There are seasons where I am happy beyond reason to be living and traveling through this life solo; making all my own plans and decisions, spending money on frivolous things with no one to argue with me, or being frugal at the hostel because it’s just me to fit into that tiny bed. I don’t have to defend eating McDonald’s instead of sketchy street food in xyz country, or my need to see the world’s largest fillintheblank in Random Place, Somewhere.
I love swimming through seasons when the engaged couples leave early and skip the dinner because they’re saving for a wedding, when married couples fight and make things awkward, when the parents with fussy babies go home early. But me? I stay to dance all night, eat and drink what I want, flirt with whom I want, and see where things take me.
There are moments, long moments, sometimes stretching weeks or months where I am able to drown out everything society quietly and not-so-quietly tries to tell me, and am gentle with myself and my journey, and I can forget that the world strongly suggests my purpose is to find someone else to go through the life thing with.
I can forget that the message is that if I’m not sharing life with someone that it’s not as real or important. That whatever it is I do is somehow not as real or as serious if I’m not splitting my time and worry on not only my own needs, but someone else’s, too.
I honestly forget I’m single and that’s somehow very important and everyone’s business and I shouldn’t want to be all the time. Because being single is really not an important descriptor when I think about what I know about me. I forget that being a good daughter, sister, roommate, friend, teacher, colleague isn’t enough to qualify for a full and meaningful life.
Then there is the age bit.
I forget how old I am all the time. I don’t know if that’s because I’m kind of classically immature, or because I’m a teacher and always around kids, or if I’m in a clinical stage of denial. When I do take an Actual Moment and realize I am thirty freaking five and all that might mean to my biology, it does kinda freak me out. But then I get over it.
I’ve said this many times, but I genuinely had no plans beyond like, 22. I figured I’d be married and popping out really cute biracial, progressive, multilingual children by then. I assumed there would be no time for my own selfish plans about career or life goals or anything, so why make ‘em?
That attitude might have been a product of the family I grew up in with really young parents and not based on what my own intrinsic ambitions were (and looking back, not at all an Actual Good Idea), but those biological feelings still lurk somewhat dormant within my ovaries, springing forth and reaching out to every infant that crosses my path.
That magical, Taylor Swift-blessed year of 22 came and went, and I moved the goalpost back a few years. I’ve been an overachiever all my life. Maybe the growing up part was where I let other kids beat me without putting up too much of a fuss.
But growing up in church, let’s make that a capital C Church, there is an unspoken expectation that you will be married and having kids by a certain age. Preferably like, 25.
And if not by then, you might be accosted in the church bathroom, as I was one morning, in between leading worship for two services. A well-intentioned (at least, I am choosing to believe she was) woman came to me as I was washing my hands and said “I just want you to know I am praying for you, because I don’t understand why you’re not married, because you’re great, and you should be.”
I’m sure she thought she was complimenting or encouraging me with these unasked-for-prayers, but as I stood stock-still within her embrace, unable to return it, I could only think some very un-Christian thoughts.
For a long time, through many holidays and life moments, I was with someone. I thought we were getting married and I changed my whole life for him. And then we weren’t together anymore and then I changed my whole life to get over him (because a very rational and mature reaction to heartbreak is to move countries. Trust me, I’ve done it twice now) and I’m thankful.
Life goes on. Your friends get married, your little sister gets married, you go to baby showers and are the only single, childfree person there (which, by the way, those type of functions should have automatic freeflow options for single, childfree people).
Life goes on. And it goes fast. I don’t think I really believed adults when they said “oh, in a blink of an eye” but now I blink and there’s grey hairs and chin hairs and hangovers and my back hurts and are we all just going to be always tired, forever, from here on out?
So here’s me, 35, single, childless, awesome. Financially stable, educated, well-traveled, physically fit, capable of entertaining 27 nine year olds for eight hours a day at a time while only peeing twice. Sometimes I wake up feeling like I just might run for President. Great hair. Killer guacamole recipe.
Single, childless, awesome.
And I’m fine. I’m great. I’m so good about it right now, compared to the countless other seasons in my life I was positively beside myself with agony and despair over being single, that I’m almost worried I’m too good. Because then I start to overanalyze that and think “If this is it, and I’m okay right now, will this then become my always? What if I’m not always okay with what this is?”
Or I start to wonder what other people are thinking of me being this age and still single. Or I wonder “maybe God’s looking at me, and He’s like, ‘she seems alright, I’m gonna let her go wander and help everyone else get married and start families.’ So maybe I need to act more worried so He knows it is important to me?!”
Six years ago I wrote what was then and is even more now a funny blog post called 15 Ways to Survive the Holidays When You’re Newly Single. Having just broken up with my ex and too embarrassed to fly home for Christmas, I was stuck in North Carolina for the holidays.
There I was -waiting tables and bartending at a barbecue joint, living in a large and possibly haunted house with a man of unknown age or sexual orientation named Brook who had a demonic cat. Brook was a lawyer but thought he was an actor, which meant he directed a play about lizards who fell in love (I kid you not) and spent many hours in our living room practicing terrible English accents. One time I walked into my bathroom and his dad was pooping in it so we had some differences.
I had spent that post-breakup Thanksgiving with my Dad, but was my first Christmas alone alone. I bought tater tots, frozen pizza, a lot of wine, and watched the entire season one of Scandal in bed. I didn’t talk to anyone except via text message, pretending the time difference made it too hard (oh, how I laugh at just three hours difference now!). It was a hard, hard time for me, and getting through the emotions of a massive breakup and the holidays alone did feel like survival.
