Single For The Holidays


Being single for the holidays can be lonely

I used to think summer was the worst time to be single…until I experienced my first holiday season as a single adult. It’s unanimous among CatholicMatch members as well: the holidays are by far the worst time of year to be single.

There are many reasons for it, which are commonly well known, but my situation is more acute than most. I am the youngest of five, only one of whom is married. That means four single, childless adults gathering for what is, on some level, a child-centered holiday.

It isn’t pretty.

For many years, three of my siblings failed to even show up for Christmas at all. My mother and I were often left with a dilemma: stay at home alone or go to the home of my only sister in-law’s family.

One year we opted to stay home alone. The result: the two of us huddled under blankets because we were mysteriously without heat. The cold gave my mother a migraine. We had no food, having run out from Christmas Eve dinner. We decided to cheer ourselves up by watching a marathon of “Ugly Betty.”

Neither one of us laughed, not even once. It was the worst.

Because of that, the following year we opted to go to my sister-in-law’s niece’s house. I lived through it and managed to leave feeling victorious. But initially, I’d never felt more ostracized and rejected for being single.

I should mention that my sister-in-law comes from a big family and that every last one of them – even the children of her siblings’ children – are married with children. When we entered the house, packed to the rafters with kids and food, it was obvious my mother and I were the only two people unattached to a group. It was difficult on my mother, to be sure, but she found solace in the fact that she’d had her kids and was simply a divorced woman.

I was not spared. Nobody knew what to make of me: a childless, single woman in her late 30s.

They gathered around me in the dining room and tiptoed around the real question, trying to lead in to it: “Do you live with other people?” “Do you often go out on weekends?” and I, in my stubborn us-versus-them mentality, gave nothing away, replying with vague, one-word answers.

If they were going to be evasive in asking, I was going to evade answering. Eventually, the issue faded to the background as celebrity gossip and recipes for appetizers became important topics.

To be honest, they are an insular crowd: They’ve never traveled abroad, don’t go to the city, have never been to a nightclub, eaten Thai food or sang karaoke. Their daily routines rarely take them out of their own neighborhoods. They have lived according to a rule book that, in contemporary life, is outdated: a girl opts for marriage over college, learns a trade like cosmetology or horticulture to supplement her husband’s income, and centers her life around home.

There is, of course, nothing wrong with any of this. It is a lifestyle I find charming and, in our increasingly alienated lifestyle, necessary for raising well-adjusted kids. But if it means that these women can’t relate to singletons, I will take issue with it.

After a few hours of awkward conversation, and as the mulled wine began to take effect, I comforted myself thinking that perhaps they regard me with alienation because they’ve never allowed themselves to desire the kind of life I led.

The Christmas I spent with them was the same year I lived in London for a semester abroad in graduate school. Somehow that became a topic of conversation. I began relaying to them the experience of traveling alone: the thrilling, liberating feeling that comes from exiting an airport and thinking of endless possibilities.

To be sure, none of them had that experience. From the looks on their faces, they hadn’t even thought such a thing was possible. But now that I was telling them all about it, they were suddenly faced with a lifestyle that was exotic and interesting, rather than bleak and isolated.

Eventually, I began to detect that more than a few of these women would be happy trading places with me for a week or two. I certainly presented my life in this way, perhaps for that reason. So I’d found my way of coping: emphasizing my exotic Otherness through storytelling. By the time I’d left the party, I was seen as a pioneer, a free spirited jet-setter moving from one adventure to the next.

In our couple-centric world, singles have it hard enough. It is infinitely more difficult to be surrounded by families who fail to see the value in single life. If presenting myself as an adventurous, independent, accomplished person was my only way of defending my single status,  so be it. I’d had enough of the idea that married life is enviable – let the marrieds envy me for a change!

Looking back on it, I’m not particularly proud of having done that, in the interest of humility. At the time, though, it seemed like the best option; I couldn’t bear any more of their pitying glances and unasked questions.

Perhaps I should have dealt with it differently, more honestly, answering their questions directly and telling them that while single life isn’t so bad, it feels worse under the scrutiny of the married majority. I don’t know what the outcome would have been, but perhaps I will get the chance to find out for the next holiday season.

