• Resolving Problems

Annoyed when friends ask about your holiday plans?

December 8, 2016 | By | 12 Replies Continue Reading
Photo credit: Pixabay

Photo credit: Pixabay

A reader doesn’t know what to say when friends ask about her holiday plans.

QUESTION

Hi Dr. Levine,

Always enjoy reading your columns. How do you suggest one should handle friends who constantly inquire about holiday plans?

I am late 30’s, single, not liking where I am in my life, and really do not look forward to the holidays. Thanksgiving and Christmas makes me feel alone and depressed and I wish I could avoid it altogether.

I don’t have the money to get away right now and take a trip on my own. I do have family, but going home as the single person – again – is not enjoyable for me and I’d rather see my family any other day of the year and not try to make the holidays something they are not for me. I have plenty of friends who would invite me but quite honestly, being around other people’s husbands, children, families, in beautiful homes pretty much makes me feel even worse.

I’ve learned to cope the best I can through the holidays, in my own ways. What I truly hate more than the holidays is being asked for two months, “What are you doing for Thanksgiving?” “What are your plans for Christmas?”

I feel like there is no acceptable answer. If I say I don’t like the holidays and prefer to just ignore the day, I am met with pity or unrelenting pushiness and insistence to spend it with them. Well, I certainly do appreciate the offers and the fact that I do have friends but that is the last thing I want to do.

Every year I end up lying and saying I’m going with family or away. I hate lying. That makes me feel worse too. But people nod, accept, don’t question, feel better I won’t be alone, and then I feel horrible about what I don’t have all over again.

How do you get friends who will just let you be? And have compassion but not pity or pushiness? I have yet to find this.

Signed, Janine

ANSWER

Hi Janine,

Many people feel the same way you do. Idealized holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas have a way of making those who have non-traditional families, very small families, or no families at all feel very sorry for themselves.

Whether it’s at the office or at the hair salon, asking people about their holiday plans usually falls in the realm of perfunctory small talk. While it may reflect genuine interest, it may represent an effort to spark conversation or create an opportunity for the questioner to tell you what she is doing.

You have every right to spend the holidays the way you want, doing what feels best for you!

In terms of how to respond when asked about your holiday plans, remind yourself that people are trying to be friendly. Then I guess I might think about who is asking the question. If it is an acquaintance you barely know, you can respond vaguely with something like, “I haven’t firmed up what I’m doing yet.” It isn’t quite as duplicitous as saying you are going home to your family when you have no intention of doing that.

If the person who is asking is a close friend, you can tell them you decided not to go home to your family and prefer having the time at home to catch up on some projects. Your friends may not understand your choice and that’s why they feel badly for you. If they invite you to join them, tell them how much you appreciate the offer but you would rather be home. Be firm and clear. If you feel so inclined, you can add that you would like to get together with them after the holidays.

It is very wise of you to prepare your response before questions are asked. Hopefully, the more times you repeat it, the less awkward it will be. Just remember that a lot of people are feeling the same way as you.

Best, Irene

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Category: RESOLVING PROBLEMS

Comments (12)

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  1. Meorge says:

    I have been in this same situation since my mom, who was ill and who I lived with, passed away. I used to go out of my way to try to find plans with my brother, who I am no longer speaking to, or with friends. Now I am fine staying home. What bothers me is other people’s concept that I am “alone.” I am with my cat and to me pets are family. I feel more at home with my pet(s) than at other families’ weird get togethers where you always feel like at an outsider. I am a very blunt person by nature and I have found the best way to address this issue is to state your views before they can pity you, extend an unwanted charity invitation, etc. I just say, “I’m staying home with my cat, watching movies, crocheting and eating. That’s the way I like it!!” I think many people who spend the holidays with family would actually prefer to spend the day at home relaxing, and many married people would actually prefer to be single. But they get a charge out of making people who are single think there’s something wrong with them. Misery loves company. Don’t believe the hype. You have freedom.

  2. greenbird says:

    Hmm, you could always say you plan to do some charity work (and then really do it) or that you plan to travel (and no one needs to know if you don’t!). finding meaningful ways to spend holidays does not mean having to do what everyone else does. My ex husband’s brother was very much an introvert who detested holiday hubbub. He would make up a story and then spend the day alone, happily eating Chinese food and watching movies. You don’t have to justify what you do to anyone.

    • Meorge says:

      Why should she have to really do the charity work? Is there a charity police? I don’t think it matters what she says to get people off her back, and as you said, she doesn’t have to justify what she does to anyone. It pisses me off that people who have plans for the holidays are never expected to give up their day, but anyone who is so-called “alone” or who doesn’t have plans, one of the first suggestions is always, why don’t you spend YOUR holiday doing charity. Why don’t you spend it with someone “less fortunate than yourself.” Well kiss my ass. Why should we want to do that on our holiday any more than anybody else does?

