New Year’s Eve has always caused anxiety for 38-year-old Gina Tron. She says she feels a lot of pressure for it to be “fantastic”; that it “symbolize a way to start the New Year ‘right.’” When these expectations aren’t met or something goes wrong, it’s an automatic letdown, she says.
In her 20s, Tron, who lives in El Cerrito, Calif., used to spend hundreds of dollars on New Year’s Eve outings. “I’d go out and buy a glittery dress, and then my ticket to an overpriced nightclub would be jacked up to 60 bucks entry,” she says.
One year, Tron spent $28 on every drink. She remembers being worried about her bank account but felt like she “had to have a good time, no matter what.” For Tron, it always led to disappointment; she recounts feeling extremely lonely at the end of the night.
But Tron says that spending the night with a significant other sometimes added to the stress, too: “There’s a lot of pressure for it to be a romantic night.”
American women are more likely to report stress around the holidays than men, according to one 2006 study. For New Year’s Eve, that stress often lies in having unrealistic expectations of the glitz and glamour of ringing in the new year. “Over the years, female patients describe something to me that sounds akin to the wedding fantasy,” says Jack Worthy, a New York City-based therapist. “You grow up watching rom-coms set on New Year’s Eve. You whisper to your girlfriends about who you might kiss at midnight. It’s another bill of goods sold to women but not to men.”
The rise in stress surrounding New Year’s Eve has been well-documented. In 1999, a study found that people who plan to have a great time on New Year’s Eve are likely to be the most miserable of all. According to the study, 83 percent of the 475 people surveyed ended up being disappointed with their New Year’s Eve celebration. In a 2015 article in The Washington Post, the researchers said their findings about New Year’s Eve aren’t a call for abandoning parties and self-reflection — just for tempering your expectations and making sure you savor your experiences when you’re having them. In recent years, this same line of thinking has been recommended with newer expectations in the age of social media.
However, 2020 has called for canceling the New Year’s celebration altogether, not just because it can induce anxiety, but because it is the responsible thing to do, according to health officials. As writer Sarah Miller wrote in one popular piece in the New Yorker, titled “Cancel New Year’s Forever”: “This year, we will not be running into one another to ask what we’re doing on New Year’s Eve, and, in any case, if we did run into one another we would likely have little to report.”
People on Twitter seem to be echoing the sentiment, while others are joking about abandoning cliches such as the Times Square ball drop. No matter what, there’s a clear interest in having little to no expectations for this New Year’s Eve.
It’s clear the holiday — similar to many other traditions in 2020 — will look different. Around the country, restaurants are serving special New Year’s Eve feasts for takeout. Some cities, such as Washington, D.C., have altogether suspended indoor dining. New Year’s Eve parties in Los Angeles have sparked outrage as the city has become a hot spot for coronavirus cases.
In other words, this year may provide a natural opportunity to reevaluate the pressure women take on during the holiday. “What’s your frame of comparison for a ‘normal’ New Year’s Eve?” is a question Worthy thinks everyone should ask themselves. “Is it celebrity culture? Social media influencers? Actual royalty?” If you set unrealistic, unattainable standards, you guarantee misery, he says.
Historically, pop culture has played a big role in shaping the narrative of what a “fun” New Year’s Eve is supposed to look like. “Growing up watching movies and shows based around New Year, I thought that this was a special night that would represent my luck for the following year,” says Tron.
In recent years, social media has also been a big factor. According to fashion blogger La Carmina, 33, who lives between Vancouver and New York, having the perfect photo of your New Year’s celebration on social media is a prerequisite for any sort of influencer. That adds to stress, too; influencers have gotten more elaborate in crafting NYE outfit shoots, “often with balloons, lights, decor, you name it,” she says.
Before the rise of blogging and social media, Carmina never felt that she “should” be doing something amazing to ring in the New Year. However, there’s far more pressure now to have it documented for posterity. “I don’t recall people posing with giant numbered balloons, such as ‘2021’ in gold, before Instagram came up,” she says.
Given the focus on appearances, socioeconomic disparities are often on display during the holiday. Tron says there were years she “just didn’t have any money and couldn’t spend” when she showed up for outings. “If I spent over $100 and I left the evening crying, it stings a lot more,” she says.
This year, the pressure is virtually nonexistent for many. Bloggers are rightfully chastised if they go out and gather during the pandemic, Carmina points out.
Tron is glad there are no options to do anything elaborate this year, so “no FOMO,” she says. She will be staying in and watching movies with loved ones at home: her housemates and brother who lives in the same building next door. She is happy that her bank account won’t suffer. Carmina agrees. She says she is not obligated to dress up, go out and stay up in the cold weather just for an Instagram picture.
In considering how to celebrate the holiday in the future but avoid some of the stress, Worthy suggests being with people you actually like doing things with: “Let go of ideas of what NYE ‘should’ be, and welcome what’s to offer,” he says. For example, Worthy’s parents have settled into a New Year’s routine of playing cards with their two closest couple friends. “I see that now as true wealth, true success,” he adds.
Tron agrees: “I think a small get-together with people you genuinely love is more meaningful.” She says that while “going big and glittery is fun … giving in to that every year can eventually feel hollow and fake, like a corporation’s take on the holiday.”
Carmina will be playing video games in isolation and is excited about not having to dress up, cook special food or meet people on New Year’s Eve. She has also scheduled a couple of Zoom video chats with her close friends. “I’ll make some mulled red wine, wear a cozy goth sweater, and say cheers with my friends. It’ll be nice to simply chat and connect — I don’t think we need to make a big deal of NYE, and have resolutions or reflections per se.”
As Worthy suggests, the New Year is about acceptance: “Sometimes the year deals you solitude and longing, and sometimes the year deals you sexiness and revelry. Welcome what comes as part of your story and learn to love yourself in whatever unfolds.”
Editor’s note: An updated version of this article reflects that the New Year’s Eve celebrations where Tron spend hundreds of dollars took place in her 20s.