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Singleness Sound-off: Singleness and the Holidays

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Over the past few days, I’ve received several notes from readers and acquaintances who are really struggling this time of year with the idea of facing yet another Christmas and New Year’s alone—especially people who’ve read Menu for Romance in which I laid out the raw emotion of it on the very first page of the book.

We’ve all heard it—either directed at us or at our unmarried relatives—this time of year:

      “So, are you dating anyone?”

      “What ever happened to that nice boy (girl) you dated in college?”

      “What are you waiting for?” (those who are waiting to or can’t have children have heard this too often too)

      “You must be too picky.”

      “You aren’t getting any younger.”

      “How’s your love life?”

      “Aren’t you getting tired of spending your holidays alone?”

      “You aren’t . . . you know . . . ?” accompanied by either a nudge, nudge, wink, wink or a horrified expression.

And that’s just the tip of the ice burg. There are the Christmas cards with the picture of your siblings or cousins or college friends and their spouses/children. There’s also watching all the couples give each other gifts. There’s the inevitable Christmas proposal one year. There’s the fawning over whoever has the new baby that year. There’re the Christmas parties at which you’re the only person without a date/spouse. There’re the constant and continual reminders that everyone in your family/circle of friends has already received what you want most for Christmas: to fall in love and get married.

Christmas is the hardest holiday for those of us who aren’t married—even harder than Valentine’s Day (which can be pretty easily ignored or maligned). Everything about Christmas is designed (by both the commercial world as well as the church) to make us focus on the nuclear family, on a spouse and children, on getting that special gift for that special someone. (For whom are you buying a Lexus or Mercedes or diamonds this year?)

It’s also a demarcation of time—another Christmas, and still no dating/marriage prospects on the horizon. Another Christmas spent as the fifth wheel at everyone else’s Christmas parties. Another Christmas watching nieces and nephews growing older—reminding us we’re growing older. Another Christmas waiting for God to answer our plea.

Then there are those who live away from their families and cannot afford to take time off work and/or travel during Christmas to be with them, who are faced with spending Christmas alone.

What are some things that we can do to help make Christmas more merry?

  • Don’t put off doing special stuff just because you’re not married/partnered up. Put up a Christmas tree (even if you won’t be spending Christmas day at your place). Put up lights outside. Don’t want the hassle of taking it all down again? Spend extra time choosing a theme for wrapping your Christmas presents—more expensive paper, cloth ribbons, a color scheme (mine’s blue and silver this year). Buy Christmas dishes—and use them, even if it’s just for macaroni & cheese in front of the TV on a Tuesday night while watching Miracle on 34th Street for the fiftieth time.
  • Send a photo Christmas greeting—of you hiking the Grand Canyon, of you on the cruise you took this year, of you having fun somewhere, sometime during the year. Make all your married, tied-down friends jealous.
  • Make Christmas cookies, candies, and goodies. Keep a few for yourself—and then give the rest as gifts or take them to work or church to share with everyone else.
  • Practice smiling and deflecting the stupid questions people ask singles with either a funny quip (Q: “So are you seeing anyone?” A: “Yep, everyone. Nothing wrong with my vision, thanks for asking.” or Q: “You aren’t getting any younger, you know.” A: “Isn’t it amazing how every Christmas all of us are exactly one year older than we were last year?”) or a subject change (Q: “Don’t you want to get married?” A: “Have you seen the movie The Blind Side yet? I hear it’s really good.”)
  • Find another single friend who’s dateless and agree to be each other’s no-strings-attached “dates” to your company/church Christmas parties. (And practice saying, “We’re just friends”—because you’ll need that for a few weeks afterward.) Lots of people will recommend taking anyone, even a same-sex friend, to family gatherings—but for those of us from conservative Christian backgrounds, be ready for the backlash of the family’s speculation that you’re gay. This happened to me about twelve or thirteen years ago when a friend of mine from college, who was still living in Baton Rouge, had just started a new job and couldn’t go home to Dallas for Christmas. So, with my grandmother’s permission, I invited her to spend Christmas with our family. I think I may still have relatives who wonder if I’m gay because of it.
  • If you can’t get home for Christmas, put the word out around your church, office, neighborhood, wherever you go, that you’re having a Christmas-day gathering at your house/apartment/hovel for anyone who doesn’t have plans. Do it in the afternoon, so that those who might want to do something in the morning can come. Have them bring a used coat to donate to a coat-drive or non-perishable food to donate to your local food bank (most are in crisis mode these days, with donations way down and demand way up). Have them bring a white-elephant gift and play Dirty Santa.
  • Volunteer to serve lunch/dinner at your local homeless shelter. Or volunteer to play Santa to families in need by putting together and delivering Christmas baskets.
  • Don’t focus on what you don’t have (a spouse/children) but focus on what you do have. Before you go to that Christmas gathering, make a list of all the things you have in your life, all of the blessings you’ve received this year, for which you are thankful—and put it in your pocket/purse. Then, when you’re tempted to start feeling down because you’ve seen a couple snogging under the mistletoe, pull that list out and be thankful.
  • Find healthy distractions. Offer to help a friend decorate or wrap gifts. Offer to help out with preparing Christmas dinner for your family/friends. But also be sure to spend time during the holidays doing things you enjoy—not just what everyone else wants to do.
  • Plan an exit strategy. If you’re staying with your family, make sure you have a car or can borrow a car so that you can get away and recharge or go see friends. Set aside some quiet time and spend time reading, meditating, praying, centering yourself. Choose before arriving at a party how long you plan to stay. Then, if that time comes and goes and you didn’t notice because you’re having a good time, be thankful. If it comes and you can’t wait to get out of there, let your host know you have somewhere else you need to be (back in sanity-land) and make a graceful exit.
  • If you know spending Christmas with your family is going to stress you out no matter how much you try to plan ahead, have a designated ventee—a friend you can call, text, or e-mail who can talk you off the ledge. And don’t forget to breathe. When you feel the stress coming on, take three very deep, very slow breaths. And then find the chocolate. 😉
  • If there’s a special gift you’ve always wanted but don’t have, because you assume it’s something your significant other will buy for you eventually for Christmas, why keep denying yourself? If you can afford it, buy it! If you can’t afford it this year, start a savings account and buy it for yourself next year.