  3. Sandra says:

    P.S. I forgot to add something that really helps lift my spirits during the holidays. Rather than focus on how sad I feel, I try to get out and do something for others — I ask friends if I can help watch their kids or do some shopping for them to ease their burdens. I also find a family in need through a local charity and do some anonymous holiday grocery shopping for that family. There are shelters in every community that could use a hand serving meals — you can find out about them through your church.

    If you’re sad about not getting holiday cards, try sending some, and you might be surprised at what you get back in the mail.

  4. Denise says:

    Hi Janine

    In several ways, I relate to you. I’m in my early 50s, single, don’t like where I am in my life, and really do not look forward to the holidays. I very much dislike winter and where I live. One change I made is when a magazine notified me for renewal, I asked if next year I could cancel the October-December issues because they don’t interest me. Yes, she said, and then renew after that. No wasted issues.

    Although, despite my efforts, I don’t have any friends period, I wonder if I’d accept an invitation. Being around other people’s husbands, children, families, in beautiful homes may make me uncomfortable because of where I live. Depends who invites me.

    If someone were to ask me what I’ll be doing, depending on who it is, I’d say I wasn’t sure yet/undecided or nothing this year. If it’s someone I feel comfortable being honest with and know they will understand me, I say the truth: holidays don’t mean the same to me as they used to so I don’t plan anything. If anyone tries to persuade you or show pity or anything negative, just say the whole season has changed for you and you spend your time in other ways that work for you. If you stay vague and neutral they should pick up that it’s no big deal and let it go. Casually change the subject.

    This year I’ll be with my mom, who lives in the apt property next door, and my aunt, who lives a few miles away. We’re going to my aunt’s house. We may not see her son, my cousin, who lives next door. I never see his brother’s family who live in the same city. My dad who lived in another state passed away last year.

    Last December I connected with a high school classmate on FB, but we haven’t talked since August (long story and I feel he let me down, although I would’ve bet money he never would have).

    Last year was very difficult for me, with a lot more anger, frustration and moderate depression about several struggles. What worked for me was my faith. After much prayer, leaning on and trusting God and reading encouraging writings, I focus more on positives and work with what I have.

    As I write this, the neighbor’s cat is sitting on me. The last several weeks he’s spent several hours in my house because his people don’t let him inside; they are nice actually, otherwise.

    Hope some of this helps somehow and that your situation improves soon.

  5. IBikeNYC says:

    Years ago, I read in Miss Manners that a good answer to how WAS your holiday / vacation / weekend is, “Oh, quiet; how ’bout yours?”

    I go through this very thing every year and have done for decades.

    Usually I close my eyes around the second week of November, take a deep breath and, like that guy on the football team with his head down and his elbows tucked in, plow through Thanksgiving, Christmas, my birthday at the end of January and, finally, Valentine’s Day, doing whatever it takes minute-by-minute to pretend, to the world if not myself, that it really doesn’t matter.

    At ALL.

    The worst years were the early 90s when LITERALLY the only two or three holidays cards I got were from my temp agencies and the local electric company. I hung them up anyway and told myself that I should be grateful to have gotten at least THOSE.

    It was a good transition for NOW, when I get none at all from ANYbody.

    What helps — a LITTLE — is thinking that, gee, if I were in, oh, Malaysia / Siberia / Sri Lanka, nobody ELSE would be celebrating, either, and I try to pretend to myself that I’m from some other culture.

  6. Ana says:

    Please don’t use the term feel sorry for ourselves. She, like the rest of us has who’s careers, love life, families, and friendships are not where we want it to be have every right to feel depressed and lonely when others are shoving prefabricated holiday joy up our asses. And don’t give us some cliched bullshit about how we should be grateful for what we do have. That kind of answer only serves to reinforce your assumed moral superiority. Those of us who have actually been depressed knows that depression does not work that way. It’s okay to lie a little to save yourself from unnecessary hardship. Its okay to tell people to mind their own damn business if they’re being too pushy about it. You don’t owe anybody an explanation for your choices.

    [Last name removed by moderator. To protect yourself from spammers, please do not use last names on this blog.]

  7. LauraSL says:

    It’s just small talk, like talking about the weather. I think it’s okay to have a standard white lie for people you’re not close to. If someone’s a close friend you should be able to tell them the truth without judgement. As I get older, I’m less inclined to do things I don’t want to do, to please other people.

