Christmas is not typically a brilliant time for single people. It’s a season rammed with “two-for-one” deals in restaurants and associations of couples snuggled up in front of the fire; one that’s become inextricably linked with the “romantic comedy” when it comes to entertainment, with Love Actually and The Holiday being the prime offenders (even The Nutcracker sees Clara and the prince dancing their way through the majority of the ballet as a firmly united front).
Each December, the romance notch gets turned up to 100 per cent – and single people tend to be repeatedly bombarded with images of rosy, festive-tinted love and cosy coupledom, which can result in many of us feeling lonely.
I’ve felt this myself, in previous years. I’ve seen couples holding hands at Christmas markets, and felt that subtle, persistent pinch of jealousy.
I’ve helped my friends decide what to buy their partners while looking at my own shorter (albeit cheaper) present list, wishing I had someone for whom I could put thought, care and effort into the perfect present.
I’ve seen colleagues phoning their other halves at the end of the work Christmas party, after we’ve all soaked our insides with lukewarm mulled wine and room-temperature prosecco, saying, “Yep, we’re done, where shall I meet you?”
I’ve thought about how much I’d love to go and meet someone who’ll help me walk in a straight line back from the tube, who’ll make sure I drink a pint of water before bed – and who’ll be there when I wake up.
But this year, I feel differently. This year, I can’t wait to celebrate Christmas as a single person; and I (bizarrely) have Covid to thank for my festive change of heart.
I spent all of last December – and the first seven months of this year – living with my parents on the Isle of Wight. I love my parents, and I love their home, but I really struggled when it came to keeping all my friendships going via technology, especially once all my London-based friends started meeting up in person.
I thrive best on face-to-face contact, and I found it hard to box my friendships into my phone and my Zoom screen. Now that I’m back in London, I feel over the moon to be making my friends the priority. This Christmas, I can do what I haven’t been able to do for a significant portion of this year: namely, putting my friends at the centre of my life.
Last Sunday, my uni mates and I had our annual Christmas lunch. All 20 of us crowded into the same flat – dishes of food, bottles of wine and piles of Christmas cards – and the bricks making up the walls of the (albeit very large) living room may well have buckled under the weight of the combined laughter, joy and excitement that radiated from each of us.
I saw another friend on Saturday, and we talked so fast and so much that our sentences began to ebb and flow into each other.
Taking time to celebrate with my friends this festive season is immensely precious to me for a multitude of reasons. And I know myself: if I did have a romantic partner right now, I wouldn’t be prioritising my friends in the same way.
I’d get caught up in the dazzling, dizzying feeling of nurturing that special spark that can feel like a warm glow: as though someone has decorated your insides with a string of fairy lights. As lovely as that would be, that’s not for me this year. Instead, I want to celebrate the existing people in my life; because I spent nine months interacting with almost all of them predominantly from either end of a wifi connection, and I’ll never take their physical presence for granted again.
Covid has shown me that – contrary to the way I used to feel during previous Christmas seasons – I already have people in my life for whom I can put thought, care and effort into the perfect present. Our housemates’ secret Santa, for example: I gasped out loud when I found the ideal present for my housemate yesterday, and I can’t wait to see her face when she opens it at our house meal this evening.
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Celebrating the existing people in my life has become all the more vital, for me, with the dramatic spread of the omicron variant and the uncertainty over what that means for our physical connections over the next few weeks and months.
Plans are being cancelled left, right and centre as people (myself included) start to seriously worry about passing Covid on to a loved one at Christmas, or about the possibility of having to isolate over Christmas day itself – so those plans that are going ahead are all the more precious, especially because there’s also a strong chance we may all have to socially distance from friends and family once again as the days (and Covid cases) unfold.
So this year, rather than focusing on the lack of a partner who hasn’t yet materialised, I want to focus on the gift I’ve been given in my friendships: those who materialised long ago, and who are right here with me, right now.
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