‘I’m dreading our holiday with friends’

'I just feel too tired to let my two weeks of sunshine holiday become a thing I dread'
'I just feel too tired to let my two weeks of sunshine holiday become a thing I dread'

Dear A&E,

We’ve been going on holiday with the same family for the past seven years. They are old university friends of my husband’s and for the first few years it was great. There’s a lot to be said for throwing a load of children of the same age together. We love them, but the kids no longer get on and the adults have less and less in common. They’d rather chuck our budget at activities (which I hate) and I’d rather spend the money on nice dinners (which they resent). I think our ideas of relaxation have become very different and I just feel too tired to let my two weeks of sunshine holiday become a thing I dread. An old friend of mine has asked us to go to Greece and we all really want to go but I am in a terrible panic about it. How do I tell them?

– Dreading

Dear Dreading,

Oh, the pressure of “The Holiday”. So many elements weighing heavy on the shoulders of a sandy beach in Spain or a pebbly situation in Dorset: money, time, energy… hope. “Is this the holiday that is going to soothe and smooth the knots in my back, as if I had been rolled through a pasta machine? Is this the holiday that’s going to make me forget about Geoff from Marketing stealing my ideas? Is this the holiday that is going to make me feel 25 and want to have sex with my spouse again? Are these thousands of pounds going to heal me, hold me… save me?” If “The Holiday” were a person it would be in therapy, buckling under the weight of these mighty expectations. “They say they like me, love me even,” Holiday might say, “But actually I think they hate me. I don’t know what they want from me. Am I enough?”

We understand your predicament. Holidays, like Christmas, have been given the impossible task of making everything better. “Better” must be achieved at all costs – costs being the operative word. And you, dear Dreading, are looking down the barrel of a holiday that you know you will not really enjoy. You can’t even pretend, like the rest of us, that it’s going to do its job. Clearly, this summer formula worked for a time, but now things have changed, and they are allowed to change. You don’t need the same holiday that you did 20 years ago, sweaty in a tent at a remote festival or not sleeping in Ibiza. You don’t want the same holiday that you did seven years ago when your kids were small and exhausting and played together happily; when you and the other couple were all in it together.

The trouble is, if you were to sacrifice yourself on the altar of this never-ending cycle of taking holidays together, you might end up acting out and sabotaging everything. You might get too drunk at dinner, refuse to leave your bedroom, get in the hire car and take off all day leaving behind a whiff of passive aggression; shout at one of their kids, roll your eyes at everything anyone says… No one will feel relaxed lying next to a sullen tanner, simmering with resentment from their sunbed.

We think it’s time you had an honest conversation with your friends, probably over coffee or a phone call rather than text or email, the tone of which can be so easily misinterpreted. Perhaps you might say something like: “We love you, and have loved our holidays together but we have been offered this opportunity with old friends of mine, who I don’t see often. We are also conscious that now the children are older, there are going to be fewer and fewer summers and we would love to experience something new with them, before they escape off to Reading Festival or Ayia Napa without us.”

It might also be a good idea to make a plan to see this couple, to make them feel valued; as well as keeping the connections with the children, who might find they coincide with each other again once they have sloughed off the teenage tribalism. The truth is that if you are feeling this level of dis-ease around your holiday, the other family are probably feeling it too. These sorts of things are rarely one-sided. Just as you begrudge their appetite for activities, they might dislike your endless dinners. You might discover that they are relieved that you have been brave enough to bring it up.

There’s a Mary Oliver quote that is slightly haunting us at the moment: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” So, before you succumb to the guilt of upsetting the apple cart, dear Dreading, ask yourself “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious holiday?” And then book it.