The Attractive Discomfort of Gatherings

I can’t seem to get my mind off Thanksgiving. We had planned on inviting my sister-in-law over for a non-traditional meal of some sort or, maybe, a restaurant meal with a non-traditional menu. But that went south when we learned she had other plans involving cooking a Thanksgiving day meal for friends. When another friend learned we were looking for non-traditional restaurants open that day, she jumped in and invited us to join her group, including others we know, for a traditional Thanksgiving day meal. That was very nice of her, but we really wanted something unusual; plus we did not want to impose on a meal that already had been planned. So, we did our own thing. We went out for an Indian buffet. And it was good. We enjoyed it immensely.

Still, we were essentially alone. Just the two of us. Unlike most people in our sphere, we were not inundated with family and friends for what one website calls “arguably the most celebrated holiday in the US and it may be the most important dinner of the year.” We had one invitation to that most celebrated holiday, and that was almost after the fact. I shouldn’t complain, though. We didn’t issue any invitations, aside from the one to my sister-in-law, to have anyone join us. So what is it that makes our Thanksgiving celebration so different from the vast majority of others? I suppose it’s the same thing that makes our celebration of Christmas just as unusual. We are, by and large, not very social people. We don’t tend to attract people to us; people don’t automatically gravitate toward us. We’re not top-of-mind to other people when they plan celebrations. The only family that’s “close by” is my sister-in-law; she had her own thing. My blood relatives are far, far distant. And they either have their own families or they have friends who arguably are closer to them than family or, like us, they are not in the least social.

I wonder whether detachment or aloofness or whatever it is is a genetic trait or whether my upbringing contributed more than genes to my tendency toward isolation? I guess I won’t know the answer to that question; it’s one of those questions without a reliable and dependable answer. Any answer would be a guess, based on opinion and bias, not data and scientific analysis.

I miss family gatherings. The most recent one I attended, my brother’s eightieth birthday celebration, was enjoyable but it was not the visibly joyous occasion I associate with the concepts of family Thanksgivings and Christmases I see in other families. The more “traditional” families celebrate familial bonds in a way I equate almost with worship. In our family, we don’t seem to treat our bonds quite the same way. Our relationships are more subdued, less boisterous, and not so openly emotional. We don’t seem to be so visibly moved by family connections. I say that, even though I feel those strong emotional bonds; but I don’t openly show it because I’d likely be the only one and that conspicuous display would make me, and those around me, uncomfortable. Because we, as a family, tend to conceal our emotions to the extent we can. I’ve always felt I might be the only one among my siblings whose emotions are eggshell-fragile. That’s not true, though. I’ve seen evidence I am not completely alone in that regard. And I’ve seen evidence in others that emotional displays are just uncomfortable all the way around; so I try to keep mine in check.

This post began as a rumination about Thanksgiving and the fact that ours, the one my wife and I spent together, was a bit lonely. That loneliness and isolation translates into most other days of celebration. We might join with others in our church (a complete departure from our entire adult lives until now) for a ritual celebration, but it doesn’t go beyond that. We’re not really part of the “family,” so we aren’t invited to participate except in a superficial way. Until, of course, I slip up and mention our plans to be alone. I do not want to join a group as a means of assuaging anyone’s sense of guilt; they have no reason to feel guilty and I have no reason to be the solution to their undeserved sense of regret for having failed to think of me in the first place.

I would like to find others who share our situation and invite them to join us in a non-traditional celebration of sorts on these lonely holidays. But my wife is not particularly enamored of the idea; perhaps she is even more of an isolationist than I am. We’ll see. One day, I’ll insist. And then we’ll see if others are equally reticent to join a group for which they do not feel an especially strong connection, loathing the idea of being the recipients of pity-by-social-invitation.


About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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