REAL BODIES: LIFE DOCTOR

MOST OF us are a little concerned about the evening's entertainment in five days' time. One of our biggest fears, it seems, is to be single when the clock strikes 12. No one wants to be staring awkwardly into middle distance when all around jubilant couples are swapping tonsils. Not on this New Year of all New Years. No wonder Dateline estimates that it has doubled its normal business.

Wendy Bristow, author of Single and Loving It, to be published by Thorsons in February, explains why it matters so much. "New Year is a time for taking stock - when you think `where am I and what do I actually want?'. For most people that means being in a relationship." Combine that with the couple-focused nature of many celebrations and you have the ingredients for a night that you will remember for all the wrong reasons.

But it needn't be so. And you don't need to go out and find someone in the next few days to turn it around. Just be psychologically ready. Plan ahead. "Give yourself a pep talk in advance," says Bristow. "Be aware that it could be a difficult night. Ask yourself `do I really want to go through this?'. Maybe you'd be better off at home with mum and dad. You don't have to go out. If you have just broken up with someone, feel free to stay home and wallow. But if you do go out, determine that you will have a good time and you won't moan. Think about the kind of party it is likely to be. There are, after all, couples who support their single friends and couples who make you feel inadequate. Arrange to be with another single friend."

Surviving New Year's Eve single

1. Denial. Cancer patients in denial are statistically more likely to survive than those who patiently accept their lot. If you refuse to see yourself as single but, rather, "resting" you'll feel better and be more appealing to potential buyers. I use that image deliberately. When did you last hear an estate agent say "this property has been on the market for years and frankly I don't think anyone will ever buy it again"?

2. Perspective. You may be facing New Year's Eve single but some people are facing the new millennium in prison. Several hundred thousand across the world will die. Remember this is the golden age of singledom. With the highest divorce rate in Europe, not only are there plenty more fish in the sea, but these days there are plenty more fish being thrown back into the sea when they thought they had been hooked. "Any of us could be single again," says Bristow knowingly. (She herself started writing her book when newly single after just a year of marriage.) We accept now that jobs for life are no more. The next century will see us shifting to a similar perspective with relationships. The smug couple is a dying breed.

3. The therapeutic approach. Learn to love yourself. If your number one party guest choice is yourself, then you're never going to be disappointed. "If you regard staying in on your own as being with nobody, then you are viewing yourself as nobody in your head," says Bristow.

Natascha, Esquire's agony aunt, says that it is the happy couples who are deluding themselves. "You're better off with your friends, parents, and cats. These so `in-love' couples with their grotesque midnight dribbly snogging marathons may look impressive, but the sex will be disastrous. He'll be so plastered he'll be seeing two of her and won't know where to point Percy. The earth will move for her, but only because her head is spinning after 15 Kir Royales. When he tries to kiss her she'll probably vomit in his mouth."

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