Families and friends, what can you do to help?

  • Don’t put the single person in your family at the kids’ table. Be aware of which relatives are most likely to ask the “are you dating anyone” questions and put the single person as far away from them as possible.
  • Don’t relegate your single to sleeping on the sofa in the living room or sharing a bed with their twelve-year-old cousin. Singles need to be treated with the same respect as every other adult who comes into your house. (Of course, if they volunteer to do this, without your asking, it’s fine to take them up on the offer. Hopefully they wouldn’t offer if they aren’t sincere.)
  • Don’t try to play matchmaker or be the main spokesperson for the Stamp-Out-Singleness-Now advocacy group. Focus on the joy of having the unmarried person with you as a part of a group.
  • If the single person is someone you don’t know well or haven’t talked to in a while, find out what they’re interested in and discuss topics of mutual interest—movies, literature, sports, hobbies, etc.
  • Mostly, just welcome them in, with no expectations, no criticisms, no hints, no jabs.

Ultimately, Christmas isn’t about us and whether we’re single or not. Christmas is about remembering that in the grand scheme of things, it isn’t us who matter. It’s Christ and what He did for us. Come, let us adore HIM.

  1. Thursday, December 17, 2009 12:05 am

    Also realize that many single folks are being stressed by the end of the decade…especially if they’ve been single since the roll over of the last decade. When you’re thinking about “the last 10 years” remember that someone could be there around you for whom being forced to examine that time could be hard for them.


    • Thursday, December 17, 2009 12:10 am

      That’s a great reminder about everyone, not just singles!


  2. Thursday, December 17, 2009 6:37 am

    Excellent post. And I love how you arranged the Christmas lights on your house – so pretty!!


    • Thursday, December 17, 2009 12:52 pm

      I wanted a third string of the purple mini-lights to swag between the pillars, but I had to fight for the two boxes I got!


  3. Hope Nobel permalink
    Thursday, December 17, 2009 9:03 am

    Thank you for another great post, Kaye! It’s true that Christmas can be tough for singles…as the leading “upper edge” in age in my church’s college and career group, I am trying not to feel pressured as not one, but THREE couples have announced their engagements. It is truly a blessing to be able to read your comments and know that I am not alone in my single-ness. : )

    Another suggestion to add to your great list – Christmas is a time of doing things “together” and that includes hobbies. I find that one of the saving graces of this season is doing hobbies with groups of people with whom I might not otherwise interact throughout the year. My first step when contemplating Christmas away from home for the first time was: find a choir to sing in for Christmas! Crafters are another group that tend to be busy this time of year and that are usually inclusive in nature. Make Christmas cards with friends, volunteer at a local charity or retirement community, help out with the Sunday School Christmas program…find something that is “your thing” and find a way to do it in a larger community of people. It is invaluable at this time of year!


  4. Thursday, December 17, 2009 12:07 pm

    Hey Kaye, first off, I LOVE the Christmas theme on your website, especially the falling snow. Very cool. 🙂

    Loved your post, too. 30 is right around the corner for me, and I haven’t had a boyfriend since I was 15. Christmas used to be a lot harder for me than it is now. I don’t know how/why my attitude has changed, or maybe I just instinctively put into practice some of the things you suggested. I definitely steer clear of friends/family who ask those crazy questions, and I usually have a quick comeback for anyone who wants to know why I’m not married yet. My comeback this year, has been: If I was dating someone, I’d have no time to write, and you know … have my books published. Have you read my book yet? 🙂

    I LOVE to give gifts, so one thing that I’ve done in the last several years is look for needs among my family and friends and found ways to give gifts to meet those. I spend so much time shopping for people who have needs that I can help meet that I don’t worry about not buying gifts for a special someone. I look for areas that God might use me, and it’s really cool to see Him provide those.

