When I first left my long marriage one of the things I immediately noticed was a decline in invitations especially where couples and women were concerned. I could see a bit of why the couples might stop inviting me since we had all socialized as a foursome and there was a hole in the works that could not be stopped. What shocked me was the number of women and a couple of men friends who just dropped away, no calls, no invites, no making sure I was not alone on special occasions as I had done with all of them when they were single over the years.
While I can think of no plausible explanation for those adults who behaved in less than graceful ways, I can tell you what it is like to be single over the holidays as in recent years I, myself, spent solo.
- Mark your calendar. Know that you will have more time on your hands and make plans for it. Plan to see the free events in your area, choirs singing, holiday displays, Christmas plays at the schools, parades or musical events. Every community has some of these and you may think going alone sad but I can tell you from doing so that it was far from sad. The singers gladdened my heart and nobody was there to chatter my ear off or otherwise interrupt these magical moments of mine and mine alone.
- Give back. I know, I know, everyone says this and the last thing you may feel like doing when you are lonely over the holidays is giving anyone anything. Even if you are flat broke, you can find a way to give to others less fortunate. A friend of mine serves dinner in the local men’s shelter on Christmas Day. When I had it, I spent $20 on grab bags at a local women’s store. These grab bags each contained four or five sets of jewelry suited to teens along with socks, hairbands and other little items that translated to 15 or 20 gifts I donated to a local charity Christmas Drive. I know teens are the hardest to find gifts for at Christmas from working in the non-profit sector and this was, to me, just a great thing to be able to do. But you don’t need to have new items. I have a friend who collects clothing and donations for the local animal shelter, a place often abandoned over Christmas but the needs are high all year round. A friend’s daughter buys 50 or 100 hamburgers at McDonald’s and passes them out to hungry strangers on the street. Pass a street person a coat you no longer wear, the ideas are endless and unlimited for finding ways to help those less fortunate. And somehow, in the midst of the giving, we receive an “afterglow” of our good deeds that translates to a little more joy for ourselves.
- Indulge yourself. Whether it is a marathon of watching your favorite series on Netflix, spending a whole day in your pj’s or having some treats you normally don’t allow yourself, or all three, just pamper yourself. Because, alone or not, you are so worth it. And this is the sort of thing we tell one another in times of needing comfort so why not apply it to ourselves.
- Mingle. You may feel like a fifth wheel when invited to holiday gatherings and simply decline. That may be what you are most comfortable doing and that’s okay, too. If you accept (which I did because, hey, why not?), don’t focus on being alone, focus on being “together” and make a point of asking polite questions of people you don’t even know. You may make a new life long friend or find yourself with a terrific job offer, you just never know what may come of a simple gracious connection over the holidays. I once ran into a woman who had interviewed me for a job I didn’t get despite making it through every level of the screening process. I asked her why she didn’t hire me and she replied, “Because I knew being a 911 operator would hurt you.” She was right. I am a highly sensitive person or HSP as Elaine Aron’s book states. Imagine. The years spent wondering why I didn’t make the cut wound up being a gift to me. A gift I would not have been given had I just stayed home.
- Gift yourself. This is an open season deal where you decide what you would most like to get and give that to yourself. The year after my mother died was tough. A lot of “firsts” without her, first Christmas, birthdays, Mother’s Day and so on. Near Christmas I was browsing in a shoe store and found a pair of all leather knee high boots by a very high end company. I never had a pair of knee high boots since I was 11 years old in Ontario winters and thought what the hey, I’ll try them on. They fit perfectly and looked great but I could not bring myself to buy them even though they were, I learned, last year’s stock on clearance for less than 1/4 of the original price. I phoned a sister and told her about them. She said, “Go back and get them, those are YOUR boots.” I decided these boots were a gift from my mother and would take me places I could never dream of going. On the walk home with boots in hand, I glanced down at my parcel to find the name/model of the boot on the box. It was “Hope.” My mother was giving me hope from the heavens is how I saw it and still love my boots which will likely outlast me. It doesn’t have to be expensive as long as your gift is something you love, a book, a sale cologne, a thrift store treasure or a promise to shop the boxing day clearances for a sweater you can’t afford right now. It’s your gift to make yours in whatever way feels best for you.
- Honor loved ones. You can do this by hand making and sending a card for those you cannot be with this year or setting up a time for a “visit” phone call where you catch up, hear familiar voices. Again, the ways to do this are endless and it can even be loved ones who passed before us. When I was single and very, very broke, I took my last twenty dollars and decided that Christmas to stop avoiding the hospice tree in the local mall in the usual wide arc I made around it after my mother died. That year I went and put the names of my mother and mum-in-law on the Christmas tree and received a handmade bird (every donation receives a gift back). I thought I would cry. I didn’t. Instead I felt a sense of peace and calm that lasted a very long time.
- Phone a friend. Nothing can cheer us faster than hearing the voice of a friend who loves us unconditionally and gives us a safe place to just be ourselves. It’s like plugging in a lamp that has a new bulb. Everything “shines” brighter under the light of love and having a good friend or two is among these gifts. If you can get together, great, but if you are geographically or holiday commitment distanced, the phone is a wonderful tool to employ for a little holiday warmth.
- Volunteer. Not everyone has the energy or desire to do this and that’s okay. We can’t all be good at doing things all the time. But there are many organizations, especially during the holidays, that require a helping hand. Maybe you could help unload and organize the donations for a local thrift store. Or maybe you could deliver meals to those shut in alone over the holidays. Perhaps the local animal shelter could use an extra “walker” this year. Again, the possibilities are endless and most of your local newspapers or community pages will list organizations you might like to volunteer for. As a former volunteer manager for the city I reside in, I can tell you this: Volunteers do what they want to do and finding something you want to do that benefits others as well as yourself is a double gift.
- Start early. This does not mean start shopping early. This means starting early to prepare yourself mentally and emotionally for being alone or even possibly being alone over the holidays. One of the things I did was to sit and contemplate all who were working right through the holidays. From nurses to paramedics, from doctors to doggy sitters, from police to prison guards and all in between. My heart filled with gratitude that someone would be there if I needed to call 911 which I did not but it felt good to know I could, thanks to some dedicated professionals who work complaint free right through the holidays.
- Appreciate what you do have however humble. Most of us have had parents who, in an effort to get us to eat food we don’t really like, tell us there are starving children on the other side of the world who would be glad to eat what’s on your plate. The thing the parents don’t grasp is that means nothing to us because we can’t see those children, they are not in our daily radar especially as children ourselves. Yet, as an adult, I will use this to remind myself that whatever is on my plate at the moment, there are many elsewhere who would be glad for what my “life plate” holds today.
These are some of the things I did when single and longing to make the holidays more meaningful. Some of my best holiday memories are from those times when I stood listening to a local children’s choir or knew that some teen-aged girls would get a little something for Christmas. Believe me when I say I indulged myself in a few tears, too, they just couldn’t be stopped. But even that was bittersweet and not entirely awful. There are many ways to make the holidays “yours,” just start thinking of what pleases your soul and go from there. And if you have any ideas you would like to share, please do, as always I welcome your thoughts and comments here. Wishing you every good thing, good health, good home and good memory making even if only for yourself.
"What fills the heart becomes us." ~ Janni Styles (this is a "re-run" first published November 30, 2016 and in the photo is the "bird" ornament I speak of in number 6 above)