Lesson #2 – Kick Those Holiday Season Woes to the Curb

Learning to Dance Again

I have this nasty little habit of hiding when things aren’t going very well. I close myself off to the rest of the world and sink low into woe-is-me bliss. And then when I just can’t take it anymore, when I feel like I am about to drown in my own misery, I panic and begin to call out for help. This has been me during every holiday season for the past several years. I dread its arrival, loathe its presence, and joyfully pay good riddance to its departure.

It’s not that I am traditionally a Grinch. It’s actually quite the opposite. I grew up loving the holiday season. It was always a big deal in my family. My brother and I both celebrate birthdays in December. I am a sucker for Christmas music. At any given moment this time of year, you can find me dancing in my house, Christmas music blaring, while I shamelessly sing at the very top of my lungs. I have always been inspired by the well-intentioned efforts of many to exude love and joy this time of year (though I’d like to see the world practice love and joy all year round).

Well… as my marriage began to slowly unravel, compounded with the fact that I was living out in the middle of nowhere with no family and very few friends to call upon, November and December had become a torturous, mundane time of year – far from what I used to enjoy back home. Not only did my holiday seasons in Nowhere Land lack joy and tradition, but it was also an incredibly lonesome time, especially after I became single. November and December became my annual depressing time of year. I spent an enormous amount of energy worrying about how I would get through Thanksgiving, my birthday, Christmas, Kwanzaa and New Years. Forget love and joy… I just wanted the season to be OVER. And each year, on January 1 when it was all over – I would finally exhale and go on with my life, grateful that it was all behind me.

But you know what? Even though I may have had every justifiable reason in the world to feel this way during the holiday season, I made the choice to make it a miserable time of year. I chose to feel sorry for myself. And I chose to shut everyone out. I wasn’t aware that I had a choice. I didn’t know that despite the circumstances, I had the power to make this time of year what I wanted it to be. I wasn’t ready to see that. Everything I knew at that point in my life came from a very basic level of understanding – it hurt, I was lonely, and I missed family tradition. I had even convinced myself for many years that the holidays weren’t that important to me. Who needs decorations? What’s the point of gift-giving? People have turned Christmas into a shopping nightmare. But this was all just a cover – my way of “being cool” about it all. The fact is, I love to give. I love to put smiles on people’s faces. I love tradition. I love to decorate the house. I love Christmas parties. I love laughter. And I love that whole idea of mistletoe. I am a hopeful romantic. How can I not? All of these things have always been grounded in the love and family togetherness of my childhood  years. And I want it all back.

So this year, my friends, I have decided to keep it real. Rather than being consumed with what I don’t have, or hanging my head because I no longer have a significant other in my life, or expending unnecessary energy on dreading the holidays, I have decided to take proactive measures. I am going to make this an exciting time of year. As a single person, I have free reign to recreate tradition. I can rewrite what November and December mean for me. I’ve never been into Santa Clause and Easter Bunnies, but I can create a fun, meaningful, loving time for myself and the kids in our own special way. Here’s what I’ve decided to do:

Haul out the Holly…Decorate!

Thank God for the Dollar Tree. Money is tight, but I still get to decorate the house! The Dollar Tree fits perfectly into my budget. The kids and I will make a special trip to pick out some decorations for the house as our big kickoff for the holiday season. Where else can you get Christmas stockings for $1? I’ve never hung Christmas lights on the outside of a house, but this year, I’m going to figure it out – or play damsel in distress and get a nice sexy, strong chocolate brother to handle that for me!

Find a Family Gathering

Thankfully, I no longer live in the middle of nowhere, so the drive to the big family gathering is just three hours away – just close enough to get there, and just far enough away to not have to stay for the weekend.  If hanging out with relatives was not an option (like when I was living in Nowhere Land), I would have hosted a dinner at my house for other stray friends and neighbors who have nowhere to go. Another great option is through www.meetup.com. the worlds “largest network” of local groups. I am a part of a several groups from this website that are hosting Thanksgiving dinner for people who don’t have family in town. What an excellent idea!

