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The Best Homesickness Cure When You Can’t Go Home for the Holidays

For years, I’ve been doing the same thing to make this time feel a little less lonely

Photo by Sasha Freemind on Unsplash

During the holiday season’s peak travel days, Los Angeles’s 405 Freeway almost looks festive — the red and white lights of cars, stretching for miles, can be beautiful, if you’re not stuck inside the traffic yourself. It can also lead one to believe that every single person vacates the city for the holidays. But ever since I moved to LA from Philadelphia four years ago, I’ve stayed here, 2,392 miles from where I grew up, throughout the holiday season, stuck in place by work schedules and the prohibitive cost of airfare.

To me, those 2,392 miles are measured by time: I’m a six-hour flight plus a three-hour time change away from my immediate and extended family, my oldest friends, and my husband’s family and friends, too. My husband and I have each other during the holidays, of course, but Los Angeles — far from our other loved ones and weather even remotely considered wintery — can leave us feeling homesick.

According to Jessica Zucker, a clinical psychologist and writer based in Los Angeles, homesickness can be especially prevalent around this time of year. “Holidays, in and of themselves, highlight what we have and what we don’t have,” she says. “If people are feeling particularly close to loved ones that they can’t be with, it seems like it would inevitably evoke feelings of loneliness, sadness, longing, yearning, and maybe stir feelings of regret for having moved far away and not living close.”

Of course, the holiday season might also evoke difficult feelings for those returning home, she adds, as they may find themselves “wishing that they had a different home life to go home to.” So really, the holiday season, even with the cheer of the decorations and that one Mariah Carey song, can present emotional challenges for both those near and far from their families. Unfortunately — well, fortunately for me — I know the antidote for the pain of being far from one’s family: binge-watching.

When you’re feeling stressed or sad about your current circumstances, re-experiencing familiar stories can bring a soothing sense of control.

Specifically, binge-watching your favorite show from your adolescence. Reliably, come December, my television rotation becomes a medley of Friends, Gilmore Girls, Sex and the City, and Gossip Girl: four shows I had watched obsessively when I was younger, and that now do a surprisingly good job of easing my longing to be surrounded by my family and friends. Because, in a way, these shows’ characters are my family and friends. During the years of my deepest teenage angst, I connected to them in ways I couldn’t connect to the real people in my life. I saw their worst moments, embarrassments, flaws, and failures, and I felt seen in return. In watching these fictional characters grapple with being fallible human beings, I became more comfortable with my own messy humanity.

I’m aware that suggesting nostalgic binge-watching as a form of emotional self-soothing is about as millennial as it gets. But it’s not without some merit. Watching familiar shows, Zucker explains, provides “an opportunity to transport us into different times or places or feelings.”

That’s certainly been my experience. Binge-watching these shows is a way of remembering different versions of who I’ve been over the years: Sitting through a Friends marathon transports me to those teenage Thursday nights watching alongside my mother. Most of the jokes flew over my head at that point, but I still laughed because my mother did, and that meant something was funny. Gilmore Girls, which I first watched by myself, fills me with happiness, and the sweet sense of independence that came with finally having a show that was all mine. Sex and the City takes me to my final years of high school, when I watched extremely edited reruns on TBS and felt like an adult. Gossip Girl, with its particular brand of smug indulgence, is a direct line back to my time in college, when I was both smug and indulgent myself.

The sense of predictability is comforting, too. There’s a scene in an episode of Gossip Girl when one of the characters, Nate, asks his ex-girlfriend Blair if she remembers how she had forced him to watch Audrey Hepburn films over and over when they were together. Nate says he had once asked Blair why she re-watched films she had already seen, at which point Blair recounts her answer: “I like knowing how things are going to turn out.” She had a point: When you’re feeling stressed or sad about your current circumstances, re-experiencing familiar stories can bring a soothing sense of control.

One note of caution: No matter what you’re watching, consider skipping the holiday episodes. “If [people] don’t want to feel sadder because they’re away from their families,” Zucker says, “veer towards something that isn’t holiday-related or family-related.”

This year, the pain isn’t as bad as it used to be. Los Angeles is slowly becoming my home. But I still miss the place I called home for the first 25 years of my life, especially right now. And while it may not fully fill the hole created by being so far from immediate family and lifelong friends, surrounding myself with my favorite fictional characters is my second best option at the moment. In a way, it still feels like going back to a family.

Freelance arts and culture writer. Previous bylines include The New York Times, Playboy, Glamour, Vice, and other publications. Instagram: @veronica_notvaughn

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