At work and happy hour and on the street today, there will be all manner of people trying too hard—a distinction that, whatever shade it comes in (are you dressed up as last week’s hot new meme? Are you cosplaying Fortnite? Are you and your hubby Bonnie and Clyde, again?) leaves me with residual, second-hand embarrassment. Remember when the scourge of “adulting” was all the rage? Not on Halloween, you don’t!
I wasn’t always a Halloween hater, because I was a child once. Unless you’re a practicing witch or really into astrology or something, that is who the holiday—in its modern incarnation—is intended for. (No, I won’t be getting into the historical roots of this holiday, I don’t care that much.) Dressing up your baby as a pumpkin or a piece of lined notebook paper or whatever seems to be at least half the reason to bring children into this doomed world, so I don’t begrudge parents that. I have fond memories—again, as a young child, not yet even a tween—walking around in the brisk fall night with my sister and dad as we trick-or-treated. All good fun! Have a ball and watch out for razor blades in your fun-size Snickers, kiddies!
But then a shift necessarily occurs. You sure as hell shouldn’t be hitting the streets as anything older than a middle schooler, so a chasm opens between the age where you’re too old to be begging for candy (and judging your neighbors’ stinginess) and when Halloween just becomes yet another partying holiday.
I remember a rag-tag group of college friends somehow convincing me, yet again, that it would be “fun” to stand outside for hours and hours in the Wisconsin winter (which begins in mid-October, roughly speaking) while dressed as a “sexy” something, an assumed persona as threadbare as the cheap, poly-blend clothes on my back. Why was I here? Why was this supposed to be fun? Was I alone in thinking all this effort and money-spending was dumb as hell?
When I aged out of that nonsense, I thought: finally, some relief from this yearly agony. No: only in (actual) death will we know peace; I slowly realized in genuine horror that real-ass adults, with kids and mortgages and cars, still debase themselves for this shit.
I showed up to late October house parties to find people with their faces intricately painted, wearing homemade costumes that looked like they were months in the making. If you are real, Spirit of Halloween, strike me down now, I thought. I was probably wearing a black t-shirt and jeans, as per usual, and told people I was “ego death incarnate” or “the coming digital media apocalypse” (this was still funny a few years ago). Again, this was all for a night of drinking or an excuse to take the subway home the next morning dressed as an anime character.
The realization that sealed the deal: Halloween is just an autumnal New Year’s Eve, with the added hell of stupid costumes. It’s all that pressure to Do Something memorable—a set of absurdly high expectations you’ll rarely, if ever, meet—combined with the deeply embarrassing feature of dressing like a try-hard adult baby. At least on New Year’s you get to clean up nice for that $50 cover charge party in the city you don’t end up getting into anyway! In all things, I subscribe to the notion that it’s best to set your expectations low, and you’ll find yourself pleasantly surprised when things work out. Halloween is a holiday for hopeless, eternal optimists.
Listen, I’m sorry to be the Nor’easter on your big night out. We have so few creature comforts right now, when any day without a news hailstorm denting our collective psyches feels like a gift. If Halloween is your sweet release, your self-care, your favorite damn holiday, live your (ersatz) truth!! Just please, I beg you, don’t ask me what I’m dressed up as.