Navigating Thanksgiving and Christmas while unexpectedly alone seemed a little less complex than managing the upcoming New Year’s Eve does. I felt like I knew who I was and where I belonged during the previous two holidays; this time around, I’m very lost.
It seems counter-intuitive, I know. I wouldn’t have guessed it either, and it’s caught me a bit off-guard. After all, Thanksgiving and Christmas are for families and loved ones, and I’m hundreds of miles away from anyone I even know.
“In previous years, at home with my wife, my family, or my partner, I’m sure I imagined that it would be fun to be one among the iconic masses of single, partying people on New Year’s Eve.”
It’s true that my Thanksgiving and my Christmas were somber and quiet. I cooked large traditional dinners for myself (one reason I gained back a portion of the weight I worked so hard to lose), and I enjoyed the plentiful leftovers for days. I also had more than one beer at a couple of the local dive bars surrounding both holidays (the other reason I gained that weight back), and mutually commiserated with the other lonely souls I found there.
There’s a place in the world and in our minds for lonely people on holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas. It’s a schema we all share, and that makes it more comforting, even if the state itself is regarded as tragic or disheartening. In essence, we “know what to do with it” intellectually.
Somehow New Year’s Eve doesn’t quite work the same way — at least it doesn’t seem like it does to me. Instead of feeling part of an established group, albeit a small and sad one, I feel like the only person in the world who’s in my specific situation.
Before the New Year’s Eve that followed my senior year of high school, I was already engaged. I spent the next twenty New Year’s Eve’s after that married. My wife didn’t like to drink and neither of us was much for large-scale socialization, so we spent each year at home alone, with one or two other couples, or with family when circumstances allowed.
By our fourth New Year’s Eve together, we had a beautiful baby girl. I was 23, and my wife was 21, and we put behind us for at least the next 16 years the lively young adult New Year’s Eve celebrations that we’d never attended in the first place.
Following my divorce, I found myself spending most of the following New Year’s Eves with another female partner who had children and extended family of her own and who’d also spent the previous twenty years in a quiet, comfortable marriage that didn’t involve much partying in public.
We fell into the same uneventful routine together, spending most New Year’s Eves at home alone and heading directly to bed immediately after the ball dropped. To be honest, I think there was only one year that she didn’t fall asleep before it happened.
This year is the first year year that I’ll spend truly alone. She and I separated a few months back with no hope of reconciliation. There were years during our on-again-off-again relationship that we weren’t together on New Year’s Eve, and there were years during my marriage when I was not colocated with my wife for work reasons. I may have gone out during those years, but I also wasn’t entirely alone literally or figuratively.
I spent those years in different places. For some I was in other countries, watching the new year begin with my military brethren. For others, I was back in my hometown, celebrating the birth of the new year with childhood friends, family, or local folks I saw almost daily.
In order to attempt the most recent and final iteration of my relationship with my post-divorce partner, I moved to a city to which I’d never been and in which I don’t know a soul. All of our friends were hers, and I lost them along with her when she left.
I work from home, and I’m not comfortable approaching strangers, so I don’t really get a chance to socialize. I recognize some people at the local watering hole, but none of them are my peers, and we sit beside each other for hours at the bar rarely speaking. They’re not really “friends”, and I can’t imagine enjoying New Year’s Eve with them much.
In previous years, at home with my wife, my family, or my partner, I’m sure I imagined that it would be fun to be one among the iconic masses of single, partying people on New Year’s Eve. Now that I am single, I realize that I don’t have any idea how to make that work.
I’m 44 years old, and I don’t expect to fit in comfortably with the 20-somethings that will pack the downtown pubs, restaurants, and halls surrounding my apartment building. The very few acquaintances I have in the area who are closer to my age are married with coupled friends and family in the area. I have less interest in being the loner at one of their private parties than in being the old guy at the bar.
I don’t have a group of friends (or even one friend) with whom I can go out and in whose company I can take comfort, even if we’re in the wrong environment. I have no compelling reason to be in any one particular place at any one particular time on New Year’s Eve, and yet I can’t get comfortable with the idea of spending the night at home alone.
It is not lost on me that this piece may come across as a bit whiny, although I do not intend it to be. Instead I was hoping that someone like me may stumble across it and that, maybe recognizing our similar circumstances, they might feel a little less like the only person in the world who can’t figure out “how to New Year’s Eve.”