This year Christmas will be decidedly easier: my siblings will gather at my mother’s home. It is comforting to know I will be surrounded by like-minded single adults and although the day will not pass without a problem or two, we will be together to solve them.






18 Comments

  1. Tiffany-23357 December 20, 2011 Reply

    This article definately hits home for me. I am the eldest of 5, only one married thus far. Even with the majority of my siblings home, gifts and presents don’t fill that void and act more as a distraction. I’m thankful that we do have each other, but you can still see the sadness/longing in each others eyes. Especially my parents longing for grandchildren to spoil this time of year. During Christmas Mass, I usually have a mix of emotions; at one point I’m so excited Christmas is here to celebrate Jesus and the Holy Family, and the next (if I think too much) I’m sad, faced with all the families, children, couples waiting to start their families, and scriptures focused around the family.
    Just this past Sunday, I bolted out the door because I saw the inquisitive look on a fellow parishoner… I knew exactly what she was going to ask, if I was still single. Eventhough I did escape, my little sister didn’t and the parishoner questioned my sister exstensively about me being single; she kept my sister so long to chat, my mother had to go back into church twice looking for her.
    Through all the ups and downs, I trust in God and His plan regardless of how I feel or what I want. It’s in His time, not mine and that trust and love and hope is what helps me through the rough patches and keeps me hopeful for the future.

    • Jessica-556183 December 20, 2011 Reply

      I can relate, also. But I’m the only one out for four siblings that is not married, and the only one out of 24 grandchildren that is not married or engaged. Try Christmas with that many married couples and their children! They hope and pray that I marry soon. I think so that they won’t have to feel sorry for me, anymore. And of course they want to see me happy and they love me, so it’s okay. LOL!

  2. Lisa-572677 December 20, 2011 Reply

    oh, yes, I’ve endured bad manners by family members for years, but last night at my knit group I experienced the most beautiful expression of Christmas! We meet in the lobby of a small, college-town hotel, so it was especially quiet and empty. My knitter friends (many married, but one divorced and another widowed) had agreed to bring gifts for the gal at the desk. She was so touched! She was bawling all night! She was given hand-knit socks, woven scarves, even a scarf knit from wool spun from one gal’s sheep! (We live in a rural area).
    She had traded work nights so she could be there last night and had brought a basket of goodies for us! Then she spontaneously treated us to carols on the piano – a full-chorded, old-fashion style of playing! So beautiful! This woman has no family. We were her Christmas! There’s always plenty of love to go around if you just look for it!

    • Marianne-775051 December 21, 2011 Reply

      WOW what a great story…one can only be so lucky. We take for granted what we have in this life. Most of us are so spoiled and have everything, we don’t see the true spirit of Christmas anyway. Great point. So glad to have read this one.

  3. Marianne-775051 December 21, 2011 Reply

    I have to agree, it’s the worse time of year to be single. I have spent the past 3 years single during the holidays and it’s the worse. I am hoping this will be the last year. I hope my Prince Charming is out there. And I hope our paths cross by this time next year. I don’t want to be alone any more. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year !

  4. Stephen-725391 December 22, 2011 Reply

    You think being single and excluded is hard, try being married and excluded!

  5. Mari-611004 December 22, 2011 Reply

    I too, can relate to the feeling of being single especially this time of year.

    Being the eldest of three siblings, my parents are really expecting me to settle down especially with my age. My youngest sister has a boyfriend for 5 years now – but not me.

    I’m hoping for the best in year 2012.
    Goodluck to fellow CMers and Merry Christmas to all!

