I bet the Pilgrims didn’t have these anxieties. [Jean Leon Gerome Ferris [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons]
Dear Uncommon Courtesy,
I live very far from my family and it is usually too far and too expensive to go home for Thanksgiving. Fortunately, I have plenty of friends in my new city, and sometimes a significant other. These friends and significant others often invite me to join their families for Thanksgiving, but I’m very introverted and get anxious about spending big family holidays with other peoples families. How do I explain to my friends that I really prefer to be alone on the holiday or get over my anxieties and just go?
Alone for the holidays
No one is forcing you to go anywhere. Just politely say no.
Jaya: I think one of the greatest, most empowering things about being an adult is making your own holiday plans.
Victoria: Even if those plans involve eating take-out Chinese in your pjs and watching Netflix?
Jaya: Oh yeah. But I get it, there’s this big expectation for you to Do Stuff.
Victoria: I mean, ok, so I relate to this a lot, and sometimes I think that I want to spend a holiday all alone, but then I am afraid I will end up feeling lonely and sorry for myself.
Jaya: Do you think that’s because you really wanted to go somewhere? Or because you feel like that’s what you’re supposed to do?
Victoria: I’m not sure! I’m lucky that I live with my sister and we get to have a low key holiday by ourselves, but it still feels like a holiday because we are family. We have passed on going to visit distant relatives that do live near us though.
Jaya: I think the underlying point of any of these holidays is to be around people you love. For many that means parents/siblings/etc. Or close friends. But it’s not like, lacking any of those, you need to just find anything.
Victoria: Yeah, that is true.
Jaya: Sometimes you can totally find love and comfort with strangers, and that can be a whole different and great experience. But you don’t need to be around people just because you think you have to.
Victoria: What do you do about the more tricky boyfriend/girlfriend situation? Where they are like, you should come home and meet my family?
Jaya: I think holidays are a really high-pressure time to do a meet the family thing. I mean extended family, ok, but if you meet someone’s parents for the first time at their house that’s a lot to put on anyone. Especially an introvert.
Victoria: When did you and Matt start going to each others families?
Jaya: Haha well we’ve known each others families forever. That’s what happens when you meet as teenagers.
Victoria: That’s true!
Jaya: He spent Christmases with us before we were dating, so maybe not applicable. But anyway, if it’s not your first time meeting the family, but you’re invited by your SO. I do think sometimes it can come off as rude if you say you’d rather spend holidays alone instead of with SO’s family, but that’s where communication has to come. If you have anxiety problems, this is something they should know and be able to back you up on if family starts asking questions.
Victoria: Yeah, totally, and maybe plan on getting out of the house for a little bit.
Jaya: Yes. Excuse yourself for a walk. I also think a little white lying is not out of the question, depending on the circumstance, if it’s a group that would maybe not accept “I just want to be alone” as an answer.
Victoria: But yeah, I kind of think if you expect to have a long term relationship with someone, you should suck it up and go.
Jaya: Oh yeah. If you’ve been dating for three months and would prefer to stay home, yeah, but if it’s been 4 years, that’s no good.
Victoria: I also think, as someone who gets pretty anxious, that once I get there, I often have a great time, so sometimes talking yourself into going (to a friend’s or boyfriend’s or whatever) is worth it.
Jaya: Absolutely. There is a lot to be anxious about, but you should know that if you have your friend or boyfriend or whoever there, you most likely have someone in your corner.
Jaya: Also, depending on who you are, I think sometimes putting yourself to work helps. I feel better when I’m busy, so if I can jump into the kitchen and help clean something or make a pie, I feel like I belong more.
Victoria: And if you invite a friend to come home with you, be aware of them and what they might need to be comfortable.
Jaya: Yes. So what should someone say if they’ve thought about this and really prefer to be alone?
Victoria: I guess, you can try to just be vague and like, oh I have other plans. Or honestly, as long as you don’t mention being alone for Thanksgiving or whatever, people will just assume you are covered. Which brings me to another point of dropping hints if you DO want to be invited somewhere.
Jaya: Oooh yes.
Victoria: It’s a pretty tough position to be in where you’re like “hey I don’t have anywhere to go.” And you can’t really just ask to go home with someone for Thanksgiving. So you have to be all like, “oh I guess I’m just going to eat stuffing out of the box on my couch.”
Jaya: Hahahaha I can see myself totally asking someone if I can come, which is why I need you in my life. And I think that, if you find yourself wanting to go somewhere but nowhere becomes available, going it alone can be sort of freeing. Go to a fun restaurant! Go to the movies!
Victoria: Yeah! My sister and I do go to the movies sometimes on Thanksgiving! It’s great.
Jaya: Oh yes. That’s a fun one. Oh, I just remembered, there was a great piece on A Practical Wedding about holiday plans when you’re newlyweds, but I think it applies to everyone. I think it speaks to what we say a lot. The idea of “tradition” can cause a lot of anxiety, but it’s good to remember that every tradition was new at some point, so if you want to break a tradition, or if it’s broken for you, it’s ok.
Victoria: Totally, I think that when you are newlywed and starting your own little family, its good to do your own thing and figure out what works. Being single both simplifies and complicates holidays though, lol.
Jaya: True. Though I do think we put a lot of focus on romantic relationships as the be-all-end-all. Like, a single 27 year old has just as much right to set boundaries and figure out what works.
Victoria: Oh totally, I mean it’s nice that you don’t really have to take anyone into account except for yourself. But then, you don’t have an automatic person who has your back and who you can just be alone with. And generally, being single, you get a pretty decent amount of alone time already.
Jaya: In conclusion, holidays do tend to cause anxiety. Which is a shame because they’re supposed to be about togetherness and comfort and there’s no shame in looking out for your own comfort whether that means going it alone, or asking someone to include you.
Victoria: And definitely keep including your friends even if they are being prickly, just don’t pressure. I always appreciate open invitations, personally, even if I don’t take people up on them.