I can’t be a damsel in distress

At first I was puzzled by the outcome of the Romance Rumble finals, but then I thought: I cannot wait to see one of these movies with you guys. You can buy tickets for next Friday's screening of the winner of this hot mess here. Film critic Wesley Morris and I will be there with buckets of popcorn. And maybe, no matter what wins, Wesley and I will do a quick reenactment of the losing film. (I'll be the Denise Richards or Selma Blair; Wesley will be Kevin Bacon or Sarah Michelle Gellar.) Bring friends. Tickets are only $8.

Dear Meredith,

I am an early-30s, female physician-in-training who is attractive, smart, well-traveled, funny, kind and ... single. I don't mind being single. In fact, I think there are lots of great aspects to being un-partnered. Yet, it's been years since my last serious relationship and I'm yearning to wake up with the same person every day, to have a travel companion, to cook dinner and converse with someone about our daily activities, to have regular sex, and yes, to find the person I'll marry and have children with.

My trouble is that while I'm very attractive and have no problem attracting men (heads turn when I walk into a restaurant for instance), I am almost never asked out on dates. Several people, mainly friends from work, have told me that they initially found me intimidating but that after getting to know me, they've realized that I have a heart of gold.

I think there are a few reasons why I may give off this vibe. First, I have a horribly dysfunctional family, which has forced me to do many things on my own. For example, moving and paying for all of my education. I can't play the damsel in distress because I haven't had the luxury of knowing Prince Charming would save me. Secondly, I've moved several times for school, have worked and lived abroad, and have traveled extensively. In doing so, I've mastered the art of appearing very confident even when I was clueless so as to protect myself from getting mugged or taking advantage of. Third, I work in a profession that doesn't reward the damsel in distress. As a budding doctor, I need to study, learn, and know a lot to best care for my patients. So, outside of work, I have a hard time smiling and saying yes to the sweet man at the gym who offers me an umbrella for the deluge outside or the man who offers to carry my groceries. Along those same lines, I'm a very cerebral person. I'm a thinker, and when I'm in my daily routine, for example walking to the train from my apartment, my brain is contemplating a multitude of things. In total, I've just done so many things on my own, most of which I've been very lucky to have had control over, that it's hard for me to let my guard down and be in the moment to let Mr. Right in.

Let me add, however, that I do meet men whenever I happen to travel. There's something about me being in a foreign environment where I'm in the moment, not thinking of something somewhere else, that relaxes me and invokes my curious fun-loving side which attracts men.

My question to you is how do I tap into the adventurous, fun loving side of me in my everyday life to become more inviting to men without having to play the ditzy, helpless maiden in distress or coming across as a cougar who wants a romp in the hay? I'm curious to hear what light you can shed on my situation.

– Funny, Well-Traveled, Cerebral Hottie in Need of Love

I don't think that cool guys (guys worth dating) want to date damsels in distress, FWTCHINOL. Ditzy maidens are annoying after about 45 minutes. I mean, even in Disney movies, the ladies wind up saving themselves. Guys (and gals, for that matter) want to date someone who is fascinating -- and fascinated by them. They want to be around someone who pays attention to what they do and say.

When you're away and on vacation, you're out of your own head and capable of putting the focus on someone else. That's what makes you charming. At home you're focused on your job, bills, friends, family, and whether there will be traffic by Fenway or the Garden. Home life can make a person ... weirdly self-absorbed.

My advice is to make it a goal to talk to at least a few strangers every week. And by talk, I mean listen. When you go to a party or are out at a bar in a group, seek someone out and ask questions. Get to know them. Make it homework. Don't even think about whether they're datable or whether you're turning them off with your power and independence. Just think about them.

At the end of the day, people want to be cared for as much as they care for someone else. That's what's missing here. I don't think that you're intimidating because you're awesome (you are, by the way). I do think that you might seem unapproachable because you aren't giving off the vibe that you're interested in learning about someone else.

Just food for thought. We get a lot of "Why am I single?" letters and I never have a magic answer. But ... this is my guess based on what you've told us. There's a big difference between being a damsel in distress and being deeply interested in another human being.

Readers? What's happening here? Am I right? Is there someone else that she can do? What about the damsel in distress stuff? Is she any different than anyone else who's having trouble meeting someone? Help.

– Meredith