  6. Michael-566033 December 22, 2011 Reply

    Yes it is tough being single thru the holidays especialy Christmas. Just taking it one day at a time

  7. Andrzej-763456 December 22, 2011 Reply

    i don’t find it hard at all this time of year to be single… i do some reflecting and look forward to what the good lord brings in the new year… i understand some people feel a need to be with someone but i’f it’s just for the case of being whats the point… i would rather donate my time or spend it with friends… it’s a wonderful time of the year as long as you leave behind all that society tries to drill into your head about it… Christmas is a time for the Lord… and if you don’t have someone special then you should focus on just the Lord… you could be single during this time of the year because he wants to teach you something…. you never know… open your heart… and the rays will shine :)

  8. Maria-155872 December 23, 2011 Reply

    I used to dread being single during Christmas. All my siblings minus myself and younger sister are married with kids. My father once told me “Stop comparing your inside to someone else’s outside.” It took some time to understand but I learned this valuable lesson. Being married does not make the other person happier than you. It might but everyone has problems.
    I do not like being single but there are far worse things in the world. I only learned this last year when in November I sustained a stress fracture in my right heel bone. I have an illness which makes me prone to stress fractures and had lived through four before. I was off my feet for seven weeks. This was around the time I began to rebuild my life after a forced retirement in Nov 08 from my career as a physician assistant. I worked for nine years and loved my job. But my health would no longer allow the demands. I became very ill and was in the hospital three times as I feel into a deep depression. It seemed most unfair. All the studying for 8 years and after nine years I found myself having to resign, sell my house, move in with family and essentially become nonfunctional. I thought it would be the hardest thing to accept, until last year.
    Five days after having the cast removed from my right ankle, I was standing up in my brothers kitchen during his christmas party when i found myself on the floor, unable to move my left leg, and in pain as I have never felt. Seemed my femur decided to snap into two discreet pieces on its own and down I went. Even the ER doc was stunned until I found our it was due to a medication side effect and apparently becoming more commone. Surgery and home for christmas 2010 living on the couch since I could not climb stairs. On Jan 20th-one month to the day after first surgery- the bone snapped again through the metal plate as I was laying down. I was in shock and thought, “How can You allow this to happen again?” I spent the next six months bed bound living in my moms living room on a hospital bed. That is where I celebrated my 40th birthday.
    It is now over one year since the first incident and my perspective on life will never be the same. I still dislike being single but have learned to TRY and look for the good in all situations. It seems as if most of us have family and for that we are blessed.
    I learned how life can change in an instant and God can carry us through anything. But life can change for the good in an instant as well and that is hope worth living for.
    Merry and Blessed Christmas
    Maria

  9. Rebecca-773438 December 24, 2011 Reply

    I am single this Christmas. I don’t mind being single one bit. In fact I think it’s pretty cool. I am free as a bird. I don’t have to dress for a guy, please a guy, be on time for a guy, worry about what I say….. I can express myself however I please. Okay, so it’s not as great as being with the man of my dreams, or with my “true love”, it sure is better than 1) being with the wrong guy (yuck) or 2) moping. For those who don’t understand how to be really happy during the holidays while being single, let me demonstrate:

    Christmas: cut everyone else in line and get first choice of all the desserts. Now come on, what boyfriend would EVER let you do THAT? Wear the wrong nailpolish color just to stand out, like neon pink under sparkles. What husband would ever approve? Probably not one on this site.

    Valentine’s Day: Now this I have been doing for years, and guess what? I enjoyed it more than the year I had a bad boyfriend during Valentine’s Day. I love Valentine’s Day. Dress in an adorable dating outfit and wear it starting at 8 AM. Smile and wink at every cute boy you pass. When you see a guy you know who is either lonely, cute, a friend, nice, or any other reason deserving of candy, give him some. Don’t give candy to any jerks. That ruins the whole purpose. By the end of the day you will know that you have done a good deed, and your heart will be filled with fulfillment. Endorphins! (I had to add that part because I’m pre-med.)

    St. Patrick’s Day: If you’re single on this day it means you get to have a party for St. Patrick! It means you get to put cute green stickers on your cheeks and trust me you will get lots of compliments. Again, your generosity in throwing a party will earn you some fulfillment, if not new friends and Catholic kindred spirits as well!

    Easter: No one needs a boyfriend on Easter. It’s 100% about God. Besides, all those eggs are really bad for your waist line.

    Your birthday: Everyone knows girlfriends are better at making you happy on your birthday than your boyfriend. Give it up already.

