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updated 9/25/2008 2:24:06 PM ET 2008-09-25T18:24:06

Q. Are there people who are emotionally incapable of falling in love? I ask because I recently broke up with a truly awesome girl. I just didn’t feel any deep emotions developing. So I cut the strings sooner rather than later.

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This could simply be filed under the “she’s not the one” category of failed relationships. But as I look at my dating history (I’m almost 30, so it’s getting to be a pretty thick history), I’ve noticed that I never really developed the deeper feelings that I probably should have. Sure, there have been some good reasons for some of my breakups (she’s way too controlling, or we have totally different interests). But I usually find myself using those facts as excuses to bail.

The truth is, I never felt a deep connection in the first place — even before problems showed up. Still, many of the girls I’ve dated seemed to have gotten pretty attached to me, often making the breakup painful and messy.

I now realize this cycle is paralyzing me. I hate breaking up with people! I don’t like hurting women and the guilt that accompanies it. So now I’m afraid to get back out there. I don’t want to hurt anyone else, but life isn’t nearly as fun when you don’t have someone to share it with.

So I’m wondering if there is something that keeps me from developing a deep emotional connection. Or am I just bummed about this last breakup and overthinking?

I can’t stop thinking about the girl I last broke up with. I miss her, but I’m afraid that if I were to contact her and somehow persuade her to give me a second shot, I would end up not developing feelings for her and would break up with her again. So am I finally realizing that I have deeper feelings for her, or am I simply getting lonely from this self-imposed dating hiatus?

A. It’s hard to say for sure. Some people do have real difficulty falling in love. They tend to make lousy partners.

I would not at this juncture include yourself among them. The fact that you are asking yourself such questions shows you are self-aware, which is a positive sign that you are capable of deeper feeling and intimacy.

At age 30, it is a bit too early to know one way or the other. Though I can’t give you a definitive answer about your situation, I can give you some things to think about.

Do you have other kinds of deep, long-lasting relationships — with male friends, colleagues or relatives? People with no deep attachments may have issues with trust and be unable to get truly close to others. It’s also possible that such people have personality traits that make them fearful of having deep feelings, or that they act in ways that drive others away. If you have had no important long-term relationships, I would consider that to be a concerning sign of difficulty maintaining any intimacy.

The fact that you feel disturbed when you break up with a girl, and you don’t wish to hurt her feelings, is a good sign as well. Breaking up makes you feel rotten — which is not the way a narcissistic guy thinks. Real empathy bodes well in terms of finding and staying in love.

Examine whether your past relationships have been very tumultuous. Some people can’t have very deep relationships, but they are good at instigating turmoil and drama. People who are impulsive, moody or emotionally liable may not form attachments well, but instead tend to have roller-coaster relationships where they blow hot and cold.

Remember, too, that there are societal factors. These days, adulthood tends to be delayed. People attend college and grad school, return to their parents’ home and, in general, live like adolescents well into their 20s. In many ways, 30 is the new 20, with 30-year-olds being relatively young adults.

If you were asking the same questions at age 50 and wanted to be in a long-term monogamous relationship, I would say that, in hindsight, it’s clear there was a problem.

Still, it is not unreasonable at this point to get going on having a settled future if that is what you want (and it sounds as though you do).

As for the girl you are missing: If you were merely lonely, you would probably be looking around for another girl. The fact you are thinking about this particular girl could be meaningful. Did you end it too quickly? Go ahead and try to get back together — but consider the possibility that she may not want to.

You can give things another year or two to see if the pattern continues. If you really feel that you can love only from afar but not up close — for example, if you yearn for this girl but once you are with her you feel compelled to break up — you might want to explore your feelings further with a professional.

Dr. Gail’s Bottom Line: If you want to fall in love but feel you can’t, examine your other relationships and your personality traits for clues as to why.

Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to TODAY. Her latest book is “Anatomy of a Secret Life: The Psychology of Living a Lie.” She is also the author of “Amazing You! Getting Smart About Your Private Parts,” which helps parents deal with preschoolers’ questions about sex and reproduction. Her first book, “Becoming Real: Overcoming the Stories We Tell Ourselves That Hold Us Back,” was published in 2004 by Riverhead Books. It is now available in a paperback version. For more information, you can visit her Web site, www.drgailsaltz.com.

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