    I’m also the aunt to 4 awesome kiddos, so when I’m with my family, I always spend time with them, which only sometimes makes me wish I was closer to having a family of my own. Mostly I just enjoy that I’m free to love on them with undivided attention.

    But like you said, Christmas isn’t about focusing on ourselves, or even others. It’s about adoring Christ and celebrating His birth.

    I hope you have a very wonderful Christmas! May your New Year be filled with joy, peace, and God’s blessings.


    • Thursday, December 17, 2009 12:54 pm

      I was probably right around thirty when I made the subconscious shift from dreading the holidays to looking forward to them. I think part of that stemmed from spending five or six Thanksgivings alone, which gave me time to reflect on the blessing of being able to be with my family for Christmas—making me focus on them and on making the most of my time with them than on me and my unfulfilled dreams and desires.


  5. Thursday, December 17, 2009 12:39 pm

    When I was single, I enjoyed the holidays whether I went back home or stayed in my new environs. I did many of the things you suggest–cooked my own Thanksgiving dinner, put up a Christmas tree, sent out cards, wrapped and exchanged presents, volunteered in service to others.

    My only suggestion is embrace who and where you are. Why deflect? Deflection suggests the topic is uncomfortable which makes people want to ask more questions. Rather, give a simple answer. “Are you seeing anyone?” “No, not at this time.” “What happened to…?” “We’re not together anymore.” Then, ALWAYS follow your response with a smile and look the other person straight in the eye. The other person will be less comfortable than you–they know they really shouldn’t be asking that way–and you’ll both move on to more interesting subjects.


    • Thursday, December 17, 2009 12:58 pm

      The honest, simple answers are good . . . if your family will take them and leave it at that. But for a lot of people, and maybe I’m just projecting my own experience on others here, those kinds of answers aren’t enough. Sometimes the relatives who ask those questions just aren’t going to “get it” unless something more drastic, like an obvious deflection or subject change, is done.

      Of course, there’s always the option of priming the pump—contacting several other family members ahead of time, asking them to help out in deflecting those questions or in spreading the word around the family that while yes, you are still single and, yes, you do someday want to get married, we’re here to enjoy Christmas together and spend time being thankful for what we have—not focusing on what a particular family member doesn’t have.


      • Friday, December 18, 2009 2:43 pm

        Nope, Kaye isn’t just projecting. My experiences went something like;

        “Are you seeing anyone?”


        “Oh that’s so sad. I wish you had a boyfriend. I’m sure there are lots of great guys back there in Texas. Have you tried…..blah….blah…blah….blah….blah. You know I was married and had x amount of children by your age. You really should find someone blah….blah….blah….blah.

        So if you don’t deflect, then you end up either having to defend your singlenss, defend being setup by a yenta, or explain for the upteenth time that “yes, I do go to church. No there aren’t any single guys there.” And then explain about East Texas culture (people marry young here) to the same people I explained this to the year before but apparently promptly forgot what I said or was ignoring me. Which means that since they really don’t have anything else to talk about and that they are “happily” married means that they should just give you advice after advice after advice of stuff you’ve heard a gazillion times already.

        Deflecting works wonders. Lowers the blood pressure. Doctors should prescribe it more often.

        On the flip side – this is the first year in a few years when I haven’t spent Thanksgiving or Christmas with my family (its happened before too though) – but I do have some friends that I know I am always welcome in their home. I’ve already been thinking that I may not go anywhere this Christmas and just enjoy the day at home with my fur-babies.


  6. Saturday, December 19, 2009 10:18 pm

    Is it okay to ask if you really, genuinely love the person and care to know what’s going on in her life? I went out for a girl date dinner tonight with a single friend, and we talked about all kinds of things – books, movies, Christmas plans, work, etc. I asked how things are going with her job and I also asked if there are any boyfriend prospects, because I truly wanted to know what’s been going on in her life. And I listened, and tried not to say any of the dumb things I know people say to singles, but just give her time and encouragement and a listening ear.

    But is that bad?


    • Saturday, December 19, 2009 11:11 pm

      The difference in your situation is that you were already having an in-depth, very personal conversation with this person . . . you’d already shown that you are genuinely interested in every aspect of your friend’s life—not just her dating/marriage prospects. Plus, you probably weren’t badgering her with “well, when are you going to find someone?” types of questions but offering a willing and sympathetic ear.


  7. Saturday, December 26, 2009 7:16 pm

    I fee sorry for those that are single and have no one.I spent Christmas with my family,so I was not lonely for Christmas.I had my family,Jesus and my friends on Blogger to keep me company for the holidays.


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