Nine years ago, I spent Independence Day riding a bus from Dallas, Texas, to Sioux Falls, South Dakota. A college friend and her husband had just relocated to the south for his job, and they asked me – the single-always-up-for-an-adventure one – to make the drive down there. On the return, I purchased a Greyhound ticket that would transport me five states north, with a seven-hour lay over in Kansas City. Not only was it cheaper to travel on the holiday, but it relieved some of the pressure to have a big red, white and blue blowout.
Where I grew up, in a small town along the Missouri River, the Fourth of July is a big deal, so big that many who have left for college or bigger cities come back and bring their friends. There is a parade and band concert, but the real party, everyone knows, is on the river. Pontoon boats, jet skis, speed boats pulling giant tubes. There are cases of cheap light beer, clothing made of American flags, parties hosted on patches of sand. It’s the celebration that all Americans should have.
Except, I never did.
As a teenager, I spent most Independence Days working, which was great for the time and a half, but it also meant no sandbar parties for me. Which didn’t matter anyway because I was never really invited to those kind of get togethers. I only knew a few people with boats, and most of them had other plans for that day. So, I stayed on the shore, played “Stars & Stripes Forever” with the city band and couldn’t help but feel like I was missing out on the real way to celebrate the Fourth of July.
I had FOMO even before social media existed.
As I got older and moved away from home, these emotions morphed into a patriotic fear of spending Independence Day, alone. Weeks before the holiday, panic would set in as I realized I hadn’t made any plans nor had any BBQ invitations come my way. I harbored a deep belief that if I spent July 4 alone, not eating strawberry and blueberry popsicles in front of a body of water, then there was something inherently wrong with me. Somewhere in my life I had messed up so bad that no one wanted me around on this holiday that is marketed as the ultimate summer hangout with your besties.
This is a real worry for me, so much that, without solid plans for this Fourth, I brought up my fears with my therapist. I explained to him that I am already dreading the internal degrading I will face if I am not at a picnic on the lake or sipping something out of red plastic cup from a boat.
He asked me if there was the possibility that I could spend the Fourth alone, without a big party, and yet still be OK? Furthermore, could I see other people having these grand celebrations and know that it has nothing to do with what kind of person I am?
I am not sure, but I know I want to try.
For this Independence, I have a few low key plans – nothing that screams big Americana party. I am OK with this. I have a lovely day ahead. Still, my internal demons will come and try to tell me that whatever I have is not enough because I am not enough, and I am going to try to stop him this time
The thing is, I have had lots of wonderful Fourth of Julys, like the year of the aforementioned picnic. Or when I first moved to Chicago and an old friend invited me to a BBQ, giving us the chance to reconnect. Or, when my parents came last year and we went to a concert at Millennium. Independence Day is like every other holiday – some years they will be special and some they will not. That’s fine, that’s life.
The goal, for me, though is to not believe that my self-worth is tied to whether or not my holiday looked like the one others are having, and to not even compare them in the first place. Of course, this fear is tied to something bigger within me, but I think I can start by taking this holiday and knowing that no matter how or with whom I spend it, I will still be a good, love-able person.