By Traci Porterfield
I love the holidays . . . all the decorations and glitter and holiday music, mixing the pumpkin spice lattes, getting letters and cards from special people I wish I saw more often, and what I cherish most ― the excitement and sparkle in my son’s blue eyes as he counts down the days until Santa comes down the chimney.
I treasure the holiday time with family and friends, as well as the blessed respite from the daily routine. However, this is not a universal perception. For many people, the holidays are far from the most wonderful time of the year. They may be grieving the loss of a family member or might have experienced a difficult break-up earlier in the year, leaving them newly single in a season that celebrates togetherness and romance.
As a professional relationship coach, I’ve worked with many clients who dread the holidays because they feel uncomfortable about their single status. I remember working with a client I’ll call Carol, an attractive, newly divorced woman in her forties. She told me about going to a neighborhood Christmas party where her elderly neighbor introduced her as “the single girl next door.” A little while later, she was talking with a couple who asked her, “Who did you come to the party with?”
Carol told me that when she answered, “I came alone,” an uncomfortable silence followed and she swore that they were looking at her with pity. She said she felt like she was on display at a petting zoo, as if she were a member of a rare and endangered species that only came out between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. Carol said that at any moment she expected the other party goers to take up a collection to save the species and motivate them to breed and repopulate.
I laughed but I also shook my head at her negative exaggeration. As David Simon has often said, “Reality is a selective act of perception.” Carol perceived the party through a lens that was heavily shaded with fear and insecurity. She could have just as easily focused on the friendliness of her neighbors, the opportunity to meet new friends, and gratitude for the delicious food and warm setting. The truth is that she was the one harshly judging herself. The couple she met may have been envying her apparent freedom, while the older neighbor may have wished he could be her age again.
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