I overheard this morning, “How was your Thanksgiving?” and the standard rejoinder, “Great. Kids, family, friends.”
My dining reservation was for a party of one: myself. My guest list? A fur-bearing clowder of felines kept me company as I ate my microwave dinner alone.
Thanksgiving is a quasi-religious American holiday, mostly remarkable for its epic meal and immoderate togetherness. Our forebears rejoiced in the harvest’s bounty, their gratitude verging on gluttony, as evident in Norman Rockwell’s iconic images of blushing countenances astride abundant, mouthwatering tables that rekindled the nostalgia preceding the inevitable nausea. And who could dispute that we, as Americans, have much reason to be grateful considering the lower standards of living and greater strife faced by so many global neighbors?
I have a confession that may perplex some. I am genuinely appreciative of being left to my own devices on holidays, not out of sadness or exclusion but simply out of preference. The conventional alternative – a destination dinner, boisterous inclusion, and diet-be-damned overindulgence – has never held appeal. My dear friend Jared, who has weathered my eccentricities since college, was even hosting his robust brood in the suburbs and had extended a heartfelt invitation. But the prospect of small talk among happy strangers while imposing myself on his family felt draining, so I politely declined, citing the long drive without a car as a reason rather than my innate desire for solitude.
Truthfully, schmoozing has always come second to solitude. And despite near-estrangement, the ghost of family bonds still summons a wince-inducing ache this time of year. Even reading a job ad seeking candidates with “family values” gives me pause. I suppose there are too many lacklustre memories of petty dissensions, one-upmanship, backstabbing, and forced conviviality around the dinner table. But neither was my holiday one of despair or eccentric reclusiveness like Travis Bickle’s in Taxi Driver. I did attend two community gatherings earlier that week and thoroughly enjoyed partaking in the collective spirit, hearty foods, and camaraderie without any need for direct interaction – my own perfect recipe for holiday cheer.
I’m aware my professed boycott of familial festivities might sound misanthropic, pathetic, or plain perverse to some. But in my defence, the days leading up to the holiday found me delivering meals to the homebound, donating Christmas trees to needy families, cans and bottles to those who rely on their redemption value, and even an umbrella to a poor soul caught in the rain without protection. You see, schizoids are often unfairly dismissed as cold and uncaring, though I tend to sympathise more with the marginalised and luckless than most. So perhaps I am atypical, or perhaps the dismissive typecasting rings partially true with slight room for exception.
The harsh reality is that while some of us high-functioning “loners” can manage steady jobs and even marriages, many on the SPD (schizoid personality disorder) spectrum end up plunging into pitiable homelessness and isolation simply out of emotional or cognitive incapacity to thrive within society’s rigid bounds. Let’s be clear: schizoid wiring isn’t elective; it’s confusing, painful, and problematic for navigating life’s maze. Simply enduring the holidays alone due to preference hardly compares to those without the means or mental faculties to establish a place they can comfortably call home at any time of year. My heart aches for those ostracised souls, for whom contented stability will always remain tragically out of reach.
I suppose the holidays also spotlight the perplexing role of family upbringing and developmental nurture in determining one’s path. Those elusive, subconscious roots that shape who we grow to become and how we arrive at our adult circumstances seem to defy understanding. Consider this: If well-intentioned parenting inadvertently impairs a child’s emotional or functional capacities through various traumas or failures to attach, that afflicted individual often suffers a lifetime of doubt and diminished potential. Repetitive verbal assaults like “You don’t think!” or “Why can’t you just listen?” or “You’d lose your head if it wasn’t attached” unconsciously instill a sense of defectiveness rather than inspiration to improve. Meanwhile, out of guilt, obligation, or even love, those very parents must fund their offspring’s lifelong underachievement and dependence into adulthood – a bittersweet tradeoff for both parties. It’s a subtle yet tragic form of co-dependency that may unfold over decades: two lives intertwined and fatefully at odds due to early parental influence that hinders a child from developing the resilience and self-reliance expected of well-adjusted adults. As my former psychiatrist often asserted sympathetically, we SPDs simply “get by” at best, constantly swimming against the social current.
So come Christmas time, when romanticised notions of family joy permeate the atmosphere, I will undoubtedly spend another holiday alone in my apartment – an image which probably seems to evoke pity from the average holiday reveller. To card companies, sitcoms, and cheer-spreading do-gooders beseeching “goodwill towards men,” my ritual may seem tragic or at least deprived of that most wonderful time of the year. But they needn’t worry. My peripheral involvement through community service and the like seems perfectly adequate to fulfil my holiday spirit as someone who is quite accustomed to experiencing life’s rhythms adjacent to the spotlight rather than centre stage.
On Thanksgiving Day specifically, as families gather around heavily-laden tables, bonded by tradition, if not perfect harmony, we collectively sit momentarily sated in body and spirit – giving passing thought to the true meaning of family connection amid our annual glut of gluttony. But as parents lean back to unbuckle strained belts before drifting into football comas, I hope they also take time to ponder life’s impermanence and their heavy role in equipping the next generation to someday support and fulfil themselves long after the silverware gets passed down.
Blair Sorrel is a ballet dancer from northern Guatemala. He speaks fluent Vietnamese and Swahili.