WITH NEW YEAR'S Eve - one of the biggest date nights of the year - looming, the last thing black women need is another reminder of how so many successful and attractive African-American women remain single.

It's a touchy subject. Women in this situation are all too familiar with it. And there are countless reminders of the travails of being black, female and single: the novel "Waiting to Exhale," the now-cancelled TV show "Girlfriends" and Lifetime's "Sherri," to name a few.

But the fact that African-American women are the least likely group to marry is back in the headlines. The Washington Post recently profiled Helena Andrews, the author of a new Carrie Bradshaw-esque book about unmarried black women titled, "Bitch is the New Black." The book, a satirical look at the dating situation for young black women in Washington, D.C., won't be published until June, but it's already been optioned for a movie.

And just last week, ABC's "Nightline" jumped into the fray with a segment profiling four accomplished Atlanta women about their frustration in trying to find Mr. Right. According to the "Nightline" report, 42 percent of black women in the United States have never married, which is double that of their white contemporaries.

We may not use the term Old Maid much any more but some of the stigma lingers. It really shouldn't. The period between leaving home and starting a family should be one of self-exploration - not just about getting someone to put a ring on it, as Beyoncé would say.

Inevitably, black women get blamed for remaining single as their white counterparts marry at earlier ages. (A study that came out last summer revealed that highly educated black women were twice as likely to be unmarried at age 45 than similarly accomplished white women.)

Many black women who find themselves single past a certain age get stereotyped as gold diggers, strong-willed and difficult to get along with or else accused of having impossibly high standards when it comes to picking a man. (Black men get stereotyped, too, for being dogs or thugs.) In the "Nightline" segment, comedian Steve Harvey, who authored "Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man," said that professional black women should consider lowering their standards and date men who aren't as well off so as to increase their dating options.

"You are a corporate exec, does he have to be a corporate exec?" Harvey said during the show. "You make $150,000. He has to make $150,000 or above? If your requirement sheet is ridiculous, then you have to look at it."

The thrice-married comedian suggested that the four women interviewed by "Nightline" try dating older men. As he wryly pointed out, "You have a biological clock, we don't."

But women who have worked hard to get where they are bristle at the notion of settling for less than what they feel they deserve. Lowering one's expectations isn't the way to go about finding that special someone anyway. The unattached African-American women I know want the same things that everyone else does, which is to find a soul mate, not necessarily someone with a specific net worth, but a man with whom they can build a life.

My advice to all the single ladies this New Year's Eve is for them to embrace life as it is and to toast themselves. You don't need a man to do that for you.