Home > divorce, humor, Psychology > An Unconventional Approach to Surviving the Holidays If You’re Recently Single

An Unconventional Approach to Surviving the Holidays If You’re Recently Single


Are you freshly divorced, separated or broken up? Does the sight of holiday decorations at the local drugstore, shopping mall, grocery store and every other surface from which people can drape twinkle lights make you groan inwardly at the thought of forced mirth? Has your ex-wife or girlfriend alienated your children from you? Are you feeling lonely, angry or depressed? Do you grit your teeth when well meaning friends and family tell you that you should be happy and count your blessings at this time of year?

If so, you’re not alone. Oftentimes the typical upbeat prescriptive advice professional caregivers and loved ones have to offer doesn’t help. In fact, it makes many people feel worse. Therefore, here’s some offbeat advice to help get you through the holiday season with a certain style, joie de cynicism and unabashed malcontent-ed-ness. Sometimes you have to “go through the dark” in order to “lighten up:”

  • Distract yourself and keep busy. Call, visit or e-mail friends who dislike and dread the holiday season as much as you do this year. Surround yourself with misanthropes who avoid dysfunctional family gatherings like Progressives avoid Tea Bagger rallies. Get together for martinis and carbohydrate-laden hors d’oeuvres. Don’t worry about the caloric damage now; you need to come up with New Year’s resolutions in a few weeks anyway—at least you’ll be prepared. [*Please note: If you actually are experiencing a bout of depression, please avoid alcohol and other known depressants as they will only exacerbate your feelings of sadness.]
  • Find non-traditional ways to pass the time during the holidays. Is your family too difficult to deal with? Begin an annual, multi-denominational holiday dinner party. Years ago when I was having a tough time, I started an annual “Very Gay Jewish International Christmas Dinner” for all of my local friends who were far away from their families or felt left out of the typical holiday cheer for whatever reason and who clearly appreciated my sense of humor. We became a family of choice and had a great time, albeit, the heavily spiked mulled cider didn’t hurt.
  • Self-care. Only do what’s good for you. Period. Does your family put the “fun” in “dysfunctional?” Don’t be guilted into attending family parties that will leave you feeling depressed and desperate. If they don’t understand your choice; too bad. You’re an adult. They have another 364 days in which to make you feel guilty about not attending the family festivities. They’ll just have to content themselves with that. Eventually, it will blow over. If not, that’s why Caller ID was invented.
  • Missing children. On a serious note, if you’re separated from your children for the first time this year, my heart goes out to you. I understand how painful it must be. The beauty of being non-traditional means that you can celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, etc., any day of the year you choose—it doesn’t have to be the arbitrarily chosen calendar date. Plan to celebrate with your kids on another day. They’ll feel pretty lucky two have two holidays and a dad who loves them enough to put up a tree or light a menorah in January or April. If your ex is really vile and you don’t know when you’ll see your children next, buy them a gift anyway and save it for them. Even if it takes years, your children will be touched to know that you’ve always had them in your thoughts.
  • Dark humor heals. Watch your favorite dark comedies. Anything that helps you laugh at the absurdity of it all is perfect. Personal recommendations include: The War of the Roses, The Ref and Very Bad Things; preferably something with a body count at the end.
  • Subversive holiday cookies. Make a batch of anatomically correct gingerbread men or gingerbread women cookies and name them after your exes (Molasses Honey Ginger Cookies). If you’re not handy with the icing decorations, some well chosen candy (e.g., Tic-Tacs vs. Good-n-Plenties; mini-marshmallows vs. nonpareils) is just as effective, not to mention a time saver. After you’ve named and decorated the little lasses or lads, pour a frosty glass of ice cold milk and ENJOY. I think you’ll find this takes “comfort food” to a whole new level.
  • Holiday housekeeping. Weed your garden. Rid yourself of anyone or anything that is toxic, draining and unhealthy. Do so with neither remorse nor regret. There are those among us who are energy-joy vampires. They will suck you dry until nothing is left. If you can’t rid them from your life entirely, at the very least, minimize contact.
  • This too shall pass. Look to the future. Remember that in the grand scheme of things, this year is just another bump in the road. You will heal and get past this in time. Decide what you would like to be different in the year ahead and then pursue it with purpose and determination. Think of where you’d like to be this time next year and make it happen.

Sometimes what works for most people doesn’t work for everybody and that’s okay. March to the beat of your own rhythm section and don’t worry what others think. Smile and know you’re having fun (or not) while living life on your terms. Besides, the road less traveled is a hell of a lot more interesting.

by Dr Tara J. Palmatier, PsyD

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Photo credit:

Merry Christmas to you all by prakashdaniel on flickr.

