I awake alone this morning before Christmas Eve, alone not exactly by choice, but then most of what happens to us in life is a consequence of some choice we have made. Sure, I know people—friends, family, those I work with—and my life is not solitary; but there is something different about having or not having someone to wake up with after so many years, someone to look at and say ‘only one more day to Christmas!’
Relationships, like so many facets of our lives, live in the seasons, but are not themselves seasonal. A new love wants to stretch its wings in spring, an old love wants to walk among the falling leaves of autumn, and all love wants to nestle beside the tree at Christmas and share the joy of the season. But of course this is sentiment and it stands next to reality in the light of day.
Anton Chekhov, one of our most astute students of relationships, said ‘If you are afraid of loneliness, do not marry.’ You can feel more lonely in a bad relationship, even in a relationship gone stale, than in none at all. It’s just that time and habit make us long for the other person in that bad relationship when the right season comes around. Someone to sip eggnog with, someone to watch the parade with, someone to put up the tree with. Doing any of these things alone has come to seem unnatural.
Some relationships are, as they say, made in heaven. They will endure for all time, and through all seasons. In all the rest, one partner puts forth the prodigious effort to make them work. The funny thing is that in bad relationships, both partners tend to think they are the one who is making it work, and this breeds the abiding resentment that will eventually cause it to fall apart. We may, in a sentimental mood, wish we had someone beside us as the holiday approaches, but if we reflect on the tension of the holiday with someone who was never really right for us, of gifts unappreciated, of arguments over when or where or how to celebrate, we can learn to deal with the fact that just maybe we’re better off alone. This is not to say we plan to stay alone—only that we are learning to be comfortable with the change.
All seasons are transitions from one thing to another, and will return. But relationships are not seasonal in that good ones endure through all seasons and bad ones can end. Just end. I heard a comedian once say that his girlfriend had decided to continue their relationship without him. This is a farcical expression of one’s inability to face what has ended; not changed, not evolving, but over. It’s something many of us will face, and we need to be able to do it.
But Christmas makes it hard. Perhaps all holidays are hard, but Christmas, being something like the King of Holidays, is the worst. I am having my family come to my small ‘bachelor pad’ for Christmas Eve dinner. It will be fun, I’m sure. And then I will go to my mother’s for Christmas dinner. Hardly a lonely or isolated life, but very different. I have had a few correspondents in the past weeks console me about how it feels to be alone at this time of year. Something to ‘power through’ as one put it. So I am powering through, and keeping my eye on the New Year, on the spring, and on all the seasons of happiness to come.