Don’t Go Out on New Year’s Eve

It’s not worth it.

A couple relax on the couch, in black and white
Sherman / Three Lions / Getty

If you have ever turned on your television on New Year’s Eve and felt even a little bit jealous of the partyers gathered in Times Square to watch the ball drop, I want you to remember one thing: A lot of those people are wearing diapers.

It has been widely reported that there is nowhere for New Year’s Eve revelers to use the bathroom in Times Square—no porta-potties, and don’t even think about trying to pop into the Disney Store and asking to use its restroom. So people urinate in the street, hold their kids over railings while they pee, dehydrate themselves all day, and wear adult diapers. Or multiple maxi pads, as one woman told Gothamist in 2015.

There’s a saying that how you spend New Year’s Eve is how you’re going to spend the rest of the year, which is patently ridiculous if taken literally, but even taken figuratively, spending New Year’s Eve soaking in your own urine, hip to hip with millions of other people, illuminated by the bright lights of 20-story ads for light beer or whatever, is a bit of an inauspicious start to the year.

And if Times Square is the top of the dial of New Year’s Eve unpleasantness, discomfort cranked up to 10, then the average experience of going out on December 31 is still likely a 5 or 6.

Standing in line for a bar has never been worth it, not once in the history of time. A really quick line to check IDs at the door is permissible, but that’s it. A stationary line extending down the sidewalk means the place is so packed that when you get to the front, the bouncer has to assess whether or not he can realistically shove one more sardine into that can. And once you make it in, you can expect to spend the night swimming upstream of a riptide of bodies to get to the bar, the bathroom, back to your friends, anywhere. If a night of shifting foot to foot in the 12 square inches of floor space you’ve carved for yourself sounds like fun, then going out on New Year’s Eve is going to deliver just the experience you were hoping for.

You will likely have to pay for the privilege, though. According to Ashley Bray, the editor of Bar Business Magazine, a trade publication for bars and nightclubs, most bars sell tickets for New Year’s Eve, even if they don’t usually charge a cover. Many will host a special event of some kind, with food, or a DJ, or a champagne toast, and it makes sense for bar owners to want an advance head count. But for the goer-outer, that means if you were hoping to stop by your favorite local bar on New Year’s Eve, there will be a price just to get in the door.

Those who would brave the cold on New Year’s Eve are likely well aware of these obstacles—I don’t think I’m exactly blowing the lid off anything here (but if you didn’t know about the diapers … now you know). It may be that some truly enjoy the experience of going out on December 31, and if so, Godspeed to you and drive safely. But I think it’s fair to say that New Year’s Eve is few people’s favorite holiday. Several tongue-in-cheek “holiday ranking” articles place it solidly in the middle of the pack, a survey by FiveThirtyEight ranked it fourth, and Conor Friedersdorf once railed against it in the esteemed pages of this very website. “A too expensive exercise in affected frenzy and anticlimax,” he called it.

And he’s right—but it doesn’t have to be. Both the frenzy and the anticlimax can be avoided by simply staying in. I genuinely look forward to New Year’s Eve every year, and that’s because my two best friends and I have designated it Our Holiday, and we always spend it together. The form of our celebration fluctuates—sometimes we dress up and cook ourselves a nice meal, sometimes we watch horrible-yet-incredible made-for-TV movies, and sometimes we hang out with my friend’s family and play a game of Celebrity. It’s always chill, never frenzied, and it can’t possibly be anticlimactic because the only expectation I’m placing on the evening is to spend some quality time with my closest friends.

The cultural pressure to go out on New Year’s Eve, or to strap on a diaper so you can see the ball drop in person, or to make the evening into an Event in some other way, stems from the undue weight society gives to a year’s end. It’s supposed to be a finale, followed by a fresh start. And as anyone who’s watched enough TV shows would know, they save all the juicy stuff for the finale. The revelations, the big party scenes, the long-awaited kiss between the romantic leads. So if you want your year to have a good finale, you’d better learn a big lesson, take yourself out to a party, and have someone to kiss at midnight. (The origins of the midnight New Year’s kiss tradition are murky, but it certainly seems that When Harry Met Sally poured fuel on its fire.)

“New Year’s Eve is a date that people usually remember,” says Gabriele Oettingen, a psychology professor at New York University and the author of Rethinking Positive Thinking. “People take it seriously, to conclude and to begin. And sometimes you don’t want to be alone, because you want to share in this kind of ending and be together with other people when you start over. So people seek company probably more than on any other normal day.

“The question really is,” she continues, “what company do you seek?” She suggests trying to divorce what you really want to do from what you feel expected to do, imagining how you would feel if you spent New Year’s Eve as you wished, identifying obstacles in the way—whether that’s FOMO or peer pressure or anything else—and then making a concrete plan for the holiday. This is a strategy she’s researched extensively called WOOP, which stands for “wish, outcome, obstacles, plan.”

It might seem a little silly to do a whole visualization technique just to figure out how to spend New Year’s Eve, but it’s worth asking yourself whether you’re making a to-do out of this particular rotation of the Earth just because you think you’ll feel guilty if you don’t. “It’s difficult to really do what you want to do and not to do what you don’t want to do,” Oettingen says. So this year, when the ball drops on New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest and whoever else, spare a thought for those people wearing diapers in Times Square who might really, in their heart of hearts, rather be somewhere else.