I love the holiday season. Truly. And by "love", I mean I love what the season stands for. Not the materialistic, consumer-driven approach to "giving"... but the actual spirit of the holidays. But even with lthough filled with joy and music and gift-giving, the holiday season sends many-a-chill down many-a-person's spine.
The pressure of the season is enormous, both externally and internally, for a multitude of reasons. Studies show that external influences—friends, family, jobs, commutes, living arrangements—can often cause the most turmoil for an otherwise happy couple.
- Seeing the in-laws/significant other's parents. Pressure mounts about saying, doing and wearing the right thing. The silent judgement from family is often deafening on both sides of this relationship, and can also lend themselves to arguments that usually don't exist.
- Family drama. Family you usually don't see (or don’t get along with) bring with them a host of social dynamics that many don't want to deal with, even for a short visit. If you haven't seen them or spoken to them since the last family get-together, chances are there is either no connection… or else there's tension. To have to sit nicely and make small talk with people you don't necessarily care for (or with whom you have unresolved issues) can not only create an atmosphere of tension while present in the situation, but the time before and after the holidays can also feel incredibly stressful.
- Friends who don't mix. You know them individually, but they don't know each other, and everyone is going to cross paths. The mixed personalities, unknown dynamics, and silent jealousies can make things awkward, before and after the holidays.
- The awkwardness of "blended" families. Divorce, stepkids, new girlfriends and boyfriends, exes invited by your friends (and they didn't tell you!)… these examples and more come with their own set of communication challenges. Too many unspoken and unresolved situations can create a bad vibe for everyone.
- Lord help us—office parties. How do you act? Who should you bring with you? How many drinks should you consume? These are but the warm-up questions, because the real challenge is unspoken, yet ever-present for so many: office politics.
- "When are you going to get married?" conversations. With family and friends present, who's single and who’s taken is very apparent. If you're not in a committed relationship — or you don't bring someone to the gathering/party — you know the question's coming.
- The hell that is holiday shopping. Parking spot fights, missing that last sale item, pushing past people in aisle three. Everyone's patience is a little thinner, their tone a little more curt, and their nerves a little more frazzled. And keep in mind, this is all to portray you as giving, thoughtful, and kind in the eyes of those you love. (Anyone else see a disconnect here)?
- Gift-giving competitiveness. What should I get them? Is it enough? Is it even with what they are getting me? What if they get me something and I don't get them something? And social media only create a deeper sense of "I didn't get enough" or "I didn't give enough". You'll see what everyone else gave and got on Facebook… but did you?
- Being single. The holiday season is especially hard for those who are not in a relationship. Feelings of inadequacy, loneliness, or bitterness can creep up, distancing the single from the otherwise festive festivities.
And two of the worst (and related) issues for couples:
Unspoken expectations. If you don't tell them what you want/expect during this time (not just with gifts, but with family relations, time management, events, to-do lists, finances, etc.), you will create tension where their was none—simply because you didn't speak up honestly.
How they receive love. We're told at a young age to treat others the way we wish to be treated … but that often doesn't always work. People crave love and recognition in different ways. But we often give love and recognition as we hope to receive it, thinking that makes others feel loved, too (when it definitely does not).
If one person values time, they'll want (or expect) lots of time spent together during the holiday season. But if someone else values effort, they don't want time together, they want a thoughtful gift (homemade or carefully shopped for) that reflects that their wants, needs and interests were noticed all year. These two people treat others as they themselves wish to receive love, yet neither will actually feel cared for in the end because neither received love how they want it.
Can we solve all these issues? Of course not. And THAT is the point!
The holiday season might have its good moments, but it creates an atmosphere of Get-It-Right-Through-Luck-And-Mind-Reading if people aren't paying really close attention to everything.
Bottom line: Remember that people don't receive love exactly the way you do. Being single isn't a crime. Be open and honest with those you love, and not just through the holiday season, but always. And communicate — which means to listen without judgement. Maybe it sounds trite, but it shouldn't take a religious/Pagan/commercial holiday to have us just be kind to one another? Life is too short not to do these things daily.
Yes, you'll still find me waiting for Saint Nick. But not with cookies. This year, I'm going with tequila.