DEAR ABBY: I am not a hugger. In fact, I pretty much always hate it. But people think I'm rude when I don't open my arms to hug after they've opened theirs. And they also think I'm rude when I tell them I'm not really a hugger. It happens with friends, fellow church congregants and audience members (I'm an entertainer) all the time. Although I let the hugs happen, I'm usually holding my breath the whole time.

Once I've "Hey girl'd" someone and offered my warmest smile, what more can I do? I don't want people I like to think I don't like them, or I'm not happy to see them. But I'm fed up with faking it and participating in this ritual that makes me so uncomfortable. If there's a polite, clear way to convey this to people without seeming cold or unappreciative, please let me know what it is. -- BRACING FOR THE EMBRACE

DEAR BRACING: You are not alone in feeling the way you do. Not everyone is comfortable with being hugged. I think you should simply be honest about your feelings and tell the huggers that you become claustrophobic when people hug you, and to please understand that your reluctance isn't personal. If you make it about you rather than them, it shouldn't come across as rejection.

DEAR ABBY: My son and daughter-in-law are splitting up. I'm devastated for them and my two young grandchildren, with whom I'm very close.

They live in another state, so I stay with them when I go visit. Although we've always had a great relationship, I'm terrified that my daughter-in-law will not want me to visit her after the divorce. I'm heartsick and don't know how to proceed.

What can I do to maintain a good relationship with her, while staying on good terms with my son? My grandchildren mean the world to me. -- HEARTSICK IN THE WEST

DEAR HEARTSICK: The last thing you want or need is to get caught in the middle of the divorce. Try your level best not to take sides and be sure to give your almost-ex-daughter-in-law her space.

Assure her that you care about her and that you deeply regret that the marriage with your son didn't work out. (It's true.) Tell her you have grown to love her as a daughter and hope that, in spite of the divorce, you will always be close. Do NOT discuss any intimate details or assign blame, if you can possibly avoid it, and try to keep your visits upbeat while concentrating on your grandchildren.

DEAR ABBY: My wife and I will soon attend a weekend wedding. We will be meeting a large number of people for the first time.

My problem is I have a hard time remembering people's names. I suggested to my wife that I carry a pocket-size notebook and write down names followed by a brief description. She thinks it's a great idea as long as no one catches me doing it. I think, in addition to being practical, it will provide a bit of humor to the occasion. What say you? -- SENSIBLE IN SEATTLE

DEAR SENSIBLE: I agree with your wife. Be discreet, if you can. Rather than carry a notebook, it might be less obvious if you enter or dictate the information in the notes section of your phone.

DEAR ABBY: Over the last 13 years in his job, my husband developed a "very friendly" relationship with a clerical person. Now that he has retired, she wants to continue it by meeting with him (and me) for dinner. We have had dinner together once, and when they began to talk shop, I became the odd one out.

Although I interjected myself into the conversation, it was clear there is real feeling between them. He says she's "just so nice." She continues to send emails addressed to both of us and asks me (since he is not computer savvy) to relay that she misses him greatly and he was her "ray of sunshine" every day when he would walk in the office.

Should I be worried, jealous or envious? It is only now I have become aware that she was so important to my husband at work. I had no knowledge about their relationship before. -- UNCERTAIN IN NEW JERSEY

DEAR UNCERTAIN: I don't think you have anything to worry about. That the conversation at dinner revolved around the office is not surprising. The office and the job were the basis of their relationship. Because she's sending emails addressed to both of you, I doubt she's trying to slip anything past you or make a play for your husband. Be patient, and with time, I suspect she will adjust to the loss of her "ray of sunshine."

DEAR ABBY: A group of friends and I go out for dinner. When the check arrives, we all have cash except for one woman who wants to pay her share with a credit card. She claims she "doesn't know how much she owes" and tells the waiter to use her credit card to pay her share. Abby, she then pays only for her food and beverage, no tax and no tip! I have told her in the past to bring cash, but she won't.

