On Christmas Eve last year, I rushed home from my job waiting tables at a busy brunch restaurant in San Diego, grabbed the duffel bag I’d packed that morning and checked in with my roommate’s boyfriend, who would be watching her dog while I spent Christmas at a hotel.
“Have a good time.” he said. “Who are you going to the hotel with again?”
“Myself.” I replied.
He tilted his head and gave me a strange look. “You’re going to a hotel for Christmas … by yourself? Why?”
“I can’t go home, so I decided to stay at a hotel so it feels like a vacation.”
“No, that makes sense. … I mean why are you doing it alone?”
Now it was my turn to be confused. “I do a lot of things by myself,” I said. “It’s pretty fun — you should try it sometime.”
I couldn’t spend the holidays with my family in Wisconsin because of my strict work schedule. I’d been invited to several friends’ homes, but I chose to spend the day by myself. I wanted to make a dent in the stack of eight books I’d bought myself for Christmas. I looked forward to wandering the empty downtown streets and sleeping in a giant bed. Nothing about these activities seemed lonely. Honestly, it seemed much more pleasant than being a ninth wheel at a strange family’s gathering.
On Christmas morning, I slept in, had brunch at the hotel’s restaurant, relaxed by the pool. I thought about how my life seemed to be finally falling into place: I was extremely happy with my new job; I had a great group of friends; my writing was going well; and I’d just started seeing a promising guy who shared my interest in the arts. The next day I returned to work feeling refreshed and excited about the months to come.
But soon after the New Year, cracks began to show. It became clear that there weren’t many opportunities in San Diego to get more involved in a literary or artistic community. I began to grow restless and bored.
The new beau, who’d seemed so wonderful in our first months together – giving me books, texting me every day, remembering my absurd stories — became distant and unavailable. This made me extremely anxious, and I began to bother my friends for reassurance. Already busy with their own boyfriends, jobs and lives, we drifted apart.
When I looked at the people around me, all in our mid-20s, I saw two versions of adulthood: Everyone either had a promising job or a stable, serious relationship. I had neither. I spent nearly every night battling panic attacks as I tried to sleep, and my erratic work schedule made it so that I couldn’t even regularly schedule phone appointments with my therapist.
When the guy I’d been seeing ended things in March, I stayed up all night, questioning what was wrong with me. Why couldn’t make anything in my life work when everyone around me was settling so easily? Suddenly, I remembered a text my sister had sent me earlier that week: She’d suggested that I move with her to New York in the fall.
I realized that I only had one chance to grow up, and I could either spend it trying to force a life that wasn’t working because it fit a past version of myself – the state I’d lived in for six years, the friends I’d known since college, the desire to settle down. Or I could accept that the paths that worked for my friends and co-workers were not meant for me — and I could start over and figure out what I truly wanted. The next morning, I told my sister and my mom: I was moving to New York.
Before the move, I worked nearly every day, and saved $11,000 in six months. I donated my car, gave away my furniture and swam in the ocean as often as possible.
Being alone is something many people my age work desperately to avoid, but if things had worked out with my ex, I never would have moved to a city where I could pursue my ambitions.
This year, I don’t need a boutique hotel to make my solo Christmas feel special. Instead of a giant bed and a pool, I have the entire city of New York. I’ll miss my family, I’ll think about my friends, and I’ll wonder what future years will hold. But I’m not approaching the holiday with loneliness or anxiety. The overarching emotion I feel is gratitude – gratitude that my solitude is not only enjoyable, but also reflective.
For many people, the holidays are a marker of commitment to a relationship – if they’re spending it with a significant other, it means they’ve passed a serious milestone. I will think of commitment on Christmas as well, though it’s not to another person – it’s to myself, my goals and figuring out what I want out of life.