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Alone for the Holidays

For some, holidays are happiest when spent alone.

One of the reasons that this is the year's peak season for anxiety and depression is that we are expected to spend much of this season -- this day, especially -- with others. This simple fact, this folkway, this presumption, leads to torment: albeit for opposite reasons in different kinds of minds.

Some of us prefer solitude, or near-solitude, given a choice. For we loners, extended stretches of time spent in the company of others, especially with numerous others, feels like donating blood. It's that painful and that draining. Alone we feel most natural, most serene, most ourselves. Yet this is a crowded and intensely sociable world, full of societies built over centuries of hardship during which families, clans and villages had to share, had to huddle together, or face certain extinction. Though so much has changed, these days the loner is still considered a freak, still pitied or feared as a wallflower, serial killer or misanthrope. The first and basic misperception, held by most in that social world, is that loners are lonely. But no. That's the whole point. Loners prefer being alone. By contrast the lonely seek social contact. Thus loners aren't lonely and the lonely aren't loners, Q.E.D.

The misperceptions are hard enough to handle throughout the rest of the year, as your garden-variety serial killer, once caught, is almost sure to be described by neighbors (and thus by reporters) as a loner. (That's a long point of discussion which we'll have another time, but basically: If you study serial killers and their lives and motivations, as I have, you'll see that most are not loners at all, that they're quite the opposite, that in fact they desperately sought contact and warmth and acceptance but were systematically rejected, and their reigns of terror are often motivated by rage over that rejection. Their victims represent those parents, friends and lovers whose affection the killers fruitlessly sought.)

At holiday time, the anti-loner bias flares up at its fiercest. Generations of holiday cards and TV ads and movies depicting jolly confabs in living rooms and at ice rinks and around candle-lit tables have made it nearly impossible to explain not wanting to be there, not wanting to join in. Under all this pressure, amidst the swell of holiday songs, who would understand how it is for us loners, how in groups we often lock into acting-mode, our souls having withdrawn since our bodies cannot? Who would understand how, in groups, we can literally watch ourselves disappear?

Sometimes we do the group thing because those we love -- and yes, loners do love -- ask it of us or need it of us. And sometimes we make a stand and don't do the group thing, hoping to be understood or at the very least forgiven. Alone, maybe even just for the hour or two that we carve out of the post-presents period for a solitary stroll or pretend nap, we strive to regain ourselves and, in our own way, we celebrate.

That said, most folks who are anxious and depressed at holiday time feel that way for the exact opposite reason. They're upset because they are alone and they don't want to be. The vast majority of people are not loners, and they despair aat the prospect of holidays spent alone -- because they live far from their loved ones, because their loved ones have passed away, or for any reason in the world that has so isolated them. We loners can barely understand their sorrow. Sometimes we even envy them. We think: Wow, he gets to spend all of today alone at the beach if he wants to, and no one will nag him about it. But what thrills some fills others with anguish. Some of us are alone (or nearly alone) today by choice. Others are not at all alone but wish they were. Yet others are alone, all alone, all day, and wish with all their hearts that they were not. Know anyone in that last category? Give him or her a call. Stop by. Send an email. That's the spirit.

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