just for someone to talk to. It’s typical to assume that people who are alone on holidays are sad and deserve pity. Sure, there’s an element of “this sucks” but it has more to do with the fact that I’m in the lower 90% of wage earners and can’t always afford to travel everywhere all the time. I have to make budget decisions just like everyone else.

Ultimately, I decided to take the plunge in writing this, not because I want someone to have a “grass is greener” moment, but because as hard as it is, I’m trying not to put this holiday in the context of where I am in life, especially when, not too long ago, I felt like I had it more together. And I hope other people who, even if they are surrounded by their loved ones this year, feel as though they are somehow inadequate because they are not where they want to be in life this holiday season can read this and remember with me that life takes longer to work out than the 364 days in between holidays. Even if you are where you want to be in life and are wondering what comes next, take a load off for the day with some good food and hopefully a little laughter, and keep hoping for those big moments.

For now, I keep telling myself that maybe someday sooner than I think, I will be dealing with a whole new set of inadequacies, and I’ll look back on that one year I spent Thanksgiving on my own, and I will have a greater appreciation for it.

But just like I will tell myself then, too: it’s just one day. 

3 thoughts on “Putting Life in the Context of the Holiday Season

  1. I relate to this post a lot. For years I was always alone on New Year’s eve and I actually didn’t care. I would just treat it like any other night. What bugged me was the “oh you poor thing, alone on New Year’s.” I really like your perspective and admire your courage to post this.

    1. Thank you, Elizabeth. It’s hard to remember that sometimes being on your own is less lonely than being with the “wrong” people. I hope this doesn’t last forever, but for now, it’s just fine. 💗

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