    Thanksgiving: Stuff yourself in front of your boyfriend? No thanks.

    Halloween: Okay here a boyfriend would be really handy in keeping you safe while you party on such a dangerous night. Or to help you have fun if you avoid anything remotely haunted, even in jest. However, after a long day of work, do you really need all that extra pressure to look scary AND cute? Trust me, it’s better just to look cute OR scary. Much easier when you’re single! ;) One will win you a prize, the other, a date. I’m not complaining.

    New Year’s Eve: Unless your boyfriend loves to dance, or to watch you dance, there is nothing fun to do with him on New Year’s Eve. Unless he will take you out on the town (which you can’t guarantee these days), you are better off single on this holiday. Someone who loves to dance, however, is not hard to find. You can do it. I believe in you. If that doesn’t fix your problem, throw a party!!! (And please invite me.)

    So, as you can tell, almost every holiday can at least be quite enjoyable when you’re single. So instead of moping, put out as much effort to make yourself happy as you would put out making your future lover happy. You’ll be much more attractive in the process, and all those parties will help you meet more people. I’ve never had a bad holiday single! If you just want true love more than fun, well, that has nothing to do with the holidays. So try to distract yourself from your quandary at least during the holidays, instead of letting it get you down. Do I have the ultimate goal of falling in love with my future spouse that I will love as long as I live? Duh. But why should the before-times be wasted with sadness? I don’t know how long I have to live. For all I know, I could die tomorrow, a single woman. God Bless.

  10. Cae-750750 December 24, 2011 Reply

    There are some really interesting responses here.
    Personally, I have never experienced Christmas any other way but single. But three years ago, I had never experienced Christmas alone, single, away from family. This year, is now the third such one. It feels hard and sometimes painful actually, but reading everything here, and especially Marie’s story, I will just say, Thank You Jesus, You know why I am here away from home during this time.
    So, let God be praised. I wish each of us a Blessed Christmas season and a wonderful, and love filled 2012.

    • Charles-788994 December 25, 2011 Reply

      It is not so bad for me right now. My friends ladies are awesome so I do not feel like a 3rd or 5th wheel or 7th for that matter. Too me it sucks when they go away and do couple things in the summer like go to europe. Sorry I do not want to spend 2 weeks with 3 couples in a hotel room. The rest of the year it is fine because someone is having some kind of party or we just go out to eat.
      The worst part is being the only single person in the group, meaning not dating anyone. I consider dating someone as not being single you do not have to be married for that category.

  11. Stacey-101742 December 28, 2011 Reply

    I liked reading the article , many good points . I am an only child and both my parents have passed away now . This Christmas was difficult in missing my parents and family back home in Ny . But , during the holiday season , I do focus on giving my time and what I can make or bring to someone who perhaps doesn’t have the faith I have and I can bring them a smile and that makes me happy and brings peace into my life . I get questioned by co-workers , how come your not married ? I never really know what to say to that , what am I suppose to say ? It just hasn’t happened but I have faith it will and hope !
    Anyway , reading the comments too were nice , I don’t feel like I am the only one . God bless to all ! Wishing every one a Blessed New Year !

  12. Vanessa-749247 December 28, 2011 Reply

    I hate being single during the holidays. Even when i was in a relationship I was always physically away from them during the holidays so i guess this is nothing new. :(

  13. Jim-397948 December 31, 2011 Reply

    alone is okay,,,instead of going thru a terrible break up……I keep praying my ex girlfriends will find someone better rhan me!!!

  14. JonPaul-384745 November 28, 2012 Reply

    wll it will be allright

  15. Kris-548408 December 6, 2012 Reply

    Good, funny and inspiring stories. Thank you Maria especially for teaching me (and maybe others) a lesson. You are amazing. I pray that your health is better.
    Reading the varios stories, I think we ought to differntiate between the “lack of compliance” with society’s norm of being in a couple on one hand and the true isolation, i.e without friends, a family, on the other hand..
    Isolation triggers real moral suffering for many individuals…and can be difficult to overcome in certain environmnents.

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