Throw A Birthday Bash

It’s true. I’ll confess it. I used to be a hopeless romantic. I used to rely on other people to make me happy – and then feel broken-hearted and abandoned when they didn’t come through for me. So for past birthdays, I sat back and assumed that if my family and friends loved me enough, they would go out of their way to make my birthday special. This, my friends, made for some very lonely and disappointing birthdays. I think that this passive approach did nothing but inadvertently send a message to family and friends that I didn’t really care much about celebrating my birthday. This year, I decided to do something different. I’m throwing my own party. Simply mentioning to a few friends that I wanted to do something fun for my birthday got the ball rolling. Who’s not game to having a good time? So, I strung together some things that I would like to do (dinner, comedy club, lounge), sent out an invite, and voila! I’ve got a little birthday celebration! If people don’t know what you want, they can’t help you. If you want something, ask for it. Or do it yourself. I want to laugh and have fun for my birthday, so I’m doing what it takes to make that happen.

Host a Holiday Party

I love holiday parties. And I just got a new place. So, volunteering to host this year’s company holiday party is the perfect rite of passage for my home as I go from holiday season Grinch to holiday season enthusiast. And because it is usually a potluck, I don’t have to worry about spending the day in the kitchen preparing a meal for 25 people. If the idea of hosting a holiday party doesn’t exactly bring you joy, grab a friend and hit up as many holiday parties or festive events as the two of you can stomach together. At best, you get to get out of the house and experiment with cute outfits. At worst, you’ll discover that eggnog and fruit cake is just not your cup of tea. 🙂 I’m looking forward to this year’s company party. The excitement of the planning alone will keep me so busy that I won’t have time to sit at home and feel sorry for myself. I’ve got a party to plan!

Play With Your Food

I am a creative soul. Cooking and trying out new dishes is a great creative outlet. This year I am going to take a stab at some seasonal recipes that I’ve never tried, or that I’d like to perfect – gingerbread cookies, butternut squash soup, a pie I’ve never tasted – and prepare them with the kids.  If any of these experimental recipes turn out well, we may package them up and give them away or enjoy them as a part of a holiday season meal.

Spread the Love 

I’ve never been a fan of frenzied, fanatic Christmas gift shopping. I love giving gifts, but I cling tightly to the essence of what giving is to be about. I want the people in my life to know that I love and appreciate them, but I don’t believe that I need to break the bank and go purchase a new 3D flat screen TV to express that love and appreciation. This year, I will find creative and meaningful ways to give so that the gift is more about the expression of gratitude for the other person than it is about me. Some ideas include: making sentimental jewelry, cooking up a meal in a basket, or giving a massage gift card for someone who needs a break (see Groupon or Living Social for great deals). If my gift can make someone’s life a little easier, or make them feel a little better about themselves, I’ve captured the essence of what giving is all about – and that in itself is quite satisfying for me.

Lend a Helping Hand

I used to frown upon the whole idea of “charity” for the holiday season. My mantra has always been, “Why not just give and serve all year long? People are hungry in July and August, too.” But here’s what I’ve realized: the fact of the matter is that I still wasn’t lifting a finger in July and August. It’s like those folks who shun Valentine’s Day because, “we’re supposed to express love all throughout the year.” Well, these are often the very folks who don’t engage in gestures of love. Ever. They just complain because everyone else is giving candy and flowers and going to dinner on V-day, and they are not. They prefer to rebel. I don’t want to be that guy. So, this year, I have decided to roll up my sleeves and get the family involved with service. This is the perfect time of year to set the spirit of service into motion for the year to come. It is important to start somewhere. I want to teach my kids the value of giving back. We have been tremendously blessed, and we all need to be reminded that everyone is at different stages of the journey. Some are seeking shelter, some struggle with finding a meal, others simply want a reason to believe. If there is a way that my family can help, then we have a duty to do what we can. So this year, we will begin a tradition of stepping in to serve where we can – a soup kitchen, a toy drive, a turkey run. Perhaps, we will spend Christmas day serving others. And then, we will continue that tradition in a variety of ways throughout the year.

Embrace a New Tradition

I’ve dabbled with the idea of celebrating Kwanzaa, but have never really gone all out with it. In my former life, as a student life event planner on a few college campuses, I planned many Kwanzaa events for our students. I just never really got around to bringing that tradition home. This year, Kwanzaa is coming home. The seven principles (unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith) reflect my own life values and could make for great family conversation and planning for the upcoming year. I am going to embrace Kwanzaa as a new tradition for our family and finish it all off with a new a New Years day dinner – a culminating celebration of love among family and friends. There are many existing traditions to choose from, and there are many more that have yet to be created. Sky’s the limit!

