For as much as people bemoan the high expectations around New Year’s Eve, you’d think there’d be none left. Instead, right around this time every year, no fewer than 1 million people across the country start expressing their annoyance over the impending presence of what feels like the most-reviled holiday. Comedian John Oliver once said that “you’re never prepared for how truly awful it is” — a stance that, in 2016, was validated by science (or a science-adjacent YouTube video, at least).
Here’s what New Year’s Eve really is: fine. Not exceptional, not miserable — just fine. When the night rolls around you have a few options: You can put on a fancy outfit and go to an awful party that’s too crowded, or you can stay home, ignoring years of media conditioning that have taught you to feel bad about staying in on this one specific night of the year, and try to relax. Neither is optimal, but that’s okay as long as you are willing to admit it. Embrace the fine! Once you do, the stakes will become so low that you might actually enjoy yourself — just not as much as you would in basically any other circumstance, when cabs aren’t impossible to catch and everyone around you isn’t on a literal timed quest to find someone with whom to make out.
I haven’t always been so enlightened; I, too, have had some inexplicably abysmal New Year’s Eves. The worst, perhaps, was the one I celebrated as a 20-year-old — with 21-plus-year-old friends — when, after being ditched by them downtown, I found myself in the living room of a kinda-friend’s house, where he made out with my other kinda-friend while I sexted someone regrettable from the couch. It was a classic bad New Year’s Eve situation: I had gone into the night thinking I’d spend it dancing in some glamorous location, and instead found myself in the exact situation I might have been in had I never left the house — couch-ridden, sending ill-advised horny texts — just with the added bonus of also being a third wheel. The night as a whole felt like a total washout — but it didn’t have to be, had I embraced the fine. The fine would have given me justification to go home early after losing my friends, or at least not to feel disappointed with where I ended up. (And even if you end up having a shitty night, that’s okay! One bad night is not foreshadowing for the rest of the year.)
Anyway, the real unbearable day of the year is New Year’s Day. If it doesn’t fall on the weekend, it feels less like a serendipitous day off work and more like an unwelcome Sunday squeezed right in the middle of your week. If you went out drinking, you’re probably hungover, and not only consumed by what we’ve given the nickname “Sunday Scaries,” but also by existential dread about yearlong resolutions. Also, shit’s closed! The gym is packed. You feel like you have to think about goals or whatever. And most annoyingly, you have a full two months ahead of you of writing the wrong year on checks and documents. At least on New Year’s Eve, you get a free pass to be irresponsible and stay up all night.