DEAR ABBY: I’m an educated, attractive 24-year-old woman who hasn’t dated much. I’m eager to break out of my shell and start putting myself out there, but I’m afraid my shyness may make me unapproachable.

How do I strike up a pleasant conversation with a cute guy at the gym or a friendly customer at work? It looks easy in the movies, but this is real life. I don’t want my awkwardness to hold me back.

Can you give me some tips on how I can bring myself to be sociable? — PERPETUAL NOVICE IN MINNESOTA

DEAR NOVICE: Gladly. Start today by making a point of smiling and saying hello to everyone. It’s friendly and welcoming.

At the gym, ask other members about their routine or the machines they’re using. When greeting a customer, lead off with a friendly remark or a compliment. I have met very few people who don’t like receiving one, as long as it’s sincere. (“Nice shirt,” “Nice cellphone,” etc.) If you freeze up, keep in mind that the majority of people have the same insecurities that you do.

My booklet “How to Be Popular” contains many useful tips for polishing social skills for people of all ages. It can be ordered by sending your name and mailing address, plus check or money order for $7 (U.S. funds), to Dear Abby Popularity Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447.

Shipping and handling are included in the price. Please allow four to six weeks for delivery.

A surefire way to contribute in any social situation is to be well-informed about what’s going on in the world. You do not have to be an authority on every subject. Good conversationalists are interested in what others have to say rather than feel pressured to fill the air with the sound of their own voices.

And remember: Most people can concentrate on only one thing at a time. So forget about yourself and concentrate on the OTHER person. Ask about what he or she is interested in. If you try it, you’ll find that it works.

DEAR ABBY: My boyfriend and I have been together for two years. We have good conversations, and he would give me the world if I asked him to. He’s kind, gentle and helps me out financially. He opens the car door, cooks and cleans.

Basically, he is what every woman wants. But … he is lacking in the sex department.

He had a groin injury as a child, and later, as an adult, he reinjured “it.” Viagra doesn’t help. He apologizes when sex lasts less than five or 10 minutes. Sometimes “it” doesn’t work for a week or two.

He says he loves me and wants to marry me. But I know I wouldn’t be completely happy if I married him. On the other hand, I’m afraid to lose such a good man.

I don’t want to cheat on him, which is what he said most of his girlfriends have done in the past. What should I do? — GREAT GUY, BUT …

DEAR G.G.B.: What you should do is be honest with your boyfriend. Tell him it’s time for him to consult a urologist, if he hasn’t already, because there may be medical help for this.

If there is, your problem is solved. If there isn’t, then you will have to prioritize what’s really important to you in a life partner.

Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Contact Dear Abby at http://www.DearAbby.com or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.