Single & Over 40: Holiday Self-Esteem Survival Tips

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Winter holidays not only raise questions about our diets and our pocketbooks, they beg the question about our socialability and popularity compared to others, and about the degree of love we have in our lives, often with dire results. For over-40 single people who may not have a great love in our lives, who may be juggling family responsibilities against a desire for fun, and who are regretfully all too aware that bare little black dress is going to highlight the crepe-y, wrinkled flesh on our upper arms, holidays can be a nightmare.

True, in the perfect world, we are all in shape, well off and have easy relationships with family and friends. But this is the real world, where there are body parts that didn’t get the memo about muscle tone, anxieties about paying the bills, and family & friends who seem all cozy in their complacent couple-ness. Even worse, said family and friends may have very specific aspirations for you, wondering why, since they think you’re so great, you’re alone (or not with a great love) on the holidays, or, even worse, convinced that they have an easy solution to your problem that you must urgently follow, like moving to Sitka, Alaska because there are more het men there than in San Francisco, or growing 5 inches and losing 50 pounds.

In other words, if you’re not in the my life is perfect bucket, the holidays can underscore everything that sucks and make you feel like that half full glass is pretty damn empty. Whether it’s the parties everyone else seems to be enjoying, or the intimate relationships they have that you don’t, or the general worry that casts a thin grey film over everything, the next two weeks of winter celebrations can carry a lot of sadness and angst in the joy.

It’s easy to know you shouldn’t gorge yourself on Christmas cookies and swill eggnog (unless you delight in January diet regret), but knowing how to manage that emotional rollercoaster called your feelings during a holiday is another thing. So, without further ado, some tips for staying balanced and managing through those moment when you’re convinced the bloom has gone, big-time, right off your rose:

1. Plan, plan, plan, to do some going out

Take steps ahead of time to set up some social activities that won’t make you feel like a reject and a social retard when everyone else is getting their party on. One great way to schedule something is to go to a large event with lots of buzz and people, you can coast a bit on the holiday energy and afterwards feel like you’ve made the scene. If you’re not in the loop on cool events about town, consider using Facebook and Upcoming to see what your friends have planned—both services allow you to see friends’ events, many of which are open to anyone who wants to RSVP.

2. Plan, plan, plan to do some staying in

With the frenzy of the holidays, staying close to home—and being nice to yourself—can be a true pleasure. Pick out a movie—or three-—Gremlins, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and The Holiday each have amazing charm (and laughs) and curl up on the coach with the phone off the hook and something nice to eat and drink and commune with your (laughing) self. (Or get a really yummy fun book—Jennifer Weiner often does it for me—and just read for a night.)

3. Remember small is beautiful, and so are hotel bars

Making plans to meet a friend or a work colleague in a nice hotel bar is a great way to celebrate the season in miniature. The Four Seasons and similar hotels can be a great splurge; sitting by a window sipping a white wine, a Kir or your non-alcoholic beverage of choice is very relaxing—and the people-watching is a treat. Just remember to meet up with a friend who makes you feel good—not someone you think you should see.

4. Only do what you want to do, and cut the other stuff short.

Yeah, I know you have to go to your sister-in-law’s to trim the tree, and your cousin needs help wrapping presents, and the office party is next Thursday, but do you really have to be the best little girl and stay till the bitter end? Get the hell out of Dodge, woman! Put in your 90 minutes and exit, stage left. Good excuses: I have to go home and walk the dog (or my dog is not feeling well); I’ve got an early call with friends in (far away place) tomorrow morning, need to get some rest; This is fun, but I am meeting someone at the gym (or the bowling alley, or the ice rink).

5. Don’t let them talk to you like that.

You know what? Women are too nice, and everyone, especially other women, know it. But hey, you don’t have to take their guff. Cut short the uncomfortable conversations or out of line comments by using an atypical female tactic—ridicule. When someone edges too close to an issue, like “You look like you lost a lot of weight—is that right?” Or, “You plumped up a bit, right?” (Or dyed your hair). Or, “What happened to that fella you brought last year?” Fix’em with your beady eye, toss your head incredulously and whinny “Hahahaha! I can’t believe you asked me that!?” Of, if you’re feeling mean, just give a hard stare and say “Huh? What did you just say? Excuse me!” and move away.

