Surviving the Holidays: An Introvert’s Guide

It happened in rapid succession. The emails landed with a resounding thud on my psyche today. “Hello Everyone, We’re thinking that for Thanksgiving…” and “I know it’s early, but we’d like to coordinate the family Christmas…”

I am an introvert. I find human contact only manageable in small doses, before I need to run away to a dark hidey-hole to process the interaction. Extended family celebrations, with the enforced captivity, doubly so.

Does this get-together feel as awkward as it looks?

Does this get-together feel as awkward as it looks?

If you’ve been reading this blog over the last few weeks, you know I’ve been finding my middle-aged spine. It’s a little angry and resentful and involves me inadvertently shouting “NO!” at random strangers. I’m usually not gracious about the holidays, but I suspect this year, it will be a torment unlike any I’ve ever known. Relationships will be permanently altered. Gifts will be taken back.

I’m trying to come up with a survival plan. I believe it involves duct tape and a plane ticket to anywhere else. Not as useful as you’d hoped, right?

Here’s some tips for surviving the holidays of the next couple of months.

Be picky about the time and place for celebration.

Have your holidays at a restaurant with a long wait list. That will force a reservation end time under an hour and 15 minutes. Perhaps if you’re lucky, your wait staff will be irritable and clumsy, which will make for an abbreviated, but entertaining meal.

If you must go to someone’s home, engage in passive-aggressive hostilities immediately upon entering the host’s house.

“Do you have slippers? I don’t want to get my socks dirty.”

“Maybe I’ll just hold onto my coat.”

“What’s that fish smell?”

Partake in uncomfortable family traditions with authenticity.

Random bossy relative: Let’s everyone go around the table and say what we’re thankful for.
Me: Um, I’ll go first.
Random bossy relative: Wonderful. Quiet everyone! Michelle will be starting us off.
Me: I’m grateful that I only have to see you wankers twice a year. I’m grateful that I already ate before I got to this salmonella-fest. I’m grateful that…what? What’s she crying about?

Reminisce, especially if there are newlyweds or out-of-town visitors.

“Remember that time when Aunt Betty’s sweet potato pie gave everyone the bends for days on end? Oh, would you look at that, I see you’re using the family recipe.”

“Didn’t you bring Cathy last year? She was really pretty. Who’s this one?”

“You’re looking good, Mitchell. That stint upstate did wonders for you. Did they ever find the body?”

Be boorishly entertaining.

Re-enact scenes from “Soylent Green” while walking around with the cheese cube tray.

Start a lively political discussion by calling everyone something+the word Nazi.

Insist that your child, who has just started playing the trombone, perform for everyone. Until he or she gets it right.

Make small children cry.

“I’m sure Santa won’t eat you if you are very, very good.”

“It just broke off! I’m sorry – I thought Barbie was supposed to bend that way.”

“Isn’t it sad that all the Lego people die at the end? Oh, I thought you’d already seen it.”

Make a discreet exit. Do not return.

“Let me get those extra presents out of the car.”

“Oh, it looks like we’re almost out of whipped cream. I’ll run out to the store and get some.”

“Where’s the bathroom?” It’s best if it’s on the first floor and has a window.

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31 Comments on “Surviving the Holidays: An Introvert’s Guide

  1. Or … you and your spouse could each tell your respective families that you have to go to the other spouse’s family this year. For BOTH holidays. Because they’re dying.

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    • My family of origin, as if you couldn’t tell, does not like holiday gatherings. This is how introverts carry on tradition. “Sure, we’ll see you…whenever.”, hence a long history of written correspondence. My in-laws believe that anything worth doing is worth going overboard about. But then, overboard for me is just about anything involving them. I am indeed a horrible human and will likely die neglected and alone. If I’m lucky.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This is hysterical! Waiting until the last minute and calling to say you have the flu has been known to work in desperate situations.

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    • Thanks, Fransi. I’ve gone with illness before, but this honesty thing is a lot more fun. “I don’t want to. Have a nice holiday!” Naturally I have to balance my disposition against that of my husband and daughter, who still like spending time with other people. I say “yes” on occasion for their sake or they’ve gone on without me, which has likely been more enjoyable for them, rather than dragging my sulky presence along.

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  3. Getting the extra presents is great idea. Though I often find I can drift away without notice – the funny part is finding someone else doing the same thing!

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    • When I was single, drifting away was my favorite art form. When our family had two cars, driving away was a pleasure. Now I have to coordinate my misanthropy and introversion with my family. Sometimes that means staying home alone. Other times, I negotiate an agreed upon exit strategy/time. This year, it might be best for me to stay and keep the home fires burning, rather than starting a fire at someone’s home just to set off the alarms and force an evacuation.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. OMG! Where were you with these strategies when I still tried to do holidays? Thankfully, all my relatives are dead now or in another state. Ahhh…

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  5. What’s great about being middle age is now I have a valid excuse for why I’m such a Bah Humbug crank during the holidays. If people would just leave me alone to sit on the couch in my bathrobe with a cup of cocoa I’d enjoy this season much more.

