SINGLES SUPPLEMENT: Youve got to put yourself out there, say authors

When you arrive at the Singles Schmooze, a friendly guy is filling out his nametag and you strike up a conversation.

You're both from Queens, both divorced, both the same age. You seem to be hitting it off, so you dance a couple of times and exchange cards.

But after a couple of weeks, when he hasn't given you a call, you pick up the Jewish Bulletin in search of another prospect. Imagine your surprise when you call the 900 mailbox and hear the recorded voice of the guy you met at the Schmooze.

You stammer out a message: "Hi, remember me? The girl from Queens?"

He still doesn't call.

What did you do wrong?

"Nothing," said psychologist Harriet Lerner.

"It's really a matter of learning to not take it personally," said the author of "The Dance of Deception," "The Dance of Intimacy" and "The Dance of Anger" (HarperCollins).

"No one is a mind reader. No one can really understand the reasons. What's most important is to not take it personally and to move on. If you're brave enough to put yourself out there in the world, you have to be ready for this kind of rejection. That's very painful, too. It's something we never get used to. But when people fear rejection too much, they stop taking risks and narrow the possibilities for their life."

Part of the problem is that when you "put yourself out there," you bring your expectations as well as your anxieties. It's cold out there. Or it can get hot enough to get burned. It's a crap shoot as well as a risk. Going to a singles event is not necessarily fun.

"Each of us has to make decisions about when we're going to grit our teeth and get out there with a nametag and when we'd rather sit at home with a video or a good book. Either extreme can get us into trouble," said Lerner during a recent phone interview from her office in Topeka, Kan., where she is staff psychologist at the renowned Menninger Clinic.

"If we feel we have to get out there every night because we're so afraid the one opportunity we miss will be the time when he or she appears, it's a problem.

"On the other extreme, if we can't gather our energy and our courage to move against our own resistance," that's a problem as well, she said.

"Sometimes the media implies that if you just try harder, or do the right thing, that Mr. Right or Ms. Right will magically appear. This is not true. It's especially not true for women. There's a saying, "A good man is hard to find.' It gets harder as you get older."

And for Jewish women?

"Anytime you narrow your field," whether it's age, religion or professional qualifications, "it gets harder. As you narrow your field, it's useful to make every effort to maximize chances of meeting people. Ask friends, show up in places where you might meet people with similar values, politics and interests.

"On the other hand, there is a danger in overfocusing on meeting Mr. or Ms. Right, as if one's personal happiness depends on it. It doesn't," Lerner said. "If a person gets overfocused on meeting someone, chances are they're underfocusing on having a life plan that neither requires nor excludes marriage. Once a person gets desperate, other people will be allergic to them and then it becomes harder to meet someone. If you zoom it, he will put on his track shoes. That's how it works."

Berkeley author Susan Page, who wrote the bestseller "If I'm So Wonderful, Why am I Still Single?" said it's not easy to spot the right — or the wrong — people in the middle of a singles event. But generally, those who go to singles events because they're more interested in a social evening than in finding a partner are "not as open. They're less inclined to be flirtatious and they tend to be a little more guarded in a singles group because they don't want to look at intimacy issues. They like being alone and don't want that to be disturbed.

"For some people, a singles lifestyle is entirely appropriate and wonderful and right for them," said Page, who is married to artist Mayer Shacter. "And then I think there's another smaller group who are single for reasons that do not serve them very well. They may be single because they're afraid to get close."

There are others who voyage in the netherworld between singledom and commitment with a better-than-nothing relationship. Page calls it a BTN.

"One of the big mistakes is that [people] get into a relationship that is OK but that isn't good in many ways and they just stay in it, afraid of being alone.

"Fear of being alone is often harder than being alone," she said. "Once you're able to make a clean, clear, secure break, you open up the possibility for someone else to come into your life."

But opening up those possibilities means getting out there, putting on a nametag and meeting inappropriate people .

"I think if those singles events and dances are hard for you, it's a good thing to let go. There are dozens of other ways," said Page. "Find the way that is the least objectionable to you. Make a list of 20 ways to meet people: introduction services, parties, groups, tennis, jogging, activities, bird-watching. Pretend that someone has just offered you $100,000 for the best ways to meet people in the Bay Area. You will suddenly become an expert. Pick three that you don't hate. Move on to those that do work for you."