No. 19: It's not easy to love me -- and vice versa

Updated: July 24, 2006, 1:21 AM ET
By Paul Shirley | Special to ESPN.com

To celebrate yet another VD (that's Feb. 14, not the clap), I think I'll write about girls. I am, of course, single this Valentine's Day, which makes it the, oh, fifth in a row for which that statement is true. Here's the thing about professional basketball: It's not exactly conducive to the maintenance of long-term relationships. (The same could be said about my personality; that is, I'm not that much fun to deal with over the long haul.)

Shirley received this balloon in the mail today. From himself.

Nearly everyone around me assumes that my love life is replete with a constant stream of young ingénues ready to cater to my every whim. (I surround myself with shallow, shallow people.)

Their assumption is not necessarily true. While being a professional basketball player does convey some advantages in the dating game, it is not the end all, be all that one would think.

Strangely, girls who are intelligent enough to navigate a tolerable conversation and the occasional witty remark are not the types who will blindly be impressed when I say, "Actually, I do play basketball. Professionally." In fact, they often walk the other way. I can't say I blame them. We athletes, as a group, are not widely known to be a particularly trustworthy subset of humanity.

Now, of course, there are girls who are wowed by the prospect of dating a professional athlete. My personal jury is still out, as it were, on these. I wonder, is it a sign of their inherent vapidity that they care that I am good at throwing a ball through a hoop? (I also wonder, is vapidity an actual word?)

Then again, basketball is a big part of my life; in some ways, it has defined my existence for a very long time. If I want someone to "like me for who I am," and Basketball Player is a large part of that, the other party probably needs to like the fact that I am Basketball Player, right?

(This is where half the audience thinks, "Geez, Paul, quit analyzing it. Just have sex with all of them and worry about the repercussions later." The other half quit reading when I mentioned that I want to be able to carry on a conversation with a prospective date. Now I can really write what I want, as about six people have made it this far.)

The problem with my lifestyle, with regard to the women I meet, is that I'm probably a relationship kind of guy -- I'm just never around long enough to have one. Throw in the fact that I can screw up a potential relationship as well as anyone, and the fact that I am generally hard to be around, and it's a wonder I am capable of ever convincing a girl to accompany me to dinner.

A recurring theme of many of my writings is that of complaint. I don't mean for this entry, or any of them, really, to be read as such. (Although it will, and I will get e-mails telling me just how ungrateful and truly worthless I am.) It should not be construed that I am not thankful for my lot in life; it is sure as hell a lot easier to get a girl's number at 6-foot-10 than it is at 5-foot-5 and balding. (Someone reading this is cursing my name.)

Wilt Chamberlain
We'd bet Wilt wasn't alone on Valentine's Day.

I am simply confused, not ungrateful. I don't really know what I want. Fame? Fortune? Beauty? Wit? Some of my confusion stems from my disbelief at the number of my friends who are married. How did they know what they wanted at such a young age? Did they even consider what they wanted, or did they simply panic?

In my travels through professional basketball, I have seen both extremes of the commitment spectrum. I've been around players whose devotion to a particular girl lasted only as long as the car ride to the airport, and I've played with guys who seem to truly understand the concept of "till death do us part" -- almost sickeningly so, in fact.

I'm amazed by the teammates I've had who can carry on a steady relationship through the very odd situation that is the life of a professional basketball player. It does give me hope, I suppose. The problem, as I see it, is finding the girl with balance.

Let's say I take a job in Turkey for 10 months. I am dating some fine young woman prior to leaving. Do I ask her to come with me? Do I ask her to wait for me? Neither is a particularly good plan, really. I doubt I would be willing to date someone who is completely ready to pick up and move at a moment's notice; I tend to lean toward the independent, self-sufficient types, and they generally have things like "jobs" and "lives." Then again, if she isn't available to move with me, how could the relationship continue? It's a murderous Catch-22. OK, maybe not murderous. But not fun, at least.

I see no solution. In the meantime, though, I won't give up hope. It is true that my travels and the accompanying short-term relationships do allow me to see what I want in a girl. Right now, it is as simple as this: All I need is someone I don't want to leave immediately in the morning. Perhaps that is not as profound as I think it is; it is simple, though, which I like. It's not that I need someone I want to stay -- my caveat is not that restrictive. I just need her to be someone that I don't actively want to leave. It's more a lust for an absence of the negative than a need for the positive at this point.

There is hope, I guess. I've found a few who fit my requirement over the years. (Of course, some didn't really like me that much, but that is the subject of analysis for another day.) That select group makes me realize there is a chance I won't die alone. It's not a great chance, but I haven't completely given up. Yet.

Paul Shirley has played for 12 pro basketball teams, including three NBA teams -- the Chicago Bulls, Atlanta Hawks and Phoenix Suns. His journal will appear regularly at ESPN.com. To e-mail Paul, click here.