The Refuseniks Hiding From ‘Happy New Year’

Not everyone will be popping Champagne corks tonight. Some will be avoiding New Year festivities entirely—and very sensible folk they are too.

Elena Scotti/The Daily Beast

Are you a New Year’s Eve refusenik? Someone who regularly rebels against the most socially sanctioned night of the year? Someone who shrugs at the sanctimony of those who demand that one must have fun on the last night of the year or accept one’s status as a social outcast? Someone who would sooner stick his finger in his eye and swirl it around than partake in New Year’s revelry?

You, dear reader and refusenik, will likely be called a cynic or a sad sack by friends. Or you may not have many—or any—friends, recasting your social exclusion as brave defiance of social norms. But you’re actually in good company.

Google “Why I hate New Year’s Eve” and you’ll find many comrades angrily and eloquently expressing that very sentiment, some voicing their dread on social anxiety support forums, others articulating their objections in published-in-print screeds. You’ll find friends on Twitter ranting about their New Year’s Eve woes in 140 characters, complete with anti-New Year’s Eve solidarity hashtags (#ihatenewyears, #newyearseveproblems).

Those who fantasize about the night ending, as it does in When Harry Met Sally, with an old flame whom you adore running into a party to say he wants to spend the rest of his life with you, will inevitably be let down.

You’d do better to familiarize yourself with the work of writer John Dos Passos, who once said, “the stupid years patter on with unrelenting feet, never stopping, rising to little monotonous peaks in our imaginations at festivals like New Year’s.”

Anecdotal evidence shows that New Year’s Eve is one of the most roundly detested festivals of drinking. 81 percent of readers in a 2012 online poll by The Guardian said they were boycotting New Year’s Eve celebrations, though the type of people who participate in online polls might strongly correlate with those who have no open New Year’s Eve party invitations.

But who can blame them? New Year’s Eve imposes more existential dread—not something that usually inspires merriment and revelry—than any other day of the year.

Like any birthday (after the age of 18), New Year’s Eve reminds us of the slow and inexorable passage of time. But where birthdays afford us special attention, New Year’s Eve is merely an occasion to look back on everything we failed to achieve in the last year, to look at our lives and ask ourselves, “Wait, is this it?”

But New Year’s Eve also demands you ignore this angst—which you do by guzzling champagne and various other ghastly-but-intoxicating beverages—and compress a year’s worth of fun into one night. And if you’re not having the time of your life, you’re a huge loser. You’re also a fool, because if you can’t tell from that rather large, menacing clock, you’ll soon be too old to have the time of your life—one year closer to the grave.

But to be clear: contrary to received wisdom, New Year’s Eve refuseniks are not necessarily sad, socially inept people. Many refuseniks I know are the life of the party when socializing under different circumstances, without the demand that fun must be had by all. They simply accept that their expectations for New Year’s Eve celebrations will never be met, and have removed themselves entirely from the pressures.

And besides, who wants to hop from one New Year’s Eve party to another, accepting exorbitant Uber surge pricing, only to find yourself stuck in traffic or waiting in line, teeth chattering, to be packed into some dismal bar (and now sweating) with hundreds of other lunatic drunks?

One refusenik friend, a charming and outgoing woman in her late 20s, has not “gone out” on New Year’s Eve since she was 18. It was not an auspicious night. “I went to a party with my two best friends where everyone’s coats were stolen, and then we were kicked out and trampled by the masses as we left,” she recalls. “So I decided I would never go out on New Year’s again, and it’s consistently been the best decision of my year.”

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Another usually extroverted friend turns into a recluse on New Year’s Eve. He responds in vague terms to party invitations, knowing well that he won’t attend. “I’m in bed by 9pm. I turn my phone off. I don’t even drink.”

I envy my refusenik friends their steadfast commitments to stay in, and contentment in doing so. I envy one friend’s plans to “stay at home and watch a few grown-up episodes of Inspector Morse,” and then enjoy dinner and wine with his wife. “Absolutely no contact with the screeching, ululating world outside, with its crowds programmed to celebrate. I understand a great civic outpouring of joy if we’ve all survived a calamity, or won a war. But this clockwork-celebration leaves me cold.”

Few of us are as clever as my Inspector Morse-loving friend. But were I you, dear reader, I would take a strong sedative around 10pm, ensuring that you remain unconscious while the rest of us count down to midnight like so many bleating sheep.