It’s November, and in the United States, that means it’s officially “The Holiday Season” (even though I’ve seen Christmas decor available in my local stores for months now). November is the month in which we celebrate Thanksgiving as a national holiday. We’re supposed to be practicing and expressing gratitude this month, and yet, in the wake of all the recent upheavals, it can be difficult to find anything to be grateful for. Plus, all the familiar and societal expectations to show how thankful you are (what I call “performative gratitude”) can make it even harder to feel anything other than resentment.
I’m a 43 year old woman and I’m done with Thanksgiving. I’m a recently divorced single mother, so it’s my job alone to continue the traditions and make the magic of the holidays happen and, frankly, I’m not sure I can…specifically not a day of giving thanks.
The Stress & Superficiality of Modern Thanksgiving Rituals
Let’s review what Thanksgiving means to much of the white, middle-class, suburban population of the United States: I remember learning/being indoctrinated about Thanksgiving my very first year of school. We’d trace our hands to make turkeys and create “Pilgrim and Indian” costumes out of construction paper. We’d put on little skits for our parents and go back to the classrooms to enjoy a potluck of Thanksgiving foods. [Cultural appropriation wasn’t widely considered offensive back then and it wasn’t until high school that I learned about the horrors indigenous people suffered at the hands of my white ancestors. My children were raised with a better understanding of white privilege and intersectionality of cultures than I was.]
Thanksgiving in my family meant the women would wake up early and spend a lot of time preparing a feast of turkey with stuffing and mashed potatoes, while the men would sit around and watch football—first at our local high school, then for the rest of the day on TV. Some families would attend a parade in the morning. The big meal would happen and as soon as it was cleaned up (by the women, of course), all attention would turn to Black Friday sales.
Did I sum up your experience, too? It’s uncannily similar for so many. We all strive for this Norman Rockwell version of perfection. But why?
In the digital age, perfection has set the stakes high. Thanksgiving is the day we all want to highlight our lives through an Instagram filter. It’s not enough to have (the right) food, but it also needs to be prepared in a specific way. It needs to be on a table that is surrounded by smiling, happy faces. It needs to be in a home that looks like HomeGoods and smells like White Barn candles. Really awesome families even seem to wear color-coordinated clothes and have family portraits done on their perfectly blanketed lawn of colorful leaves. We are encouraged to do month-long “gratitude challenges” on social media designed to allow for low-key humble bragging about how fabulous our lives are.
What kind of madness is that? It’s impossible to achieve, but it can feel like if we don’t nail every one of those standards, we are letting our families down.
Don’t get me wrong, I was a legit “homemaker” for the better part of the last decade and I made the traditional Thanksgiving meal better than anyone in my family. My home was always decorated to look like the displays of all my favorite stores. I did my American duty to create an atmosphere of a thriving economy during the fourth Thursday of each November. Perfectionism was strong in my household, and in trying to keep up with the Joneses, uphold my family’s strict expectation of tradition, and deny my lack of personal boundaries, I stuffed more resentment than a 25 pound Butterball turkey.
Performative Gratitude is Inauthentic
November 2021 is upon us and I still feel traumatized by 2020. Everything is different. Financial situations have changed as folks lost jobs or took part in the “Great Resignation” and are leaving/have left their current employment for something more aligned with what they want. It’s a new world to navigate, literally, as travel has become even more stressful and complicated. Families have suffered the losses of loved ones and are in upheaval about how to proceed with holidays: “Do we get together and put ourselves at risk or isolate and feel alone?” Nothing feels stable.
I remember being a kid at the Thanksgiving table where everyone was asked to share something they were thankful for and feeling very awkward knowing there were consequences for giving a “wrong” answer. I’m grateful that my family survived 2020, but I’m burnt out. I don’t want to pretend that everything is great. I feel like I’m being forced to celebrate a holiday that’s utterly inauthentic. I don’t want to just perform my gratitude rituals and not be true to myself and how I actually feel right now. A social media “Gratitude Challenge” is the furthest thing from my mind. So how do I celebrate Thanksgiving in a way that aligns with how I feel?
Believe it or not, I’m actually going to tie this back to sex coaching…
How Celebrating Holidays Authentically Relates to Sex Coaching
When I step back from the quagmire of my feelings and look at what’s going on in my heart and how it’s showing up in my life, I can see that I have not been living authentically. I have been doing activities I don’t get pleasure from because I’ve felt obligated out of some distorted sense of tradition. Obviously, I haven’t really enjoyed them and the resentment has built up and is bubbling over like a pot of Stovetop stuffing. If we try to fake anything for too long, disaster is imminent.
Our clients who believe in and try to live up to mainstream pornography’s standard of “perfection” will ultimately experience failure. Our clients who have poor body image because they don’t look like Victoria’s Secret models may feel they are unworthy of pleasure. As sex coaches, we empower these folks to look within and acknowledge what *feels* good or to embrace their body as it is, neither good nor bad, but as the vessel that allows them to experience all the sensual pleasures of the world.
I need to cut ties with what I think Thanksgiving *should* be and work to discover what feels good to me.
I can’t live up to Norman Rockwell or some iconic Instagram filter of perfection. I can acknowledge that when I feel burnt out, it’s important to remember that the tiniest of celebrations make a big difference. Sometimes we are our only cheerleaders and when we do something awesome, we need to celebrate—that’s the ultimate self-care.
It’s also up to us to stay mindful of the hurtful dialogue that runs through our minds. When a resentful thought crosses our mind, it’s up to us to recognize it and, rather than chastising ourselves for feeling that way, sit with it and dig a little deeper about where it’s coming from. Staying neutral and considerate of our own feelings instead of reacting impulsively will lead to a better understanding of what we need.
When we recognize what we need and want, finding a way to share our truth with our families is the next step. Creating and holding boundaries around what’s most important to us is a struggle for many people, especially with those closest to us. Having authentic conversations requires us to be present with our values first. How can we express our wishes to someone else if we aren’t sure what they are ourselves? Once we understand what we need, we can begin to ask those around us for support.
All of these lessons are ones we regularly help our sex coaching clients learn. Now it’s time to support ourselves and practice the self-care, boundaries, and authentic expression we encourage others to embrace.
It’s not about faking it until we make it. I tried that. Performative gratitude doesn’t work. But getting in touch with ourselves and being vulnerable and open to what we really need and want this holiday season is key to making it bearable and maybe even, dare I say, enjoyable. Happy Thanksgiving!
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