It’s at this time of year, when I’m done tweezing smashed baubles out of my feet and the garden reeks of dead Minions and rotting pine needles, that I can take the time to reflect on what Christmas means to me. The dog is no longer dressed as a reindeer, the post-NYE court summons are on their way and I’m temporarily low enough on gin that I can reflect on the reason for the season.
Christmas isn’t just about mince pie bloat or hoverboard injuries, sexual harassment at the office party and getting punched by a drunk aunt, but about friends, family and lovers. Specifically, it’s about encouraging people who have those things to spend loads of money on them and making those people who don’t feel like they’ve failed at life. “What’s wrong with you?” we say with a passive-aggressive pity face “you haven’t got anybody to enjoy the X Factor final with. Even Adele has a partner, and she can’t stop bellowing about the last one.” Poor singletons, says society, you are missing out. But is that really the case?
After December’s festivities and a cold miserable January, February is calculated to push lonely people over the edge through the most awful ‘special day’ of them all. Even if you steer clear of the gift shops Valentine’s Day is spaffed all over your social media experience in the form of a thousand twee Facebook posts from over-sharing couples. Well, my single friends, before you get too slighted by these public displays of affection, take a minute to think to yourself why anybody feels the need to remind you how happy they are. Consider why Christmas is often about spending money you don’t have and enduring the company of people you’d rather stuff with sausage meat and roast in the oven. Look deep into the eyes of that smiling couple with their selfie stick in Venice, Paris or St Peter Port – can you see that tiny glint of desperation? Humanity’s squalid little secret is that most people can barely tolerate each other. We’re often just afraid of being alone, and if oversharing couples were honest they’d snap the selfie stick, take back their kooky wedding vows and run to opposite ends of the earth whilst the children are in the soft play.
Misery loves company
Now, before a raging Valentine’s mob storms my house with satin pitchforks and does something unspeakable with an Ann Summers goodie bag, I should make it clear that I’m not saying this about all couples. I’m happily married to another hater, so there’s no reason for me not to believe that your Kylie and Tyson 4 Eva car sticker and matching neck tattoos spell true love (even if you can’t personally spell it). You might even have pushed out a few babies, which is totally a sign that you are soul-mates and has nothing to do with biological imperative or the unreliability of contraception. No, I’m just talking about those other couples, the annoying ones. The ones who don’t stop going on about it. Not you. Put down the strawberry lube and get out of my garden.
I’ll concede it’s unfailingly impressive that anybody manages to spend all their free time with another human without murdering them in their sleep, but what smug couples don’t realise is that it’s equally admirable being able to enjoy your own company and to have a meaningful existence without it revolving around another person. This might come as a shock to people in TRUE LOVE but many people can enjoy films, beaches and art galleries without needing to exchange saliva every five minutes. They can have conversations with friends without texting or referring to their partner/children nonstop, and with practice can even experience a normal range of human emotions without yoyoing between total adoration and that special shouty rage that only people in a long-term relationship can truly summon. Obviously the ideal mental state is somewhere between the thighs of obsessive coupledom and utter self-reliance, but there’s a conspiracy to convince us that it’s an all-or-nothing proposition. Either marry somebody, pump out 2.4 kids and learn to adore their morning breath and hairy back, or die alone and sexually frustrated, unmourned in a filthy hovel full of vodka and cats.
Happiness is somewhere in the middle
Being bonded to another human undeniably has its good points, but if you’re halfway normal there will be long periods in your life where you aren’t. Just remember it probably isn’t a reflection on you, because people are terrible idiots and you have to burn through a lot of them before you find one you don’t want to kill. I’ve spent enough time minding my own business to remember how much it can stink, but unless you are Beyonce-level sexy you might as well get used to the odd stretch where the phrase ‘significant other’ refers to your texting hand. I’d go as far as to say you’re a fool if you don’t try and enjoy the benefits offered by single life. Use the toilet with the door open, drink beer in the shower and break wind wherever you feel like it. Eat and sleep any time it feels appropriate, go out whenever the opportunity presents itself and go home with whoever you want. Even if you aren’t successful on that front there’s this wonderful thing called the internet that will keep you ‘entertained’ for hours, doesn’t care when you don’t feel like making conversation afterwards and won’t expect you to cook breakfast for anybody other than yourself. Just keep it legal and clear your browser history if Mum comes round to check you haven’t drowned in your own dirty laundry.
The most important thing you need to remember is that you need to try hard enough to get what you want, but not hard enough that you lose all sense of yourself. This advice is true when you’re on your own, but lots of people quickly forget that it’s still true when you’ve been married sixty years and know your partner inside out in gross ways that you probably didn’t anticipate when you still had all your own teeth. If I’ve learned anything about enjoying the company of other humans it has nothing to do with mawkish Christmas feely-fests and Valentine’s day schmaltz, it’s more likely I passed out in front of the telly and picked up some subliminal wisdom from RuPaul’s Drag Race or Peep Show. Breathe deep and tell yourself – you too can be happy. As long as you ignore social propaganda and come to accept that, like me, your definition of true love might be as simple as finding a person who you can hear chewing a steak without wanting to ram them in the eye with a fork. Happy Valentine’s Day.