Dear Dana is a bi-weekly advice column for humans who engage in romantic relationships. Please send your dilemmas, issues, conundrums, assumptions, conflicts, anxieties, worriments, obstacles, complications, predicaments, queries, questions, and any other synonyms for “problems” to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This year was the worst. Personally, professionally, and politically, 2016 just sucked, so I really want to make New Year’s Eve a real blow out. I figure that going really big on that night will give us at least one positive take-away from this terrible year.
My wife, however, disagrees. She’d rather stay home, go to bed at a decent hour, and put this awful year behind us with no celebration. I don’t want to give up and stay in. I don’t want to be old and sad. I think we’d be the only ones staying in that night. I also think that we’d miss out on a chance to make a great memory, and instead we’d be bored and wake up to a bleak 2017. How do I convince her to come out and party like it’s the end of 2016?
Dear Party Please,
Oh, the seductive promise of New Year’s Eve. It beckons us with images of confetti, glitter, gowns, and possible Instagrams of us holding full champagne flutes while running down long city streets with a group of attractive friends, laughing at how wonderful it all is. New Year’s Eve holds in it the promise of an evening where you are young and you are fun and you are having the best time and your hair always, always looks great.
New Year’s Eve is the end of one year, the start of another, and a moment where we try to stuff all of the fun of both years into a single evening. There are so many superstitions and traditions surrounding this night—rituals you must perform to ensure that the upcoming year will be one of joy and bounty and nothing like the screaming nightmare of a year that has been 2016. Because, I guess, on New Year’s Eve 2016 we all, each of us, one at a time, turned away a beggar/peed on a grave/kicked a dog/stole cookies from a GirlScout/took two samples at Costco.
You want to be different, you want 2017 to be different, so you feel the need to go out. To do something spectacular to make that difference happen. I understand that need. And there are lots of people who are willing to charge you a lot of money to help you fulfill that need. You can go to any number of restaurant/bar/craft vodka/radio station-sponsored New Year’s Eve parties. You can sign up ahead of time and pay $150 for your ticket, which includes complimentary hors d’oeuvres that will run out before you arrive and a complimentary champagne toast at midnight that will work out to 3oz per person, and music by a DJ who is clearly mad at his parents and working through his aggression via bass drops and then the headliner, which is probably Train, will play and you’ll remember first who that band is and second that you’ve always hated them.
You will pay too much money to dress in your finest clothes and your most pinchy dress shoes and be packed into a ballroom with hundreds of other strangers, who are all desperately searching for somewhere to sit down. You will stand in line to overpay for drinks at a party that you overpaid to attend in the first place. You’ll get drunk because you’ll have nothing else to do—the bass is so loud you and your wife can’t even talk to each other. You’ll pray silently for midnight. And then midnight will come, and go, and you’ll all be walking outside, your pinched feet now going numb with cold as you try to escape the Uber surge zone. You’ll be in bed by 2am, exhausted, drunk, nauseated, and poor.
I’ve tried with New Year’s Eve. In 2000 I went to downtown Indianapolis, the heart of it all, and stood outside in the center of the city with thousands of strangers while Train* played a concert. I got too drunk and kissed a stranger at midnight and my mom judged me when I got home and took a loaf of bread up to bed with me and I spent New Year’s Day working a double shift at my waitressing job while battling a hangover.
In 2010 I traveled to Boston with friends. Our flight back was at 6am on New Year’s Day, so we stayed up all night—we found a First Night parade, we settled into an Irish bar for about seven hours, and we made best friends with our cab driver on the way to the airport. But then the plane took off and the hangover that you get at 30,000 feet after not sleeping all night is a hangover that makes you think your eyeballs are going to explode.
In 2012 I went to a bar in Chicago with friends. They were my favorite friends at my favorite bar—no cover charge, no one hired Train to play. We ordered drinks and sat around and talked and wore silly, festive hats and yes, the evening devolved and, yes, some guy started bothering us and, yes, it turned out that one of our friends was already sleeping with that guy and, yes, that is what finally made him leave us alone and, yes, one of us ended up making up with another guy who had the personality of dish soap and who wanted to propose marriage after only three minutes of heavy tongue kissing, and, yes, we couldn’t find a cab home at the end of the night and were standing on the street, along with dozens of other people, desperately waving down passing cabs that were already occupied. And this was a pretty good New Year’s Eve, but this night is not special. You can assemble a group of friends and go out and have a good time any time. Literally, any single night you can do that. For less money and effort and aggravation.
Party Please, I want to turn your head away from the sweet seductive idea of a glorious New Year’s Eve and instead have you focus on another idea—the warm, inviting embrace of giving up on New Year’s Eve. New Year’s Eve is the most bullshit of holidays. It’s forced, manufactured fun, which means it isn’t fun at all. There’s nothing fun about huge crowds of strangers overpaying for sparkling wine. There’s nothing fun about walking down cold sidewalks in high heels. There’s nothing fun about trying so very hard to justify an entire year’s worth of suck in eight short and increasingly blurry hours.
Want to know what I did last year for New Year’s Eve? Here’s the sweet part: I don’t really remember, but I feel great about it. I know I stayed home. I think I made a nice dinner with my husband, though we may have ordered in. I probably drank some wine. I definitely was in bed before midnight and then, on New Year’s Day, I woke up refreshed. No lurking hangover waiting to pull me down, no overdrawn checking account, no pictures of strangers all over my phone.
New Year’s Eve is a lie—it’s just a cold night in late December. Sure, the year that we assign to this stretch of time kicks over at midnight and, yeah, that only happens once every 365 days, but unless you’re a Gregorian calendar nut, it’s all pretty arbitrary.
You guys can meet in the middle. I want you to do something special, but not special in a “strangers on Instagram will think my life is great!” fake bullshit way. Find something that will be special in a way that can’t be photographed and posted and liked and retweeted. Find something that will be special in a way that can’t be consumed by others, but can only be consumed by you and your wife. I understand that your wife doesn’t want to celebrate 2016 for a single moment, but surely she’ll want to celebrate it ending. Make a special dinner, buy a special bottle wine, light some candles, write down everything bad that happened this year on paper and burn it in a ceremonial fire, donate money to causes that give your most hated politicians night sweats, tell each other what you’re hopeful for in the new year, do some interesting sex stuff. Just before midnight, open your front and back doors. Let 2016 limp on out and allow 2017, with all of its unknowns, to come in. Remove from yourself the pressure to have an “awesome” time and plan instead on just having a nice time.
New Year’s Eve is a lot of hype and pressure an nonsense for such a small payoff—the fact that 2016 will finally be over is a good thing, but that’s going to happen whether you’re guzzling champagne at the Exclusive 2016 VIP New Year’s Eve Spectacular Cruisin’ Into 2017 Bash or not. Spend the evening together, pay extra special attention to each other, and go to bed whenever the fuck you want. And then wake up the next morning, the first morning of 2017, happy and rested and ready.
*It wasn’t actually Train, but it may as well have been.
Dana Norris once went on 71 internet dates, many of which you may read about here. She is the founder of Story Club and editor-in-chief of Story Club Magazine. She has been featured in McSweeney’s, Role Reboot, The Rumpus, and Tampa Review and she teaches at StoryStudio Chicago. You may find her on Twitter at @dananorris.