This year, there will be no time for woe is me! If I am not proactive about my own happiness, I am simply leaving it all to the wind. With a new understanding that how I approach the holidays is my choice, I choose to go into this holiday season with purpose and with a plan to enjoy each day to the fullest. This year, I will get out my holiday shoes and dance again. I will blast the cheesiest of Christmas music and hang mistletoe in my living room and try ice skating for the first time. I choose to make this season what I want it to be. And I choose to keep love in my heart every step of the way.

What will you choose?

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Lesson #1 – 7 Benefits of Being Single

If you’re anything like me, you are so done with hearing the family and friends mantra, “Stop complaining about being single. Stop wishing you had somebody. You’re single, enjoy life! Who needs love?” As if that’s supposed to be comforting. The reality for hopeful romantics is that WE want love! We want partnership. We want laugher. We want crazy, stupid, incredible sex!

I hear you. I want those things too. But, let’s slide back into reality for a minute. Look down at where your feet are planted. They may not be standing in the ideal spot, but you are where you are at this very moment, right? You won’t be standing there forever, so why not figure out how to enjoy it – I mean truly and genuinely enjoy it? Why not take that very annoying advice from mom, from sister, from best friend – and just give it a try?

After my last relationship, it literally felt like God had put me on punishment for a year. I was convinced of it. Very few men approached me, and those who did were so screamingly disrespectful, I couldn’t be open-minded and fake enough to give them a try if I wanted to. Example?

The Dude: Yo, I ain’t in the mood to go eat. And I don’t do movies. Just come to my place. I promise to cook you a nice breakfast in the morning, sweetheart.
This Hopeful Romantic: For real? But, I just met you 10 minutes ago…

I am not kidding! All seven of the dudes I met upon my first year in this booming metropolis approached me in this way. And all seven dropped me as soon as I suggested that we meet up for a movie or dinner as a first date instead of HIS HOUSE. So, single I remained. I had no dates – not even a worthless prospect to complain about – for an entire year. Nothing.  My world was just about as isolating as they come – new city, no friends, and no luck meeting people who stick. It took me awhile to finally wake up and accept the fact that I am where I am, and that maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad thing to take that cliché advice I kept hearing. Maybe there was something to it. And you know what? There was!

The Seven Benefits

I’m sure that my fellow hopeful romantics want me to say that after that year, I opened my eyes, accepted where I was in life, and voila! Love was standing right before me.  Well… that’s not exactly what happened. I’m still single. But now, I can honestly (and not clichély) say, I’m happily single. I’ve gone from being a hopeless romantic to a hopeful romantic. There actually are some benefits to being single! Here’s what this Hopeful Romantic has discovered:

#1 – You Get to Redefine Yourself

This is when you have free reign to set new priorities for yourself that no one can weigh in on but you. What do you like? What have you always wanted to try? What talents have you abandoned? What goals have you always wanted to pursue? What old priorities (left over from the last relationship) do you want to release?  It’s time to define what’s important to you, and then to fully become you!

#2 – It’s a Perfect Time to Socialize

Date! Meet new people, make new friends, network. Join a writing club, an outdoors group. Check out www.meetup.com. As you meet new people, you learn who you do and do not mesh well with. What do people seem to love about you? Use this time to learn about how you interact with other people, to work on any interpersonal challenges, and to discover your strengths.

#3 – You have time to Become an Expert

Get great at what you do. If you aren’t in love with your career path, start working on one that you can be great at. Start a new business. Strengthen yourself as a professional. Who doesn’t want to find ways to enhance their income? Get extra training. Go back to school. Invest in you! Now, while you’re single, is the best time ever to get it done!

#4 – It’s Your Prerogative to Spoil Yourself

No permission needed! Go get a massage. Treat yourself to dinner at your favorite restaurant. Spend a day in the tub with a glass of wine and enjoy a mani-pedi after. Go to a film festival or lose yourself in a pile of books at the local book store. Whatever it is, it’s your life, go do it! Go hiking, enjoy an apple pie, play the Wii in your living room. Do what you like with no judgment – but do it, of course, in moderation!

#5 – Nobody Complains if You Mess up a Meal

Try something new! Experiment with a new meal, and if you burn it, big deal! Dive into jewelry-making, and if you only come up with masterpieces that your mother would love, that’s okay! Just try it again later (or let it go and try something else). Rock a new look – a haircut, a new style of shoes, experiment with makeup. Step out of your comfort zone and take those risks now while it’s not quite so risky.

