In the spring, it's been said, a young man's fancy turns to thoughts of love.
The age-old, all-season challenge -- and not just for men -- of course, is how to turn those thoughts into action and find someone with whom to build a healthy and lasting relationship.
Typically this process starts with dating, which is supposed to be about exploring options, but too often it's about what Harlan Cohen calls "fortunate accidents."
"It's a game of luck hoping something sticks. And this is when it all gets sticky," the Chicago syndicated advice columnist writes in his new book, Getting Naked: Five Steps to Finding the Love of Your Life (While Fully Clothed & Totally Sober).
"It's a lot of trial and error, but after a few tries most of us don't have the emotional stamina to continue. That's when we hate, hide, give up looking, hope it happens when we least expect it, or settle for the least offensive option until something better comes along."
Part One of the book deconstructs the five misguided lessons Cohen says we learn when we're young that set the stage for all the drama and confusion. Chief among these are that sharing our feelings is stupid (or at least a bad idea) and that we are defective and unworthy of love as we are.
Part Two is about undoing the damage from our "informal relationship education."
Part Three is about the Getting Naked Experiment (GNE) and includes autobiographical evidence that it works.
Cohen, 39, one of the youngest and only male advice columnists in syndication, is married to a woman who rejected him on an Internet dating site only to fall in love with him months later following an unexpected encounter at a copy store.
Happy ending aside, the author makes it clear that the GNE is not for wimps. You've been warned.
"Using the five steps in this book will be uncomfortable at times. You might even want to vomit," he warns in the intro.
As the subtitle indicates, nudity is not one of the steps.
"The premise of the book is to get emotionally naked first, but we're no good at that," Cohen says during a phone interview. "We like getting physically naked first and seeing if that can lead to something deeper."
It's one of the lessons we learn during our informal education, he says. We learn that we can feel completely defective, hate sharing our feelings and still find love -- or at least a hookup. Put yourself in rooms full of people often enough and it'll happen, he says. Alcohol tends to speed up the process.
We learn that a hookup can be a perfectly "safe" way to connect, Cohen says. It can start a healthy and happy relationship, but it can also lead to drama and devastation.
"Feeling defective and being in an intimate relationship can be a dangerous combination," he writes in the book, which is based on a composite of letters written to his advice column, Help Me, Harlan! (advice for teens and 20-somethings), interviews conducted on his tours of more than 300 college campuses, his own personal experiences and conversations with relationship experts.
While it's mainly targeted at singles looking to find love, Cohen says the book was also written for people in relationships who want to understand exactly how they got into one so they can make it more fulfilling.
The first, and perhaps most important, step in the Getting Naked process is to understand and embrace the Universal Rejection Truth (URT) of dating and relationships: "Not everyone you want will want you. Thousands will, but millions will not."
And here's where the potentially vomit-inducing discomfort comes in. Cohen says we have to learn to take risks and share our feelings without fear of them not being reciprocated.
In other words, we have to stop rejecting rejection.
"Life is not that complicated. Love is not that complicated. But we're so programmed to be afraid of rejection that we pass up opportunities," says Cohen, founder of Rejection Awareness Week (Feb. 7 to 14), an annual event to celebrate the URT, where he invites readers to share stories on his website of how they took a risk and found the loves of their lives.
A passionate and exciting life should be incredibly uncomfortable at times, he says, because it's in those moments where the most personal growth occurs. But we live in such a discomfort-averse society that even parents are afraid to let their children feel the sting of rejection.
"We are raising a generation of people who can't say what they think and do what they feel, and it's getting progressively worse," says Cohen, adding that computers and technology offer an anonymity that can serve as a buffer against rejection.
As he cautions in the book, being aware of the Universal Rejection Truth and embracing it are two different things.
"It's the difference between being aware of deodorant and applying it," Cohen writes. "If you don't apply it, you'll stink. Not embracing the Universal Truth of dating and relationships will cause you to reject rejection and stink at dating and relationships."
In addition to the book, Cohen supports people in "getting naked" through his website and online community. The author of five books, including The Naked Roommate: And 107 Other Issues You Might Run Into In College, also just released his first CD of humorous tunes, titled Fortunate Accidents.
To learn more about Cohen and Getting Naked, go to gettingnakedexperiment.com.