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Help! How can I learn not to desire a love life?

Dr. Gail Saltz says you can’t — but you can learn how to get inspired and find new ways to go after what you want. Here's her advice.
/ Source: TODAY

Q. I am a 50-year-old professional female living in Houston. I have not dated in five years. My friends are all married and know only other couples, though they often invite me along. I am always the lone single so I have stopped accepting invitations.

I am not very attractive, but I dress well and try to look my best. I am smart and have a great sense of humor, but there is no interest whatsoever from the opposite sex, so men never find out about these qualities.

I have basically accepted being alone for the rest of my life and am not really sad about it, but sometimes I miss sex and simply knowing that someone cares. By the way, I don't sit home doing nothing — I volunteer and stay busy — but the loneliness really hits on weekends and nights when I come home to an empty house.

How can I learn not to care or desire these things anymore so that my life will be really complete?

A. You can’t. You can’t learn not to care. You would have to eliminate your feelings, longings, yearnings and dreams, and that’s impossible. Suppressing them, as I see daily in my practice, comes at great emotional cost.

It’s part of being human to feel those things. And sometimes being human can feel awful. That’s difficult to accept, but it’s the reality.

Of course, you can make your life full and happy without a romantic partner. It sounds that you have done a pretty good job at that.

But if you really, truly do want love in your life, the solution is not to somehow stop wanting it, to resign yourself to never having it or to take some other sour-grapes attitude. The solution to not feeling so lonely and hopeless is to work toward getting it.

I suggest acknowledging that you care, mourning the fact you haven’t fulfilled your desires, and then galvanizing yourself to go after what is important to you.

I’m not saying it’s not difficult. I know it is. And of course, there’s no guarantee you will find someone. But if you limit your chances and remain mired in despair, there’s a guarantee you won’t.

It’s common for women in your situation to blame their loneliness on external circumstances rather than examining how their own ambivalence about being really intimate and committed is interfering.

You yourself have mentioned some of those circumstances. While I understand that many people are appearance-conscious, appearance is not the reason why people are loved. Many “unattractive” people are loved. Many “attractive” ones are not.

What’s more, you live in a city. Houston is not a wilderness area with no men in sight.

If men do not express interest in you, express interest in them. Engage them in conversation. That way, you go beyond appearance and learn whether you get along. Set your sights on men who are good bets — men your age or older, who are widowed or divorced. They probably don’t think they are too attractive, either, and would love it if a smart, funny woman approached them.

When you do speak to a man you find interesting, devise a low-key way to be in touch again — arrange to run into him, have a friend invite him to a group event, e-mail him an interesting newspaper story. His response will be telling.

Socializing only with your married friends, or not socializing at all, is not conducive to meeting men. You need to cast your net wide. Try some new and different volunteer activities. Attend singles events at your church or synagogue. Drink your morning coffee at Starbucks instead of at home. Eat lunch in the company cafeteria instead of at your desk. Strangers can evolve into acquaintances and maybe more.

There’s looking and there’s looking. I suspect it’s your mind-set that is hindering you more than anything. You say you want to be with someone, but it sounds as though you may have a fear of rejection and vulnerability, thereby making you defensive.

Dr. Gail’s Bottom Line: You can’t wish away your desire for a romantic partner. But you can decide not to be passive and — despite your attitude of hopelessness — work toward increasing the odds of finding love.

Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to “Today.” Her latest book, "Amazing You! Getting Smart About Your Private Parts" (Penguin), 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, .

PLEASE NOTE: The information in this column should not be construed as providing specific medical or psychological advice, but rather to offer readers information to better understand their lives and health. It is not intended to provide an alternative to professional treatment or to replace the services of a physician, psychiatrist or psychotherapist. Copyright ©2005 Dr. Gail Saltz. All rights reserved.