Sex & Relationships

Not Going Home For The Holidays Can Be Lonely. Here’s How To Deal.

Staying put for the holidays doesn't have to mean celebrating alone.

by Eden Lichterman and Carolyn Steber
Originally Published: 
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The holiday season can be one of the best times of the year. Everything's decorated and glistening, holiday-themed pajamas become a daily uniform, and families gather to spend time together and celebrate lifelong traditions. But if you're not going home for the holidays, it can also be one of the toughest times of the year.

There are a lot of reasons why you might choose to stay home, or to celebrate in a new way. Maybe you're trying to avoid family turbulence, are starting your own traditions with a partner, or want to avoid traveling due to COVID-19. For better or for worse, changing your routine is always going to be difficult. It'll likely bring up a lot of emotion. And it'll only be harder if your family isn't understanding.

That's why the best place to start is by letting them know ASAP. “Initiate the conversation by saying, ‘Listen, this is going to be tough to talk about, but I'm not going to be coming home for this holiday,” Dr. Gary Brown, a couples therapist, tells Bustle. You should make it clear that you understand it'll be different and potentially upsetting, he says, and that you want to listen to their thoughts. But also be clear you won't change your mind.

From there, chat about alternative plans, such as celebrating a holiday dinner "together" via video chat, to make up for not being there in person. You can also be honest with yourself — and friends, family, a therapist, etc. — if you're feeling sad about not going home, or if you'll be spending the season alone. Because in many cases, it's not a choice.

Whatever's going on for you, here's a breakdown of five common situations that may lead you to not go home for the holidays — and how to effectively work through each of them.

You Want To Avoid A Toxic Family Member

It's common to experience some level of stress, or an argument or two, when visiting family for the holidays. But if things tend to get downright toxic, you might decide this is the year you stop going home and stop subjecting yourself to mistreatment. And that's 100% OK.

“You’re entitled to set a healthy boundary if someone around you is consistently toxic," Brown says. The same is true if going home triggers bad memories, and you'd prefer to celebrate in a happier place, like with some friends. It can still be tough to let go out of the idea of "family" and "tradition," but remind yourself it's a healthy choice you're making, and if possible, lean into spending time with others.

Also, be prepared for at least one family member to beg for you to come home. If you're met with anger or confusion, explain how you've been feeling. Share as many or as few details as you wish, but be sure to mention that visiting home sets you up for stress and emotional abuse, Brown says. Let your family know you'll be prioritizing your well-being, and don't let them talk you out of it.

That said, a compromise might be possible. If there's one particular person you don't get along with, try to set up a time to visit other family members. That way you can celebrate the holidays with the ones you love, and take good care of yourself.

You Can't Travel Due To COVID-19

Due to COVID-19, you might not be able to make it home this year. Or you might decide against traveling, in order to keep yourself, others, and your family safe. In any case, it's a situation that is going to leave a lot of people alone for the first time during the holidays, Dr. Josh Klapow, a clinical psychologist, tells Bustle. And it's OK to feel sad about that.

So many of us will be missing out on human contact, tradition, etc. But it may be possible to feel slightly better if you start making phone calls, FaceTiming, and setting up Zoom parties, in order to bridge the gap.

"Technology has absolutely enabled our ability to connect," Klapow says. "There is nothing wrong with setting up a situation where you have your video on and your family does as well and you just leave it running all day." It's not the same as actually gathering around a table, or giving each other hugs, but it's the best option most of us will have.

And it's an assurance you can give family members who might insist you come home anyway. If anyone protests, Klapow suggests restating your decision. "Telling family should come with no hesitation," he says. "Yes, there may be feelings of guilt and obligation, but these are unique circumstances and family and friends should be giving unconditional understanding."

You’re Celebrating With Your Partner

This can be a sticky situation. On the one hand, you’ll likely be excited that your partner invited you home for the holidays, or that you're going to stay in and create new traditions of your own. But even if you're happy to be at this stage of your relationship, it can still be sad to miss your own family's celebrations for the first time. Not to mention, they might struggle to accept you're getting older and reorganizing your priorities.

If they're upset for any reason, try compromising, Brown says. Switching off between which family you and your partner go to for the holidays each year is always an option. Or, you could figure out whose family values which holiday the most and set your plans accordingly. If your family is obsessed with Thanksgiving, for instance, then spend that day with them, and promise to go to your partner's family for Christmas.

You and your partner might also decide to celebrate on your own, and then re-do it all again with family a few days later. Or vice versa. “There really are no perfect solutions,” Brown says, because you can’t be in two places at once. But there are ways to adjust your holiday calendar to make yourself, and your family, happier.

You Can’t Afford To Go Home

If you’re not in the best place financially, going home for the holidays may be impossible. Travel is expensive, and sometimes it's simply not feasible to take time off from work, especially if it'll mean having a smaller paycheck come January. But Brown says there may be ways around some of these dilemmas.

You might want to consider asking a family member to help cover the costs of traveling home. Sure, it can be difficult to admit when you need help, but chances are they'll prefer to purchase a ticket, rather than not see you at all. They could even label it as a gift, so that you feel less bad about it.

But if that isn't an option, a "FaceTime holiday" might be necessary. Again, it’s not ideal, but it is a way to feel included in your family's celebrations, Brown says, even if you can’t be there physically.

You Have Work Obligations

Similarly, if your scheduling goes awry, you might find yourself stuck at work during the holidays, or unable to make it home in time. It can be truly heart-wrenching, but there are ways to cope.

If you missed the boat and forgot to take time off for your favorite holiday, see if a coworker would be willing to switch shifts with you, if that's an option in your profession. If all else fails, you can also find a way to celebrate with coworkers, perhaps by buying yourselves a dessert to share while on your shift, or blasting holiday music. Or if you work from home, lighting candles, FaceTiming your family, and/or popping a few baked goods in the oven — whatever will create some semblance of coziness and tradition.

Whether your situation falls into one of these categories, or there’s another reason why you won't be going home for the holidays, remember there's always a way to compromise, to create special moments, and to take good care of yourself, even if the season is different from what you're used to.


Dr. Gary Brown, couples therapist

Dr. Josh Klapow, clinical psychologist

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