How to healthily navigate couple-centered holidays as a single person.
The moment Dec. 25 wrapped up, every Target morphed from red to hot pink. Christmas trees became lace doily hearts, and Shane Co.’s radio commercials swapped from advertising holiday gifts to hawking diamonds to show affection. For folks experiencing the rawness of a recent break-up, holidays like Valentine’s Day can lead to pretty painful emotions.
“Being partnered is almost part of consumerism right now and there’s a lot of expectations,” said Katie Leikam, a Decatur-based licensed clinical social worker who specializes in working with transgender individuals who are transitioning, and gay men with anxiety and relationship stress. “During the holidays, people are marketed to as couples … and people who are single are reminded about that pretty much constantly.”
Surround Yourself with Community
She said stores putting commercials on TV and radio that suggest their wares as “that special gift” for “that special someone” are a prime example.
Brian Gieringer, a gay Atlanta-based licensed marriage and family therapist, said this kind of marketing can make people feel isolated and alone.
“Partners become an important part of our lives. They’re the first person you would share good news and bad news with. They made you feel supported and loved. When a relationship ends, it is normal to go through a mourning period,” he said. “It’s important to have a good support network of friends, coworkers or even family members so we feel like part of a community.”
Take a Break From Toxicity
Even within that support system, being out and about in a group situation around Valentine’s Day can be jarring for the only single person. For a newly single LGBTQ individual, there’s another layer to the cake: if he’s not out to certain friends and family, for example, a gay man may deal with being asked about when he’s going to find himself a woman for his Valentine.
Gieringer suggests forming a pre-coping strategy to assist in these situations: talk to supportive relatives and friends beforehand and let them know who makes them uncomfortable.
“It’s often surprising that people don’t know situations bother you until you tell them,” he said. “Another option is to have an exit strategy in place ahead of time.”
Gieringer also advised having affirming folks a phone call away if the need to vent arises.
“Friends can help you remember that you’re not alone and that there are people who care about you,” Gieringer said. “If a situation is really painful, then it might be worthwhile to reassess and see if you are really obliged to take part.”
Make New Memories
Holidays are typically times when couples follow traditions, whether that’s a particular date night spot on Valentine’s Day or a specific inside joke gift given every Feb. 14. Leikam advises her clients to intentionally make new memories and start a new tradition they do by themselves each year, whether or not they have a partner.