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Alone for the Holidays – the Issue Everyone Wants to Discuss

alone for the holidaysJust before Thanksgiving, NPR posted a question on its website asking people to weigh in about spending holidays alone. Are they doing so themselves and why?

NPR got a flood of answers. From my perch as a practitioner and scholar of single life, what I found most intriguing was the range of responses. My guess is that if NPR had posed this question three or four decades ago, the reactions would have been overwhelmingly negative – people appalled at the idea of spending a holiday alone, or pitying those who do. People who were planning to be alone perhaps would have been reluctant to say so.

The online question did elicit some darkness (“This is the saddest thing NPR has ever posted”), some accusations (“You must hate people if you are choosing to be alone on Thanksgiving”), and some defensiveness. But another category of responses were entirely different. People talked about how much they enjoyed being alone.

Law student Laura Thornton, for example, told NPR that her plan was to:

“just chill out with my dog and drink whiskey in my apartment, like I did last Thanksgiving. Sometimes I find it hard to take time out for myself, so it’s actually kind of nice to have this time imposed on me. Plus, hopefully I’ll get a lot of work done.”

You can read the entire story, with discussions of the other kinds of reactions people posted, here.

True confessions: I was quoted in the story. Because I wrote out my thoughts about what I wanted to convey to the author of the story (Linton Weeks), I thought I’d share with my “Single at Heart” readers the full text:

At a time when too many people are feeling hyper-connected, overstimulated, too busy, and too hassled, what could be more dreamy than spending an entire day, completely on your own, doing whatever you want, whenever you want?

I suspect that if there were some real-life truth serum and it could be administered to people around the holidays, some not-too-small proportion of them would say that time to themselves is what they want most.

Not everyone would want this, of course. But I think the biggest impediment to people owning up to this particular fantasy is that it is not what we are supposed to want. Thanksgiving is one of those holidays that are highly scripted. You are supposed to spend it with other people – especially with family. All jokes and sitcoms aside, you are supposed to want to spend it that way. If you don’t, the conventional wisdom goes, then you are some sort of loser.

Well, myth-busting is my thing, so let me shake down this one. If you really do want to spend Thanksgiving with family or friends, and you have the opportunity to do so, then go for it. But if you have that longing for solitude – if that’s what really makes your heart sing – then go for that. Then own your decision; don’t apologize for it. One person doing what they most want to do can be an inspiration to others who would like to do the same, but need a little nudge.

I’m an eclectic when it comes to Thanksgiving. I’ve tried out so many permutations – the traditional extended family version, the friends-only variation, and the time-alone variety; I’ve hosted anywhere from one to more than a dozen at my home, I’ve gone to others’ homes, and I’ve traveled to a place I’ve never been before; I’ve trudged through snow one year and enjoyed dinner on the beach the next.

This year, I’m celebrating Thanksgiving on my own. I’ll sleep late, and if it is a typical sunny day here in southern California, I’ll walk the beach or one of the breath-taking trails. My computer, my email, and all other electronic devices will be off all day. I love to cook, so maybe I’ll make a few things I love. I’ll probably read a novel all the way through without having to set it aside again and again because I think I need to get some work done. Or I could have a Netflix night – or maybe both.

And here’s the thing about celebrating a holiday your own way: If I wake up and decide that I feel like doing something else entirely, well then I’ll just do that instead.

I hope you are all enjoying the long holiday weekend. This Thanksgiving, among the many people and things I am grateful for are all of the people who read and participate in this “Single at Heart” bog, and people such as John Grohol, who founded this wonderful Psych Central site and continues to make it destination reading for so many.

Man with ornaments photo available from Shutterstock

Alone for the Holidays – the Issue Everyone Wants to Discuss

Bella DePaulo, Ph.D

Bella DePaulo (Ph.D., Harvard; Academic Affiliate, Psychological and Brain Sciences, UC Santa Barbara), an expert on single life, is the author of several books, including "Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After" and "How We Live Now: Redefining Home and Family in the 21st Century." Her TEDx talk is "What no one ever told you about people who are single," Dr. DePaulo has discussed singles and single life on radio and television, including NPR and CNN, and her work has been described in newspapers such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and USA Today, and magazines such as Time, Atlantic, the Week, More, the Nation, Business Week, AARP Magazine, and Newsweek. Dr. DePaulo is in her sixties. She has always been single and always will be. She is "single at heart" -- single is how she lives her best and most meaningful life. Visit her website at

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APA Reference
DePaulo, B. (2012). Alone for the Holidays – the Issue Everyone Wants to Discuss. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 17, 2020, from


Last updated: 25 Nov 2012
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