I’m late with my column. I forgot it was New Year’s Eve.
For most of my life, I couldn’t have imagined such a thing. New Year’s Eve mattered.
New Year’s Eve — like Valentine’s Day and my birthday, only more so — was the day I judged my personal life most harshly. I dreaded it. It was a mark of failure if I didn’t have a date, which — except when I was married for 13 years — I almost never did. I have spent many wasted nights of my life tallying my failures, but none are worse than lonely New Year’s Eves. To be without a date, to be not in love, to have no one to really kiss was a reminder of all my deficiencies, the catalyst for all the unrealistic resolutions I would make the next day, affording myself yet another sure shot at failure.
Why do we do this to ourselves? If someone had told me that the day would come when I would forget it was New Year’s Eve until I realized the office was closing early, and not care one whit whether I spend it with the latest adventures of Atlee Pine (actually, I’m looking forward to David Baldacci’s latest), I would have laughed. How wrong.
It’s not just that I don’t care now. It’s that, looking back, it is clear that it was absolutely stupid to care then. My best New Year’s Eves were the ones I spent working as a bartender and making big tips while my customers drank too much and tried too hard. Amateur hour, we used to call it. A terrible night to go out, a great night to work. I didn’t need a date or a party invitation. But when I ended my career as a bartender (to be a lawyer), I went back to fretting. I remember one forced, ridiculous, uncomfortable night when my date and I pretended to be grown-ups. And I remember how unbelievably relieved I was the years that my boyfriend/husband was not only a reliable date for New Year’s Eve but a regular at the best party in Washington, D.C. I lost the party in the divorce and went back to feeling like a teenager on New Year’s Eve.
What a waste, a complete and total waste — and worse.
It’s not just a lost opportunity for a pleasant evening but an invitation to do exactly what we should not do: focus on everything we’ve done wrong, everything we don’t have, the boyfriend who ghosted, the husband at the party; and remind ourselves of all of our failures, of the extra 10 pounds, of the thighs that we hate, of the mistakes we made, of everything that is wrong with ourselves.
For years, my resolution was to lose weight. For years — decades, actually — I beat myself up for being fat. Bulletin: I was never fat. I was fine. Anyway, after my son was born and I really was fat, I finally lost the extra 10 or 15 pounds that were the basis of my self-torture, as well as the pregnancy weight, and wrote a diet book while I was sitting in a room watching the O.J. Simpson case for NBC. The book had to come out in January because that’s when America diets — and fails. I’m not saying to forget about weight. Health matters. But I wasted years of my life hating myself for no reason at all. Imagine.
Here is what I have learned: The most important resolution to make is to want what you have.
Of course we should try to drink more water and take more walks and all of that. That’s called taking care of yourself, a perfectly fine resolution any day, although sometimes it’s easier said than done.
But as for tallying things up? Consider this: Just tally up the plus side.
The happiest people I know are the ones who want what they have. The most miserable are miserable no matter what they have because it is never enough. The happiest people are not those with the best hands but those who play theirs best.
New Year’s Eve doesn’t matter, unless you’re in the restaurant or bar business, in which case it matters a great deal. Or unless your editor is leaving early.