There are plenty of reasons why many of us have mixed feelings about going home for the holidays. Sure, who doesn’t love delicious food, pumpkin and cinnamon flavored everything, catching up with family and friends, and uncomfortable conversations about politics? And then comes the questions about your relationship status and, then the, “wait, you’re still not married?”, or “I can’t believe you’re still single, you’re so great!”, and the all-time best, “well, at least you have your cat.” Whether you’ve been single for years or you’re recently single, and whether you’re feeling down about your singledom or you’re living your best life, it’s not your great-aunt Susan’s business how you feel about being single nor does it require an explanation. Here are three ways to manage going home for the holidays when you’re single:
Mentally prepare yourself for what questions may be asked and have a short, to-the-point answer ready. You know your family. You probably know ahead of time who has no self-awareness or boundaries and asks inappropriate questions, and who will support you or back you up. Do what you can to practice self-care prior to a big family gathering. Take a walk, write in a journal, listen to a mindfulness meditation, talk to a friend or an empathetic sibling or cousin, and do what you can to be in a relaxed and present head-space. Also, give yourself this opportunity to reflect on some possible answers to questions that may come up about your relationship status, such as, “I’m satisfied with my life right now, including my romantic life. Thank you for asking.” Or, “I’m doing my best, and I appreciate your concern.”
Have an exit strategy or take a break. As much we can try our best to plan ahead and practice mindfulness and self-care, family gatherings can be triggering for many of us. We have a tendency to revert back to our adolescent-self and get defensive or shut-down, especially if we feel like our personal boundaries are being crossed. If this happens, and you can feel yourself getting dysregulated (rapid heart-beat, getting hot, racing thoughts, etc.), excuse yourself and take a breather. You can always go to the bathroom and text a friend who may be in the exact same position you’re in, take 10 deep breaths, remind yourself how awesome you are and it’s absolutely OK you’re single, and you’re doing your best! When you return the group, try redirecting the conversation by talking about that awesome new promotion you got or a new interest you just got into.
Watch your alcohol intake. It’s really tempting at holiday gatherings to numb yourself by drinking more than usual, or by using a substance to subdue your feelings and reactions. However, when we drink too much or we’re under the influence, we’re more likely to react defensively and say something we’ll regret, or we may disclose way more than we meant to, which we may also regret. Disclosing more than we wanted to feels icky and also like a violation of our boundaries. Prepare yourself ahead of time with how much you’re open to disclosing about your romantic life. This is something to be particularly mindful of if you’re grieving a relationship ending, and you have trouble talking about it without getting emotional. Practice mindfulness by paying attention to your body, and if you feel yourself getting more buzzed than expected, stop drinking alcohol and stick to water or La Croix.
Break up’s. Are. Really. F-ing. Hard. You may have taken all your energy to get yourself out of the house for the holidays, and you may not have anything left to give. And that’s OK. It’s OK to cry, it’s OK to be devastated, and it’s OK to not want to talk about it with everyone at the Thanksgiving table. On the other hand, you may be single and loving the time to focus on yourself and your career, your interests, your friendships and all the other wonderful things you do. Regardless of what meaning you’re giving to not being in a relationship, it doesn’t have to be a topic of conversation at a holiday meal. If you’re going home for the holidays or to a family-centered gathering, remember to practice self-care and think ahead about what boundaries feel healthy and appropriate for you. And maybe bring your own La Croix so your family doesn’t go through all your Pamplemousse.
~ Rebecca Hirsch, LMFT