Almost nothing ruffles my feathers like a social demand to conform.
Such a demand, and my thoughts on it, came up last week as we began the holiday season.
When the days get darker and shorter and the temperatures plummet and, God willing, when we finally get some rain in California, many animals, including a lot of human beings, want to hibernate, or at least withdraw a good bit of our energy from the external world.
In ancient times, there developed rituals for coping with the possibility of not surviving winter. Christmas itself is probably a co-optation of pagan rituals for enduring the cold and bleak. Stringing garlands of greenery, having parties and exchanging handmade gifts celebrated an awareness that, before too long, spring will return. The winter solstice tells us: the light returns.
In our culture, though, the holidays have devolved into displays of crass consumption. People debate whether it’s wise and good to shop (and expect workers to work) on days that used to be considered sacred.
For introverts, the holiday season brings some subtle or not-so-subtle pressures to go against our nature and do things we’d just rather not do.
Twice a week I attend very small pilates classes at a local gym. One of my classmates is a casual acquaintance with whom I have a pleasant, friendly “hi, how are you” kind of connection. Last year, the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, she asked me what I planned to do. I said I was going to a restaurant with a couple of women I knew through my dog’s play group. The pilates acquaintance pressed me to come to her house instead. But she was mollified that at least I wouldn’t be “alone.”
This year, also two days before Thanksgiving, she asked what I planned to do. I said I was going to relish having four days off from my job to do things I enjoy doing, including having a birthday brunch with a friend, and mostly doing things by myself.
She then tried to argue with me, saying that I’d really have great fun if I were to join her and a group of total strangers for dinner at her house.
I suspect this issue comes up for a lot of introverts who may feel or even succumb to pressure to do things they don’t want to do at this time of year.
For many people, it’s having to deal with their family’s dysfunction which can range from mildly annoying to dangerous.
On Thanksgiving and Christmas, I like to stroll my neighborhood. I look at the windows decked in lights and I wonder: what’s really going on in there?
I recall that major holidays in my parents’ house were predictably a time for my mother to spend days cooking and then, right at the start of the holiday, go bat-shit crazy that everything wasn’t going just as she demanded. She would scream and guilt-trip and threaten to call the whole thing off and run our food down the garbage disposal. By the time the food was served, I was already sick to my stomach.
As an adult, there have been a few times when I’ve put on my own Thanksgiving and have invited a bunch of straggler friends and we all had a good time.
More recently, I’ve learned that my best bet is to guard my own solitude.
There was an occasion a few years ago when I went to my new boyfriend’s family’s house, only to discover that they were all a bunch of drunks. The boyfriend downed six or eight drinks in the four hours we were there, and fortunately, we had taken my car.
In order for me to be true to myself and to protect my physical and emotional health, I will continue to just say “no” to holiday demands for group socializing. If it’s something I’d really like to do, I’ll go for it, but there is no point doing something just because someone else requests it.
I can’t read the minds of people like the pilates acquaintance but I think what concerns them is the idea of someone being “alone.” They think this is a problem, and maybe it would be for them. It’s not my problem.
It’s curious that in a society so wedded to ideas of individualism – e.g., everyone has the “right” to accumulate more money than they’d ever need, and even to kill someone else if they feel individually threatened – that the desire for solitude is seen as deviant.
I think the shadow side of our culture’s hyper-individualism is that many people fear being alone. Their fear gets provoked around socially designated holidays, and they then project that fear onto those of us who rejoice in silent down-time. As if we’re the ones committing a social faux paus.
I think it’s fine that there are types of people, extroverts, who seem to enjoy the hub-bub of crowds, noise and chit-chat.
What many of them miss is the truth that while we are all inter-connected, we are also essentially alone.
Knowing one’s aloneness even while enjoying the company of select, welcome, and like-minded others is a great thing. Succumbing to pressure to spend time with people one does not resonate with is not a good thing.
It’s my view that until one has soaked in gratitude for one’s essential aloneness, one really has not yet lived a holy day.