Being single at holiday time is a challenge to self-esteem. If you are single, it’s easy for these thoughts to float across your mind: “What’s wrong with me? Why don’t I have an intimate partner?”
Your feelings are normal. And there are millions of people in the same dilemma. Don’t despair. Use your discomfort to motivate you to make changes in your life.
In my decades of counseling and researching women about their struggles in love, work, and family, I’ve identified some of the key issues and how to handle them. Here is a quick tip sheet that I hope will help you triumph over your love situation and your extended family at holiday time.
1. Don’t measure your whole self by a few things such as being single or divorced. You are more than the state of your couple-ness.
Do make a list of your good qualities and, especially, of your triumphs before you get together with friends and family. Ask yourself: “What have I overcome? Am I on my path to making productive changes? What do I—and not my family—want in my life?
Refer to this list often. Make it your personal cheerleader. For example, your list might include items such as:
I completed my education. I saved lots of money this year. I work out in the gym weekly. I found my passion. I grew my business. I am a good friend and member of the community.
2. Don’t get defensive when you are with your family. Prepare yourself ahead of time by thinking about who says what about your situation. For example, does your snotty cousin who is your age and smugly married with children ask you: “So, when are you going to tie the knot? Aren’t you over your divorce yet?”
Do get into maverick-mode. Surprise them by not doing what you usually do such as defending yourself, ignoring their comments, or allowing them to bring you down to their level when you fire back with your own barbs.
Don’t let the hot potato of negative comments stay in your lap. Toss it back, but toss it with productive game-changing replies that, if used repeatedly over time, might change the family’s view of you, as well as your view of yourself.
The game-changing toss-back consists of three parts. The first part is to know what each negative person actually needs emotionally. Think of their comments as being statements about them. For example, when Mom pretends to ask you casually about your love life, don’t roll your eyes or tell your mom in a curt tone that you are “fine.”
When you recast in your mind your mom’s comments not as criticism or harsh truths about you but as her anxiety about the quality of her life and her mothering, then you can make some headway in changing her behavior toward you. Look at the drawing below from my cartoon strip Almost Smart Cookie, where you follow Cookie’s missteps in love and learn about your own. Is Cookie really in love with her new man Ron?
When your mom and your grandmother criticize your choice of men, respond first with a positive comment that nurtures them. You might say something like: “I’m so glad you are concerned about me. But, Mom, Grandma, I know I haven’t done things they way you would, but you have given me lots of good qualities and strengths. No parent is perfect.” (Even if yours are very far from it.)
The second part is to thank them for what you want them to do. Now you can say something like: “I know you want to be understanding, helpful and caring.” (Even if they don’t!)
Finally, the third part is to toss that hot potato back in their lap by saying something like: “What solutions do you have for me about my love life? What kind of man do you think I need? Where should I meet him?”
They will squirm and stutter. You have defused the negativity, forced them to rethink how much they really know about you, and lessened their anxiety about themselves.
3. Don’t use the family gathering as a time to “settle” past issues. Usually, if these talks ever work, they only do so for a short while. Like the snow in those snow globes, after you stop shaking things up, everything settles right back down.
Do start now to forge real connections with family members. Send holiday or birthday greetings throughout the year. Let them see a new and better side of you. Put aside any expectations that “this time, this holiday, I will feel accepted.” The holidays are not proving grounds. Rebuild desired relationships in positive ways over time. Finally, give yourself permission to decide whether—or how—to keep family members in or out of your life. There can be family circumstances that are not fixable or tolerable.
4. Don’t lie to yourself about your love situation. It’s true that it’s not a law that you have to be in love, but don’t fall for out-dated socio-cultural messages that there is something wrong with you if do want to find love. We humans are social creatures! Research repeatedly shows that a mutually satisfying intimate relationship is good for your health.
5. Don’t allow your discomfort about being alone to damper your pro-active behavior.
Do think outside the box, and ramp up your inner maverick again. For example, make your own single party. Call all your friends, old and new, and ask them for a list of single men and women to invite to a holiday party. Tell your good friends to bring someone of the opposite sex to the party—not as a date but as a friend who might seem a good partner for someone other than you.
If that idea seems too bold, then reframe your party as Singles for Charity. Invite a similar group of people to get together before the holidays and offer to collect old clothes from neighbors and friends and bring them to your home. Then, have a sorting of clothes holiday party at your house to determine where to distribute the clothes—Salvation Army, Big Brothers and Sisters, Habitat for Humanity, etc. Charity is a great way to feel good and be social.
It’s your life.
Don’t give up on forging the richest life for you. Don’t live it for someone else or outdated rules.
It’s never too late to be brave.
Dr. LeslieBeth (LB) Wish is a nationally recognized psychologist and licensed clinical social worker, specializing in women. Her research-based, self-help book will be published next year by New Horizon Press. Contact her through her website, www.lovevictory.com to find out how to sign up for free blogs and sample cartoons.