If the season of joy and love instead makes you think of being holed up in your apartment singing "All by Myself" Bridget Jones-style, you're not alone.

As another round of holiday parties - many of them tailored for couples - rolls in, many single people feel the pressure to find that "special someone" even more than usual. But while the festive season can be a great incentive to find love, it doesn't come without its challenges.

Jennifer remembers all too well how difficult it was to start up a relationship over the holidays.

The 31-year-old from Regina, Sask., was living in Edmonton, Alta., at the time when Mike, a former co-worker from her hometown came to visit a month before Christmas. The two started dating long distance and everything was going well until Jennifer came home for the holidays and realized Mike wanted to spend every waking moment with her, while she wanted to spend time with her friends and family.

He even invited her to his office Christmas party at the company where she used to work, but she made up an excuse and said she couldn't go.

"It sort of fast-tracks your relationship. If you're just casually seeing each other and aren't really sure yet, going to the office Christmas party together is like taking out an ad in the office newsletter," says Jennifer.

She also opted out of inviting him to her family holiday gatherings, which she knows he would have liked to attend.

Perhaps it was a sign that she just wasn't that into him (the two later broke up) but Gloria MacDonald, owner and operator of Toronto dating agency Perfect Partners, agrees starting up a relationship over the holidays can be challenging.

"There are all these pressures about the holiday parties, company functions, all those things and everybody would love to take someone to something where it's a couples kind of event but sometimes it's a little bit too much pressure if it's a brand new relationship," says MacDonald.

Giving gifts can also be another tricky area. Should you splurge and buy something for someone you barely know? Or get nothing and feel guilty if the other person takes the initiative?

MacDonald suggests buying something small or getting something that the two of you can enjoy together - like a gift certificate for dinner or the movies. But she adds make sure the event doesn't take place too far in the future.

"If the relationship is really, really new and you truly don't know if it's going to last, don't buy theatre tickets for April."

While Jennifer found spending too much time with Mike was overwhelming, other new couples often face separation at the holidays when one or both leave town for a week or two.

This can be potentially challenging, especially if you've only been out once or twice before, but MacDonald says it's important to keep the momentum going any way you can.

"Stay in touch, send e-mails while the person is gone just to touch base, or set up a time to get together for when they're back right away."

Even though there are a lot more people looking for love this time of year, MacDonald adds, the search is not that different from any other time of year and singles have to put themselves out there as much as they can.

"Although it doesn't sound sexy, it's not unlike finding a job. If you're really, really serious about it, you've got to do whatever it takes to find that person."

And MacDonald says don't let the busy holiday season get in the way of a budding relationship.

"If this is something that's really important to you it's hard for me to imagine how you can't make an hour or an hour and a half in your life for a cup of coffee."

For more information visit www.perfectpartners.ca.

Finding Fa-la-la-la-love over the holidays

So how exactly do you find love over the holidays?

If you live in Winnipeg, Man., you could attend a seminar called "Fa-la-la-la-Love," a night where singles can congregate to hear expert tips then mix and mingle over drinks.

Maureen Scurfield, a.k.a. "Miss Lonelyhearts," whose personal advice column appears daily in the Winnipeg Free Press, has hosted the event over the past couple of years and says the response has been overwhelming.

"I always have a party at the end...with games and stuff to get them to know each other. Some of them make a romance for the season."

But Scurfield also has plenty of other ideas for finding love over the holidays:

  • Throw a party and mix the guest list -- Host a brunch, dinner or evening of cocktails at your house and invite people from a variety of groups - co-workers, neighbours, kick-boxing classmates, etc. - and make sure everyone brings single friends. You never know who might hit it off. "A lot of people who don't seem like they would be a date for you are related to somebody like a brother or a cousin or somebody from their work (who you might like)," says Scurfield.
  • Try a new activity -- Get a group of people together and try something new, like snowshoeing or skiing. Scurfield says a lot of romances spark when people are sharing in an activity. "Especially if you're not particularly good at it, it makes people feel a little jazzed or sparked up, and at the end of the day when the people are sitting around the bar at the resort, there's a very nice warm companionable feeling." 
  • Partake in a charitable event -- Organize a food drive, gather toys for children in need, or sing Christmas carols door to door. It will feel good to give back, plus you might meet another kind-hearted soul in the process. Invite everyone back to your place afterwards to help decorate the tree or have some eggnog.
  • Join a Singles group -- There are plenty of singles organizations across the country that have a whole roster of Christmas and holiday activities already planned if you're not in the organizing mood. 
  • Say 'yes' to social invitations -- Don't sit at home alone! The more social activities you partake in, the better chance you have at meeting someone so say yes to all invitations, even if it doesn't sound like something you'd normally be interested in.
  • Look Your Best -- It's important to look your best any time of the year, but especially during the holidays when last-minute social invitations often pop up. Scurfield says dressing well also increases your confidence, and thus, your chances of chatting up that cutie who catches your eye.
  • Make your intentions known -- If you're a spiritual person, you can let the universe know you're ready for a relationship by using the "law of attraction," or let your friends know you'd be up for a holiday romance. "It just kind of sends the message out to everybody ... that (you'd) really like to meet somebody this Christmas and sometimes people will help to bring that your way."

For more information visit www.wampeterweb.com/lonelyhearts/seminar.html.