It’s that time of year again: Christmas. It’s the time of year when families reunite and share the joys of the season. It’s also a time that many singles dread for many different reasons. Among them is family pressure.
The thought of being trapped under a roof with a barrage of happy couples and giggling children is an uncomfortable scenario for many singles. Often, it’s one that plays out the same way year after year. You’ve barely been at your relative’s house for five minutes, when the sideway glances, hushed conversations, and questions begin.
Are you here alone?
Is there anyone special in your life?
And, Grandma’s favorite line: “You’re not getting any younger, you know!”
The holidays are a constant reminder that society still favors marriage. And for singles, whether you’re unmarried, widowed, or divorced, the pressure can be unbearable. Stereotypes of the unmarried make others believe that single people are somehow socially impaired and generally unhappy compared with couples. Singles are perceived as lonely, sad, immature, and those who are unable to get the best out of life.
Although we now know that many people are choosing the solo life, are much happier and feel more fulfilled on their own, stereotypes are still a problem. Until society embraces singleness in the same way it embraces marriage, we’ll still have to deal with our families’ misconceptions at Christmastime.
However, if you’re worried about your family, here’s how other singles have survived, and how you can too:
Be aware of social and familial pressures.
Many singles are not even aware that they are an unfairly stigmatized group. In fact, one study found that only 4 percent of singles spontaneously listed “singles” as a stigmatized group. Moreover, when explicitly asked whether singles were stigmatized, only 30 percent of singles and 23 percent of coupled people agreed. By comparison, 100 percent of gay males, 90 percent of obese individuals, 86 percent of African-Americans, and 72 percent of women acknowledged that their group was stigmatized.
In my research, I found that happy singles are those who understand that marriage isn’t the only way and who are aware of the social pressures they experience. So, the first step is to be aware of your family pressure around the holiday table.
Work on your inner optimism and self-perception.
I interviewed more than a hundred of happy single people and discovered a common theme: They have a positive outlook. This might seem obvious and has been covered in other studies, but we often forget that our own inner optimism and self-perception can shine a light outward and change the way we are perceived. Optimism develops internal assurance and a sense of self-reliance to counter possible adversity—especially when gathered around a festive dinner table.
Avoid negativity, choose single-friendly environments.
Avoiding your family on the holidays might not seem like an ideal scenario. Yet, it’s okay to choose you and that doesn’t mean you have to be alone on Christmas. Many single friendly environments, where it is considered “cool” to live on your own, are developing in cities such as Los Angeles, London, and Tokyo. These safe spaces are not limited to just younger generations. Single friendly networks are also prevalent among middle-aged and senior singles. Look up online, join Meetup groups, and connect with others via Facebook groups. You will be surprised how much exist out there.
Defy the pressure.
Staying silent or laughing off your family’s negativity regarding your singleness can be difficult. Often, it’s better to speak out. The happy singles in my study changed others’ perspectives by pointing out that there is more than one way to live.
On her blog, Eleanore, 38, recounts a conversation with an older woman she met on a train to Long Island. This was the woman’s reaction upon learning that Eleanore is single:
"Lady: Oh no! Well, who’s going to take care of you when you’re old?
Me: I don’t know for sure. Who’s going to take care of you when you’re old?
Lady: Well, I have a husband and kids. They’ll take care of me.
Me: How do you know that?
And my 'How do you know that' question is when I think she wished she had just chosen a different seat. I went on to lay out all the reasons she was no more secure in her old age than I am."
This reaction made Eleanore more confident in her choice to be single and protected her. Singles should embrace this approach and speak out against all comments against them.
No matter your situation, you can empower yourself. This is a little different than adopting a positive outlook. Instead of finding and projecting your inner light, empowerment involves the outward perception of your situation as a single person. The happy singles I spoke with viewed their relationship status positively and did not allow their singleness to unduly impact their happiness.
So enough with dreading the holidays. Find an empowering workshop, read what suits you (yes, avoid that kitsch romance or that sweet Disney film), and connect with people like you. It’s not only about answering your family, but it is also about finding a way to treat yourself with a supportive environment.