"What are you doing on New Year's?"
Co-workers, family members and even the clerk at your local store might have been asking you this question this week, as the world prepares to ring in 2005.
But for those who have nowhere to go or nobody to kiss when the ball drops, the pressure to do something special can be overwhelming, and the widely celebrated night can be the loneliest of the year.
"New Year's is just so hyped up, sometimes it can make it unenjoyable for people," said New Jersey-based family therapist Stacy Saitta. "I think a lot of singles feel a sense of loneliness, because holidays are all about love and family. If someone is alone they have a tendency to feel left out."
Others say the reason people can feel especially lonely on New Year's (search) revolves around the nature of the date.
"New Year's is a milestone — it is the end of one year and the beginning of next," said Marc H. Rudov (search), author of "The Man's No-Nonsense Guide to Women: How to Succeed in Romance on Planet Earth."
"When you are alone it doesn't feel very good. If it is Halloween — who cares? New Year's Eve is a traditional, natural time of reflection."
And according to Rudov, 50, the New Year's blues do not discriminate between the sexes.
"There is no difference between men and women. Everybody wants to be loved, human beings are meant to be with other beings," he said.
Susan Shapiro (search), author of the memoir "Five Men Who Broke My Heart," says she learned the hard way how lonely New Year's can be during her single years.
"I know what it is like to be single when the ball drops. I remember dreading midnight. I would cringe and hide in the bathroom when everybody kissed," she said.
Knowing how tough New Year's can be for the unattached, especially for those going through divorces and break-ups, Shapiro just invited 20 singles to a very low-key friends party, to ensure they would have something to do.
"It is so much better to start the New Year among friends who understand and care about you ... in a comfortable scenario," she said.
But for those not so lucky to have been invited somewhere, half of the dread stems from just answering when people ask: "What are you doing for New Year's?"
"There is pressure in the question itself; people casually just ask each other these things," said Saitta. "People feel it is socially acceptable to ask people what they are doing on New Year's or other holidays."
Moreover, people who are depressed or lonely sometimes turn down invites to celebrate the night with friends if those involved are mostly couples, because they don't want to be the odd man or woman out, Saitta said.
But even if it's just playing board games with friends at home, something is definitely better than nothing when it comes to marking the New Year, she advised.
"It is important for people to get their single friends out — it is good for them, they are missing out on good memories if they stay home."
New Year's is not the only pressure-filled holiday. Saitta said Valentine's Day, Fourth of July, Memorial Day and other romantic or social holidays also cause anxiety. But she sees New Year's as the prime time for pressure to have fun, and the people who end up feeling depressed are usually singles.
The feeling tends to be worse for younger people with nothing to do, Saitta added.
"When you are younger, you feel a lot more pressure to go out and do something big. If you don't, you feel like you are getting old," she said.
However, Julie Robinson, 25, thinks New Year's is really just so much confetti.
"You spend twice as much money as any other night, and it is the same thing. It doesn't meet expectations," she said.
But this won't stop the single advertising account representative from ringing in the New Year surrounded by friends and fun.
"It is better than being alone," she said.