The Chill of Holiday Loneliness
It’s the holidays. I’m sitting alone at a restaurant bar. I look around. I see many couples engrossed in the twinkling lights and festivities. I’m singular this year. As I scope the scene of coupled enjoying their holiday cheer, together, glowing in soft white lights strung across the bar, the twinkling of hope for the season, I can’t help but think how I have pondered a different outcome for myself.
It’s not like it’s my choice to be alone during holidays. Or to be alone at all. I have been married twice. And each time I went into it as if it would be forever. To have that one go-to person. To have that one person who knows you and sees you in the mornings without make up and still loves you. To have that one person you come home to and share the joy of being notified that a poem you wrote will soon be published. Or someone to complain to that the dry cleaners was closed.
Seems like it’s the mundane and mystique that come together in the context of having that sort of relational connection. Of course what I’m surveying in this moment is a hallmark postcard of illusion. When we are shackled to that one person, we get sick of how they crunch their teeth when they eat a taco. We get tired of the ways they share blooper videos with us. We get sick of hearing about their mothers and all the ways she fucked up what was slated as a peaceful dinner gathering.
Being with someone over an extended period of time means that perhaps the shiny penny value may wear off. The things that were once cute become trite or annoying. And yet, as I gaze around, see all the couples sharing the twinkling celebratory holiday festiveness, I feel like I’m out of that club. That I do not belong. That no one in particular gives a shit about what they are going to surprise me with on Christmas. Or Hanukkah. There is no romance in the air and the spirited cheer definitely feels like a prompt for loneliness.
At the table next to me the woman gets up to retrieve drinks from the bar. She comes back, places the drinks on the table, then leans over to kiss her honey. These are the things I miss. I am no one‘s honey. I am no one‘s emergency contact. I am no one‘s thought about what they need to surprise me with on Christmas. I am no one‘s New Year’s kiss. I have no one to loathe nor no one to love. And this feeling of soloness welcomes a chill. A chill of winter. A chill of loneliness. A chill of feeling left out of something that most people other than me seem to know.
I brought myself here to spend time with myself. And I’m left with mixed emotions over how the starkness of such loneliness transpires when you’re amongst so many who belong to another. I am not of a pair. I am not of a duo. I am of an exposed singular unattended in my beingness by another.
I have a friend Mary who admires my singularity. She often tells me how she wishes she didn’t have to be bothered with showing up for her husband, or dancing around, or pretending, or taking all that energy, and all the shit she wishes she could do for herself, and with her self, and expending it on what she deems babysitting. She’s quick to express how lucky I am. How lucky I am to be untethered and free.
I suppose it’s natural to romanticize the ease of which someone on the outside can feel or internalize while looking in. Nobody knows the complications of another’s relationship. Nobody knows the complications of loneliness. Nobody from outside can really define reasons why one person connects with another, for whatever finite amount of time that union results in.
I watch as a woman at the bar starts to rub her significant other’s back in a tender way. Up and down across his back. A touch of acknowledgment that she is there and he is there and together they are. I look down at my empty margarita glass and think it might be time to order another.
I can feel cool with myself and fine with myself and I can also feel lonely and absent from the secret handshake others seem to hold at this moment. How do we know when we’ve landed? How do we know when we finally belong? Why does the holiday time throw a stage light and magnifying glass on these questions? It’s got to be more than cold winter temperatures that ignite a desire to cuddle and find warmth. Twinkling lights add a softness to reality. They add an enticement of hope. They illuminate a desire to belong.