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NETWORKING AND REJECTION CAN AID SEARCH FOR RIGHT MATE

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If the subject of finding the right person for lifelong romance and companionship leaves you mystified, rest assured you have company, even among the experts.

In gathering information on the subject of assertive strategies for meeting the right person, I turned first to Brent Barlow, a professor in the child development and family relations department at Brigham Young University, from whom I had taken a course in courtship and marriage while in college.Barlow, who writes a popular column on marriage in the Deseret News, is widely considered a sage in matters of the heart. Surely he would have a sound formula to offer, born of scholarly research and years of interaction with college students.

Surprise. Not only was he unable to provide the panacea I sought, he expressed some bewilderment on the subject of mate selection, particularly as it relates to single adults beyond the college age group.

"I worked with a group two years ago, and it turned out to be much more complicated than I realized," he said. "I got into it and I got right back out again."

Factors such as the changing status of women in society, differing moral and ethical values regarding sexuality and the fact that there are so many single people today - many of whom profess to be perfectly happy in their single state - complicate the matter of mate selection, Barlow said.

Sally Lloyd, associate professor of family and consumer studies at the University of Utah, agrees that finding one's Prince Charming or Cinderella is a difficult task that often defies the quick solution or pat answer.

"It's really tough," she said, "particularly if you are new to an area. Utah is a very married place, there's no doubt about it. And if you're over 30 it's even harder. The older you get, the more people there are in your age group who are married."

Though there are no magic formulas, a single individual truly looking for the sublime relationship can do much to stack the circumstances in his or her favor, according to experts.

"At some point you have to do things that will put you in a position to meet other single people," Lloyd said. "A lot of people try to network through their friends. They feel more comfortable dating an acquaintance of someone who they know."

Judith Sills, a clinical psychologist whose book "How to Stop Looking for Someone Perfect and Find Someone to Love" was recommended by Barlow, said the central issue in mate selection is overcoming the fear of rejection.

"That usually involves forcing yourself to make the initial contact with people you find attractive rather than passively limiting yourself to people who approach you."

Sills, speaking by telephone from her office in Philadelphia, said she often recommends that single people go out with the goal of gathering as many rejections as possible. Paradoxical though it seems, that helps them learn that "nobody ever died from rejection or a bad haircut," she said. Moreover, the greater the number of rejections, the greater the chance of a successful contact, she explained.

Once a romantic approach is made, Sills said, it is useful to be aware of the "selection sequence": approach, turn, talk, touch and synchrony. Approach means to place oneself in physical proximity to a romantic prospect. The other person, if interested, will then turn toward the person making the contact, who should then say something to begin a conversation. If the sequence is proceeding well, the couple will exchange a touch at some point in the conversation. Finally, in a successful contact, the couple will achieve synchrony, or agreement in their romantic objectives.

Socializing in general increases the likelihood of a romantic encounter, Lloyd observed. "If you surveyed most people who are currently married, you would find they met through friends or through a common activity, whether it's church-related or both joined a hiking club or whatever. If you're out doing something you enjoy, you're likely to meet other people who enjoy doing the same thing, and that gives you something in common right away."

Social contacts do not always have to be one-on-one, Barlow said. Two women could invite three guys out, or vice versa. He said genuine friendships established initially can make for wholesome romances, but people often get the process reversed, becoming romantically attracted to individuals they do not even like.

The women's movement notwithstanding, societal norms still make women reluctant to take the initiative in romance.

"Women can and should initiate relationships," Barlow said. "If they don't do that they really limit their capacity to date. And guys are not turned off by it if they do it once or twice. Most guys like it."

Lloyd said she would encourage a woman if she is interested in a man to plan a low-key meeting in a public place such as a restaurant. The same advice could be given to men for that matter, she said.

"You don't necessarily have to make the next move, but you have communicated an interest to the other person.

"Women are always worried that they will be perceived as too aggressive, but usually guys are flattered when they take the initiative. Men are just as much in the dark as women as to what the other person is thinking. Dating is hard on both people."

Unrealistic expectations often limit one's chances for a successful romance, Barlow said. "When we realize that we have undesirable things about ourselves, we become a little more patient with other people."

Sills explains it in these words: "Life is a blue-plate special. You want the chicken, it comes with the peas. You want the roast beef, you get Brussels sprouts. No substitutions!"

Yet, Lloyd said, having expectations is not all bad. "I never tell somebody to go for less than what he or she is looking for. We all have kind of a shopping list. Most people are willing to make compromises, but it is not desirable to compromise one's core values."

Lloyd added that everyone needs to consider the advantages and disadvantages both of being single and of being married. And single people should not pursue their activities solely with the intent of finding someone to marry. Such self-consciousness can be counterproductive, she said.