2020 Has Ruined Your Main Character Christmas Fantasy, But It’s A Good Thing

Photo by Beth Sacca.
With your cheek resting on the cool window of the train, the frosted countryside flashes past. Heading home for Christmas, finally. Your hometown may be the same but, somehow, you’ve changed. Time away from home has transformed you. Shedding the Topshop skinny jeans you once wore like a pretentious reptile having its style awakening, you now dress exclusively in thrifted clothing – unsatisfied unless the entire outfit is at least four sizes too big and reeks of cigarette smoke. Oh, how you’ve lived! You chuckle to yourself as you recall believing that 2am was a late night… With your new uni friends you’d be lucky to be in bed before 7am at the earliest and even luckier if you didn’t have to witness a rugby boy drink his own piss.
Surely everyone will notice? There is no way they wouldn’t. The first Christmas night out will be their chance to witness the bad bitch you have become, lucky them. You step into your local bar immaculately dressed, strutting in slow motion to Madonna’s "Hung Up". An ex-friend from school races up to you, tears streaming down her face. "I’m so sorry that I convinced everyone that you had a third boob in Year 9, please will you forgive me?!" You brush past her, pierced nose in the air, head held high. Any romantic interest who has ever made the fatal error of rejecting you drops their drink to the floor with a smash, dazzled by your beauty, and confesses their undying love. You calmly inform them that you are now dating an Irish rugby player who is simultaneously a climate activist and fan of Harry Styles. Their competition is irrelevant. 

Because I’m ALWAYS the main protagonist. Inspo by @daiseygorgeous #fyp #DialItForward #highschoolmemories #viral

♬ Mariners Apartment Complex - Lana Del Rey
This familiar little daydream is also known as the 'main character fantasy' and we all do it. Romanticising your life is nothing new, particularly after returning home following a significant change in your life such as moving away for uni or work. The #maincharacter trend on TikTok has even got a festive makeover of late as creators (Yasmine Sahid is the standout queen) use Lana Del Rey’s "Mariners Apartment Complex" to parody coming-of-age movies and romanticise arriving home for Christmas as a totally *different* person.
However, despite our most vigilant efforts, these grand fantasies rarely work out. It usually isn’t long before that momentary god complex is crushed by your mum laughing at your bizarre new choice of attire or you drinking too much, chatting nonsense to all the people you told yourself you would avoid and throwing up in a pub toilet on Christmas Eve.
Going home for the festivities is different for everyone in their late teens or early 20s, whether they are coming home from uni or just after moving away for work. For many, it means an uncomfortable return to teenage trauma and the site of bullying or discrimination from earlier years and can be a cause for significant anxiety. For others, it’s simply a welcome change from the budget uni diet of plain pasta and rice. Either way, feeling like you've got something to prove? Totally normal.
Grace, originally from a small town, always found returning home from university incredibly nerve-racking due to the bullying she faced during her teen years. This didn’t prevent her main character fantasy from thriving all the same. "I always thought of myself turning up to the village pub on Boxing Day wearing some ridiculous leather jacket and sunglasses and simply laughing if anyone dared to speak to me." However, the reality was far less sophisticated than she had hoped for. "I ended up leaving Spoons and shouting 'Fuck off!' to said bullies as I slammed the taxi door… Big EastEnders vibes."
Alice, also from a small town, imagined a dream main character moment that involved bringing home an incredibly fit European boy and "snogging him in the local shitty bar… Obviously in front of all the boys I used to date." However, like Grace, the reality is always slightly different. "Despite my best efforts, I tend to leave the club at 9 after a thoroughly awful night while all my mates go home with their boyfriends or sleep with the boys I used to date."

“Gets blue highlights...” Earrings and necklace by @east.origin ! #RaisedBy #maincharacter #fyp #CancelTheNoise

♬ Oblivion - Grimes
This year, with an increasing number of areas being placed into tiers 2 and 3 for the end of December, the possibility of living out that main character fantasy is looking even more unlikely than usual. Strutting through a bar loses its touch somewhat when you have to book your table weeks in advance, wear your mask properly and order a substantial meal to go alongside that elegant cocktail you plan to sip mysteriously.
Sex and relationships expert Sally Baker argues that this is no bad thing. "No real life experience can ever match the highly crafted and emotionally invested main character fantasy. It is almost impossible to achieve with its heady mix of the physical and the emotional."
Often, she says, a main character fantasy revolves around the imagined victorious return of a person as they enter a situation (in this case, the pub) elegantly and in slow motion. "In their mind’s eye, they see themselves beautifully and flatteringly lit by a myriad of hidden lights. Emotionally they imagine personifying to those they left behind an effortless sang-froid, self-possession." The favoured facial expression is one of mildly amused disinterest and the adopted attitude the very definition of ennui. "How fortunate with all the bars and clubs closed due to COVID-19, the fantasy needs never to be tested," she chuckles.
Ultimately, Baker sees the fantasy as a representation of the growth you feel within which is rarely noticed or sufficiently validated by others. "The real transformation is something inexplicable and precious that happens deep inside. The only person who needs to acknowledge and value their metamorphosis is the person themselves – everything else is just set-dressing."
Basically, no amount of looking amazing or acting disinterested in your sixth form ex on Christmas Eve will make up for the fact that you've learned, evolved and grown from the experience in a way that's meaningful to you. Which, boys and girls, is perhaps the best Christmas present of all. Plus, the fact that you can't go out means there's no chance of you tearfully trying to get that ex back after too many sambucas.
So perhaps 2020 is the year to put these main character dreams aside. Personally, instead of carefully crafting a main character moment on the train home from uni, I am going to try and dream about not having to deal with a student kitchen for a couple of weeks, where the hob is a biohazard and the tea towels probably have chlamydia.

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