Cup of Jo editor Caroline recently broke up with her boyfriend and is now flying solo for the holidays. And two of her good friends just got engaged. Whoot. Here, she shares her plan for surviving the ups and downs of the holidays (aka engagement season) alone…

Caroline says:

When I was a child, the sight of a twinkly Christmas tree filled me with joy and wonder. Fast forward a quarter century, and the same sight fills me with panic. In my apartment, there are no children to behold said tree, no partner to artfully display presents beneath it. There is no mistletoe—which is fortunate, as I’d have no one to kiss.

When it comes to being single for the holidays, in my experience, it’s safest to have a game plan. Here are three common problems and how to approach them…

Problem 1: Nosy relatives
There I’ll be, innocently munching on a thumbprint cookie, when some well-meaning but misguided relative will trill, “We’d love to hear news of an engagement!” Um, so would I.

So how do you deal with this? In my experience, the best approach is to be honest, then deflect. “Thanks, Aunt Nosy, I’d love that, too! But right now I’m focusing on my career/friends/burgeoning taxidermy hobby/etc. By the way, did you bake this thumbprint cookie? It’s so tasty.” Voila! Awkwardness averted.

Problem 2: The most dreaded of holidays—New Year’s Eve
Here’s a fun idea: Take a single woman in her thirties and have her stare at a ticking clock. Make everyone around her kiss at a designated moment. Tell her she’s supposed to be enjoying herself.

If you couldn’t already tell, New Year’s is not my favorite. No other holiday has the capacity to make you feel as deflated when real life doesn’t pan out like the final scene in When Harry Met Sally and no one busts into the party declaring they want to spend the rest of their life with you, starting right now. (But, oh, how I love that scene.)

One year, I went to a party with my best friend and her husband. When midnight struck, we engaged in a three-way group hug so I wouldn’t feel left out. Rihanna blared in the background as I stood between them, awkwardly patting two backs. It warmed my heart, until I realized: They’d go home together…and I’d go home alone.

So, when it comes to this most dreaded of days, be kind to yourself. Don’t put yourself under some insane amount of pressure (“I must find a random human to kiss by midnight!”) or enter into stressful situations (going out with your rowdiest friend when you’d rather stay home and eat cheese). If you’re comforted by a crowd, go dance to whatever anthem makes you feel best. But if you—like me—are not a party person by nature, it’s okay to nest with a book or movie and quietly salute the passing of time. [Side note: Funnily enough, the very first Cup of Jo post was about this very thing!]

Problem 3: Your friends’ excitement over couple-y plans
Perhaps you know this feeling: Your paired-up friends can’t help sharing tales of joint travels or Instagramming photos of engagement rings. You’re happy for them, but sometimes it’s enough to make you feel like this girl on the left. But wait—there are good things about spending the holidays solo!

Good Thing 1: No need to search for the perfect romantic gift
Go buy a nice gift for yourself instead! (I’m getting this.)

Good Thing 2: You can skip in-law interactions
When you’re single, you don’t have to smile awkwardly while your partner’s dad dons a reindeer headband, sings carols or passive-aggressively makes a jab at someone’s cooking. You can celebrate with your own dysfunctional family instead.

Good Thing 3: You get to do whatever you want
Don’t feel like splitting time between your and a significant other’s families? Or going to see the newest action movie on Christmas Day? Great! You don’t have to. Do exactly what you want, single friend. Just do you. (May I suggest something like this?)

And remember: If you feel lonely, YOU ARE NOT ALONE. There are approximately 124.6 million single adults in America, some of whom are currently telling their great aunt Mildred why they, too, are not betrothed.

Happy holidays, everyone! Love, Caroline

P.S. A seven-step guide to heartbreak, and Mindy Kaling’s brilliant loneliness advice.

(Photo by Owen Franken via Bon Appetit)