Last Christmas, I drank so much wine that I was asleep in my bed by 7 p.m. I didn’t mean for that to happen — honestly, I didn’t. But cabernet sauvignon was the only way I could think of to deal with the mounting anxiety of the 40-person circus that is Christmas Day at the Del Russo house. Two of my cousins were getting married the following spring, another one was planning a wedding, and two more were so close to getting engaged, I swear to god I saw them placing their left hands in the classic “look at my new-ring” pose. Then there was the one cousin who was noticeably absent: She was at her in-laws’ with her newborn son.
I, on the other hand, hadn’t been on a date in months. I’d placed myself on an online-dating fast in November after feeling majorly burnt out on my apps. But I knew, as I poured myself my first glass of wine at 11 a.m. while I helped my mother set the table, that I’d be inundated with questions about my dating life.
The thought of fielding those questions made me break out in a cold sweat, because I flat-out loathe being asked about being single. And I’m not alone. According to a recent study by Trojan, singles so dread being asked about their love lives during the holidays, that 28% would rather talk politics, which is generally presumed to be a mixed-company faux pas. We’d rather break the rules of social etiquette than explain to aunt Joan that, in fact, there is not someone special.
I HAVE BECOME THE PROVERBIAL CHEESE OF THE FAMILY. I’M STANDING ALONE.
Now that the holiday season is in full swing, I’m starting to get anxious again. Because even though I spew my guts to the world about my single status pretty much daily, I don’t like talking about it with the people closest to me.
My family members are creatures of habit. So, without fail, while we’re scrounging around the appetizer table, somebody will serve up the money shot: “Are you dating anybody?” As soon as that question comes out, I immediately feel pressure. Because I have become the proverbial cheese of the family. I’m standing alone. The music has stopped, everyone else has found a seat, and I’m still running around looking for one.
I’m mixing metaphors, but you get the picture.
As a result of that pressure, I’m only able to “answer” the question by performing one of two very tired routines. The first is, “It’s all good. I’m chill AF.”
This version of me is the cool, laidback single gal who is just here for a good time, and she’s swiping her way through the hellscape that is dating in 2017 to find it. She isn’t seeing anybody — she’s seeing everybody. She had two dates last week, but she’s also taking a lot of time to hang out with her friends. Because men are trash, you know?
Chill AF MDR doesn’t even really know if she wants to get married. She rolls her eyes as brides-to-be bemoan seating arrangements and gown expenses. Her raison d’être is making you believe that I’m fine all on my own, thanks very much.
She is the version of myself I used to exclusively put up as a defense mechanism, because it’s how I wanted to feel, while simultaneously being the opposite of how I felt. But a few years ago, after crying to my mother about the fact that I was headed into yet another holiday season all by my lonesome, she told me to stop performing. “If you’re upset about being single, then stop acting like you’re not,” she said. Moms and their truth-telling, am I right?
And thus, “Emotionally Realistic, Yet Slightly Wounded Maria” was born. When asked about her dating life, she levels with you. “Online dating is really hard, but it’s impossible to meet men at bars,” she’ll say. “I’m starting to think that maybe not everyone falls in love.” Emotionally Realistic, Yet Slightly Wounded Maria bemoans her bad dates, slaps on a fake smile when you show her your engagement ring, secretly blocks your babies on social media, and sneaks off to the bathroom to swipe on Tinder to soothe her fears of dying alone.
When I first pulled this personality out back in my mid-20s, she represented how I was feeling: dejected and alone. But allowing my family to dig inside the sadness backfired, because they responded the only way someone can when faced with a pity party: with pity. That only made me sadder, and the snake continued to feast on its own damn tail.
THIS TIME OF YEAR CAN BE REALLY, REALLY LONELY, SO EMOTIONALLY REALISTIC, YET SLIGHTLY WOUNDED MARIA MAKES AN APPEARANCE FROM TIME TO TIME.
After spending time in these two personalities, I’ve come to the realization that I am both of these versions of myself concurrently. Some days I am totally happy in my single status; I treasure my alone time, I hang out with my friends, and I roll my eyes whenever someone complains about how stressful their wedding is. (In fact, Chill AF MDR is the persona that I’m feeling more now than ever.) But there are definitely days when I feel terrible about receiving yet another wedding invite with a space for a plus one, that I will undoubtedly leave blank in my RSVP. This time of year can be really, really lonely, so Emotionally Realistic, Yet Slightly Wounded Maria makes an appearance from time to time.
I feel trapped between both versions of myself at family parties. Neither one elicits the response from my family members that I want, which is indifference. I don’t want to talk about my dating life. And if people would stop asking me about it, maybe I could just be whichever Maria has decided to show up, instead of tap-dancing my way between Chill and Emotional until I’m dizzy. (Or drunk and then asleep.)
So now that the holidays are here, I’ve been trying to remind myself that it doesn’t really matter how people react to my single status. The fact that my cousins are collecting engagement rings like goddamn Pokemon while I’m going on yet another date with yet another investment banker named John (seriously, how many of you are there?) actually means nothing — and comparing myself to other people is really what’s triggering my anxiety.
When the circus comes to town on December 25, I plan to answer the dreaded question truthfully. “I’m not seeing anyone seriously, which is hard sometimes, but I’m doing a lot of other amazing things in my life which make that less important,” I’ll say. “Have I told you about the trip to Paris I’m planning?” It’s honest, it’s in-the-moment, and I don’t need to down wine to say it. And getting to wake up without a post-Christmas hangover and some awkward lie to keep leaning into is the best gift I could ever give myself.