There are two types of people, those who go out on New Year’s Eve and those who stay in until the New Year is at least 10 to 12 hours old.

New Year’s Eve is commonly referred to as “amateur night,” which is seemingly inaccurate since many of the people who tend to “party like it’s 1999” on the last night of the year do it annually, presumably rendering them expert revelers.

Those who’ve already set their DVRs so they can watch Anderson Cooper or Ryan Seacrest kill time before the ball drops in Times Square imagine that for those with plans to venture out, it’ll be a night not unlike a prom — expectations are high, a large sum of money will be spent and the evening will never, ever turn out as planned.

Like high schoolers attending the prom, merrymakers on New Year’s Eve generally start preparing for the big night weeks, if not months, ahead of time.

New clothes are almost mandatory for the prom and New Year’s Eve, as it’s far more dramatic and satisfying to elicit gasps and envious stares when making a grand entrance into either a decorated high school gym or catering hall or a first night soirée in a bar or restaurant in a freshly purchased outfit rather than in the same old thing worn to the homecoming dance or the office holiday party. Of course if it’s done correctly, the ensemble — which requires many hours of online research, scores of miles on the odometer to comparison shop, several low-carb crash diets and dozens of minimum payments with double digit percentage interest rate charges to a credit card company — can never be seen in public again, as it will obviously be a repeat wearing of a memorable get-up.

Many people spend a considerable amount of time before the big night searching for the perfect date. Potential candidates are Googled. Mutual friends are covertly consulted. Planned accidental meetings are arranged. But while having a romantic date is generally preferred for the prom and New Year’s, going with a friend at least comes in handy when splitting expenses (e.g. the car service or the bar tab), gossiping about other attendees (e.g. “Can you believe she’s wearing that?” or “How much do you want to bet he ends up passed out in the alley before the champagne toast?”) and having someone to peck platonically when the clock strikes midnight or with whom to dance when “Wonderful Tonight” blares out over the scratchy sound system. However, the big fear of going out on a first date to the prom or on New Year’s is that, absent any chemistry, the would-be beau takes off for greener pastures.

At the prom and on New Year’s Eve, the emotional temperature is almost guaranteed to skyrocket. Someone always cries. On New Year’s, it’s too much alcohol that tends to triggers the drama (e.g. “I have no one to kiss at midnight and I’ll be alone forever”). At the prom, the tears might flow out of nostalgia combined with fear of the unknown beyond graduation (e.g. “I love you guys so much and I’m never going to see you again”). In both cases, the waterfall usually dries up by brunch the following day and most witnesses are polite enough to pretend that they never saw the meltdown.

On both occasions, food tends to be shockingly expensive and often times the quality is wholly underwhelming. Establishments that on every other night of the year greet patrons for free will demand payment simply for the privilege of walking in the door. Restaurants that accommodate large parties tend to charge dearly in the form of prix-fixe menus for the hassle of serving large, unsupervised groups of teens or over-cocktailed adults. Culinary selections are limited, the food is almost always overcooked and under-heated and knowing that the gratuity has already been factored into the bill of a big party, the wait staff can be impatient or scarce.

When the final notes of Donna Summer’s “Last Dance” fade from the speakers or the ball drops in Times Square, it’s not uncommon for post-event blues to sink in. Prom attendees with curfews are crestfallen that the big night had a shelf life of just a few hours. New Year’s partyers easily turn into pumpkins when the flow of complimentary alcohol comes to an abrupt end.

But, after-party pessimism aside, people past prom-prime who just aren’t content spending quiet evenings on the couch waiting for next Dec. 31 shouldn’t despair, as there are year-round fête possibilities: weddings. Hardly anyone can get away with wearing the same outfit twice (especially brides), much money will be spent on gifts, many people will imbibe excessively and someone will inevitably cry at each ceremony about not being the one walking down the aisle.

The 2011 batch of wedding invites should start trickling into mailboxes soon. Something to look forward to before next New Year’s Eve.

More at meredithcarroll.com.

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