sex, money, and miscellany: talking about what matters

the .holidays. are coming!

In Uncategorized on December 15, 2009 at 10:34 am

…the holidays are coming, yes they are. And we’re all going to be happy and cheerful and joyous and all that, right?

Um.

Maybe just a few of us didn’t get that memo. Raise your hand if you have dysfunctional holiday dynamics in .your. house.

Yeah, me too. Well, I used to. Then…things changed. (Vagueness to protect everyone else). Now I’m starting to actually like the holidays. I’m thinking about creating some traditions I like. I’m stressing out less and laughing more. And I’m learning some stuff. To wit:

  • Don’t buy stuff if you don’t want to. The rules about buying stuff need to change, but they won’t change if we don’t change them. Most people want their gifts to make someone’s world better. Think honestly about whether or not your gift is going to have the intended result, and whether you’re giving it for your sake or for theirs. Are you just trying to avoid looking bad, or is there a real reason to give the gift? What does the holiday spirit mean to you?
  • Dress up if you like it. Dress up as a sign of respect for your host. But if you all would be happier in jeans and flannel shirts, wear that. Holidays are about celebration and happiness, not about performance. (Except The Nutcracker. That’s a performance.)
  • Communicate clearly about what you want (and expect) and be willing to negotiate: if the picture in your head involves staying in bed until 10 AM, let everyone know that bouncing and squealing at 5 AM will not be a party for you but maybe be willing to stay in the bedroom at the far end of the house so the children can squeal without you. If you love an elaborate meal but don’t want to cook it, see if you can offer to do something else (dishes? wrapping paper cleanup?) in exchange–or see if you can hire someone, or join forces with another family, or go to a community holiday dinner instead. It can’t be a diva princess thing, so put down the tiara–you have to be willing to hear why the eighteen million windup toys at breakfast are an important family tradition and figure out a way to include them, too.
  • Be good, giving, and game. Dan Savage writes a column called Savage Love which features sex advice that is for grown-ups: forthright, opinionated, and not always politically correct. It’s syndicated in a lot of alternative newspapers across the country. I’m stealing one of his neologisms: GGG. A partner who is good, giving, and game is: a good sexual partner, gives “equal time and equal pleasure”, and is “game to try anything within reason.” At holiday gatherings, it’s not a bad model: we could all try to be good (fun, interesting, not too irritating or irritable), giving (be flexible–you’re stuck with these people whether you are gracious or not), and game (yes, we can all sing whatever that awful Christmas carol is that Uncle Overshoe loves so much). Of course, all this within reason. Some days GGG might be quietly leaving the table to go for a walk, because it’s the best you can do.
  • Remember the light. The darkness of these northern hemisphere days around the Solstice/Yule is real. It has a real impact on our moods. If you’re living north of the equator and in an irretrievable funk, turn on the lights, turn up the bouncy music, start a fire (there’s more than one reason we Mainers have hung onto our wood stoves), sit in front of a happy lamp, and get outside when the sun is out. You might surprise yourself.
  • and finally, take a long look at your expectations. Are they realistic? Are they likely to work in your favor? Have you been hoping every year for the last fifteen years that you will gather at the table with four generations of people and perfectly matched dishes for elegant and inoffensive conversation, only to find that the children and grandchildren are cranky and crying, the parents are exhausted and distracted, and the grandparents would rather be watching TV? If you’re trying to fit everyone else into your mold, STOP. Just stop. Love people for who and where they are. Love the temple with the spilled oil; love the baby in the barn. Or don’t. No one says you actually have to love anyone. Maybe you just need to give yourself a break and stay home with a stack of novels and a vat of hot chocolate and mail presents to the three people you really love and miss, or go serve/clean up after Christmas turkey at the local shelter (which is a great way to spend the day giving without spending money). Better yet, go to the shelter and ask when they next need help. There’s a growing trend to help out on Christmas; they might need you on the 28th or the 2nd of January or something. Be useful. Be realistic. See what you really have to give that you want to give, and give that.

Good luck. And blessings, even-especially-if your festival of choice was last month or is two months hence.

PS: if the holiday stress has a particularly knotty problem that you need some strategizing around, I’m offering a coaching special. For December and January, book a one-off strategizing session for the holidays and get 33% off my usual price. Maybe your family always gets into the same fight; maybe there’s a person who always drinks too much; maybe you know your mom won’t like your new boyfriend; maybe you want to get everyone gifts but the budget can’t hold it all this year; maybe the person who cooks dinner can’t understand that your 14 year old has decided to be vegetarian and won’t eat anything with meat in it (and yes that includes turkey. and gravy). Whatever it is, we’ll get you a strategy you can live with and book a follow-up check-in. You can love your life–every month. Even this one.

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  1. good ideas. being loved for who you are and where you’re at is important. someday maybe we’ll all feel that way. it’s a really good thing to want, good thing to realize you need.

  2. Count me in for the sitting at home with a stack of novels and hot chocolate. I can’t wait until the bell ringers are gone, the xmas music stops playing every fourth song, and people STOP ASKING what I’m doing for the holidays.

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