The holiday season is made out to be this warm cheery time spent surrounded by loved ones, but when that's not your reality, the holidays can be lonely as fuck.
My parents are divorced, and when I was 19 I spent Christmas alone. My mom was with her husband and his family. My dad was with his girlfriend and her family. My older siblings were with their significant others and I spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day alone. I didn’t even get a phone call.
—Mega, 42, via the Loneliness Project
I’m openly gay to my friends but closeted to my family. Whenever I’m at home for the holidays, I usually go for a long stretch of time without romance/sexual interaction of any kind for fear of my family finding out. My Uber driver from the airport asked me, "Boys or girls?" I said, "Boys." He said, "Top or bottom?" I said, "Top." He said, "Wanna fuck?" I seriously considered going to a complete stranger’s house and having sex with him, but eventually my fear of being murdered led me to say no.
It was Christmas 1971. My family was downstairs — maybe a dozen people — and I was getting something in my bedroom. I remember looking out the window as the stars came out, listening to the laughter and bubbling conversations drifting up from downstairs, and a feeling went through me that told me I would never ever have this — a happy family of my own. Sadly, it proved to be true.
—Angela, 57, via the Loneliness Project
The first time I realized I felt lonely was a few years ago. I was at a Christmas party full of people. Some were close friends, some just acquaintances. I was the only person there without a significant other. That was something I was accustomed to and typically have been okay with. But this time I felt different. All of my friends have met and started new lives with someone else — all except me. I was in a room full of people and I was not only alone, but felt lonely. I couldn’t understand how that could be when I was surrounded by many people and have so many people that love me. But I was still lonely.
—Anonymous, 43, via the Loneliness Project
I think I've felt lonely throughout my life and I am truly alone except for my dog. Christmas guts me every year. I already accept there won't be even a phone call for me. I have bought a precooked meal and a slice of pie. My evening walk with the dog takes my soul every year, for curtains are open into living rooms full of families and friends. I can hear them, sometimes smell their turkey dinners, but most of all, I feel all their happiness, knowing I will never have it. I get home and get into bed and cry and will the day away with sleep.
—Scout, 60, via the Loneliness Project
Just like many others, my loneliness is exacerbated by the holidays. I want to spend my holidays with the people I love, and that does not entail my family. I want to spend time with friends, but unfortunately, my family would never allow that. So I’m forced into rooms with extended family members, while I’m incredibly empty and void inside.
—Kimberly, 23, via the Loneliness Project
I already have depression during the year, but then my seasonal depression is really bad once it starts getting darker outside. I can have a really great day, and then come home at night and feel drained and depressed and like life isn't worth living, which is the scariest thing. It's especially hard to explain to people during the holidays when everyone is happy. Depression doesn't take a break just because there's something fun going on, and this is something a lot of people have a hard time understanding. They try to say "just focus on the holidays" as if that won't make it worse. Sometimes even the good things during the holidays feel overwhelming and I feel like my head is too crowded to have the capacity to feel that joy.
My sisters and aunt have alienated my mom and me from their lives over the past couple years. We don’t fit into their perfect, snobby lifestyles and they think we’re losers. My mom and I may not be as well off as they are, but we’re not suffering either. My sisters and aunt control all family events and we are no longer invited for birthdays, family dinners, or holidays. Even though I think they’re pretty much bitches, it hurts to go from big holidays with 30+ people, to just me and my mom. I feel especially sad and lonely when I think of what my life will be like after my mom is gone. I will have no family left.
—N, 38, via the Loneliness Project
I suppose perhaps I'm at my loneliest during the holiday months because while everyone else is celebrating, I am oftentimes by myself, or even worse, surrounded by couples and families. On some holidays I'm fortunate enough to have my children come home, the others I'm not.
—T, 43, via the Loneliness Project
I felt most lonely when I moved cities for a job and two years later realized that I had made no connections deep enough in my new home where I could invite someone or be invited by someone for a Christmas meal. I am Muslim by faith but Christmas had always been a special time for me, so it was a crushing blow to me to realize that I was truly alone in that city.
—Luz, 59, via the Loneliness Project
Just before Christmas about 10 years ago, I was homesick but couldn't afford to go home (at the time I was studying abroad). When I admitted this to my mother she simply replied with "It will be good for you to spend some time alone." This literally felt like emotional betrayal. To this day I still feel like I can't count on her for emotional support.