#6 – It’s Quiet Enough to Think!

Ahhhh… peace and quiet. I know sometimes the quiet is so loud that it’s hard to see it as peaceful, but it’s all in your perception. This is your chance to think, to process the patterns of your life, to consider where you want to go and who you want to be. Enjoy the peace and quiet of your world. Enjoy the calm of having one less person to impress or cater to. Enjoy the calm while you have it – because even in the best of relationships, sometimes the calm is all we long for.

#7 – This is Your Chance to Challenge Yourself

Prove to yourself that you can function at 100% and that you can become genuinely happy with your life in the “single” status. Prove to yourself that you are awesome enough to keep your life stimulated and fulfilled on your own. It is up to you to become a complete person, rather than wait around for someone to complete you.

Now it’s your turn…

What benefits have you discovered as a single lady or gent??? Leave a comment and let us all know!

Pamela Antoinette
The Hopeful Romantic

Suddenly Single

What am I up to now? Yes, I am always up to something. It trips me out to see the way that my life as a single woman is unfolding right before my eyes, so I thought the least I could do is to share this crazy journey with all of you!

Three years ago today, I was living the daily routine of married life: getting the kids to school, dashing to work, fixing dinner, going to class, and getting in bed just in time to perform some supreme wifely duties. There were holidays with in-laws, fake smiles, fake hugs, fake conversations, and very real – but well masked – internal angst. I never expected that any of this would change. I would just stomach it – and hopefully over time, it would just get better.

But chaos struck my world and rocked our little routine-dependent household in the form of a beautiful young, Gabrielle Union-esque neighbor from Zimbabwe that my husband simply could not resist. Need I say more? One night I was doing the family routine, clueless of what was to happen over the next 24 hours. The next night, I was packing my bags, never to return. Suddenly single. Just like that. I had to face myself and the reality of what our marriage really was – that she was not the first, nor would she be the last. I had to come clean about the denial I had been living in for more than a decade. So I did what I believed was best for me. I filed for divorce, and for the first time in 12 years, I set foot into the world as a single lady, this time in my 30s, and clueless about the life I was about to embark upon. Was I in for a surprise!

Being single and 30 is quite different than being single and 20 (and in college). Here are a few of the differences that immediately had me stunned:

  • In college, there is a built-in social community of people with similar goals and interests. It’s so much easier to meet people!
  • Although I had my young son in tow with me during my college years (he was born when I was 19), it’s a whole new ball game when you have 2 kids and full-time career. Meeting people isn’t quite so easy. You have to be deliberate about it.
  • Men in their 30s tend to opt for the younger, more spontaneous-because-she-can-be 20-something woman, especially if she has never been married and has no kids.
  • The world moves at a much faster pace. By this, I mean no one wants to take time to get to know each other before, say, jumping in bed together! (Haven’t yet figured out if this is because I’m dating guys in an older age bracket, or if the world has indeed started moving at a faster pace – I have, after all, missed an entire decade of dating).
  • Women in their 30s and 40s seem to be much more bitter and hopeless… so it’s difficult to find female friends who are not (a) trying to compete with you; (b) trying to compete with you; (c) trying to compete with you. Most women I have met are just flat out irritated (or threatened) by my commitment to keep it positive.
These are just a few of the differences I have observed. The social researcher in me is actually kind of intrigued by this process. I’m learning about how men and women interact with one another, about how they think, and about myself! Because I am deliberately self-perceptive, I am blown away by what I see in myself and how much I am changing. Some of what I see in myself is good, some is not. But I always do what I can to stay positive and change for the better.
I haven’t always been a hopeful romantic. I actually used to be pretty hopeless – until I took a deep look inside of myself and made the choice to perceive life differently. So as a hopeful romantic, here are some rules I have set for myself:
  • Love my life! Be inspired by love, stay positive, treat each new day and each experience as a gift.
  • Stay out of woe-is-me mode. This is a process of growth, not gloom and doom.
  • Be open to new experiences, but never compromise my values. In other words, stand firm on what I believe in.
  • Follow my instincts. If it doesn’t feel right – get out right then. Ask questions later.
  • Always, always, always remember my worth.
So… are you ready to take this journey with me??? No need to pack any baggage. Leave all that old stuff behind and let’s go!
Pamela Antoinette, This Hopeful Romantic