Relationship psychologist and agony aunt Susan Quilliam answers some of the most commonly asked questions from Single Living members.
Why do I always fancy men who are unavailable?
I've just finished with a married man that I couldn't have because he wanted to stay with his wife and kids. He's the second attached man that I've been involved with. Now I'm falling in love with a guy my parents disapprove of because he's a musician - they say he's not good enough for their daughter. I don't know why I always fall for these types of men I can't be with. I just feel drawn to them for some reason.
I'm sure you don't fall for unsuitable men consciously - none of us deliberately does things that will hurt us. But there may be a reason why you do it. Often, falling for partners who are 'unavailable' is a way of protecting ourselves. It means that if things go wrong, you don't get hurt because you can tell yourself it was never going to work anyway.
Perhaps somewhere along the line you started to believe that you can't make a relationship work - so you unconsciously choose relationships that aren't going to succeed. Then when things collapse, you won't be too disappointed or blame yourself too much. Start believing that you deserve to be happy and you deserve to have a relationship that works. Maybe then you'll start choosing men who are right for you and who you can commit to.
Why can't I find a man?
I've always thought that by the time I reached 30 I'd have a man - but I haven't. And what's more, I can't understand why I haven't. I'm told I'm attractive and I'd say that I'm independent and an interesting person to be with. I've had a few relationships in the past, but nothing serious and after a while they just fizzle out and become platonic.
A lot of my friends say I always pick the weird ones. Is that where I'm going wrong? Am I choosing men whom I'm totally incompatible with?
Yes, probably you're either choosing men whom you are incompatible with from the start. Or you' e choosing men who seem to be right at the start, but then over time prove to be wrong.
To stop you making the same mistakes in the future I'd do two things. First, I'd get those friends of yours to give you some helpful hints on what sort of man they think would be right for you - and how to spot the "weirdo" and steer clear of them.
Second, for a while, I'd concentrate on having friendships with men who attract you and only slowly letting those friendships develop into something more serious. That way you get to stand back and see if a relationship might work before you start putting time and energy into it.
How can I learn to trust my new man?
Recently I dumped my boyfriend because I found out he was seeing another woman. I felt completely devastated, so my Mum suggested that I get away for a while. I treated myself to a holiday and I met a fantastic guy. But now I'm back home I miss my new man like crazy and I'm starting to get scared. He rings me regularly, and seems still to want to carry on seeing me. But I keep worrying about who he's with and what he's doing. I think my previous relationship has scared me for life. I don't know whether I'll be able to trust a man again.
It's natural to be wary about trusting another man because you've just been treated badly, and you're vulnerable. But where you may be being unwise, is rushing into a new relationship so suddenly. Because you need time to recover and if you don't take that time you may make an unwise choice next time round, falling for someone just to get comfort. I'd pull back emotionally and not get quite so involved with this new man. Of course ring him. Of course arrange to see him. But take things slowly, and also build your social life at home. That way you're less likely to get hurt - and more likely, if he lets you down, to be able to recover and go on to find real love.
Should I meet my Internet man?
I've been getting close to a man I've met through an Internet chat site We've been e-mailing each other daily for months and I get really disappointed if I don't hear from him. From what I know of him, he's seems like the perfect man. Although we've spoken on the phone, we've never actually met - but I'd like us to. I'm worried, though that I'll be put off this bloke when we do meet in the flesh - what if he's not my type at all? So should I agree to go and visit him and risk having my dream of this perfect man shattered?
There's every possibility that by meeting up with this man, he may not be all that you'd hoped he was. Having said that though, you have been e-mailing each other for months so you'll have a good understanding of one another, and you'll have a firm and strong friendship in place. And the chances are, that even if you don't actually fancy him, you'll strengthen your friendship by meeting in the flesh.
So I would meet with this man in a safe public environment. Make sure you tell a friend what you're doing so that someone knows your whereabouts. And be careful about going back to his pad where you'll end up alone together. Be positive about the date though - your mystery man may measure up to be just what you're looking for. And it could be start of something beautiful!
Why can't I get a girlfriend?
