There’s a big problem with holidays. In a word: Expectations.
It can be hard enough to make sure a random Thursday in August turns out okay. You get a flat tire. Horrible work shift. You get sick. Someone breaks into your home.
So if a lot of us designate an exact day — Christmas is a hugely popular one in my country — and say it has to be TV FAMILY MAGIC! Perfect food, everyone getting along, expensive presents that everyone will absolutely love???!!
Oh dear, oh dear. How can we ever live up to that? Control the uncontrollable? Compete against an imagination long fed with unrealistic cultural depictions? Nope nope nope.
And you can have much more modest expectations and still be disappointed.
For a long stretch of years, my family of origin’s favorite game? Discussing my most embarrassing past life decisions in the worst way possible. Yes, I know none of you liked my ex-boyfriend Dan. Jesus, do we have to bring that up every year? And no, Dad – the 44th prez’s name is NOT “your boyfriend Barack Hussein Obama.” (Although I wish. Michelle, too.)
I think we’ve all been there.
(And if you haven’t, I’m sincerely happy for you. Hold on to your family if they’re good to you.)
Christmas in the United States is also a massive disruption of usual social and commercial activity. The vast majority of businesses close or have limited hours. What actually is open is often crowded, especially in metropolitan areas, because so many people are shopping for gifts or looking for outings out after spending too much time talking to one another (hellooooo movie theater, it’s a mob scene).
And as I’ve been talking with other poly folks I know, many are spending Christmas itself alone. Some of them are estranged from their families, as I am. Some can’t see their loves. Others aren’t dating anyone and are sad that they don’t have anybody to miss. And you know what? Some people have to work.
Pain is pretty binary. There’s no harder here, only hard.
No Place Like Home for the Poly-Days
I have PTSD. And I tend to feel worst during holidays (and not just the winter ones, Mother’s Day is actually the worst day of the year for me).
It’s not that I had any traumatic events timed with holidays. Traumas just happened whenever. October 11 was a terrible day for me on a few different years. Which is interesting now because it’s now coincidentally around or on the actual birthday of multiple people I’m close to, many years after the fact.
The hard part about the holidays? I feel an intense guilt about not having a perfect family. And not always feeling like I’m a part of that imperfect family.
As Kristin Scharp is quoted in that article about estrangement I linked before: “Sometimes estrangement means a clean break, a fight and that’s it, but it can also be a chaotic disassociation, a relationship that’s on and off again over the years.”
So it’s messy. I’m closer to friends than biological family. And these days, I live 900 miles away from where I was born.
What I need to do at Christmas, emotionally, depends on the year.
This Christmas, I have prepared for it by buying so much food that I won’t have to go out. Stuff I like. Watching movies I’ve seen a bunch of times. Catching up on writing. Hanging with my cats. It’s about having as normal a weekend as I possibly can.
Now it’s not all doom and gloom. Skyspook has a cool hippie family, and they’ve adopted me. We do Thanksmas (Turkey Day and Christmas) at a random time in November or December. Everyone works weird/incompatible shifts, and we need to find a time everyone is off.
Thanksmas 2016 was some weeks ago and was really fun. Flexibility is key though. I’m just not going to have that sort of connection with my parents.
And I didn’t always have a fun get-together that was family-ish. But in some ways, that’s better. Reminds me not to take it for granted.
Holidays? Nah, More Like Poly-Days
Just as there’s no one way to do poly (seriously, there isn’t), there’s no one way to do holidays either. Or poly-days.
I’ve dated people who had families just as unhappy as mine. Some arguably worse. Although it’s a weird contest to have. No real winners there. Point is that I’ve gone to plenty of stilted and stressful holiday things as a plus one.
Dated other people who were also estranged from their families (some overlap with the unhappy plus one experiences).
Been romantically unpartnered on the holidays.
And a favorite weird poly holiday moment: When my boyfriend Rob’s sister outed him as poly to his parents a few weeks before Thanksgiving. After Rob’s parents un-disowned him just in the nick of time, I had Thanksgiving dinner with Rob, Rob’s wife Michelle, his parents, Michelle’s parents, and my husband Seth. Hallmark never aired that movie.
And you know? It was all kind of… Okay. There were good parts and bad parts.
I really think it would be best if we kind of did away with perfect holidays. And just had days. And some of them can be cool, and some of them can be weird. You know, a multitude of days. Many days — poly-days.
The War on Expectations, a Holiday War I Can Get Behind
Sometimes? A good Christmas can be just enjoying movies at home in your pajamas and eating cheese and crackers. Watching your cat chase their tail.
It might sound a little crazy – but as I’ve talked to people, I’ve encountered so many frustrated, hurt, sad people who can’t have the kind of holiday they want.
Maybe they can’t afford to go home because it’s a long way away or they don’t have enough time off work.
Or they want to be with their loves, but they are a poly secondary and they aren’t welcome at their family’s holiday celebration (you can read this, guest blog post by the Misanthrope, on More than Two blog). Maybe their partner didn’t even ask because the partner was afraid of what their family would say. That hurts, too. For everyone, really.
And you know, some of you all? Are having a really good time in ways that look awesome. Ahhh, the old school Kodak moment. And I’m happy for you, too.
Good friend of mine is in a big theme park for the first time. One hundred percent surprise gift for her. A kindness conspiracy between all of the people who love her. It’s kind of awesome.
This is the time where our empathy for others is tested. Our compersion, or happiness at the happiness of others. Zero sum thinking, where we feel like good things happening to others takes away from what we really have?
It’s not just about sex. Or romantic relationships.
‘Tis the Season for Gratitude, Like Always
Something that works for me is remembering what I DO have.
Being grateful for the everyday things that I enjoy that make it so hard to have an exceptional day.
Sometimes these are very small. I mentioned my cat. He’s neurotic, but I love him. I am also grateful for Fievel, an American Tail. And Gouda cheese. Even though I don’t have any now, I’m just thankful that Gouda exists. That stuff is great.
And most importantly I’m grateful for all the people that I love. Even if we are scattered to the winds. Even if I rarely see them all at once and some of them once a decade, if that.
I’m aiming for a nice, semi-normal weekend.
So far, it’s been a bit better than that. My coffee this morning was excellent.
No place like home for the Poly-Days. Even if that home isn’t always the same place. And we can’t be there all at once.
Good times come — even if not always on our schedule.