In the same way that we know to harvest food for the winter, we know to harvest company, too. Though cuffing season might be a contemporary man-made notion, it comes from an innate desire; to support and be supported through the cold. Once the temperatures drop and we decorate the insides of our homes to look like twinkly wombs of comfort, it becomes harder to leave. The only thing better than being snowed in, is being snowed in with someone special, making it incredibly difficult to cope with relationship pressure around the holidays, especially. When you add in the social construct of holiday party plus ones and the fantastical holiday movie narratives that tells us that it isn't Christmas unless there's someone to kiss under the mistletoe, spending the winter alone becomes an insufferable concept.
But we're not vulnerable cave dwellers, we're self-sufficient adults with heating systems, delivery services, and weighted blankets for everything else. So why do so many of us put pressure on ourselves to ensure that the holidays are synonymous with festive romances? Bustle talked to Dr. Sanam Hafeez, a NYC neuropsychologist and faculty member at Columbia University about how to alter the way you think about holiday romances, and according to Hafeez, seeing through them is the first step.
"Virtually everything about the commercialization of the holiday season is designed to make people feel that there is an ideal way to celebrate and feel around the holiday season," Hafeez tells Bustle. We see it on the screen, we see it online, and according to Hafeez, even in seemingly innocuous holiday cards, where "families in crisis have their hair and makeup done with professional photographers to paint a perfect Norman Rockwell image." The message? The holidays are meant to be spent together.
Once we make it past Christmas, we have to confront New Years, which comes with its own brand of kisspectations. "The questions arise, 'What are you doing? Where are you celebrating? Who are you celebrating with?' If you ask most people privately and honestly, they will tell you, that that they don’t like New Year’s Eve, and that there is pressure to have forced fun," Hafeez says.
The reality is that a lot of people actually spend both holidays home, alone. But Hafeez says we shouldn't feel bad for them. "This category of people are not the 'loners' many would imagine, they are often people secure with themselves," who just don’t want to deal with the chaos of holiday celebrations and all that it entails. "Then you have another category of both men and women who will start panicking around Thanksgiving and do anything to couple up so that they have somebody, anybody, to be with around the holiday and in particular, a 'partner' to kiss when the ball drops." The latter is a predicament that many of us have struggled with at least once in our lives.
"They place so much emphasis on that one night that it does not matter to them whether the person is toxic, a narcissist, abusive in some manner, or just wrong for them, it's that being single for that one evening is a blow to their ego and sense of who they are." We've been there, but it's not really our fault, when tradition and media puts so much emphasis on having someone to kiss or gift.
According to Hafeez, the only way to overcome the pressure to cuff yourself for the holidays is to reframe your thinking. "Work to understand that even though the holidays are times when many of us reflect and take stock of our lives, what happens on the holidays is not a prediction of how the rest of your life is going play out." Not to mention, if Instagram muted every ball-drop-kiss and instead promoted the posts of all the people around the world who have no one to kiss, the pressure would dissipate. "Think of the evening as a blip on the screen of your life — literally a few hours until morning comes and the rest of life returns to normal," Hafeez says.
You can't rush or stretch love thin to cover the holidays. Rom-coms are scripted, Instagram is a highlight reel, and many couples that kiss under mistletoes argue the whole way home. If you're feeling lonely or worried that you'll reach for someone who doesn't deserve you, reach for a friend instead. Healthy relationships and delicata squash don't always mature at the same rate, so don't try to harvest them at the same time.
Dr. Sanam Hafeez, a NYC Neuropsychologist and Faculty Member at Columbia University.