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Desperately Seeking Anyone : Single people are going to new and unusual lengths to meet people. Can you blame them? These days, it takes creativity to find the perfect partner.

November 14, 1994|KATHLEEN DOHENY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Paul Walton's search for a wife consumes much of his time and $3,000 a month.

Ever since the 38-year-old San Diego millionaire told Oprah's viewers last year that he is looking for a mate who wants to "give it up to live it up," he has been jetting around the country to meet the candidates.

Jerilyn Walter has taken to the skies to meet Mr. Right, too. Actually lots of Mr. Rights.

Tired of hearing her single female friends complain about their lack of dates, the 36-year-old Newport Beach businesswoman took action.

First, she advertised in the Anchorage Daily News, tipped off by television reports about great numbers of Alaskan men in search of mates. She invited all available men to meet women from Southern California and elsewhere who would fly in for a dinner-dance and other events.

"I got 70 calls in three days," says Walter. Meanwhile, word was spreading here, too, and in September, Walter and 127 other women flew to Alaska.

"We had 20 couples by the end of the trip," says Walter, who has formed Females for New Frontiers, a Costa Mesa-based group whose members go to great lengths--and rack up frequent-flier miles--to find relationships.

Singles on more modest budgets often invest just as much interest and time in the hunt. While some make a habit of checking every ring finger they encounter, others develop more ingenious strategies. A Los Angeles woman plans to find office buildings where many men work--and then hang out.

A San Fernando Valley single slipped on a bogus wedding ring, convinced that men would feel more comfortable talking with her if they thought she was married. (If something clicked, she figured, she could explain later.)

While singles engaged in such activities call themselves dedicated , determined or dogged in their pursuit of a partner, other folks (especially married ones) label them with another "D" word: desperate .

Like bad breath and body odor, desperation usually belongs to someone else. While some singles know other desperate singles and married folks know lots of desperate singles, desperate singles rarely describe themselves that way.

After all, desperate is defined in "The American Heritage Dictionary" as "nearly hopeless, critical, grave." The listing follows despair.

"Everyone has their own definition of desperate ," notes Walton, the mega-buck bachelor. When he appeared on another television talk show recently, two female guests described how they staged a car accident just to meet firemen. That meets Walton's definition of desperate.

Ditto, personal ads.

"To me, desperate is placing an ad in the paper because I'm really lonely. Or, I write Oprah, 'Please help me.' But I didn't call Oprah. They called me. I'm not desperate , I'm opportunistic ."

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Not that anyone--regardless of marital status--is blaming singles for feeling desperate, by the way.

First there's the car culture, which makes it difficult to meet people out and about. (Although one woman tried to solve that problem by writing her cell-phone number on a large pad of paper and holding it up to her window so the handsome driver in the next lane could see. He was married, but probably was admiring her chutzpah as he waved his left hand.)

Then there are changing expectations that lead naturally to desperation. This is the "blame-it-on-society" excuse, but in this case it's valid, sort of.

In generations past, no one expected the sun, moon and stars in a relationship, says Kathleen Mojas, a Beverly Hills psychologist. Now, she says, people expect more, and some people expect too much-- way too much from their partner-to-be.

"Some people want to make someone else responsible for their happiness," she says. "There's a desperation that they won't find the right one. Some people are continually looking--and mistakenly thinking that the right person is the one who holds the key to their fulfillment."

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Excuses out of the way, there are ways not to look desperate, even if you are, say mental-health experts who specialize in singles' issues.

Singles appear desperate when they're full of self-doubt, says Sharyn Wolf, a New York psychotherapist. Eliminate the self-doubt, and poof! go those desperate vibes.

It's easy for some singles to cluck, cluck over stories of extreme efforts to find mates, reassuring themselves they're not that desperate. But Wolf says they might take a page from that book.

As she sees it, many self-doubting singles--even those seemingly obsessed with finding a partner--often don't go far enough in their efforts.

"We think if we say, 'Hi,' something should happen," says Wolf, who wrote "Guerrilla Dating Tactics" (Plume, 1994) and teaches seminars by the same title. "But frequently it takes more than a hello."

It takes creativity, she contends. Even boldness, perhaps.

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