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Singles forge new holiday traditions

As their ranks swell, singles reach out to others, pamper themselves, or simply relish their solitude.

By Marilyn GardnerStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / December 9, 2008

In the seven years that Alison Ashton has been single, she has not always been free to travel to California for Christmas with her family. But rather than lamenting either her single status or her absent relatives, Ms. Ashton, a freelance writer in Birmingham, Ala., has found new ways to celebrate – with friends.

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“I’ve had some great holidays,” she says.

Christmas is a season of stereotypes. Popular images abound of happy families gathered around hearths and holiday tables. To the unattached, the whole country appears to be paired off – a giant Noah’s Ark. Yet with more than 90 million single or divorced people in the United States, images of holidays as totally ­family-oriented and couple-centered are outdated and ripe for revision.

“We’re in a transition time, societally, where we still think about holidays as if we all grew up in these nuclear families with a bunch of kids and low levels of divorce,” says Bella DePaulo, author of “Singled Out.” “But demographics are changing. Our ways of celebrating the holidays are also changing, but we don’t have a new set of images or ideas for these changes.”

Adjust expectations, plan, entertain

For Ashton, creating new images involves a three-pronged approach. First, she emphasizes the need to adjust expectations. “The same traditions don’t apply when you’re on your own,” she says.

Her second step is to make plans. “If you don’t like the idea of spending the holiday alone, be sure to initiate plans with friends. It can be difficult if you’re not proactive. That’s when you find yourself sitting at home, wishing you had made some plans.”
Ashton’s third suggestion is to entertain. “If you love to cook, invite other unattached folks over for the holiday. This can include couples, neighbors, friends, co-workers. Or make it potluck.” On Christmas Day, she and friends may head out for Chinese food and a movie.

Some singles enjoy solitude. But as Ms. DePaulo says, “Our images of holidays are of a houseful of people. It’s hard for people who want to celebrate on their own to be taken seriously.”

Lauren Mackler, a life coach in Newton, Mass., and author of the forthcoming “Solemate: Master the Art of Aloneness & Transform Your Life,” notes that nearly half of US adults – 43 percent – are living single lives. “It’s been increasing over the last three decades,” she says. “Yet how people think about being alone hasn’t changed very much.”

Too often, Ms. Mackler says, people regard being alone as something to pity. They think, “Here it is Christmas, and I have nobody.” Instead, she says, they should look at aloneness as an opportunity for freedom and growth.

Mackler suggests making a list of possible ways to spend the holidays. “If you’ve always wanted to go to Italy, maybe you can find a low fare on Orbitz. It’s also an opportunity to be of service to someone else. It’s an antidote to loneliness, because you’re doing something meaningful. You can catch up with friends who are also alone. Or go off to a retreat and be introspective. Or get books you’ve always wanted to read. Build a fire, light candles, and nurture yourself.”

Solitude can be relished sometimes

Barbara Kilikevicius, a mother of three in San Diego, has been single for almost 20 years. Although friends sometimes urged her to spend Christmas with them, she often declined. “I absolutely love a holiday alone once in a while,” she says. “I spend my day in my pajamas reading, watching old Christmas movies, and chatting on the phone with friends and family who are far away.”

For Kim Hughes, editor-in-chief of Click magazine and Lavalife, an online dating service, the holidays serve as a time to steer singles “away from potentially depressing things toward possibly good things ... that might put them in line for meeting another single.”