6. Keep perspective: You don’t have it the worst, so get off your duff and help someone

It’s a wonderful life is such a popular movie not only because we like to see Jimmy Stewart triumph and overcome adversity, but because we like to be reminded things can always be worse. No matter where you live, there is someone you can help—and an organization to help you do it. In addition to donating toys and money, consider doing service—volunteering to help someone shop or cook, for example—or giving more personal gifts, like home-made soups, granola, or cookies—to someone who might be going without.

7. Act like a kid. Or a young person, for once.

Too much unhappiness in the world is caused by people trying to behave in ways they think they are expected too. Forget that! If you’re a 26-year old trapped in a middle-aged body, stop worrying about it, at least for two weeks. There’s no reason you can’t cruise the racks in Forever21, whether you buy anything or not, and you can listen to any kind of music you want to, whether you owned the CD in college or not. Even better, hit a toy store and hug the stuffed animals, fondle the dolls. Regress as appropriate, and enjoy it—holidays are meant for fun.

8. Put the meaning in meaningful.

If this holiday season was the gateway to having a more self-realized life—doing more of the things you truly wish you could, what would you do differently? Can you do one of those things? Christmas can fall into an awful rut—break tradition and invest in trying something new you might want to repeat. Go to midnight mass, go on a late night hike, give away things you don’t need, be kind to someone who needs kindness—create your holiday at a level above the party people.

9. The past is dead, don’t mourn it. And regret is stupid.

Woulda coulda shouda. The good old days. Back then. If you go there during the holidays, you’re a maudlin drunk without the booze. Adjust your present by focusing on what you are going to do next, what you have learned and how you will use it to make good things happen, not some mythic golden moment or X-factor you lost. Not only is it gone, it ain’t coming back. The future is now, and all that.

10. Remember you are unique, marvelous and special—but it is your job to bring that glow out.

We all create our own lives and the winter holidays are a great time to emerge out of darkness and into the light. In other words, if your friends and family make you feel crappy, you don’t like yourself, and you hate the way you’ve failed to make deep ties—resolve to address it. You don’t need to embrace radical change at this very second, but you do need to take stock, acknowledge what isn’t work about yourself and own adjusting it (notice I did not say removing it entirely, cause thar rarely happens.) Take some baby steps right now—going to a new group or holiday meet up, or meeting someone who cares for you for coffee, a drink or a meal—but resolve to make start your new year with a more powerful action plan to make your life better.

What are some other tips to stay strong and whole during the next few weeks? Comments, ideas welcomed.

Posts around the blogsphere worth a read this week:

Dating Dames: Michelle Smith, Maybe I am unlovable

“I have an online dating profile over at I’m not officially “single,” but when my boyfriend refuses to answer the phone or an email, for weeks at a time I no longer consider myself committed. This has been going on, off and on, for a year now. If my boyfriend decides to pull it together, where I am concerned, then I feel that our relationship is salvageable, but for now, I’m open to meeting someone new.”

The spectre of bohemia: how old are you?

"I have conversations with new people who tell me they can't believe how young I am. Some older people who have known me for a while want to remind me of how young I act. A lot of people my age are appalled by the amount of older friends I have and generally think I'm odd. The ageism from all sides is appalling. Whatever representational picture of a 21 year old you have in your head, all bets are off. I suppose I should say all your assumptions are wrong about anyone. I'm sick of your normativity! *AHHH!*

Bad Bad Girl I’m easy, be patient

"I am trying new boys on for size. Giacomo was fun, but all things end eventually. He’s got some other things in his life to deal with. Mr. Park and I simply can’t get on the same time schedule often enough for my liking and Jack, sigh… well while Jack has made a reappearance I know that will be sporadic, even if it IS fantastic when it is.
So I’ve got my eye on a few new boys. I say boys cause they are all younger than me, anywhere from 3 to 14 YEARS younger. You will hear about them as they unfold, IF they unfold."

Intimacy, debauchery, irreverence. Stages

"I felt angry the past couple of days. Fuck you kind of angry. I wanted the rest of my stuff back and was determined to get it. I didn't want to see him even - I was going to suggest he leave it on his porch. He was becoming an asshole in my head. I was thinking of some of the things he said to me in the last, painful moments of our demise and I felt wrongly accused and unseen."

Bitchy Jones: On being plain

“ Ishould say, full disclosure, Jack has someone new right now. He is truly, totally new relationship high over someone else. He has new kitten syndrome. And me, I am no one’s new kitten. I feel blue with it - to tell the truth. Stumbling on through and trying to live with not being anyone’s most special. I know polyamory isn’t meant to be about that, but my sexuality seems to trend quite heavily towards dishing me out predelictions that I cannot actually do."

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