    Next week somehow everyone decided they’ll be coming to MY house to eat Thanksgiving dinner, mostly because they would be alone otherwise. I told them they are welcome to come over, but only if I could change places with them and be the one alone in peace and quiet with my thoughts (and a glass of wine…)

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    • Ha! What’s so odd about some of my extended family is that they are quite clearly introverts, too. Hence the multitude of smoke breaks and awkward conversation. Many of us are dry drunks as well, so that makes it really, really fun. I just want to burst into a rousing chorus of “Let It Go” (hey, another survival tactic)…while running away.

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  6. I am hosting this year and every year until I die. I am not an introvert, but I always host my husband’s family. Each and every one has a different dietary restriction. Every single one of them. They bring no food, and while they do help (a bit) they never mention what new restrictions have come up. Last year I spent two days making a special vegan pumpkin tiramisu for the vegan only to learn that gluten was out. Somehow, nothing was thrown, no wine stems were snapped and everybody survived.

    Everybody stays for four days.

    This year my office needed someone to man the phones as we are open that day. Would it surprise you to learn that I volunteered?

    I’m already dreading next year.

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    • At least you’ll have a breather in the midst of it. Every year I feel like there is something wrong with me that I have come to loathe the holidays so much. I’m trying to honor my feelings and learn to say “no” without rancor, but there’s always some emailer, some pushy over-the-top sentimental mushpot that tries to make me feel wrong. I have not yet learned to resist that feeling. All I know right now is that humor saves lives.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Once again, it’s just my partner and me to celebrate together with the dogs. Our families live too far away to visit them or for them to visit us. And we both like it that way.

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    • It sounds perfect and lovely. Never, in all my life, were the holidays enjoyable except when I was a heavy drinker. They were these tense, anxiety-ridden events that always came in under expectation. It’s nice to let that go in favor of real peace and pleasure.

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      • My in-laws were a big family, and every one of them into drugs and/or alcohol. Holidays were never fun. My family was marginally better. So when we lived too far away from either family, the Holidays improved considerable!

        Liked by 2 people

  8. You could always bring a bag of lime and a shovel. Just sit them next to your chair and whenever anyone looks at you or tries to strike up a conversation, you hold up the hammer you’ve kept in your lap the entire time.

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    • They are excellent tips and render one of two results: a) you don’t get invited back next year or b) you become the person they have to invite even if they’re a little scared of you. And are relieved when you don’t show up or sneak off early.
      I think that makes this a winning strategy either way.

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    • Thanks! When it comes to introverts and extroverts, I don’t think it’s an either-or scenario, since we’re all on a shifting spectrum. However, holidays do seem to be a time when I feel my introversion most keenly.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I am madly in love with this post. And with the helpful recommendations added by several commenters. I have adopted the truly simple—and true—answer of the “previously made other commitment” that is nothing more than my commitment to spend any occasion only with people I actually want to spend it with, including nobody other than myself if my equally quiet-happy spouse doesn’t happen to be on hand. I just leave the part outside the quotation marks lurking silently in my head, where it can’t be challenged by or offend anyone and make me have to spend any holiday money on the handy bag of quicklime. If I can make this no-thank-you RSVP over the phone or, better yet, in an email, then I don’t even have to put on the creepy thin smile, though I rather enjoy that part as I’ve pretty much perfected it.

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    • Thanks for sharing your “tip”, Kathryn. With a youngster at home, it makes things a little trickier. I don’t want to be the Grinch that deprives her of familial relationships just because I would like to run away. However, this year was proof positive that the restaurant idea works. Thanksgiving dinner was under two hours long and I excused myself for the restroom before I got hit with the enforced gratitude practice of going around the table to say what we’re grateful for – I loathe choreographed sentiment. Now, onto Christmas. This post seemed to hold some appeal, so I might have to do a Part Deux. I’m pretty sure I can come up with some more offensive ideas for introverts!

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      • I’ve gotten better at circumlocutions over these years of being married to a professional musician and having many of his colleagues and students ask for critiques after performances where I know honesty is *not* the best answer for the occasion!

        The restaurant or “neutral territory” venue solution is SO useful for so many occasions nowadays, I find. We did Mom and Dad’s dual-80th b’day party last month at a community center that was a lovely restored power station in their old ‘hood, and the place had very specific time restrictions. We opted for the tightest turnaround time, which included the mandatory setup and cleanup by our own family/friends force, and that way were guaranteed that (a) the Honorees wouldn’t collapse from exhaustion, and (b) (equally importantly, in the minds of all her kids) *everybody* had to obey the evacuation rule.

        Some relatives, on getting the invitation, immediately offered the horrible, “generous” gift of their putting together programmatic stuff (“humorous” reworded songs with guitar accompaniment, and the like) in Mom and Dad’s honor, and we—loathing choreographed sentiment as much as you do—were thrilled to be able to honestly say that there simply wasn’t enough time in our party to do more than eat the buffet we put together and do some visiting. It turned out really well, and even Mom (who *does* love the over-the-top weepy-creepy family stuff) was so delighted with the outcome that in last night’s phone visit she said she’d be content if she died without a single other birthday party ever. No comment! 😉

        Here’s to each of us finding our celebratory happiness in the ways that suit us best!

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