—Emma, 34, The Loneliness Project
My parents care deeply about bringing together as much family as possible for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and will go to sometimes extreme measures to drag me or my sister from wherever we are to wherever they are. It's not that they're bad people or that I hate them or anything, but they're not really people my sister and I would ever spend time with if we weren't related. Those holidays sometimes feel like the Twilight Zone, stepping into my early teenage years, but it's even more work to please them now that I know there's life beyond that. All the while I feel ripped from places that feel much more real, and people I'd rather share a meal with than anyone else.
Again, my parents aren't bad or evil, but I spent 18 years living with them, and we know each others' routines so well that it feels like I'm doing stiff choreography with mannequins, rather than sharing any kind of closeness.
My parents separated during the holidays a few years ago and finalized their divorce last New Year. I dread this season for the feelings it brings up for me — and because no one quite understands how it feels. The mix of grief, relief, and fear is pretty alien to my friends and leaves me disconnected and alone until February.
Back home, Christmas and New Year were big holidays. In my home country, my city was the country‘s capital, so there were always gigantic celebrations with families, relatives, friends, and I was invited to go to a lot of places to celebrate. Here in Canada, one of my parents has to work on either Christmas or New Year. It‘s sad because now, it's just my parents, my younger brother and I during the holidays. My youngest brother passed away a few years ago and we already didn't have a lot of people to celebrate it with in this new country, and now it hurts even more that my youngest brother passed away. Usually, we just watch TV during the holidays, and depending on whether my mom has work or not, she prepares a big feast for like four people. If not, we just watch TV and my dad drinks and locks himself in his room until the next day.
—Rei, 23, via the Loneliness Project
It‘s Christmas and we‘re opening gifts. My brother makes a rude comment and my dad gets out of his chair and screeches, "Why don't you just leave! I hate you!" This ended in a knockdown drag-out fight, my mother crying alone in the bathroom, and me trying to hold back tears as I open a gift under the now empty tree. I'm not sure I like Christmas so much anymore. In practice it's wonderful but in reality it feels like acid to my skin.
—Anonymous, 14, via the Loneliness Project
I'm a queer, nonbinary trans person and I feel very lonely during the holidays when I have to be with my conservative, Catholic family. The common holiday advice is "Don't spend time with people who don't accept and support you!" and that's obviously the ideal, but for myself and plenty of folks I know, it isn't easy to get out of holiday commitments with family of origin‚ and doing so can often make things worse and more tense overall.
While I'm at my family's place I have to put up with being deadnamed (because they think my chosen name is silly) and misgendered (because they don't acknowledge that some people — like myself — identify outside of the gender binary), and on top of that I'm expected to keep quiet about all my liberal snowflake views so I don't cause a scene and ruin Christmas. I take as much holiday survival advice as I can, but even though I text my partner when I need support and I live-tweet the ridiculous and upsetting comments during the visit, I still feel incredibly lonely and isolated. I tend to feel trapped because even my siblings aren't very understanding of how being there has such a negative impact on me, so I'm alone there in everything I'm feeling, just pretending to be the person they think I am.
My mom died just after Christmas back in 2005, and ever since my dad doesn't celebrate the holiday. I'm an adult now but I'm not close enough to my mom's family to ask to spend Christmas with them, and my dad's family is too far away to visit. I always end up working on Christmas to distract myself and make some money, but it's definitely a hard holiday for me. It makes me feel very lonely to see people spending time with family, but I try to keep busy and get it over with. I just tell people I'm a Grinch when they ask why I don't celebrate the holiday, but one day I do want a tree and dinner and the whole shebang.
Around the holidays, there is enormous pressure to constantly be participating in festive activities with friends, family, significant others. It can be really lonely for people struggling with mental illness, people who feel alienated from their friends, forever-single people. As I get older, I also find that I get more melancholy during the holidays and as the year winds down because it's a reminder that time is passing and I still have no idea what I'm doing with my life. Plus, I work in retail and holiday shoppers often make me feel murderous. This time of year can be really wonderful, but it can also exacerbate grief, sadness, depression, and anxiety.
If you can relate, here are ways you can feel less lonely during the holidays, according to therapists.
And by the way, if you want to talk to someone (because hey, sometimes we all do), you can reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) and the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741.