This Christmas morning, while other parents stumble bleary-eyed towards the tree, only to collapse on the sofa as their progeny create mountains of torn wrapping paper in the formerly immaculate living room, I’ll be tucked beneath my down comforter, reading a good novel. While other parents mediate the inevitable “her widget is cooler than mine” fights and try to control the sugar-crazed demons their darling children have become, I will be sipping a cup of coffee and listening to classical music.
There are certain advantages to split custody.
There are even more advantages to being single. But society never talks about them, perhaps in the interests of species survival. Here’s the best one: at the end of the day, no one, and I mean no one, is the boss of me. If I feel like staying up all night to read, I can. If I want to get up at four in the morning to work on a paper or grade exams, I can. If I want to eat nothing but raw vegetables for a week, or if I decide I want to see a chick flick, then change my mind at the last second in favor of an action movie, I can. There are no other egos to cosset and console, no foreign languages of “he-said/she-said” to navigate, no mysterious hurt feelings to try to understand. There’s no “we are”—there is only “I am.”
A single friend of mine confessed to me yesterday that he always gets glum around the holidays. “I’m sure you can understand,” he said. “It just seems like everywhere I go, I’m constantly reminded of how alone I am.” At the same time, another married friend of mine is contemplating divorce because he has never felt so lonely. “I’m waiting for someone to define me,” he said.
When will these people realize that being alone IS being whole, that the person who defines you is yourself, that getting divorced almost never solves your problems—in fact, if you have children, it creates untold new ones?
I can certainly understand that the world we live in WANTS me to feel gloomy because I’m all alone beneath the mistletoe, most likely because I’m not doing my part to contribute to the excessive consumption-orgy that Christmas has become. And with Jerry McGuire as my guide, I know I’m supposed to feel like half of a whole, stumbling blindly through the world looking for someone to “complete me.”
Thing is, I feel pretty darn complete. I have a great job, brilliant children, a Steinway piano. I have a book list longer than Santa’s, and I work at a place where I can get the librarian to buy my books for free. Nearly three years post-divorce, nearly one-year without any sort of significant other, I have woken up to discover that I’ve finally grown entirely comfortable in my own skin. Like Whitman, “I celebrate myself; I sing myself.” And I don’t need that song to be a duet.
If we aren’t careful, it’s easy to slide into ritual patterns and passive behaviors during the holidays. This probably explains why, rather than trying to pursue any nascent autumn relationships I’d been exploring with potential partners (one guy actually made it to four dates!!!!), I’ve put them all on holiday hiatus. I want—no, I need—to be home alone for Christmas. I’m looking forward to a day all by myself, a day when I really can’t go into the office, even though I will probably want to.
Of course, the day after Christmas, when my four little jewels tumble into my apartment demanding presents and covering me with kisses, I’ll be pretty happy—in a well-rested, relaxed way. It’s not often a girl gets as lucky as I am. I can have my Christmas pudding and eat it too. Once you have children, you are never truly alone in the world. But if I ever do decide I want to let someone into my already complete life and heart, I promise I will never ever try to define him. The greatest gift is having the chance to define yourself.
So if you’re alone this Christmas, my advice to you is this: start defining yourself. And if you’re with the people you love, read the definitions they’ve written in their lives, and try to appreciate them for who they are. We are all broken, but with grace, with forgiveness, with charity, we can become something beautiful—a community where people can be both together and alone in peace and harmony. I’m going out on a limb here, but I think that maybe, just maybe, that’s the real meaning of Christmas.