  8. Danni says:

    Hi Janine
    I can understand a little bit about how you’re feeling, although my problem is slightly different. I am in my late 40’s and married, but – like you – am not where I want to be in life and used to find the holidays very depressing for this reason. For me, this is due to chronic illness (mainly bedbound). So, while others are going skiing, buying new outfits for work parties, holding drinks evenings at their houses and going to carol concerts, I am at home in bed, feeling rough, as usual. Only, more depressed than usual, because the holidays bring in to sharp focus how much of life I’m missing out on.

    My parents visit for Christmas Day (I’m an only child), but for years this consisted of us all sitting around and just going through the motions, just for the sake of it. More like some sort of endurance feat than a celebration. I began to really dread the holidays. Sending Christmas cards is fraught with difficulty – most of my friends have dropped contact with me, because I’m not well enough to meet up or have visitors, so I don’t get that many cards these days. The ones I do get are lovely and usually have a little note inside about how that person is doing. I LOVE this – great to hear what people are up to and anything that brings the outside world in to me is very much welcomed. But, here’s the thing – I don’t have anything I can add to my cards, other than “still ill” (which will not exactly encourage people to want to stay in contact with me!). I spent this last year in bed, like I’ve done every year for the last ten years. I don’t have any of the usual things to talk about – children, job, vacations, hobbies. My husband has been in the same dead end (his words!) job for fifteen years and has to work long hours, so has no hobbie. There is literally nothing I can add, as a little note in my Christmas cards. But if I don’t write anything other than the bare minimum, then it will seem as though I am not making a proper effort to connect with the few people who still keep in contact with me! New Year’s Eve was even worse…..Yey, another year spent in bed, and another one coming up!

    However, there is a point to my ramblings. This time last year, after almost a decade of hating Christmas, I decided I had to change my attitude and be thankful for what I DO have, rather than focussing on what I don’t. Bear with me…..I know this sounds unbearably simplistic….. It was hard work, to change my thoughts, but I became very determined to bloody well have a nice Christmas! I had a chat with my parents about how I wanted them to see me as a healthy person, just for Christmas Day and how much it would help me if we could all relax and just enjoy being together. They got on board with it and what with that and me just focussing on how lucky I am in many ways (my first thing on the lucky list being “yey, I’m still alive, I made it another year!”), we had the best Christmas ever. This year, I am actually looking forward to Christmas! Sure, I can’t do most of the normal seasonal things, but I am still here and I have people to hug on Christmas day. I am very blessed.

    I’m not sure what your relationship with your parents is like, but if it’s good (or even reasonable) then don’t let being single stop you from sending the holidays with them. There is an idyllic view of Christmas (perfect family, husband, children, parties, perfect house, lots of gifts) that we’re all brainwashed into believing. The reality is very different for many of us and can make us notice what we haven’t got. But, if you wake up and are alive and breathing on Christmas morning, then that’s a pretty decent start and something to be joyous about 🙂 . Thinking like this has totally changed my life. Hopefully it can help you too. Xx

  9. Sandra says:

    Janine, just as Irene said in her response, you’re not alone. I would guess that more people are depressed, lonely, or disappointed at holiday time than they admit. Between magazine articles and TV commercials, way too much is made of “holiday joy” and togetherness. It makes us feel pressured and resentful when we can’t live up to all that.

    I’m a married woman with a small, happy family of my own. But the holidays still bring out feelings of grief and loss, and I dread them. I miss my deceased parents (my mother died recently) and other beloved relatives who are gone, and Christmas reminds me of how much I miss them all.

    Now, I end up going to the holiday dinners of my husband’s extended family, and always end up feeling oddly alienated. And then I feel guilty for feeling that way. My husband doesn’t enjoy these gatherings, either, as they now include the extended families of our in-laws — yes, the in-laws of our in-laws — who are people we barely know or never see any other time of the year. It’s exhausting.

    My husband and I have been easing out of the family traditions that don’t have as much meaning for us, and finding new ways to replace them. I wonder if you could consider this too. Do you have single friends or neighbors nearby? Would they enjoy stopping by for a drink with you one evening during the holidays? This might make you feel as though you’ve done something “festive” and gives you a reason to gather with people you actually care about. It doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive. Make it fun and call it a “Festivus” or a Solstice gathering, and make it your own.

    My husband and I have found that good friends often feel more like family than real family. Maybe if you focus on that, you will find a way to enjoy this time of year after all. Maybe if you redefine the holiday on your own terms, you won’t have to lie or make excuses.

  10. Amy F says:

    In the days before I had holiday plans I found that saying, “I’m keeping things low key” was a great way to answer the ominous holiday-plans question. Most of the time people would respond with envy. If they probed for more, I’d answer with my plans for the holiday season, like seeing old friends who come into town for New Years.

    I’m still figuring out what, if anything. I’m doing this xmas. I have 2 invites, but staying home feels sounds pretty darn good. I do realize, home alone by choice is a different ball game from not having options.

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