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TODAY contributor
updated 1/21/2009 4:57:52 PM ET 2009-01-21T21:57:52

Q. Are some people just not meant to be in relationships? At 25, I am still a virgin, with little experience dating men. It has gotten to the point where I’m self-conscious about my status. Sometimes I worry that men won’t want to date me because I don’t have a lengthy history.

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I had one relationship that lasted about three months, and have been on several first dates. In college I joined a dating Web site out of desperation. It has provided me with the opportunity to talk to different guys, but it hasn’t led anywhere. At times I feel there must be something wrong with me and that I’m incapable of carrying on a relationship. I do have a good group of friends. I’m a little shy and reserved at first, but I then open up to people, and am basically confused as to why I haven’t had the opportunities most have already had at this point in their lives.

A. Nobody is “not” meant to be in relationships, but there are people who have extreme difficulty having relationships. These people usually have a developmental disorder like autism or Asperger's, or even a psychiatric issue related to ability to relate to others, like schizoid personality disorder. There is an organic reason they have trouble relating to others.

You don’t sound like that, because you have a good group of friends, so you are obviously capable of relating to others. The issue probably has something to do with anxiety or inhibition around men.

You mention you are shy. Some people with social phobia become extra-shy around members of the opposite sex. In addition, when you are shy and reserved, you often come off as cold and standoffish, sending the message that you are not interested. Some people have especially negative or difficult personalities that drive others away.

Put this all together and the result is that you behave in certain ways that make it unlikely you will reach out to people or that you will feel comfortable enough to converse and engage with those you do meet.

You make a point of saying you are a virgin, so there might be some anxiety around that. Or perhaps you had a negative childhood experience with some kind of sexual trauma, so you are inadvertently pushing men away in order not to get sexually involved.

It is not terrible to be a virgin at 25, but if you want to be in a relationship and are having trouble finding one, you should work on this now, and not wait years, when certain life options and opportunities will have passed.

If shyness is the issue, it can be very helpful to practice a script of talking to men. Come up with several topics you feel well versed in and a couple of lines you would like to share to keep a conversation going. Make an effort to meet men in scenarios where you are likely to have something in common like a class, an exhibit of interest, a religion-based gathering or a community service activity. Spend some time in front of a mirror looking at facial expressions that appear warm and inviting versus cool and reserved.

If you still find yourself struggling, it’s a good idea to see a therapist and determine whether you have a problem with social anxiety or anxiety about intimacy. Both respond to therapy alone or therapy plus medication, which can make a huge difference.

Dr. Gail’s Bottom Line: People who have few relationships might be acting in ways that drive people away, but this behavior can be changed.

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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