You're at the end of the holiday dinner table, seated next to a toddler flinging around apple sauce and Great Grandpa Bill, who can no longer hear literally anything. Why? Because you're the only one other than these two with no plus one at the table, and it almost seems like your family is trying to highlight this fact. And then when the "still single?" questions start, it really has you feeling a mixture of dread, panic, and self-judgment. Unfortunately, it's not uncommon for families to put pressure on your relationship status during the holidays, even though that seems pretty freakin' archaic.
"Holidays can be a rough time for those who are currently not engaged in relationships," psychoanalyst Dr. Gita Zarnegar, Ph.D., Psy.D., LMFT, tells Bustle, even those who aren't receiving immediate pressure from their loved ones. "Spending holidays with the nuclear and extended families have the potential to trigger early childhood disappointments and activate past unformulated painful memories. Not having a supportive partner who can be a buffer and protector during these otherwise happy times can be very difficult for many single people."
During these festive times, often those who are single feel the pangs and longing of loneliness and the desire to find relational sanctuaries, Zarnegar says. If there is any kind of shame or questioning from outside parties as to your relationship status, these feelings can be amplified. Just remember — whether or not you have the desire to be with someone, the timeline of when and how to couple off, and even the seeming necessity to do so at all, is a by-product of a very heteronormative, patriarchal structure. Resist!
"Avoid gatherings with people who are judgmental and shaming in order to protect yourself from potential toxic triggers," Zarnegar says. If you are around family members or others who make comments or judgments about your status, take a beat. Identify and articulate painful feelings that emerge during holidays with someone who is empathic, supportive and positive, Zarnegar says.
"It is important to allow yourself to tolerate your feelings and not to shame yourself for having intense experiences during the holidays. Remember you are not alone in feeling this way, so "try to decouple being single from being defective," Zarnegar says. "It helps to tell yourself that although you feel doomed, that is a feeling state and not the reality of your existence."
Finally, it's a good idea to find a relational home with true and loving friends that welcome and embrace the totality of your feelings and thoughts.
Psychotherapist Jennifer Litner, MSx, MEd, LMFT, CST and founder of Embrace Sexual Wellness, LLC. tells Bustle that one of the most important things to remember and focus on is the relationship you have with yourself.
In addition to the possibility that your siblings or cousins are going all the-mom-in-Pride-and-Prejudice on you about getting a partner, if your feeling inundated with stories, ads, and posts about love, romance, family, and connection, it's hard not to add to that with your own internal pressures and judgments, Litner says.
"Ask yourself, where is that pressure coming from? What is the narrative surrounding it?" Litner says. "Instead of saying, Everyone is asking me about dating and it's so frustrating, consider I'm feeling pressured because I'm surrounded by people who are trying to influence me (because they think being with a partner would enhance my life), but in reality I am content with where I am at or don't want to date."
Second, think about what you might need in the very moments where you're feeling the pain and pressure from other people, or are judging yourself for being single during this time of year, Litner says. Relieve yourself of the darkness in your head.
"Calling a friend to chat, listening to a podcast or favorite song, playing with a pet, or volunteering for an organization that you're passionate about may be a positive distraction and can lead to feelings of generosity," Litner says. "Many people struggle during the holiday season for a myriad of reasons. It's OK to feel stirred up, annoyed, depleted, and down. Holiday cheer is not required."
Hear that? You are allowed to feel low and grumpy, and you can ask yourself what you need to do to take care of it! It might just transform into other feelings, if you do.
And as therapist Shannon Thomas, LCSW, author of Healing from Hidden Abuse tells Bustle, when we feel the pressure, we should remind ourselves the holidays are the wrong time to address issues you have with your love life head-on, or issues you have with people bugging you about your love life. Our emotions are often edgier during the holidays, so waiting until after the new year is the smart choice to take any deeper kind of look into what is going on.
Thomas says that we really "give ourselves a gift when we normalize the struggle holidays can bring." Here, here.
Right now, just try to make it through in a way that feels best to you. And hey, if that means spending the holidays with your chosen family, then do that.
Psychoanalyst Dr. Gita Zarnegar.
Therapist Shannon Thomas, LCSW.
Psychotherapist Jennifer Litner.