  1. Steve
    December 3, 2009 at 5:18 pm

    This will be my first Christmas away from my soon to be ex in 25 years. Things I will not miss:
    1) Obsessive interest in creating a ‘perfect’ Christmas – when nothing would satisfy her anyway because she didn’t know what would satisfy her….
    2) Obsessive compulsion to make just “one more” dish, cookie, meal, etc… in order to be perfect – all of which I was expected to clean up after, by the way
    3) Excessive spending on gifts in order to “buy” love
    4) Literally weeks of consternation in anticipation of being with her dysfunctional family which included tons of tension and not a few outbursts of unregulated emotion
    5) Having my family get the “short end of the stick” in time with grandkids etc..
    6) Having to endure her sighs of contempt and boredom when visiting my family while I was expected to be the life of the party with hers

    Things I will miss:
    Only 1…less time with my kids

    Things I’m looking forward to:
    1) Guilt free time spent with my own family and a chance to reconnect with siblings
    2) A simple,economical Christmas that focuses on spiritual pursuits
    3) Spending much less, but enjoying it much more! (I actually asked for socks for Christmas.. Hey, I need them and I’ll be very happy to receive them! My ex would have been appalled)
    4) The lack of tension and absence of egg shells to walk on
    5) A starlight walk in the woods on Christmas Eve indulging – guilt free – two occasional habits my ex hated…smoking my pipe and enjoying a little brandy.

    Happy Holidays everyone.

    • shrink4men
      December 3, 2009 at 5:30 pm

      That sounds like a great Christmas, Steve! I understand why you won’t be missing the holidays with your ex. Actually, what you describe is very similar to the experiences many men have with that kind of wife or girlfriend this time of year (or any other special occasion), which is a real shame—especially if there are children involved.

      As with everything else, it’s always all about them—their demands, expectations, needs, effed up over-compensation/hostility about whatever it was that warped their ability to simply enjoy life—including the holidays—due to whatever it was that happened to them or their screwy wiring.

      Enjoy the walk, pipe and brandy. I think we’ll do the same—minus the pipe!

      Happy Hols,
      Dr Tara

    • Derek
      December 3, 2009 at 7:55 pm

      In one of ex’s recent rages she accused me of never wanting to spend Xmas with her, even though I’ve often stayed at home over Xmas to tend HER horses allowing her to go and stay with her family whenever she wants!

      One more trivial accusation was that one year I went out to fix some fencing (for her horse paddock) on Xmas day. She seems to have ‘forgotten’ that she takes two horses out riding for half the day on Xmas day.

      You just can’t win whatever you do :(

  2. Jon
    December 3, 2009 at 6:10 am

    Dr. T,

    A very excellent post!…and very insightful because you used the term, “dysfunctional family gatherings”.

    I never got to the point where I could “coin it” that way, but every year I get bummed out celebrating the holidays with a dysfunctional family. Every year I want to do something else with someone else, but I fear the guilt trip my relatives will lay upon me.

    Plus, my ex-borderline was like hurricane season during the holidays. Everything had to be perfect or poor little borderline wasn’t happy. All through Halloween until after new years she’d line up parties and try to pack so many activities into the holidays that I was depressed.

    Of course, I was her “prop” the whole time, and no matter how hard it was she’d always seem unsatisfied. I HATED the holidays with her. Every year she’d moan and try to get me to go across the country to spend the holidays with HER friends and family.

    I’d sacrifice a lot but of course it was never enough for her. I doubt you’d believe what a fruitcake she’d become during this time of year. Too much is the same as too little…and she really over did it this time of year. It was if she needed me to entertain her and put on the most magnificent show during this WHOLE season.

    The work parties never ended…and then she’d complain about how boring they were after she dragged me into MANY of her artificial and superficial social gatherings. And to make matters worse…both sides of our families are laced with borderlines!

    I know…I know…it’s important to support your girlfriend/wife with work activities–but the stuff NEVER ended…even to the extent that she demanded I tag along with her to every gathering any one of her friends whom she hardly talked to had.

    Your post hit the nail right on the head, “dysfunctional family gatherings”.

    Yikes…..!!!!!!!!!!

    • Mr. E
      December 3, 2009 at 2:49 pm

      The last family gathering I went to was several years ago now. I flew across the country for this huge party, arrived and no one would talk to me beyond, “Oh, hi!” Similar things had happened at other family gatherings in the past.

      So I said “screw them” and haven’t been back except to visit my parents and friends. I don’t regret it at all.

      • shrink4men
        December 3, 2009 at 5:35 pm

        Good for you, Mr E.

        Was this the wife’s family or yours?

        • Mr. E
          December 3, 2009 at 6:13 pm

          My extended family. Her family actually goes out of their way to be nice to me. :)

          • shrink4men
            December 3, 2009 at 6:23 pm

            That’s probably because they know full well what you have to deal with on a daily basis! ;-)

  1. December 17, 2010 at 6:29 pm
  2. December 2, 2010 at 10:51 am

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