Spending time alone at Christmas is underrated, says Jennifer McShane
The world was built for two, or so the Christmas ads will tell you, and at this most festive time of year, there can be no escaping the 'two is company' mantra. The pressure is undoubtedly on to fill every available slot in your diary simply seeing people: family you haven't seen in 364 days, friends that you saw at last years new year's eve party, the neighbour you didn't know you had... Be around someone, that's the undercurrent of festive cheer when you take a step back. And yes, this can be glorious; who doesn't want to be around their nearest and dearest when the weather is cold, Home Alone is playing in the background, and there's mulled wine to be had?
The thing is, this feels blatantly one-sided to me because even doing that comes with its own pressure.
I am someone who enjoys her own company. I can go anywhere alone, and I happily do so, never feeling like I should plus-one it for the sake of simply having a second body there. I'm basking in, my own selfishness, if you will. Working to my own agenda, which is compromise-free, for the most part. However, in my mind's eye, I often see Mr Grinch wagging his finger at me, thoroughly disappointed as I saunter down Grafton Street solo. "This isn't the way it's meant to be at Christmas," says the sneer-filled voice in my head. And he's right. Usually, we're told to spare a thought for those that feel lonely at Christmas - which we should absolutely do; this time of year is hard, not everyone will be jumping for joy - so many don't even have a home to go to, let alone a Christmas tree - but we're rarely told to embrace time spent alone.
Because the thing is, there's a big difference between loneliness and being on your own. It's perfectly possible to be content in your solitude, happily giving the finger to the spectacle that has become the 12 pubs of Christmas as it is to be blissed out at the centre of a busy group. And one of the reasons I prefer time spent alone this time of year is because being around a lot of people can make me feel horribly isolated and lonely - the exact opposite of how I feel when I actually am alone. It's all to do with the pressure when I'm in a group; the need to be 'on,' happy and relaying the few genuinely interesting bits of my life to strangers I've never met. I worry that I'm not joining in enough, or that I'll be the odd one out and somehow have missed the event that everyone talks about for years to come.
And yes, everyone feels loneliness on occasion. It's part of the human condition but if you enjoy time spent by yourself, you shouldn't be made feel guilty for doing so or constrained by the societal pressures which tell you that, as a woman, you've failed if your number one priority isn't to find a life partner or that time alone is, as I've been told, "odd."
Time spent alone for me at such a busy time of year is something I look forward to, to take stock of the highs and lows of the past 12 months and really to remind myself how lucky I am - to be happy and in good health despite personal challenges, is quite a milestone. And as I sat in a sparse, half-empty hotel lobby last week, completely alone just in view of a twinkly Christmas tree, I revelled in contentedness with a glass of wine as I pondered the year that was. I realised that I simply felt happy to just be. To be utterly present, enjoying one's own company is an underrated achievement that few take stock of. You're alone but never really lonely, not if you've reached that level of comfort in your own skin.
And if you have yet to embrace time dedicated to you, perhaps 2018 will be the year to learn to love your own company so much that you see the days in with a blissful glass of wine with nothing but your thoughts and dreams to keep yourself contented.