Kissing under mistletoe or curling up under the duvet?
Many singles will be refusing to join the cosy kissing couples when the clock strikes 12 tonight, writes Fionola Meredith
For some single people, the champagne-soaked revelry of New Year's Eve is the ideal opportunity to immerse themselves in a night of wild communal gaiety. For others, the moment when the clock strikes midnight and everybody turns to embrace their partner sends a wintry chill through their lonely hearts. In a culture that remains resolutely couple-centred, these images of cosy togetherness can bring their single status into painful relief. And the fact that it's the cusp of the new year only makes things worse. A "kissless" New Year's Eve can suddenly take on extra significance.
Feelings of sadness, failure and even embarrassment can be reflected back down the year just passed and projected forward into the year to come. Helen Fielding, author of Bridget Jones's Diary, blames couples who flaunt their commitment: "Smug marrieds will find any excuse to torture singletons. It's obvious on New Year's Eve that another whole year has gone by during which everyone you know seems to have mutated into smug marrieds having children plop, plop, plop, left and right and centre."
Lisa O'Hara of the Dublin-based Marriage and Relationship Counselling Service (MRCS) agrees that the turning point of the year - with its emphasis on togetherness, love and celebration - can bring anxieties over one's single status into uncomfortably sharp relief.
"New Year's Eve can be a time that we look back on the year that's just gone and some of us take it as an opportunity to eyeball our successes and failures during that year. If we are single and unhappy with being unattached we may wonder exactly why we have no one special in our lives when others around us seem to be so happy with their other half."
A recent survey by online dating agency Match.com found that 28 per cent of singles acknowledge that being dateless on New Year's Eve is worse than being single and without a date on any other holiday. But is it really the worst night not to have someone special at your side?
NOT ACCORDING TO the determinedly upbeat Fiona O'Riordan of Woo.ie, an Irish dating website. She says: "I believe singles tend to feel particularly optimistic and happy around the New Year because it's a time when hope is renewed and they can look forward to a year to come full of romance. It's definitely a time of optimism - New Year's Eve is about going out and enjoying yourself in a celebration with friends and family and not just with a partner."
Yet while singles' nights are an increasingly common phenomenon, there's something of a hiatus over Christmas and New Year period, with few events organised to cater for those who don't fancy standing on the sidelines watching loved-up couples getting smoochy with each other. So what are single people doing this year?
Emily Walsh (26) from Dublin is typical of many who are so disillusioned by the scenes of mass debauchery on New Year's Eve that they refuse to go out. She plans to spend the evening quietly at home with a couple of like-minded single friends and a few bottles of wine.
"Most of my friends are off doing things with their fellas. But I don't feel the same pressure to go out and find someone on New Year's Eve that I did when I was younger. When you're 18, you're desperate to have someone to kiss at midnight. It's different now."
Despite the dearth of specially organised singles events over the holiday season, Dermot Glanville (33) feels that being a member of the online dating community helps take the sting out of being single at New Year. "I've been single for quite a while, but joining Woo.ie has changed my whole perspective on dating: I've met so many people online. It's true that New Year can seem like a lonely time if you don't have that social network. "If nothing else," he adds "it plugs you into the possibility that maybe something will happen on New Year's Eve."
BUT EVEN WHEN an invitation to a New Year's singles bash does come slipping through the letterbox, it's not always welcome. Liz Cullinane, a single parent from Belfast, recalls the time she was invited to a "waifs and strays" party with a mixture of incredulity and derision.
"I found it absolutely horrendous. I don't like the manufactured glee of New Year's Eve anyway; there's something very hollow about it. But the assumption here is that if you're single, you haven't chosen to be. The norm is to be in a couple, so there's a tendency to group people together. It's as if to say that someone who isn't in a couple has to be encouraged to participate. That's true in particular for women. I remember a male friend saying to me once, 'We're going to have to get a man for you - you're having too much fun!' That says it all really."
While the pressure to pair up can be intense, it seems that many single people will be refusing to join the partying throng tonight. Some relationship experts say that if you're single, the best plan is to spend the evening splendidly alone, indulging yourself with all your favourite treats. After all, dining royally on lobster and quaffing martinis in the bath certainly beats hanging around under a wizened bit of mistletoe on New Year's Eve hoping for a kiss that may not come.