” Oh my god, you’re going to be all by yourself for Christmas, that’s awful!”
Stop me if you have encountered this well-intentioned, yet poorly executed means of concern. It’s in the same family of conversations like, ” Oh, you don’t have kids yet? Why?” or, ” Don’t worry, one day you’re going to meet that special somebody.”
They mean well.
Despite their thinly veiled shock at the noncompliance towards your “adult living,” maybe the people dropping concern bombs are genuinely shocked that someone as special as you (snort) would be alone on a day that’s supposed to be all about family. Maybe they think you’re alone for a reason. Maybe they just feel bad for you. The reasons go on. Either way, you’re now roped into a conversation about why exactly it is that you are alone this holiday season. Whip out the battles-axes, the coping mechanisms, and the prepared monologues defending your decisions, it’s stranger concern season!
Okay, I’m being harsh. However, I can’t help but get a bit of a stink eye whenever I have someone explain to me that the holidays are all about family, because really, I completely agree with them. I just don’t always practice it.
There’s something very stigmatizing about people, especially if these people are women, admitting to wanting to be alone. Double that if it falls on birthdays, holidays, or romantic pursuits. I tend to think that it comes down to the misunderstanding of loneliness and solitude. Loneliness is awful; it’s what causes you to cry in the shower where no one can see, that is, if there was someone there to begin with. Solitude? That’s voluntarily wanting to be alone.
The expectation of any woman being alone conjures up suspicions that something must be wrong. With her. The conversations I usually have about how much I love my solitude always end up with responses like, “But you don’t want to die alone!” or, “You’re just on your way to becoming an old cat lady.” Okay, first off, hold the phone, people. How did we get from the correlation of hanging out in my underwear and watching reruns to dying alone? Second, why is everyone always whipping out the cat lady stereotype?
To me, the cat lady stereotype is one of the oldest tropes: a dash of crazy, a hint of bitterness, a touch of damaged goods, a cup of unattractiveness per heterosexual, white, male standards. Stir in several years of “concentrating on my career” and top it off with some other stereotypical nonsense and voila! Cat lady, the consequence of spending that one holiday alone. Its a story parents will tell all their lovely little children, a warning to always spend time with other people.
I love the cat lady because she’s the ultimate reaction to bucking the norm. Instead of relying on male affirmation and approval, she goes for cats (which to be real for a second, if you have ever had a cat, you know getting their approval can be harder than any narrow fitting dream girl that a dude projects). Frankly, when this card gets whipped out, it’s not usually in the funny, relatable, oh my god, me too, type of moment. It gets whipped out because people are genuinely concerned and perhaps unconsciously trying to shame a person into what can be perceived as a very unnatural state of being. But is it? What is it about choosing to be alone is so worrisome in the first place? And why is that even more worrisome on a holiday?
So now the big question: why exactly am I alone this holiday? It comes out of both choice and circumstance, a combination of a work schedule from hell and the simple fact that well, I wanted to be. From Anneli Rufus at Psychology Today:
Some of us prefer solitude, or near-solitude, given a choice. For we loners, extended stretches of time spent in the company of others, especially with numerous others, feels like donating blood. It’s that painful and that draining. Alone we feel most natural, most serene, most ourselves. Yet this is a crowded and intensely sociable world, full of societies built over centuries of hardship during which families, clans and villages had to share, had to huddle together, or face certain extinction. Though so much has changed, these days the loner is still considered a freak, still pitied or feared as a wallflower, serial killer or misanthrope. The first and basic misperception, held by most in that social world, is that loners are lonely. But no. That’s the whole point. Loners prefer being alone. By contrast the lonely seek social contact. Thus loners aren’t lonely and the lonely aren’t loners, Q.E.D….
…At holiday time, the anti-loner bias flares up at its fiercest. Generations of holiday cards and TV ads and movies depicting jolly confabs in living rooms and at ice rinks and around candle-lit tables have made it nearly impossible to explain not wanting to be there, not wanting to join in. Under all this pressure, amidst the swell of holiday songs, who would understand how it is for us loners, how in groups we often lock into acting-mode, our souls having withdrawn since our bodies cannot? Who would understand how, in groups, we can literally watch ourselves disappear?
Sometimes we do the group thing because those we love — and yes, loners do love — ask it of us or need it of us. And sometimes we make a stand and don’t do the group thing, hoping to be understood or at the very least forgiven. Alone, maybe even just for the hour or two that we carve out of the post-presents period for a solitary stroll or pretend nap, we strive to regain ourselves and, in our own way, we celebrate.
And celebrate my own way I will. I’ve been making my holiday to do list for as long as I knew that I’d be alone this year around. New toy from Babeland? Check. Mud masque, and homemade olive oil and sea salt body scrub? Check. Drinking red wine in my shower? Check. Watching Netflix underneath an electric blanket with my pets, all day long? Check. Reading the books I’ve put off for months? Check. These are activities I’m rarely able to engage in, the ones that feed my inner self. They may seem like superficial acts of self-care, and at face value, they are. No one ever battled depression with a salt scrub, but it doesn’t hurt. To me, these little superficial things are tiny acts of kindness towards myself that are usually denied in the name of frugality, work, or just plain old not deserving it. Good old-fashioned, radical self-care, is something we preach often around these parts.
Now, these activities would also be enjoyable with my partner, but they are also really enjoyable by myself. Being alone allows me to breathe- like actually breathe. I can reclaim the parts of myself I’ve neglected in the combined flurry of deadlines, dishes, dog poop, working back to back days, being blasted on by holiday music, and hurrying at whatever task I need to do. In a way, it’s becoming autonomous again, gathering all my inner being up to get well, only to be able to give swaths of myself again.
I like being alone. I like waking up by myself some days and just hanging out in complete silence, staring out my window. I like settling down after a chaotic day and not having to say a word. I enjoy this time because it’s turned into a gift for myself, a period of stationary reflection that seems to be slipping more and more out of my hands as each year passes by. But the thing is, I’m also not really alone. Sure, my family and partner are far away, but hell, this is 2011 and Skype is an amazing alternative to the awkward phone call. I’ve got my animals, which bring me a scary amount of happiness, often expressed by singing songs to them when it’s just us. Then there are my friends, all who are in relatively similar situations of work, family, and financial dire straights. When the time calls for the New York tradition of Chinese food and booze, we come together much like the little family we are or at least, the little family we are for just this holiday.