The culture we live in plays on ideas that we harbor about expectations around the end-of-year holidays. We are supposed to be together, with loved ones, sharing holiday cheer. For many people, of course, the holidays are happy and joyful, full of love and light. But for others, the holiday expectations can make us feel like we are doing something wrong, almost as if it were our fault, if we are not fulfilling greeting-card and television commercial expectations.

This cultural pressure, along with less-than-joyful experiences in our family of origin, can lead us to look for ways to force our own “happy holidays” — preferably with someone special.

“Any dating can be a roller coaster for the psychological defense system — all the more so when we’re provoked by holiday expectations, desperation, loneliness and feeling left out.”Mark

So far so good. But, if we don’t have much insight into what caused the disappointments of Winter holidays past or how we play that out in the present, we’re liable to set ourselves up for new disappointments or worse. What if, once again we find ourselves wondering why everybody but me has somebody to meet under the mistletoe?

When that is the situation, New Year’s Eve can turn into a rush from party scene to party scene looking for someone, maybe anyone, to share an alcohol-fueled moment of “intimacy” that leaves us next day with a physical and emotional hangover.


Now meet Tammy. Tammy’s still unclear what went wrong in a romance that had started promisingly in the sweetness of Spring but had already burned out before by end of Summer. As the days turned cooler, Tammy began to dread the onset of the cold of Christmas — only the cold she was dreading had little to do with the temperature outside.

Without the protection of irrelationship, the carefully choreographed stand-in for intimacy that keeps anxiety at bay, the approach of Thanksgiving had made Tammy’s anxiety go through the roof. Thanksgiving itself wasn’t so bad because she would be with family and friends; but if she hadn’t found “someone special” to “not be alone” with by mid-December, panic and sleeplessness would start to set in. 

“What makes being alone so painful and intolerable sometimes, that much worse when everyone else seems so happy together?”Grant

She started spending all her free time on a dating app, and liberally “swiped right” meeting one guy after another, sometimes even spending the night with them. But that ended up only increasing the disappointment and worry. One guy who she really liked and who had seemed to return the feeling, disappeared after about a week of texting. This led, once again, to those all-too-familiar conversations with girlfriends: Did I do something wrong? Did I go too fast? Was I being played? Was I dropped for someone else, someone “better”? How personally should I take it?


A superficially serendipitous “swipe right” on a dating app brought Sam and Tammy together for coffee on the post-Thanksgiving Saturday afternoon . They met again the next day and talked a lot about past relationships with unhappy endings and about how much they dreaded being alone at the end of the year.

If Sam and Tammy had stopped to think, they probably would have realized that, though they kind of liked each other, they didn’t really have much to go on in terms of desire to be close to one another. But with the threat of “alone for the holidays” looming on the horizon, neither felt that “stop to think” was a luxury they could afford. 

“Holidays just might be the best possible setting for acting out irrelationship.”Daniel

Not much of a drill-down would have been needed, however, for Sam and Tammy to find areas of lifestyle choice likely raise red flags about compatibility. Sam came from a family of modest means, so wasn’t interested in spending a lot of money or time going out to meet groups of friends at trendy restaurants and going dancing afterwards. In fact, Sam genuinely prized cozy time at home in the evenings, and occasionally inviting one or two friends in for a quiet dinner. Tammy, on the other hand, came from an affluent family, and would often spend without a second thought on expensive nights out that ended about the time the next day began.

So, what happens between two such different people with history of carefully avoiding true intimacy, anticipate with dread the fast-approaching holidays?


They fell easily into an apparently-committed, exclusive relationship. Irrelationship-laced holidating deflected attention from whether or not this person, this relationship, answered to what they were truly looking for in a mate. Once again, Sam and Tammy had successfully sidestepped the uncomfortable risks of intimacy: vulnerability, empathy, emotional risk and emotional investment. But as the weeks passed, their different styles of celebrating grew into a source of increasing tension that was leaning toward an inevitable collapse of their relationship.

Problem solved — at least until Valentine’s Day.

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