Irene S. Levine, Ph.D.

Irene S Levine Ph.D.

The Friendship Doctor

What to Say When Someone Asks About Your Holiday Plans

As the holidays approach, both friends and strangers may ask about your plans.

Posted Dec 08, 2016

Question

Hi Dr. Levine,

I always enjoy reading your columns. How do you suggest one should handle friends who constantly inquire about holiday plans?

I am late 30s, single, not liking where I am in my life, and really do not look forward to the holidays. Thanksgiving and Christmas make me feel alone and depressed and I wish I could avoid it altogether.

I don’t have the money to get away right now and take a trip on my own. I do have family, but going home as the single person—again—is not enjoyable for me and I’d rather see my family any other day of the year and not try to make the holidays something they are not for me. I have plenty of friends who would invite me but quite honestly, being around other people’s husbands, children, families, in beautiful homes pretty much makes me feel even worse.

I’ve learned to cope the best I can through the holidays, in my own ways. What I truly hate more than the holidays is being asked for two months, “What are you doing for Thanksgiving?” “What are your plans for Christmas?”

I feel like there is no acceptable answer. If I say I don’t like the holidays and prefer to just ignore the day, I am met with pity or unrelenting pushiness and insistence to spend it with them. Well, I certainly do appreciate the offers and the fact that I do have friends but that is the last thing I want to do.

Every year I end up lying and saying I’m going with family or away. I hate lying. That makes me feel worse too. But people nod, accept, don’t question, feel better I won’t be alone, and then I feel horrible about what I don’t have all over again.

How do you get friends who will just let you be? And have compassion but not pity or pushiness? I have yet to find this.

Janine

Answer

Hi Janine,

Many people feel the same way you do. Idealized holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas have a way of making those who have non-traditional families, very small families, or no families at all feel very sorry for themselves.

Whether it’s at the office or at the hair salon, asking people about their holiday plans usually falls in the realm of perfunctory small talk. While it may reflect genuine interest, it may represent an effort to spark conversation or create an opportunity for the questioner to tell you what she is doing.

You have every right to spend the holidays the way you want, doing what feels best for you.

In terms of how to respond when asked about your holiday plans, remind yourself that people are trying to be friendly. Then I guess I might think about who is asking the question. If it is an acquaintance you barely know, you can respond vaguely with something like, “I haven’t firmed up what I’m doing yet.” It isn’t quite as duplicitous as saying you are going home to your family when you have no intention of doing that.

If the person who is asking is a close friend, you can tell them you decided not to go home to your family and prefer having the time at home to catch up on some projects. Your friends may not understand your choice and that’s why they feel badly for you. If they invite you to join them, tell them how much you appreciate the offer but you would rather be home. Be firm and clear. If you feel so inclined, you can add that you would like to get together with them after the holidays.

It is very wise of you to prepare your response before questions are asked. Hopefully, the more times you repeat it, the less awkward it will be. Just remember that a lot of people are feeling the same way as you.

Best, Irene

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