Here is what I know about the holiday season. These days put a magnifying glass on every emotion, making them that much more intense. When I’m sad during the holidays, I am very sad. When I’m happy, I am very happy.
I don’t think I’m alone in this heightened emotion. My therapist tells me she goes to workshops on the “holiday blues” and keeps a special watch on even her most stable clients. This will mean something different for everyone. For me, it means singleness feels at least twice as hard from Halloween all the way through Valentine’s Day.
My friends will tell you I’m not a great fan of singleness most of the time. I make no secret of my desire to be married. Still, most days it’s not top of mind. Usually I’m busy meeting friends, doing meaningful work, making sure I’m fed, and reading good books.
But now I can’t walk by a television or do any online shopping without catching an ad for an engagement ring. People ask me what I want for Christmas and I deadpan, “A boyfriend” to general laughter.
I love the parties and gatherings of the holiday season, but I’ll admit I put on some armor along with my holiday best. I prepare positive statements to talk about myself and my life with people I haven’t seen in a year. These statements are true, and I believe them, but if I’m not careful they get lost somewhere along the way.
I know every single person is not bathing in a pool of longing for a spouse. Single people are as varied as the birds of the air. But I think most of us want to be seen. The stress and hustle of the holidays make it hard to really sit down and listen to someone, to hear about their heightened sorrow (singleness related or not).
In these days of overcommitment, it has become countercultural to choose to make space for each other, and to give our very presence. Some of my favorite holiday memories are those of inclusion: making cookies with friends and their kids, being adopted for a Thanksgiving in college when all the dorms shut down, a cup of tea and a Christmas movie while wrapping presents. These things do not make me desire a spouse less, but they do help me feel less alone, and more like I belong, just as I am.
If you’re married, your uncoupled friends might not want to come to your family Christmas. It might be a painful reminder of what they don’t have, or they might have plans of their own. But if you don’t ask, you won’t know. The comments that have meant the world to me over the years are those that thoughtfully considered how I might be feeling in the midst of the festivity and responded according to what I said without judgment or shock. No one in my close circle assumes I’m miserable (which I appreciate), but at this time of year especially, they understand that practicing welcome into their homes and lives is one way they can show me love. We all need that, single or not.
You don’t have to be married to reach out to your single friends, either. Sometimes I let my own challenges get in the way of seeing others around me who are hurting in both similar and different ways. I make sure my friends and I schedule coffee, dinners, and time to talk. If I’m having a party, or have a place at a table to offer, I make sure my single friends are invited.
This is also a season that draws my heart to those who have miscarried, struggle to conceive, or grieve in any way. These people know a lot about aching absence. In my own pain, I have community with them.
The words we say and write to each other, giving invitations to events or to come hang out while folding laundry, may seem like small gestures. But in my life, God has taken those small gestures and magnified them. They ease the darkness of this season. They remind me to hope.
I have to stop and remember sometimes that Jesus knew a lot about being a single person who received hospitality from His friends. With this in mind, I’m learning to reach out and talk about what I need or what is hard, as well as what is going well.
It may take time to learn to be vulnerable. It can be scary to speak loneliness aloud. Not everyone will understand, or be patient. But I believe when we begin to open ourselves to one another, purposefully seeking to bear each other’s burdens—even if the burden is singleness—we will begin to catch glimpses of Jesus in each other. In those moments the holidays are wrapped in the holy once more.