This week, when millions of single, childless twenty- and thirty-something professionals head back home for the holidays, is a funny time for those of us in that demographic. We're used to our own agendas, our own homes and apartments, a faster pace, and spending more time with friends than family. But over the next few days, most of us who don't yet have our own little families will inevitably head back to the mother- (or father-) ship.
At my mother's house, Christmas goes something like this: Everyone declares that there is WAY too much food, and then we eat all of it and have to change into sweatpants. My mother always makes us suffer through a twenty-minute photo session in color-coordinated apparel to get just one decent shot for the family Christmas card. (Funny, my sisters and I have no problem taking 18 million pics of ourselves for Facebook, but somehow the family portrait is like Chinese water torture.) There is always that weird moment when I head for the kids table, even though I'm 27. Someone always pours herself a little too much mulled wine and has an emotional breakdown. Someone's child always incurs some minor injury. One person always wanders off and takes a nap.
I love the decorations, the food, the music, and time with family, but against my will, the holidays tend to bring up unwanted feelings about being single. It just so happens that I've never brought any significant other home to meet my family. It's not that I don't date -- just that somehow every one of my relationships has either been way too new for family introductions or just petered out when the holidays roll around.
During most of the year, I don't think about how short-lived most of my romances are. I'm generally too busy and having too much fun on my own to want a long-term relationship. But from Thanksgiving through all of the Christmas parties to the nausea-inducing thought of the midnight kiss on New Year's Eve, I do wish more and more that someone to share it with. I confess I'm even skipping a party this very week because I looked at the evite guest list and realized I would be the only single gal there. I know I'm confident enough to handle walking in alone, but at the end of the night, back to the car, on to an empty apartment, that sounds like the longest, coldest walk of my life.
And then I start thinking about the future. How much longer I will be looking for my "plus one," I ask myself. Someone to roll eyes with at the work parties, to sneak kisses with under the mistletoe, to tell me I look beautiful and snuggle up on the couch with spiced cider in front of a fire. Sometimes I really want my own Hallmark commercial.
But I've also started to think about what it would really be like to bring home to my family. First of all, how would I ever explain what goes on in my mother's house at this time of year?
"This is Grandma Great ... every year we say it might be her last holiday. Make sure she always has a blanket and a Corona, ask her stories about the Depression. She won't remember you in five minutes."
"This is the part where the grown men have had just enough wine and are willing to play Dance Off on the Wii for our entertainment."
"This is the part where the little boy cousins get too excited and someone gets hurt and cries. Put the guilty party In timeout."
"This is when my grandmas and aunts start asking me when I'm ever gonna get married."
But I also think about what I would start to lose. Sure, I'd have a hand to hold, but maybe I wouldn't be able to sneak away with all my sisters and girl cousins to a bedroom upstairs and give them college and boy advice. I wouldn't be able to curl up next to Grandma and ask to hear stories. I'd have to explain hundreds of inside jokes that my family just "gets." And would he be willing to stay for the annual midnight viewings of "Elf" and "Love Actually"? I've seen my sister and friends bring home significant others and spend the holidays practically babysitting them, making sure they're okay, that they don't feel awkward (which of course they do) and always leave early. I'm not sure I'm ready for that. When those significant others become husbands and babies ensue, the women in my family end up having to decide whether to spend the holidays with our family or another. At this time of year, I can't imagine not being with mine.
I imagine I will sometime in the next few years bring some poor, bewildered man home to meet my family, and if he can handle the crazy, then I'll know I have a winner! And I do look forward to that. But for now, I'm soaking up these holidays with just my family, without having to explain it to outsiders and without the major shifts in dynamic I know will change our quirky but beautiful traditions. And I'll be thankful for this time.