3 am, laying sleepless in-between my flannel sheets printed with elephants, but bringing me no luck, I heard the first snow of the year blow in to rest gently on the fall-bright leaves and the wayward purple iris in my front flower bed. Thoughts of my newly dead relationship won't die, pestering like a month-long case of the hiccups, despite my internal pleading to please just take up less real estate in my brain. Sadness is so boring. But the first snow signifies the holidays. And the holidays mean togetherness. And there are now going to be a thousand ways that I'm reminded of my lack of togetherness, my singular, and absolute aloneness. Predictably, my sadness settles like snow and solidifies to ice.
With rare exception, I am single during the holidays, and as much as I try to "get in the spirit," and smile genuinely through the festivities, my experience is always tinged with loneliness. I am happy enough to spend time with family and friends. There are fun parties and good meals and warm drinks. And yet, I am always acutely aware of my status; all around me, in stark contrast, are the partnered up, the marrieds, the young families, the long-timers. My chair at the table makes for a lopsided 13. Guest rooms are assigned first to couples because it's always easier to put a singleton on the couch. Shared whispers about so-and-so's girlfriend remain unsaid for lack of a confidant. There will be no cozying up together with a cup of cocoa, no little box with a lovely thought tucked inside and no stroke-of-midnight or mistletoe kiss. Again.
And so, this year, I'm recommending a few tips and strategies, a survival guide of sorts, to help myself, and hopefully others, through this difficult time.
(1) Insist Thanksgiving be a non-alcoholic cocktail party with vegetarian finger foods. I recommend vegetarian fare because the last thing you need right now is to see is your lovey-dovey cousin and her new husband giggling over a wishbone wish. Avoid at all costs any sit-down dinner that finds you sandwiched between two elderly relatives, or worse, a parent and an elderly relative. Inevitably, after a few drinks, someone will bring up "that nice young man" you were spending time with this summer. And, whatever happened to him? The conversation will quickly descend into, "And you know, all your siblings are married and have managed to do their family duty and give your long-suffering mother the joy of grandmotherhood. Seriously what is your problem?" Because you don't actually know, and damn, don't you wish you did (?!), your only response will be awkward sobs. Don't put yourself in this position.
(2) Avoid watching TV. The Kay Jewelers ads go into heavy rotation mid-November -- a leggy lady and her chiseled beau. A fireplace. He lovingly presents her with a cheesy swirl of a metallic heart-shaped pendant dotted with a teeny diamond or a mini ruby in a padded box. A smile. A single tear. The jingle will haunt you in the night... Every kiss begins with Kay.
(3) Netflix, Redbox and the Lifetime Channel will tempt you with a vast selection of holiday-themed movies. Beware: all holiday movies are schmoopy rom-coms with happy endings. You may be tempted to believe that your knight in shining armor (or more likely, a knight in a beautiful cream-colored cable knit sweater) will show up at the 11th hour (the one before midnight) to sweep you out of that dark bar in your hometown, away from your bloated up brother-in-law or high school schlub boyfriend with a heartfelt proclamation: "I was wrong. I can't live without you." He was not wrong. He is living just fine without you. No man you've ever dated owns a sweater like that. These are MOVIES. They are not REAL LIFE.
(4) Put a stop hold on your mail. Christmas cards are assault weapons. No longer a signature on a bulk-printed snowman card but photo collages of aggressive cheer embodied in the ruddy cherub cheeks of 3 perfect children and a devoted husband. Don't forget the best chocolate lab on the planet! And not just the photos, lengthy letters, descriptions of All The Wonderful Things We Did This Year. Sandra is still a competitive triathlete and went to Belize with her church because she's also a saint! Can you believe we got a great deal on a new car, a luxury SUV, perfection for the month we took off in the summer to drive up the California coast? William got a promotion at his job and next year he's up for President of the Company or maybe the whole world. Young Billy is both the Quarterback of his high school football team and an Eagle Scout and even though he's had rabbit sex with his 14-year-old girlfriend nobody is the wiser because they used protection and kept up their grades. This family is The Winning Team, which makes you The Losing Team. Do not open that letter. Or any other in a red or green envelope, hand-addressed in a loopy scrawl, or stamped with the dove of peace.
(5) Prohibit, too, the catalogs of thoughtful, affordable gifts, the proliferation of his n' hers and Mr. & Mrs. items. The "Insert Family Name Here, Est. 2011" handpainted kitchen sign, novelty mailbox, and organic greenery swag with customized felt bunting. Trust me, your soul will be crushed under the weight of retailers offering monogrammed robes, pillowcases, towels, etched crystal wine glasses and the holy grail of coupledom: matching pj's.
(6) When the carolers come, DO NOT open the door. Carolers are the sirens of the holiday season. They will tease you, trick your heart into swelling with seasonal spirit to the sound of "The Little Drummer Boy," and "Silent Night." Open the door and you will find a motley assortment of widowers, closeted gay men, and dowdy middle-aged singles like yourself beckoning, insinuating, that a love of song and the Lord Jesus Christ is a worthy substitute for a boyfriend. Do not be fooled.
(7) Especially during weeks around Thanksgiving and the week before Christmas avoid anywhere those experiencing the delight of holiday togetherness congregate, including but not limited to: department stores, town squares, main streets, city parks, movie theaters, theaters in general, restaurants that serve brunch, restaurants with an entree price over $15, restaurants that offer shellfish (oysters in particular) or Champagne, wine bars, ice skating rinks, hot springs, sleigh rides and carriage rides (basically anything involving horses), ski lodges, Christmas tree farms, and mountain towns. For obvious reasons, do not cross the threshold of a jewelry store or lingerie purveyor. You will thank me.
(8) There are going to be people and places that you cannot avoid, like the grocery, work parties, or Aunt Matilda's annual tree-trimming and egg nog soiree. I cannot over-emphasize the importance of Planning Ahead when attempting these outings. Park strategically. Keep your head down. Avoid eye contact with "interested" parties, nosy parkers and proven gossips. Limit yourself to one drink. Keep conversation to generic topics like the weather and public television, even better: take a fellow single friend to use as a conversation buffer. Dress modestly: no sequins, fringe, low cut necklines, or anything to attract attention and suggest you're "single and ready to mingle." Doing so may invite commentary from your boss, who gave you a thumbs up when your former boyfriend dropped by your office one afternoon or Aunt Matilda's niece who follows you on Facebook and noticed "something was off" when you changed your status to "it's complicated."
Get in and get out.
Before you know it, the holidays will be over, and you and I and the entire nation of singles will breathe a collective sigh of relief. The comparisons, the judgments, the uncomfortable gatherings, the self-loathing, will take a back seat. Things will return to normal. That is, at least, until Valentine's Day. Cheers!