This article was last updated on April 16, 2022
Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
This story was originally published on December 17, 2014.
Breakups suck, no matter the time of year. The holiday season, though, has its own magical way of making a rough patch feel unbearable. Blame the twinkly lights and mistletoe and happy, hand-holding couples — whatever the reason, if you’re not totally sold on your S.O., it can suddenly become tempting to cut ties and finish out the year alone.
If you’re worried about looking cruel or hurting the other person, don’t be, says Sofi Papamarko of Friend of a Friend Matchmaking in Toronto. “Obviously, it’s insensitive to dump someone on Christmas day or New Year’s Eve,” she says. “Same goes for Valentine’s Day, their birthday, or the day they put down their cat.” Still, she explains, “it’s silly and even a little bit cruel to stay with someone for longer than you should just because of the impending holidays.” Plus, if you happen to be living together, “breaking up prior to the holiday season might be a good thing — it’ll give you time to abandon your shared space for your familial homes and let you figure out next steps.”
If you’re out-and-out unsure about whether it’s time to break up, do what you’d do at any other time of year: Talk about your concerns with your partner. Sure, those state-of-the-union discussions can be uncomfortable, but they’re worth it for clarity’s sake (for both of you). “If you feel like your relationship has hit a plateau or needs your attention, have an open conversation about it,” advises Marni Battista, a dating coach from Dating With Dignity. “There’s no need to stay in a relationship that isn’t right for you. But, if it feels worth it, put the time and energy into it — holiday season or not.”
What about those couples who know they’re unhappy, yet stick it out until the new year anyway? It could be that a lackluster relationship seems more appealing than tackling the holidays solo. “It’s definitely never easy being the only single cousin at a holiday gathering teeming with husbands, wives, partners, and babies — raise your hand if you’re in your 30s and still sit at the kids’ table!” Papamarko adds. A few years ago, Leann, 30, was in “a pretty crappy seven-month relationship” with her then-boyfriend, Jeff. “Right before the holidays, I was really doubting the relationship and had one foot out the door,” she recalls. Still, she opted to stay with her way-less-than-perfect partner rather than brave another cold Christmas on her own. “Before I met him, I had been single for years, and I remembered how lonely I had been,” she explains. “So, I ended up waiting to dump Jeff until after the holiday madness died down. I guess I just felt like I needed someone to help me get through it.”
Be aware that certain holiday traditions can heighten relationship tensions.
If you decide to stay together, be aware that certain holiday traditions can heighten relationship tensions. Here’s a big one: Spending money on gifts and travel. When Amelia, age 29, was a college freshman, she attempted to stay with her high school boyfriend. But, by the time they reunited during the holidays, “a semester’s worth of excruciatingly expensive Amtrak rides to see each other had taken its toll,” she says. (That, and the fact that they were both hooking up with other people.) On New Year’s Eve, her boyfriend decided to “surprise” her by tailgating her at 3 a.m. in a car she didn’t recognize, and then professing his love for her in her mother’s driveway. “I was so distraught by what I thought was a near-kidnapping-and/or-death experience that I broke up with him on the spot,” Amelia recalls. “Even if that hadn’t been the reason for our split, though, dumping him was definitely the right call.”
Another red flag: You imagine the drama of introducing your partner to your great-uncle Jerry and the rest of your extended family and think, Ugh, is it even worth it? Family strife can tax even the happiest of couples — so if your relationship is on the rocks, it can lead to total chaos. Danielle, 23, has been with her boyfriend for a year and a half. She’s happy, but her parents “have explicitly told me he’s not up to par,” she says. He’s still deciding whether he should visit her family for the holidays. “I have mixed feelings about it, too,” she admits. Danielle is willing to tough it out, but for Sarah, age 28, the effort just wasn’t worth it: “My partner and I were already having issues when the holidays came last year, but the thing that broke up our relationship right before Christmas was the stress of him meeting my parents for the first time. I grew up in an evangelical household and he was basically a left-wing activist type…dealing with all the tension was the nail in the coffin for us.”
If you feel stuck in your relationship and decide it’s time to walk, be sensitive, but follow your gut. “Gracefully ending your relationship is the same at any time of year,” says Battista. Be kind and respectful but direct, and try not to put the blame on your partner. “And, for the love of Kris Kringle,” Papamarko continues, “Do not dump anyone over email while they’re home for the holidays. Not that I speak from experience or anything.”
One upside to going it alone for the holidays? This is a great time of year to meet someone new. Office parties, tree-trimming gatherings, and New Year’s Eve nights-on-the-town all present ample opportunities for mingling with potential new dates. “If you’re not in the right relationship or your current casual partner isn’t cutting it, nip it in the bud and send yourself to the next party you get invited to,” suggests Battista.
All in all, holiday breakups — like all splits — are tough, and the reasons behind them are subjective and personal. Just keep in mind that sometimes, the sweetest gift you can give your S.O. (and yourself) is the truth.
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