Dear Amy:

I've never heard of this before.

I am an educated 36-year-old teacher and mother. I have a bad fear of calling people on the phone.

I can make "non-personal" calls to doctor's offices and whatnot, but I dread calling other people -- even those who are expecting my call.

I've practically lost touch with friends because I don't call them, I've missed getting babysitters, and I've neglected getting RSVPs in on time because I hate calling people.

Sometimes I call people when I know I'm going to get an answering machine. I'm good with people in person, and I don't mind when they call me, but I have this paralyzing fear of picking up the phone and calling people.

Any advice?

Phone-a-Phobic in Chicago

There is a name for your pain. Yes, it is actually called: "Phonophobia."

This fear is not unheard of, and according to Dr. William Callahan, a psychiatrist in Irvine, Calif., it -- and other phobias -- might have a cause unrelated to your actual paralyzing aversion. You should seek professional help to explore what the base cause might be. You don't have an actual fear of telephones, but you might fear intimacy, for instance, and you will benefit from talking this over with a therapist.

Unfortunately, Dr. Callahan says, "Once you start the path of avoidance, it can get worse." You've probably seen this already. Fortunately, Callahan adds, "Once you face the things you're afraid of, it can extinguish your fears. You meet with success, and your self-esteem and confidence will rise."

I suggest that in addition to getting professional help you should attempt a little behavioral modification on your own. Tell yourself that you will make one "nonessential" call each day and force yourself to make it. Once you face your fears and meet with some success, your success will extinguish the fear.

Dear Amy:

I was struck by a recent letter from a young gentleman who wondered where all of the attractive, intelligent women with morals are. Well, most of them frequent museums and art galleries, hold professional jobs and are active in their respective communities. These women are picky when it comes to dating.

But here's a tip to get an interested man started: A casual cup of coffee and an evening of genuine conversation are the best ways to meet nice women.

Coffee is low pressure and low budget, and in the end you have a new friend.

Sexy Scientist in NYC

Amen, sister. Many a great relationship has started over a low-pressure latte.

Write to Amy Dickinson at askamy@tribune.com or Ask Amy, Chicago Tribune, TT500, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60611.

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