Join the debate. Vote Now on the Dear Abby Poll of the week.

by Abigail Van Buren

Woman Finds the Dating Pool Is Fished Out in Small Town

DEAR ABBY: I am an attractive 33-year-old, unattached woman who is extremely shy and lonely. Please don't tell me to look for companionship in church (done that) or clubs, which don't exist in my small town.

The nearest singles group is a 30-mile drive, and the "pickings" there are slim. Most of my friends are married and preoccupied with husbands and busy households. We might meet for coffee or an occasional meal, but not often.

The few single girlfriends I have are romantically involved and do not want to leave their boyfriends even for an hour, so I am stuck every weekend at home by myself. I tried an Internet dating service. All the responses I got were from men 50 and older -- even though I requested no one over 37.

I am beginning to doubt myself as a person -- fearing that no one will ever want to get close to me. My attitude is starting to affect my job performance.

Abby, am I asking too much to want someone to cuddle up with at night; someone to be there when I've had a rough day; someone to go bike riding with or for a day at the beach?

Can you help me? Please tell me what I can do. My birthday is coming up. All I want in the whole world is to spend it with someone who cares about me. -- LONELY IN A SMALL TOWN SOMEWHERE IN VIRGINIA

DEAR LONELY: Any experienced fisherman knows that in order to be successful, you have to row your boat to where the fish are biting.

Take a look at a map and find a medium-to-large city that you think might offer you a chance for employment and the opportunities to mix with interesting people your age. Once there, get involved in activities where "nice people" meet. (Volunteer work is a good choice.)

Sitting around in a small town brooding about feeling isolated is a waste of precious time.

P.S. If you feel your shyness is limiting your opportunities, I urge you to get counseling. It would be the most valuable birthday present you could give yourself.

DEAR ABBY: My ex-mother-in-law, Thelma Barcal, lived in Sioux City, Iowa, and took delight in telling this true story from the 1920s about a pair of young twin girls who lived next door to her on -- I believe -- Jackson Street.

Thelma took great pride in the flowers she grew in her backyard. Evidently the twins liked them, too. In fact, they liked them so much that one day they picked most of them.

The next thing Thelma knew, her doorbell rang -- and there stood the twins at her front door wanting to sell her own flowers back to her!

Those precocious twin girls grew up to be "Dear Abby" and "Ann Landers." Thought you might enjoy this little trip down memory lane. -- ALICE MOSES, HUNTSVILLE, ALA.

DEAR ALICE: I did, indeed. I'm not surprised that my mother and my aunt were so enterprising at such a tender age. However, I'm relieved the two "hot petal pushers" decided to devote their talents to something legitimate before they were "busted" for their entrepreneurship. (Both were too short to look good in horizontal stripes!)

For an excellent guide to becoming a better conversationalist and a more sociable person, order "How to Be Popular." Send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $5 (U.S. funds) to: Dear Abby -- Popularity Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included in the price.)

4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600