Catherine Townsend: Sleeping Around

Beware the pre-holiday dumpers
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The Independent Online

After the Irish businessman, my sometime-boyfriend, gently broached the subject of where I'm spending Christmas, I have to confess that I'm running scared. The truth is, I have never had one single romantic relationship survive the minefield that is the holiday season. And apparently, I'm not the only single girl who associates Christmas with sticking pins in a voodoo doll instead of sipping mulled wine while listening to Bing Crosby. I'm not sure if it's the pressure of buying a gift or fear of being forced to wear matching sweaters, but the period between American Thanksgiving and Christmas is prime time for binning. I think the frenzy is largely due to the Pre-Holiday Dumpers (PHDs), those unhappy couples who simply cannot face another season of singing carols and sipping eggnog with someone when they are not madly in love.

I found out about the season's legacy of unrealistic expectations the hard way with one casual ex-boyfriend. Being American I'm often stranded for the holidays, so when he suggested that I spend the day with his family "just as friends, with no strings attached", I was flattered - until I saw a giant stocking with my name sewn on, and realized with horror that his parents viewed me as a potential daughter-in-law. Every time they took a picture of me with the entire family, I cringed thinking of the number of prints they would have to cut my head out of next year.

The festive season can put even the most promising relationships under tremendous strain. I remember another Christmas that I spent with a new boyfriend I adored, who became increasingly agitated when I started stealing his thunder during a "light-hearted" holiday Trivial Pursuit tournament. Every time I correctly answered a question, he perspired more heavily. When I told him that the human skeleton has 206 bones, it got ugly. "See, I told you so," I said, teasingly. "I think we should see other people," he snapped back. Perhaps I should just accept the fact that I'm the type of person who associates tables more as a surface for dancing on than a place to bake gingerbread cookies.

"I hate how there is so much pressure for couples to do this holiday themed stuff," says my sister, who spent last Christmas in casualty with her ex-boyfriend after he fell down ice skating. "This year we're sticking to hanging out by the fire."

But the stresses of the season have an upside for dumpees, because fractured relationships mean that there are loads of newly single people who may be up for a below-the mistletoe grope. And the office party season is much more fun when navigated alone. Of course, the holidays can be a fantastic opportunity for loved-up twosomes to recommit to their partnerships. But personally, I would much rather have a chance of getting horizontal with that hot guy from marketing than stuck in a stagnant relationship, screaming over where to spend Boxing Day.

Just to be on the safe side, I told the Irish guy I am going home to the States for the entire holiday, and not re-surfacing until New Year's Eve. Hopefully, I'll spend my holidays singing bad karaoke with reindeer antlers on my head, before we'll be blissfully reunited after a few weeks - and I'll be opening a nice gift. If not, I'll be the proud owner of the black iPod nano I bought him.

c.townsend@independent.co.uk

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