The inevitable letdown of believing a man can read your mind.
My sister looks very happy in this picture. Maggie was about 3½ months old, so her baby brain failed to process the horrific tantrum thrown no less than an hour before by me, the doctor in pajama pants on the left. I had gotten both doctor and nurse costumes (shoutout to my progressive parents; also, sorry I am neither!) along with a shit ton of other presents. Despite the bounty of gifts and love from my family, I am embarrassed to admit that I ruined every Christmas morning from the time I was 3 until I was 10.
As an adult, I still have a hard time thinking about it. Holiday commercials with cheerful kids opening presents under the tree and then running to their approachably attractive parents for hugs make me shudder with deep shame. My family never had this idyllic Christmas morning and it is entirely my fault. Actually, mine and Santa’s. Well, my idea of Santa.
The problem was, I believed in Santa. Hard. I believed a bearded old man lived in a remote location with some tiny men and knew everything about you?—?not unlike how I picture the NSA. I believed he knew exactly what you wanted, and if you were good, he would sneak into your house and leave it for you.
(Side note: I recall being very worried because we did not have a chimney. My parents reassured me that Santa knew this?—?duh, he knows everything?—?and he would use the sliding glass door in the back of our house. Not creepy at all!)
I thought Santa was magical. I thought he could read my mind. A man who’s so powerful, he sees you when you’re sleeping and knows when you’re awake would certainly know exactly what to bring you for Christmas. I believed he was so magical and all-knowing that he would create a special present just for me.
Every year I would rip open all my presents, looking for this totally unique gift only Santa could create. I didn’t even know what this gift would be, but I knew Santa would know because he knows everything. I wouldn’t tell my parents what I wanted because I trusted that my man Santa would take care of me.
And course, this magical mystery gift would never be there. Because it didn’t exist.
Thus, I have distinct, visceral memories of throwing myself on our linoleum kitchen floor and watching myself cry in the reflection of the sliding glass door. Even if I didn’t have the memories, my dad had a VHS camcorder. Somewhere in our basement there is evidence.
I can’t imagine how frustrating it must have been for my parents, two baby boomers who grew up in New York City (my mom sounds like Bernie Sanders; my dad looks like Bernie Sanders). Lorraine and Bernard (yup) put themselves through school and were the first members of their families to graduate from college, before working tirelessly to provide for Maggie and me. Old-school, American-dream-style, baby! Each year, they gave us the Christmas they never had as kids, and each year, I would ruin it. If I were them, I would have straight-up canceled Christmas. I mean, this was the 90s and that was a very popular sitcom trope.
I came to believe men were magical, too, in the same Santa-as-North-Pole-wizard way. I thought they came pre-programmed to know what I needed and could therefore make me happy. This particular theory likely originated in a fun and flirty cocktail of low self-esteem, high interest in boys at a young age (shout-out to my fellow early masturbators!) and a healthy dose of over two hours of television a day.
While most of my high school classmates were busy dating and learning how to form romantic relationships, I was busy watching VH1’s “I Love The 70s,” “80s,” and “90s” and getting a series of terrible haircuts. Don’t get me wrong: I knew all about sex and what to expect in that arena (this early masturbator was super pumped for that!), but I had no idea how to be in a relationship. Having a boyfriend was something I had always wanted and I had really built it up in my head. A boyfriend, I assumed, was the ultimate gift. I never considered the work that went into being with another person. I just assumed that if a dude liked me and I liked him, that secret sauce would make our relationship perfect, effortless and easy.
After unsuccessfully pining after boys for years, they finally started taking an interest in me in my early twenties and I was pretty unprepared.
Dating big, bearded dudes with small, weird friends was not the only manifestation of my problematic relationship with men/Santa. I had the same unrealistic expectations for my first few boyfriends that I had for Old St. Nick. I gave these men too much power. I assumed if a guy liked me, he must really understand me and know what I need. We were in love, so naturally he could read my mind, right?
I remember being on a road trip with one of my first boyfriends, Jay. He was three years my senior and had already graduated college, so you know, he was a man of the world. As a result, he had a habit of being condescending. During this trip, he made a joking but pointed comment about my roommate and I never getting our shit together. Looking back, I can see it wasn’t truly mean-spirited, but it was still shitty and it hurt my feelings.
Kid Me would have thrown a tantrum. Because I was an adult, I shut down and became the grown-up version of a screaming, bawling brat: an asshole. I was quietly passive aggressive for the rest of the afternoon, which we spent gambling at a casino in South Dakota. This meant I spent a significant amount of time rolling my eyes and making sarcastic remarks while deriving only mild satisfaction from beating Jay at blackjack.
I just wanted him to apologize. Why didn’t he know I was upset? Why couldn’t he tell that a comment he’d made two hours ago really bothered me?
I continued to employ this twisted logic to relationships well into my twenties. By not telling partners what I needed, I set myself up to be let down. No one wins in this scenario. How can someone attempt to give you what you want when you don’t tell them?
Santa?—?and the men I dated?—?didn’t stand a chance. Also, Santa was not real and he was my parents. Although, we do all end up dating some version of our parents, don’t we?! WOW. I’m really putting my psychology degree to work.
Santa is not real and men are not magical. That magic present does not exist and neither does the perfect partner. If you want a joyful, successful Christmas morning, you’ve got to make a list of potential gifts. If you want a happy, successful relationship, you have to let your needs be known?—?though that’s no guarantee you’ll get what you ask for. In those instances, be your own damn Santa.
And remember: If an old, white man sneaks into your house in the middle of the night, he is for sure not there to bring you presents. He is probably one of the 25 serial killers active today and you should call the cops. Happy holidays!