I Hate To Admit It, But Being Single During The Holidays Sucks

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Feminists aren’t supposed to let their singledom bother them during the holidays, but not everyone is immune.

I never thought I would internalize all the crap out there about being a single, straight woman, but somehow this holiday season I found myself unwittingly trapped in a rom-com desperation cliche.

“Meet Leah. She’s an independent woman with the perfect job, perfect apartment, and perfect friends. She seems to have it all, but she’s about to discover that she’s missing the most important thing.”

The truth is that I like my life. My job makes me happy nearly every day. I’ve collected a community of friends to keep me connected, grounded, and having fun. I’ve learned to live on my own and enjoy the nights I spend with myself, making things and chatting with long distance friends. I am busy, engaged, and connected. This is not the story of a “desperate” single woman.

And yet…

  • I’m one of the only single people at family functions.
  • I just signed on to be a bridesmaid for the third time.
  • The majority of my friends are in committed relationships.
  • My parents and brother express their concern for me, specifically as a single person: “We just think you would be happier if you were with someone.”
  • I sometimes worry about my biological clock.
  • People have actually asked me if I’m “putting myself out there.”
  • I found myself looking at adoptable cats on Petfinder.com…and I’m a dog person.

I can’t deny that these feelings of inadequate singleness have intensified since Thanksgiving. Without being fully conscious of what I was doing I ramped up my dating activities, hoping to beat the clock and start a new relationship before 2012 came to a close. (And, of course, find someone to kiss on New Year’s Eve.)

This year, the holidays happened to coincide with my decision to get cable television, something I’ve gone without for years. So naturally, the amount of advertising I’ve seen has quadrupled in the last month. What I’ve seen should come as no surprise to anyone: romance, romance, romance, diamonds, romance, romance, engagements, and more romance.

I’ve watched the multitude of holiday-themed rom-coms on TV—the ones telling the story of the sad, single girl alone for the holidays who unexpectedly meets some guy and falls in requited love in the last moments before the ball drops on New Year’s Eve. This is the socially-constructed, stereotypical, single girl’s fantasy. When did it become mine?

There’s a communication phenomenon called the “Third Person Effect” where people tend to believe that persuasive media messages have a greater effect on others than they do on themselves. This is especially true when the media messages are perceived to be socially undesirable, and for women who identify as feminist or progressive, messages about marriage as the sole source of female happiness are usually understood to be socially undesirable.  

So logically, it’s only natural that I assumed the overwhelming barrage of this type of messaging during the holiday season wouldn’t affect me as much as it affects other women. After all, I’m a strong, independent, warrior goddess! 

But as it turns out, my feminist identity actually makes this tougher to deal with because in addition to feeling bad about being single, I feel guilty and ashamed for falling prey to these harmful, cultural tropes. I understand this whole, complex, patriarchal system of oppression, and therefore I should know better; I should be immune. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way.

So what do I do now? Do I panic and throw myself into a faux-relationship with the next available guy, or curl up with my fuzzy blanket and disappear into a lonely, frozen-yogurt-fueled hermitude? No. I will grit my teeth and unpack my single woman toolbox. 

Here are some of my tools; you might find them helpful too.

  • Critical thinking: At times like these, it’s important to remember to think critically about the messages coming in from the media, as well as from friends and family. Thinking critically creates cognitive dissonance; it’s the first step toward reshaping and escaping harmful, internalized beliefs.
  • Gratitude: Focus on what you have rather than what you don’t have. The holidays are usually considered a time to spend with family of origin, but they are also a time to spend with our families and communities of choice. Romantic relationships are not the only relationships of value; spend this time thinking about the people who love you, be they family or friends.
  • Self-compassion: Be kind and patient with yourself. Be mindful of your feelings without being overly harsh or self-critical. It’s OK to feel this way. It’s helpful to think of these feelings as a shared rather than an isolating experience, since you are definitely not alone.
  • Appreciation: Pat yourself on the back and take a moment to recognize the fact that you’re single means you have made a lot of good decisions. You have probably dodged some bullets, rescuing yourself from unhealthy relationships and not-so-great-partners. Your singledom is not a sign of failure, but a testament to difficult but good decision-making.
  • Determination: You have refused to settle for less than what you really want and deserve. Use this season as an opportunity to recommit to putting yourself first, not taking any crap, and cutting ties with people who make you feel bad about yourself. Eliminate their negative energy from your life and make getting yours your New Year’s resolution.

It’s rough to be single during the holidays, even for feminists. But that’s OK. We’re OK.

Despite popular opinions of December 2012, the world is not ending, diamonds are not forever, and single is not sad. The healthiest and kindest gift you can give yourself this holiday season is the gift of not giving a shit about your love life and having a good time.

Happy Holidays, every(single)one.

Leah Berkenwald is a college health educator and and freelance writer living in Boston. Get to know her at leahbee.net or check out her health and gender blog, talkinreckless.com.

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