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Looking for love in all the wrong ways, places

Dear Annie: I am a college-age male and in desperate need of your advice. There is in my class a wonderful young woman, someone with whom I have talked often but never deeply. I want to get to know her better but simply do not know how; in fact, I do not even know whether she is as interested in me as I am in her. This is made worse by my autism, which prevents me from detecting emotions and social cues.

What should I do? I seek someone whose hand I can hold and whose eyes light up when they look on me. That is all I want and all I need. -- Forsaken

Dear Forsaken: There are a great number of books that go into more depth about the unwritten rules of dating than I ever could here, and some are geared toward people with autism -- Kerry Magro's "Autism and Falling in Love" and Joe Navarro's "Ten 'Must Know' Body Language Secrets for Dating," to name just two.

But I will say that the best romantic relationships start as friendships, so you're off to a good start simply by talking to this young woman often. Perhaps you could ask whether she'd like to get coffee sometime. If she says yes, take the opportunity to build a connection by asking about her background -- where she is from, whether she has any siblings, what she's hoping to do after college, etc. Tell her about yourself in equal measure.

And if she turns down your invitation, don't despair. I promise, everyone has felt the sting of rejection at some point or another. Simply take it as practice for asking out the next girl who sparks your interest.

Dear Annie: I enjoy your column. After reading today's letter from "Frustrated," whose cousin is constantly getting angry over minor things, I was compelled to write. The cousin's behavior could be symptoms of a mental illness, specifically borderline personality disorder or paranoid personality disorder. The National Institute of Mental Health defines BPD as "a serious mental disorder marked by a pattern of ongoing instability in moods, behavior, self-image, and functioning. These experiences often result in impulsive actions and unstable relationships."

There were several red flags "Frustrated" used to describe her cousin that made me think she may have BPD: She's always confrontational; she always quits jobs because of confrontations and blames the employers; and she has been like this for years, with the behavior getting worse.

Your advice to stage an intervention and express concern was good. "Frustrated" should also encourage her to seek help from a mental health professional.

I realize that a disorder cannot be diagnosed based on a few comments, but learning more about personality disorders could help "Frustrated" and his or her sisters when interacting with their cousin.

I learned about BPD two years ago after my son fathered a child with a woman diagnosed with BPD. It has been a difficult journey, but recognizing that she has a mental disorder has helped us cope with the situation. Most people in the general public, including family court judges, have never heard of BPD. The National Institute of Mental Health is an excellent resource for information about personality disorders and other mental health issues. -- Advocating for Mental Health

Dear Advocating: Thank you for raising awareness about this commonly misunderstood disorder. Interested readers can find more information at http://www.nimh.nih.gov.

Send your questions for Annie Lane to dearannie@creators.com.

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