I'm a 38-year-old man who just can't seem to find a girlfriend - in fact I've never had one. Nightclubs and pubs aren't really my scene, so I don't get the chance to meet many women. Added to that, at fourteen, I had my heart broken. Now years later, I still feel the pain and I'm scared of being hurt again. Every day I look around at other people who are happily married with kids and I just don't understand why I'm not too. I'm dreading reaching forty and still being single and alone.
Although you say that not meeting women is stopping you finding a partner, actually this is only a symptom of what's happening. In fact the real problem is your fear of rejection - it is this fear that you must work to get rid of. So you must have the courage to overcome your fear. You need to be brave, to go out socializing, and then to chat to women, get to know them, and risk rejection. Because you will be rejected. Everyone is rejected many times, before they find love. When you do take the risk, and you do get rejected, simply shrug it off and carry on. Then eventually, you'll find that you'll be with someone who feels the same way about you, as you do about her.
Why is it so hard to meet women?
I'm a man of 31, a prison officer and desperate for a girlfriend. All my close friends are married - so why can't I find that special someone? Part of the reason I can't find a girlfriend is because I'm very shy and nervous about talking to people I don't know. I've tried evening classes but they don't work. I just want to love someone again. But how will I find someone when I can't face being the sad and lonely bloke out on his own again?
You may be unhappy, but you're not sad! I get lots of letters from men (and women) who hit the problems you're hitting. When you're a teenager there are lots of other single people to go out with - in your thirties, it's far harder to meet suitable partners. So here's my advice. Take a year to learn to socialise. Don't aim to find a partner, instead concentrate on building up social skills. Accept every invitation. Go out whether you feel like it or not. Join a social club or a singles agency - and meet all sorts of people. When you've spent a year getting up to speed with friendship, you'll find that dating comes naturally and easily because you'll be very self-assured with all that practice.
Why does no one fancy me?
I'm a tall, lanky, balding and loveless male and I really feel bad about the way I look. Although I'm sensitive, loving and giving, that doesn't seem to count for anything in today's society. It seems to me that everyone values being attractive-looking above everything else, and they have no time for anyone who's as ugly as I am. The thing that really hurts is that I can't get a girlfriend. What do I have to do for a girl to find me attractive? It would give me such a boost in self-esteem that I wouldn't care about what people thought about me. Please help.
I'm so sorry that you feel so bad. Only a very tiny minority of people are classically beautiful - but despite that, most of us do end up with a loving partner. And when we do, they think we're the most beautiful person in the world. In fact, the vast majority of women who write to me as an agony aunt say that looks don't matter to them. What a woman looks for in a partner is exactly what you say you have - an attractive personality, kindness and an ability to love - plus whether a man is interested in her and what she feels and thinks. You need to start believing you have something to offer - then acting as if you have. So don't wait to feel good about yourself until you have a girlfriend. Feel good about yourself now, and the girlfriends will queue up.
Why does being single make me so miserable?
I've had a difficult time this year. My wife left me after 23 years of marriage for another man. At first, I was devastated and my whole world fell apart. The problem is that I'm 56 years old and it's hard to rebuild my life. I work and I've got a few good friends, but I find that I go through the motions of life without getting any enjoyment out of it. I have all these great ideas about joining a gym or doing an evening class, but because I've lost confidence, I'm not brave enough to try anything new. I really want to begin to enjoy my life again, but why does it all seem so difficult?
Your life is upside down, and my guess is that you still have a lot to come to terms with. So don't even try to move on until you're ready. When you are ready, first, be reassured by the fact that the majority of people whose marriages end find that, five years down the line, they are living happier more fulfilled lives. You can too. Next, remind yourself of what you've got going for you. You're 51 - probably, only halfway through your adult life. You've also got a lot of life experience and wisdom. So the half of your life that lies ahead has every chance of being the best half. Then start thinking about what to do. There are almost certainly things that you really wanted to do during your marriage, and couldn't because you didn't have the time or money. Or because it didn't fit with what your wife wanted. Then tackle one thing at a time, so you don't get bogged down or stressed by trying to manage too many things. You may also want to contact your local branch of Relate (number in the phone book) for a list of their short courses on rebuilding life after a relationship breakdown.