Getting to first base

Q: I'm an 18-year-old college student who has never been on a date, let alone had a girlfriend. I’m not a wallflower; girls have danced with me and talked with me at parties. Although I can talk with girls, even girls I like, I choke when I want to ask them out on a date. I tell myself the same old advice-column mantras about seizing the day, but it doesn't work. So I have some questions for you: 1) What's the appropriate way to ask out a girl you don't know, perhaps someone you just see at a bus stop? Just saying "Hi, I'm Joe" seems a bit forward. 2) How about asking out girls I'm already friendly with, such as a co-worker? I don't want to lose that amiable friendliness with her. 3) What kinds of signals do girls give out when they are around a guy they like?

A: You can't fly before you have wings. Approaching strangers is difficult for everyone except those with the thickest hides. Unless you can accept that you will be turned down far more often than not, don't start there. On the other hand, a neutral conversation opener — "Lovely day" or "Been waiting for the bus long?" — will let you know if she is interested in even acknowledging your presence. Some women just don't talk to strangers, period. Once in a conversation, saying "I'd like to see you again. Can we exchange phone numbers?" or "Do you have time now to stop for coffee?" is somewhat forward too, but not rude. There is always a risk of being told no anytime you ask anyone for anything, and the possibility of creating awkwardness (let alone being charged with sexual harassment) after extending a social invitation to a co-worker does exist. If you don't think of a date as some enormous hurdle, but instead as the next step in the getting-to-know-you process, it won't be such a big deal. When you talk about anything, just extend the possibilities: "What did you do over the weekend? That sounds great! Would you like to get together on Saturday and we can do it together?" A girl (or women, boy or man) will indicate at least friendliness if not downright lustful intent by smiling, meeting your gaze, seeking you out to talk with or by prolonging conversations. Much more is covered in my New Ways To Meet New People booklet ($5 to 3145 Geary Blvd., No. 153, San Francisco, CA 94118; $15 for audio tape version) or Tina Tessina's The Unofficial Guide to Dating Again (Macmillan Lifestyles Guide, $15.95) which is also wonderfully applicable to dating for the first time.

Q: I'm in a monogamous relationship with my boyfriend of two years. A year into our relationship we began to argue a great deal; we then separated for about a month. During this time, I started flirting with someone else and we began to develop a liking for each other. He was very patient with me, keeping in mind that I had just left a relationship. My ex and I got back together, but I still like the guy that I was flirting with. We're in a theater group together and I'm going through torture. I love my boyfriend and I don't know what I'd do without him, but this other guy has my heart too. I feel like I'm betraying my man. I keep having dreams of being with my friend, and I think he does too. Please help!

A: There is no way to simultaneously experience the excitement and uncertainty of a new romance and the comfort and stability of a long-term monogamous relationship. As my grandmother used to say, "You can't dance at two weddings with one tuchas." (That's butt for the Yiddish-impaired). In order to fully enjoy the relationship with your boyfriend and your new flirt — and remain honest — your present relationship has to become nonexclusive.

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