I know that I'm supposed to feel self-conscious around the holidays, walking into all those holiday parties on my own when so many others are coupled-up. But I don't. In fact, I feel both happy and proud. Happy, because I'm a sociable person and I like some of these gatherings; and happy because I also love my solitude, and after the party is over, I can go home to some.
The proud part is more interesting: I like it that I don't grab onto someone just to try to fit in at a time of such relentless coupling.
There are people who do practice that anxiety-grab, and some of them hold on tight all the way through to Valentine's Day. Yahoo found, when they surveyed users of their Personals page, that Valentine's Day is part of "National Break-Up Season" -- a time when "people tend to ‘put up' with current relationships in order to have a partner for holiday gatherings." Around then, coupled people are twice as likely to be thinking of breaking up, and once that last chocolate-covered cherry is gone, so too is their sweetheart.
A scientific approach to the same question also showed that couples are especially likely to break up during Valentine's season. Unsurprisingly, the people in relationships that were not so great were especially likely to break up. But even the people in the best relationships did not feel any better about their partners during Valentine's season than any other time of year.
So here's a little party game you can play, on your own or with any number of others. Look around you at all the different parties, through December and New Year's and Valentine's Day. See if you can spot the couples who are just faking it. Some will be rent-a-couples - they are just hanging out together as temps. Others, though, will be truly, officially, legally married.
I remember once going to an evening social event connected to a scientific conference. One very famous social psychologist arrived late to the gathering (his wife was already there) and engaged in a very public display of affection. Now I don't mean your garden-variety PDA; I mean the kind that might even make an enlightened high school student blush. I immediately thought to myself: They are doomed.
Now I'm not anti-coupling. Really, I'm not. Maybe because I love being single, I can observe couples who seem to be a great match and enjoy that, too. My favorite example comes from my own parents. They and my sibs and their kids and partners used to get together occasionally for a week at Duck beach in North Carolina. My mother, especially, seemed to love these gatherings since by then, all four of us grown "kids" were spread far and wide across the country. One night after dinner, when everyone was just relaxing and talking, my father said he was going out to put gas in the car. And my mother said she would go with him. To think that, even with all of her kids and grandkids around, she would want to go out to do errands with her husband - well, that seemed sort of bewildering and also kind of sweet. (Are you thinking up snarky ways to smash my reveries, like suggesting that maybe she wasn't so enamored of all of us as I'd like to think, or that perhaps "put gas in the car" was code for something that even grown kids try not to picture their parents doing? Well, save them! No, really, go ahead and post them.)
I said I'm not against marriage or coupling. But I am against compulsory coupling. I'm against the stigmatizing of those who are not coupled, whether by choice or by happenstance. One way to stop the stigma is to stop playing along with the game. If there is not someone you really want to be with over the holidays, then go to all those parties on your own. (Of course, I think party invitations should include friends, but that's a different topic.) Even if you do wish you were coupled and it is hard to walk in uncoupled, do it and feel proud. Embrace and enjoy your inner smug singlehood.
Don't do it just for yourself. Every time you show up as your own complete person, rather than appearing in your couple costume, you make it easier for everyone else who is also single for the holidays or for good (and I do mean good). And though they probably won't admit it, you are probably also helping the people who just can't wait for the holiday season to end, so they can return their rental partner. Maybe next year they'll show up on their own.
Happy Holidays and thank-you for reading this blog all year. I love this virtual community.