This week: how do I cope with Saturday night?

Lal's known for solving everyone's problems. But, at 40, she hates being alone on Saturday nights. During the week she's fine, but on Saturdays she either goes to bed hours early, or stays up and drinks. What should she do?

I don't usually put myself in my readers' shoes, but for the first time in months, last weekend I spent Saturday night alone (purely for reasons of research, you understand) and tried to get through it without using either of Lal's techniques. I failed. Three-quarters of a bottle of wine disappeared down my throat, and I stayed up till 1am watching my second video. Golly, it was unpleasant.

I make it my business, on the grounds of sanity alone, to make absolutely certain of always doing something on Saturday nights. It can be anything - even a party outside London which I know I won't enjoy, or going out for a Chinese meal with even the most dismal of girlfriends.

And when I inquired of other single friends how they fared, they all agreed that Saturday nights alone could be hell. No doubt, if we lived in the Andaman Islands Saturday nights would be no problem; but in our culture Saturday nights are traditionally as full of romance and excitement as Sundays are expected to be dismal. If a seven-day week could be devised which contained two Wednesdays instead, at least 60 per cent of the population would be highly relieved.

A drastic step Lal could take is to move to an apartment block. Here, according to a friend of mine who lives in one, you never see or hear the swarming crowds below on Saturdays. The view is simply a great array of lighted windows - some open, through which waft the bitter tones of marital argument; some shut, through which can be seen pale shadows of lonely people watching television, or making themselves single cups of tea. Behind the unlit ones, he imagines, lie the rest of the occupants, who have simply drawn the curtains and gone to bed with half a bottle of vodka. He reminded me, too, that the Saturday night problem affects men just as much as women. Rather than face a Saturday night alone, men spend time getting pissed with any male friend available, or taking out the most charmless of women just so that they, too, don't feel a failure.

However, it's not much comfort to Lal to know that there are more people like her than she may have thought. She describes herself as a "fixer" and, as most fixers know, they are good at fixing other people's problems, but not their own. They're frightened of asking for help. The phrase "Could I pop over for a drink on Saturday? I'm not doing anything this weekend and it would be lovely to see you" is one that she finds almost impossible to articulate.

So why not fix her own loneliness by helping those other miserable blighters who feel just the same as her? If I were Lal and had lonely Saturday nights lined up far into the future, I'd put an ad in the paper and start a Saturday club. "Saturday evenings free? I'm starting a Saturday night club with others with similar interests in music, Line Dancing ... It's basically about friendly companionship, though we could go out to restaurants, movies and so on if we wanted to. All ages, sexes, welcome."

Men would flock with relief. Women would be delighted that someone else was willing to put herself on the line and be brave enough to admit what all of us know, from our bitter personal experience - that Saturday nights on your own, however idiotic it may seem, are just no good for the spiritn

What readers say

What's so special about Saturday night?

One way of solving this one is to learn to stop thinking of Saturday night as a night for going out.

Why not make your Saturday evenings special for your friends? Invite two or three round for a meal, and make this a regular occasion. Develop an expertise in a particular form of cooking - Thai, Indian, Spanish, whatever. You'll get a reputation for good entertaining, your social life will improve, and lonely Saturdays will be a thing of the past.

Anna Fitter, Sturminster Newton

Time for action

A few years ago I, too, was in your situation. I lived alone and I used to suffer a sinking feeling every Friday at 4pm as the weekend stretched ahead and everyone else went off to their wondrous social lives.

From my experience, action is the key. Aim to go out as much as possible in the week; join social clubs and dance classes, get talking to the people you meet, and arrange to meet them at the weekend.

More drastically, consider letting a room in your house, or, if you rent, move in with other people.

These things worked for me. Good luck.

Jill Buckland, London W5

You're never too old to dance

The world is full of lonely people, of which you are but one. To overcome this you will have to be even more resourceful and positive.

This is what I did when I was in a similar predicament. I joined a local social club for single people, went on conservation breaks with the National Trust and travelled abroad with Explore on adventure holidays (something couples would find difficult to do). Now I have friends coming out of my ears, and a great relationship to boot.

To say you're too old at 40 to go alone to dances is pathetic rubbish. Go out and prove to yourself what an attractive, worthwhile person you are. And never feel self-pity. Many like you are probably dying to meet you if you give them a chance.

Philip Coleman, Tunbridge Wells

Are you trapped in a social role?

You place a high value on cheerfulness, and appear to your friends as strong and helpful. Do you let them see only that side of you? It sounds as if you have become trapped in a social role where you can only express your up-beat, positive side. That is painful: you have to deal with half of life alone.

As to Saturday night: that's a hangover from adolescent days, when we all needed to prove how happy and successful we were. Desperate to go out ourselves, we wouldn't ring anyone up, as it was too insulting to assume that they were in.

Those measures of esteem don't apply any more. At 40, you have ample proof every day of your success and acceptability.

Join the rest of us who have really learnt to appreciate Saturday nights for the beautiful opportunity they represent, to do absolutely nothing.

SJ Sykes, High Peak

Be kinder to yourself

Come on, Lal! You've fallen into two traps: you make everyone else think you're happy even when you're not, and you think everyone else is happier than you. Being in a group doesn't bring automatic enjoyment - it's possible to feel desperately lonely in the company of really good friends.

Stop solving other people's problems, and have fun! Use Saturday evening as a time to pamper yourself with beauty treatments, or, if you want to go out, tell one or two friends about your Saturday night "syndrome" and let them help you crack it.

If your friends don't seem to understand, put an ad in the local paper for a "beat the blues club".

Hope next Saturday night is a wow.

Linda Dean, London N6

Next week's problem: I've a friend who behaves like a lover

Dear Virginia,

I'm single, with several male friends, but one of them is married. There's nothing funny about this; I know his first and second wives, and both of them seem quite happy that we see each other now and again. I live quite near a provincial theatre where he sometimes works.

The problem is that however much of a barrier I put up, or tease him or talk about my boyfriend, he can't stop sort of groping me. It's done so subtly I hardly know whether it's in my mind. He'll suddenly hold my hand very tight, or kiss me on the lips when we say goodnight; or he'll sit very close to me in a restaurant, or will interrupt what I'm saying to tell me how beautiful I am - but he never goes any further. I value him as a good friend; he's funny and intelligent and loyal and kind; but I don't know how to tell him I don't like this, without hurting his feelings. Maybe he imagines I like it - he's quite a successful actor, very over-the-top, and probably behaves like this with all single women. He's always flirting with waitresses. Should I say nothing and just accept this as part of the package? Am I being oversensitive?

Yours sincerely, Lynn

Comments are welcome, and everyone who has a suggestion quoted will be sent a bouquet from Interflora. Send letters to me at the Features Department, 'The Independent', 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL (fax 0171-293-2182) by Tuesday morning. If you have a dilemma of your own that you would like to share, let me know.