I’ve been thinking of getting the chart framed – the one that shows how break-ups skyrocket during the holiday season – maybe put it up above the doorframe so I’ll see it when I go out, like how football players will slap a banner before taking the field to mentally prepare for all the vicious hits, the way people spill from cabs into waiting arms, hug forever without patting the one-two, make introductions they’re proud of to people they love. I need something to remind me that not everyone is perfect this time of year because, from the outside, that’s exactly how it looks.
I tell myself I can’t make it through another holiday season. I tell myself this every year, each time that frozen turkey slips into the scarlet letter shopping cart of my singledom: too many microwavable meals and pre-made drink mixers. Solo cups. Doritos. Nutella in quantities that indicate there is nobody looking out for my health. And then Thursday comes and I dutifully prepare the Loneliness Bird. Baste it. Carve it. Let it stew in its juices. Breathe it in and watch the Cowboys on TV. Check the Macbook for fantasy football scores. Then the dishes. Get smashed on red wine. Stumble to the bar and hope for a European. For them it’s just another Thursday.
For us, us lucky Americans, it’s the start of a season so especially cruel to the single—worse still for the newly single—a period of relentless celebration for the kind of unconditional love we simply don’t have, won’t have, are unlikely to find in the miserable weather on the other side of the window. For the next six weeks people who have it all—friends, lovers, family, home—get to revel in how good they have it, invite similarly fortunate people to their comfortable homes to overconsume. It’s something I’ve always wanted to experience.
But advertisers will spend the next couple of months reminding us it’s a very special time meant to be shared with very special people, and so the guest lists for these things gain a gravitas which devalues the qualities (warm, smells nice) that seem so relevant in otherwise-empty October beds. I mean, I might be a joy to cuddle with, but that isn’t the sort of brilliance I can flash to someone’s grandfather at a twelve-long tablesetting.
Come Thanksgiving, the easy calculus that governed summer relationships — the mathematically impossible idea that two people inputting almost nothing into a system might receive a fun sort of something from its output — meets a sudden and violent end. That you made your partner happy is now less relevant; a free McRib can make someone happy, but certainly not proud, and in no way obligates them to provide an endorsement to their extended family. Similarly, sitting in my underwear watching Game of Thrones and shouting eat that heart! makes me quite happy, but it’s not something I’d want the world to see, you know? And so it goes for many of us: our experimental mixed-media studio out in Bushwick suddenly reads embarrassing to the fathers we’re meant to impress, our f-ck me miu mius unlikely to win the approval of mothers. Relationships are seldom built from the stuff that holds up to logic, that looks good on paper, that can be presented with pride to a mixed audience – yet this is what the holiday season demands. It puts us in a Nordstrom, it puts us on the Delta web page, it puts us in front of a price tag and asks is your partner worth this?
The data is there: more than almost any other time of the year, the holiday season has people deciding no, they are not. I’m in the second half of my twenties and I’ve never been anything but single for Thanksgiving. And Christmas. And always kissing a rando when the ball drops. Seems like me and the hers always get sloppy and peak at Halloween, so with the image of Tuxedo Horse and Slutty Red Riding Hood still fresh in our minds we decide that ours is a relationship not quite ready for the showroom. Sometimes it rekindles in the spring, sometimes not. Regardless, the winter is long. Cold. The Macbook wears a groove into its half of the bed.
But this is a cross that we, the single, far from our family, must bear silently. To do otherwise – to vent our frustration at the everywhere scenes of family and love and togetherness – is to risk receiving an invitation to the Pity Thanksgiving. Pity Thanksgiving starts innocently enough; usually some Good Samaritan takes notice of your new-in-town or single status and invites you to celebrate Thanksgiving with them, which you gratefully accept. Because you have no choice. It is impossible to decline. To have someone be so sweet and considerate as to invite you into their home, to meet their strange family, and then decline when you and the world know you have no other plans is some House Lannister-level cruelty and—sorry, I really have been watching a lot of TV over the break.
Anyway, you have to go. You get dressed up nice, swallow whatever pharmaceutical you think might help get you through the evening, and get to it. And there’s only two ways it can go:
1) Inception: The entire time you’re there people are keenly aware that you are an outsider. That you do not belong. Things will happen around you that you do not understand, the table will erupt in laughter over an in-joke you don’t get, go on long tangents about names you don’t, and won’t, ever recognize, and when you’re asked a question by whoever invited you everyone will gaze with blank, indifferent eyes at the sad-sack words spilling from That Person We Won’t Ever Meet Again’s mouth: “Oh, nothing too serious.”
2) The Lexus December to Remember Sales Event: Everything will be wonderful, bright, warm, cheery. The kids and grandparents will love you and that cute somebody your age will maybe fall in love with you. You’ll tell jokes and everyone will laugh. You’ll help serve coffee and desserts and insist on helping with the dishes and it’ll all be fresh and new and fun and feel right up until the moment the test drive ends, you step back onto the lot, back to the car which brought you here, that old beater, and you drive home slightly tipsy, slightly melancholy, more aware than ever of the things in life you do not have.
So keep your mouth shut. Suffer in silence. Let the happy couples stroll through their stupid autumn leaves. Keep that figure lean and ready yourself for the spring. Monopolize the sheets. Drink hard cider straight from the bottle and waste all the hot water. Find those Europeans. If the world should turn obnoxiously romantic then let us become obnoxiously single. Let us fly off reckless, untethered until our tumblrs and twitters sink beneath the weight of our bad decisions.