When I first started researching heartbreak for my comedy writing and performance a decade ago, I once stumbled upon a graph illustrating the times of the year when breakups, according to Facebook status updates, typically peaked.
Christmas Day itself was deemed ‘too cruel’ and was a slower time for getting dumped. However, two weeks before the holidays was a huge peak. Meanwhile, relationship therapists all report a frenzy of activity in early January when all of our social media feeds are awash with the idea of a ‘new start’.
Accordingly, the graph depicts another surge in separations from Valentine’s Day right through the Springtime.
It’s not unusual, then, to have spent a Christmas either newly separated or painfully aware of an imminent ending on the horizon.
This was the unenviable position I found myself in during the snowy and icy December of 2010. I was five years into a relationship with a woman whose family didn’t know that she was gay. What surely should be a romantic time of year, kissing under the mistletoe and snuggling up together, had become a heartbreaking one. We could never spend it together.
"So it brought home how painfully invisible our relationship was."
Just before Christmas, I had noted in my diary how we had watched out the window as silent, gentle snowflakes crept along the lawn and then gone out to make fresh footprints, relishing the creaking sound of those first steps. We were laughing again, connecting, holding hands. Yet, all too soon, we were saying our farewells at Paddington station before going our separate ways. On the train to Lancashire, where my dad had lived since my mum passed away, I gazed out of the window yearning for the seasonal magic I’d once felt as a child, enraptured by tiny coloured glass trumpets hanging on my grandma’s tree. If you blew into them, they actually made a musical sound. When I arrived at Dad’s house, huge icicles hung from the porch. I knew deep down that my life was somehow frozen. I didn’t hear from my partner that Christmas. And then, at New Year, she broke up with me by email.
"If you find yourself going through a breakup at this time of year, it can feel acutely painful to be surrounded by imagery of cosy couples sitting by the fire."
Switch the TV and the radio off if you need to. See other single friends. And remember that there will be much better Christmastimes ahead. Eleven years on, Dad and I now spend each Christmas with my fiancée Suz and her mum Glenda. This time of year has been transformed into one imbued with a sense of belonging and home… and finally free of shame.