The holidays, for all their festive glitz and cheery additions to your social calendar, can also be tough if you’re single. Welcome to engagement season: the period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s when it seems like everyone and their best friend’s sister’s yoga teacher is getting engaged. The constant stream of “I said YES!” and look-at-my-ring posts on your social feeds is enough to make even the most confident of single people peeved.
Not only has it been a tough year for singles trying to meet someone new thanks to the pandemic, “everything gets a little bit exacerbated around the holidays,” says Rebecca Hendrix, LMFT, a therapist in New York and Connecticut. You’re off your regular schedule, drinking more, exercising less, over-programmed and under-rested. Combine that with an onslaught of questions about when you’ll finally “settle down” from well-meaning relatives you see once a year, and it’s enough to throw you into an existential crisis over why you seem to be the only one in the world not in love. (Or at least to make you feel deeply annoyed by all the proposal shots clogging up your Instagram feed.)
Being happy for the person who got engaged and simultaneously feeling a little sad can co-exist.
“It’s important to recognize that two things are going on at the same time that don’t need to be related to each other,” says Matt Lundquist, LCSW, a therapist in New York City. “One, someone you care about is having a wonderful experience — enjoy that, love on them. And two, you’re having some feelings about where you are at in life. You can be happy for your friend and also still acknowledge that their moment makes you feel sad.”
We asked the experts how to handle it if your single status is getting you down during engagement season:
Check-in with yourself
The first step to getting through engagement season with your sanity intact is to know when you’re having a hard time. “A lot of people just kind of bulldoze through it and don’t check in with themselves,” says Hendrix. “Just being aware of how you’re feeling and then knowing your own signs that you’re stressed is powerful.” Then you can properly address it.
Up your self-care
That’s where self-care comes in. “Write down some things that are really helpful for you when you’re stressed,” suggests Hendrix. Maybe it’s turning off your phone to binge a season of The Crown, a quick run, or calling your best friend. Every time you find yourself groaning over another ring pic, pull one of these things out of your self-care arsenal.
If you don’t know what helps you destress, she recommends working with a therapist to help identify the things “that help to unravel you in a positive way and take you down a few notches.”
Remember it’s okay if you’re not happy being single
Our culture often places an emphasis on loving the single life — You’re empowered! You’re prioritizing yourself! You’re doing whatever the hell you want! And that’s valid; being single can be freaking awesome for a lot of reasons.
But that doesn’t mean you have to be happy about being single all the time — it’s equally valid to feel sad about it sometimes. If seeing photos of people you know getting engaged over the holidays makes you sad, stop judging yourself, says Hendrix. “Don’t say ‘Oh, I should be stronger’ or ‘I should be able to look at those pictures and feel fine,’” she says. “Pain is normal — you might be sad if your friend got engaged and you’re not engaged. Maybe you really wish that you were at that point in your life or that you found that person and you haven’t.” That’s not to say you should wallow in sadness, but you definitely shouldn’t beat yourself up for feeling it.
Prepare your clap back
If you’re seeing relatives for the holidays and every year Aunt Betty asks you when you’re getting married, it may make you feel less anxious if you prep a confident response in advance. Something along the lines of “I never want to settle for just ‘good enough’” can help shut someone up pretty fast.
Change your perspective
Being happy for the person who got engaged and simultaneously feeling a little sad can co-exist. “If you see a friend get engaged and then you start to feel like ‘this is never going to happen to me, life sucks, all the good people are taken, this is horrible, etc.,’ then you’re taking on some victim energy,” says Hendrix.
Instead of going that route, own your feelings. “Someone with an owner mentality is somebody who’s like, ‘Okay, this happened to my friends, good for them. If it happened to them, it can happen to me,’” she says. Maybe it will even inspire you to make your own move and ask out that cute person from your book club.
Know your triggers — and avoid them
If the idea of seeing one more person you know get engaged before Christmas really stresses you out, give yourself a pass. “If you are bothered by pictures of people being engaged, do yourself a favor and don’t have those pictures come up,” says Hendrix. It’s totally fine to mute someone’s social media posts if you suspect they’re going to pop the question and honestly just aren’t up for seeing it.
“One of the biggest things we can do about things that make us feel hurt or sad is to have compassion for ourselves,” says Hendrix. “It’s okay to take care of yourself and remove yourself from situations for a little while — not forever because you can’t just avoid people that are engaged for the rest of your life — but if it’s during a peak time, like the holidays where things are already stressful, give yourself a break.”
In the meantime, “actively seeking out opportunities to celebrate with people around you whom you don’t need to work at being happy for is a good break from all of the time you’ll inevitably need to spend doing the opposite,” says Lundquist.
Take a break from social media
Sometimes, you just need a total break. “There are many reasons and occasions to take an active edit to your social media or a holiday from it altogether,” says Lundquist. “In most instances, things that make you feel bad should be avoided and social media often makes people feel bad.” Consider this a good time to connect with your other single friends IRL, or these days via Zoom.