But here I am alone in my apartment in Hong Kong, eating a 7-11 Thanksgiving of instant mashed potatoes and my favorite 5 dollar wine from college. I’ve baked three cornbread dishes in round one of food prep and have decorated the house. I’m currently crafting turkeys out of toilet paper rolls and some feathers for a game I’m inventing for my Friendsgiving on Saturday, when I’ll be joined by friends from Ireland, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, Hong Kong, Philippines, Canada, and England for a ton of food and organized fun. And two weeks after that I’ll be home for Christmas holidays and you know what? It doesn’t feel like a game of survival anymore to be single in this time of celebrating and joy. Maybe parts of it are still hard, yeah. I did almost cry at work today. But that’s mostly my job.
There are situations and relationships that are a lot harder than being alone, and as I’ve gotten older, I see my friends and family go through those tough times, and feel grateful I don’t have to know them personally. My tough decisions at the moment are things like “do I absolutely need to wash my hair today?” and “is this worth getting angry about?” and “watch something new on Netflix or comfort watch a childhood cartoon?” and I am okay with that.
So I’m updating my list on how to “survive” being single at the holidays. Because you are not going to die if you are. You might feel a little lonely, you might field some awkward questions, you might eat too much or drink too much or roll your eyes right back into your head at some of the tasteless questions people ask but. I’m fine. And You’re fine. And we will be fine.
Survive Get Through Stumble Make it Persist Through Enjoy the Holidays When You’re Single
- Decide if you’re going to ignore or embrace the holiday. Sometimes it’s easier to pretend nothing is happening, it’s just another day, and get on with it. Sometimes it’s easier to throw yourself into festivities. Listen to your heart and do what you want. And you can change your mind! One year I was TOTALLY AGAINST IT and then last minute brought in a large branch from the backyard and decorated it, so. Do you.
- Turn on your Tinder and update your location. That goes for all dating apps you’re on. I have found my matchability increases in certain geographical locations, and it’s fun and an ego boost and can be as harmless as you want it to be.
- Do not call your ex. Do not text your ex. Do not stalk your ex on social media. There is a reason and probably LOTS of reasons why you are not together on normal days and those reasons are somehow forgotten on holidays but DO NOT LET THEM BE FORGOTTEN.
- Do a conscious thing to relieve the stress of the holidays. Some years I decide not to buy any presents, and I just donate money somewhere. Some years I get everyone the exact same thing. Some years I book a trip to another country and skip it. You decide.
- Do buy yourself a present. Whatever is too embarassing to put on a list for anyone who might ask, get yourself. For me, it’s usually laser hair removal. Last year was the Harry Potter movie collection. Bless yourself.
- Adopt the other holiday orphans. There will always be people around you who can’t get home for the holidays. I invited them to my house for some spaghetti and card games. Now I have things to do and people to be with!
- Clean things. Work out. Organize your socks. Make a list and tackle that ish. Productivity feels great and keeps you busy and keeps you from calling/texting/online stalking your ex.
- Get an accountability partner to make sure that you do not call your ex. Honestly. The holidays have this “does he still think of me?” tint to it and it is dangerous.
- Accept the love of strangers and friends and family. People will be worried about you. Whenever I’m away for Christmas, friends reach out and invite me over, and all older women ask how my momma is handling it. I’ve been invited to different churches, to people’s homes, to the traditional Jewish Christmas of Chinese food and movies. I’ve had my hand held by old gay men who wanted to take me drinking, and offered recipes for “a really good roast. You need good food, dear.” I’ve been surprised with packages from family, friends, and even a relative stranger from church! Love is good. Allow yourself to be loved.
- Get to church. Sing the songs, pray the prayers, feel the feels. I always leave church happier than when I came.
- Do good. That’s what the holidays should be about. Volunteer somewhere. Bake goodies to drive around to your favorite homeless people. Write random Facebook messages to friends you haven’t talked to in a while. Sprinkle love via text messages. Let your mom know you’re okay. Take silly pictures of yourself to send to your siblings.
- If you are alone, Enjoy being alone. A few years ago, I would have been swimming in my own tears just thinking about being alone on Christmas, but now I’m like, “hey, my roomie is gone, I can take a bubble bath for hours, mimosas all to myself, set my laptop up next to the bath and watch chick flicks until my toes turn to raisins.” I won’t have to wear a bra for three days, my dishes will go unwashed, and I will get to sleep-in uninterrupted. I can control the heating system, play music at all hours, cry when I need to and dance when I want to.
- Get into Nature. Everything feels better outside. And your problems feel smaller in the best way when you look at the wonder and beauty of Earth in a big way.
- Indulge. Having lived in four distinct cultures now, I can say with authority that American culture is not one that respects rest. It is vital for mental, emotional, and spiritual health to have times where you are deep into what gives you peace.
- Remember, this is just another day, and you’re no less of a person if you’re single today than you were when you were single yesterday, or when you’re still single tomorrow. Maybe it looks like everyone in your Facebook feed is winning at life with the rate of proposals, marriages, babies, promotions, marathons, traveling, etc. that everyone but you seems to be doing. But you’re on your own path. March on, soldier. March on.
With as much wine and chocolate and Netflix and Youtubes of puppies and late night chats as is necessary.