I was sitting by myself, with two strangers on either side of me. Not quite in the mood to make conversation, I simply sipped my drink and glanced around the room. The friend I had just been chatting with had gotten up to talk to someone, the only other person I knew was busy. Was I alone? Oh, yes. But was I lonely? Not so much.
It’s the cliche “worst time of the year to be single”. Basically every Hallmark movie ever bemoans the poor unfortunate soul who’s dateless during the holidays, and by The O.C.’s logic, “how you spend New Year’s Eve is how you’ll spend the rest of the year” (…aka heaven help you if it’s ALONE). Although holiday gatherings can be awkward to walk into alone (again and again and again) and your office Christmas party without a plus one sounds daunting (I wouldn’t know, I “had to” miss mine for a family reunion this year!), hear me loud and clear: being alone doesn’t necessarily mean you’re lonely.
It’s hard, I get it. The two words are so similar. They are used so interchangeably, at times. I get the confusion. But I refuse to buy into the nonsense: just because I am one doesn’t mean I have to be the other. Correlation does not equal causation, friends.
Are the two together a lot? Why, yes. Can one often cause the other? Yes again. But I’m realizing they are two very, very different things. As a currently single introvert, I am often alone. Probably more than most people. I actually try (but often fail) to have at least 2 nights to myself a week. I love it. I used to assume this, by default, makes mine a lonely life. And yet… my life feels full. Connected. Satisfying. Enriched. I feel loved, valued, cared for. Aren’t these (for the most part) the opposite of lonely?
The other night I was sitting at home, alone. My roommates were out. My phone was strangely silent (not because I’m so popular, but because usually at least one or two group texts are going on). All various forms of social media had been checked. Then rechecked. Then why-did-I-even-open-this-app-again?!-checked. And all of a sudden it hit me – is this what it’s like to be single during the holidays? The fear, the terror, the pathetic-ness sunk in. So this is what it’s like to be normal, huh?
But I kind of sat with that for a bit – and realized I wasn’t feeling lonely at all. I had spent a full weekend with people I love, I had some more exciting things in the next few days, and I was pleasantly content with my life. I wasn’t feeling disconnected or forgotten about or unloved or detached – I was bored. I wanted to be entertained. I wanted to feel a bit validated (don’t we always?). I wanted someone to make me feel like I mattered, like I was seen. And none of those things had to do with my relationship status. Single or not, we all have nights where we’re bored, where we feel invalidated or unseen. It’s part of being human.
The other night (a different night), I was driving home and I was feeling lonely. I was a little stressed out, a little pressed for time. I hadn’t seen some close friends of mine for a while, I hand’t had real conversation (aka an introvert’s life line) in what felt like ever. Sure, being currently single contributed to that. But mostly? I was feeling distant from the people in my life and disconnected from those who matter to me; I was craving connection.
I sat with those feelings, too. (I’m really learning to sit with feelings – can’t you tell!?) And once I pinpointed what I was feeling, I didn’t brush it aside or try to cover it up – I let it be. Sometimes I get lonely. Sometimes you do, too. It’s part of being human.
This time of year, it’s far too easy to make assumptions and jump to conclusions. We see a Kay Jewelers commercial and the couple seems so in love and so happy and we think if only we were in a relationship, all this pain and loneliness would disappear. Or we see a Kay Jewelers commercial and the couple seems so in love and so happy and we think if only we were in that relationship (and not our own), all this pain and loneliness would disappear. Or we see a Kay Jewelers commercial and the couple seems so in love and so happy and we think gosh, these commercials are really bad.
What if we actually sit with how we feel this holiday season? Instead of assumptions, instead of culture’s easy answers (new iPhone! new relationship! new selfie!) to our problems, we sit in the messiness that is sifting through real emotions. It’s okay to be single and feel lonely. It’s okay to not be single and feel lonely. It’s okay to be single and be so very happy. It’s okay to not be single and be so very happy. Certain emotions aren’t reserved for one status, people group, age, or gender.
We are complicated creatures. Avril Lavigne knows what I’m talking about. We’re allowed to have 5 million emotions at the same time. I’m not saying it makes sense, I’m not saying it isn’t confusing – I’m just saying it’s a thing. Sometimes I’m excited yet nervous and lonely but sick of people and hungry while also a little full and so very rested but mmm a little tired. Life is a complicated game, folks.
This year, as I’ve mentioned before, the Christmas season is feeling a bit different. Is it because I get one day off of work (RIP Christmas break!) or because a friend recently died or because it’s our first Christmas without my grandma or 5 million other things? Or is it simply because I’m single? That’s for me to decide. Not Hollywood, not Kay Jewelers commercials, and not my newsfeed.
This year, how are you feeling? Lonely? Suffocated? Expectant? Mournful? 5 million things all at the same time? That’s for you to decide. Not your mom or your significant other or your credit card debt. Feel what you’re feeling. Sit with it. Allow your friends to do the same.
Christmas in southern California can feel like such a funny contradiction some years. It’s “winter” but it’s warm, it’s the joy of the holidays but everyone is stressed out. Maybe you’re gathering with family who feel like strangers, or maybe you’re moving forward into a new, exciting season that somehow feeling like three steps backwards. My prayer for this specific season of contradictions? Let Your light shine into the darkest corners: into Aleppo and the American political system, into racism and sexism and xenophobia, into my deepest nooks and crevices. That manger must have been such a dark and random corner 2,000 years ago, and yet the hopes and fears of all the years were met, right there, that night.
Merry Christmas, friends! May His light shine into your darkness; may we spread said light into darkness.