My lonely Christmas: Dumped and depressed, this writer fled to Vienna to spend the holiday alone - and it changed her life for good

Four weeks before Christmas 2005 and I had just been dumped by my boyfriend.

‘You’re not quite right for me,’ he’d said in a text. I called him, thinking it was a joke.
It wasn’t. It was the third failed ­relationship I’d had in a year and I was feeling battered.

Until that point, I hadn’t been single for three years, jumping from one man to the next without waiting to see if he was right for me. It was time to hit the pause button. The moment I hung up the phone on my now ex-boyfriend, I decided there and then that I would go away for Christmas on my own. 

Getaway: After getting dumped, Tamsin fled to Vienna to spend the festive season on her own - and had a great time

Getaway: After being dumped, Tamsin fled to Vienna to spend the festive season on her own - and had a great time

Normally, Christmas is a huge family gathering around the fire and table. But, that particular year, I’d been hoping for a romantic week away with my man — all mulled wine and adoring gifts. 

Even though we had been going out for just three months, we had planned to spend Christmas together.

The ex and I had wanted a holiday far from the usual family dramas and had done everything but book our Christmas retreat. I was determined not to let the break-up stop me from going abroad.

This season was going to be different. I needed to prove I could spend time alone, that I didn’t need other people to be happy over Christmas.

I logged on to the internet and chose Vienna because it was the best deal ­available.

There was no intellectual or cultural thought behind it. My only rule was that it had to be somewhere new and that I was to stay out of contact with my family and friends the entire time.

Just booking the tickets made me feel like a sad person with no friends. I went home that night and cried, thinking this was one of the darkest moments of my life. There I was at 33, single and ­miserable, spending Christmas alone.

An internal dialogue kept asking me the same questions. Was there something wrong with me? Why wasn’t I with someone? Would my family even care?

Going solo: Tamsin Oxford found being alone over Christmas an empowering experience, and despite being now married, she holidays alone once a year

Going solo: Tamsin Oxford found being alone over Christmas an empowering experience, and despite being now married, she holidays alone once a year

When I told my family and friends, their reactions were mixed. My father was bewildered but supportive, my brother and his wife horrified, and my friends ran the gamut of worried to impressed. One theme rang true throughout, though —no one could understand why I would choose to spend Christmas alone.

My painful internal monologue followed me all the way through the lead-up to my holiday, into the airport and on to the plane. It took a lot of self-control to not leap off the runway and run home. I could have easily written off the money and spent Christmas with my family.

But there was no way I could face another Christmas stuck around the ­dining table, staring at my ­happily married brother and enduring comments such as, ‘See, you still can’t commit’, or, ‘Whatever ­happened to that Ian fellow?’

I can still vividly remember the smell of the plane and how stressed I felt.

Then, as suddenly as it had begun, the cacophony of internal noise I’d endured for three weeks just switched off as the plane took off. There was nowhere to go and I was on my own adventure.

When I landed I could do whatever I wanted. If I wanted to eat ice cream for breakfast, I could. If I wanted to walk along the Danube, I could.

No one was going to need cosseting; I didn’t have to compromise or bite my tongue. I could just be.

I landed in Vienna on Christmas Eve. The air was icy and sharp, completely ­different from the damp drizzle at home. Thick, gorgeous snow-draped ­everything.

I remember walking out of the airport and just standing there for about ten minutes breathing in the air of a new city, a new place. It was incredibly exciting.

By the time I’d checked into the hotel and night had fallen, however, it was a completely ­different affair.

The nagging fears had come back with a vengeance and I was feeling emotionally raw. I couldn’t decide whether I wanted room service, to go out for ­dinner or to explore.

Festive: The Christmas market outside Vienna's City Hall attracts locals and tourists alike

Festive: The Christmas market outside Vienna's City Hall attracts locals and tourists alike

I ended up lying unmoving on the bed for hours. I cried; I felt sorry for myself; I picked up my phone to call home about 100 times and then put it down again. It was an experience I don’t think I ever want to repeat because the utter ­isolation revealed things about me of which I wasn’t particularly proud. Apparently, I wasn’t very good at being alone.

When I woke up on Christmas morning I was lying on top of the bed, still dressed in the outfit I’d worn the day before. Everything came flooding back — where I was, what I was doing and that it was Christmas Day.

I ran to the window and threw open the curtains. The view was incredible. I was overlooking the cobbled roads of the inner city with the spires of ­Stephansdom Cathedral rising up above it all.

The sky was dripping snow and there was this feeling of celebration and excitement in the air.

The first thing I did was text ­everyone back home to let them know I’d arrived safely and to wish them all the best for the day. Then I got ready to run out the door and into my version of Christmas Day.

Right from the start I felt ­fantastic. The misery of the night before felt as if it had happened to a different person. It was almost as if I had to release all the doubts and misgivings in one heave so I could fully appreciate the experience.

I ate chocolate croissants and drank thick, heavy coffee in a tiny shop overlooking the cathedral. I explored the myriad tiny streets. I ate the best ­caramel chunk ice cream in the world in a room that sported the most ­extravagant chandelier I’d ever seen.

I read my book on a bench in the snow by the Danube. I wore ten layers and wrapped a jersey around my head to do it, but that’s how I spent the afternoon.

Not once did I feel a pull to call home or to cry. I didn’t feel lonely or sad as I looked in the windows of restaurants at huge ­gatherings of happy people. Instead, I felt liberated.

As I walked back to the hotel, a man dressed in an enormous, bright green coat started ­chattering away to me. I found myself being invited to an underground recital in an ancient ­building near the hotel.


Silent night

One in ten over-65s will spend Christmas alone this year

The room was stunning, with walls ­covered in gorgeous ­frescos in mint greens and pale blues, and windows ­looking out at the feet of ­passers-by as they strode past the entrance to Stephansdom Cathedral.

Seated at the front of this curious room were a violinist and guitarist who ­proceeded to play the Viennese greats — Mozart, Strauss, Schubert and Haydn. Night fell as they played and the city began to shine with the hundreds of fairy lights draped over trees and ­buildings. It was perfect.

The rest of my holiday was spent exploring the Rathaus and ­Christmas markets, drinking gluhwein and making friends with the locals.

I’m not going to say I didn’t spend some nights feeling excruciatingly lonely and questioning my existence, because I did. But these became increasingly ­contemplative and less about an ­emotional knee-jerk reaction to what I was ‘supposed’ to be doing over ­Christmas.

When the time came for me to go home, I honestly didn’t want to leave. I loved the way I felt, how clear my head was and how comfortable I was in my own skin. This had been one of the best ­decisions of my life.

Instead of being something that broke me and reaffirmed my belief I was a pathetic person with no friends, being alone over Christmas was empowering.

I discovered myself and, in the process, found a woman who was happy to be alone.

Then, four months later, I met my husband. That’s always the way, isn’t it?

Now, even though I am married with a wonderful daughter, I try to go away on my own every year.

This year, I ­disappeared to a quiet seaside spot near Weston-super-Mare for three lovely days. Next year, I am thinking of a short cruise to Eastern Europe.

It’s never for two weeks or over ­Christmas, but it’s always long enough for me to reconnect with myself and enjoy the solitude.

I see that Christmas in Vienna as a turning point in my life and still get misty-eyed when I remember all the amazing things that happened to me while I was there.

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