Your First Solo Turkey Day

When you’re single again, facing Thanksgiving alone can be challenging. Here’s how to cope.

By Rachel Greenwald

urkeys and anxiety go hand-in-hand when it’s your first Thanksgiving alone, whether you’re newly divorced, widowed, or single again after a breakup. But Thanksgiving is really about family—and family doesn’t just mean you plus a significant other plus parents and aunts and uncles. In my work as a dating coach, I’ve seen firsthand that family
Right now you need to do what’s best for yourself.
can include friends and neighbors of your own choosing. When you look at the situation that way, you’ll realize you’re far from alone this holiday season. Now, build on that viewpoint by using these five tips to navigate the Turkey Day weekend without twinges of loneliness:

Define the holiday your way.
If spending Thanksgiving with nosy relatives would be too aggravating, it’s perfectly OK to spend it with friends. You might hurt a few feelings within your family briefly, but right now you need to do what’s best for yourself. Tell several of your friends that you’d love to join them—don’t be shy. If that doesn’t elicit a good invitation, organize a dinner for friends by yourself. A woman I coached two years ago organized her college friends for a mini-reunion at Thanksgiving. Some came alone (two of them were separated and one was widowed), and several came with family members. She made it pot luck to avoid the stress of preparing a huge meal, kept the wine flowing and reported it was the most fun she’d ever had on Thanksgiving.

Keep busy.
Most people associate Thanksgiving with sitting around the house, watching football, eating, sleeping late and having lots of time to hang out and gab. It’s usually a quiet, restful weekend. But this year, you are better off keeping busy. Plan lots of activities with family and friends, from movies to touch-football games to ice skating. If you’re short on available companions this weekend, set to work reorganizing your closet or clearing out the attic. Bodies in motion don’t dwell on sad thoughts; they’re too busy moving. The key is to plan ahead so that you don’t end up without a companion or with nothing to do. So get out your Day Planner and make sure November 24th to 27th is chock-full.

Tame those nosy relatives.
If you opt to brave the family dinner, you will inevitably get the question from nosy Aunt Julia, “What happened, dear? You were such a lovely couple,” or perhaps
Whatever you choose, make it a habit for future Thanksgivings.
inquiries about how you’re healing. Knowing in advance that the question is automatically served with the meal, like the cranberry sauce, will be half the battle because you won’t be caught off-guard. Simply respond confidently, “It’s a difficult time for me right now, but luckily I have my family to support me.” Don’t fall into her trap by giving any details; that’s an open invitation for starting a group-therapy session around the table, from which no good can come.

Start new traditions.
If you’re dining alone with your kids this year, minus your ex for the first time, it’s a great idea to start one new tradition to mark this day as a new beginning. You’ll create the sense of a new family nucleus, one that can still have fun and feel close. One client I coached, recently separated from her husband of eight years, simply prepared a new dish for her family: Instead of her regular cornmeal stuffing, she found a new recipe with golden raisins, had the kids pitch in to help, and gave it her own clever name (“Robin’s Raucous Raisin Recipe”). A single dad I coached started a funny “group story” around the table about the Pilgrims’ First Thanksgiving Adventure; each person created part of the story and the next one continued it. Whatever you choose, make it a habit for future Thanksgivings. It’s a symbolic ritual that says “We’re OK.”

Give thanks.
Remember that the root of this holiday is about giving thanks for what you have, not dwelling on what you don’t or what you’ve lost. If you often forget to count your blessings throughout the year, at least pause to do so on November 22nd. Because this I know for sure: Facing your first Thanksgiving solo is not so bad when stacked up against your cornucopia of family, friends, good health, and everything else on your list.

Rachel Greenwald is the author of The New York Times best-selling book Find a Husband After 35 Using What I Learned at Harvard Business School. She is also a dating coach and matchmaker. She is a frequent guest on The Today Show and has been featured in dozens of magazines from Oprah to People.
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