I think it is unfair to the waiter to have to figure out how much she owes. When we tried to talk to her about it, she reacted like she was being attacked and went to other friends and got them to agree with "her side." If anyone disagrees with her, she goes on and on until she either loses a friend or the person gives in and tells her she's right. How do we deal with someone like this? Should we just give up on her and end the friendship? -- CHECK, PLEASE

DEAR CHECK, PLEASE: I see no reason to give up on the friendship. Just stop having dinner with her if her behavior bothers you.

DEAR ABBY: I'm 12 and I'm depressed. I have been depressed for a year now. I have not told my mom that I cry in the shower. Please guide me on what to do and help get me out of this dark hole. -- SAD IN SAN DIEGO

DEAR SAD: I'm so glad you wrote. It's very important that you tell your mother or some other trusted adult that you are depressed, and how long this has been going on. You may need counseling or the intervention of some other adult to fix this problem. Please don't wait, and please DO write again and let me know how you're doing. I care.

DEAR ABBY: I have been dating my boyfriend for three years. We have lived together for the last two. We have a great life together, but there is a problem I don't know how to solve. "Jeremy" hates his job.

We met in the education department of our college, and after graduation, we both took jobs in the public school system. I enjoy my career, but he loathes his. He complains constantly without seeming to take action on the issue. I know he's miserable, but he hasn't looked for other jobs or enrolled in a new school program.

I have bad days, too, but I've reached the end of listening to the constant griping. I am usually a positive person, but he is dragging my mood down because of this. He says I need to guide him and give him some direction, but I don't know what to say. I don't think it's my responsibility to tell another adult what he should or shouldn't do with his life. I don't mind helping him talk through his choices, but he wants more from me.

This is the man I want to marry. Is there a way to get past this issue and make it work? -- UNCERTAIN AND LOST

DEAR UNCERTAIN: Until your boyfriend has settled this uncertainty about his work life, any discussion about marriage should be put on hold. I agree you are not qualified to give him career advice. However, you might ask him to tell you what exactly it is that he hates about his job, and what he would rather be doing. His answers may give both of you insight into what he may be better suited for emotionally, and stimulate him to do something positive about his future. Once he has more clarity, there may be places he can go for career counseling that can help him decide what his next steps should be.

DEAR ABBY: You have mentioned in the past that you have a booklet on writing letters, including thank-you notes. Where do I send for it? I'll need four because my grandkids are lacking in that area.

It's truly a shame that younger generations haven't been taught about the importance of such notes. A simple "thank you" can not only open doors of opportunity both socially and in employment, but also help grandparents feel appreciated after their heartfelt gift-giving. -- NANCY IN NEVADA

DEAR NANCY: If there is one subject that crops up repeatedly in my mail, it's thank-you notes -- or rather, the lack of them. I print letters about it because of the number of complaints I receive. When a gift or a check isn't acknowledged, the (unwritten) message it sends is that the item wasn't appreciated, which is insulting and hurtful.

Chief among the reasons that thank-you notes are unwritten is that many people don't know what to say. They think the message has to be long and flowery when, in fact, keeping it short and to the point is more effective. My booklet, "How to Write Letters for All Occasions," contains samples of thank-you letters for birthday gifts, shower gifts and wedding gifts, as well as those that arrive around holiday time. It also includes letters of congratulations and ones regarding difficult subjects, such as the loss of a parent, a spouse or a child. It can be ordered by sending your name, mailing address, plus check or money order for $7 (U.S. funds) to Dear Abby Letters Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Shipping and handling are included in the price.) With the holiday season approaching, this is the perfect time to reply with a handwritten letter, note or well-written email.

Because the composition of letters is not always effectively taught in the schools, my booklet can serve as a helpful tutorial, one that is valuable for parents as a way to teach their children to write using proper etiquette.

DEAR ABBY: My 8-year-old daughter keeps asking me for a smartphone. I'm at a loss about who she would call besides me and her dad. She points out these different kids her age who have phones. They are the same kids I view as ones who will have no curfew, boyfriends at 12 and parents who aren't as involved as we are. At what age do you feel kids should have smartphones? -- INVOLVED PARENT

DEAR INVOLVED PARENT: I don't think there is a magic number, but your daughter is definitely too young to have one. Smartphones can be dangerous when they are used irresponsibly. A flip phone, perhaps, for her to contact you in case of emergencies, might be appropriate.

Because her friends have smartphones is not a valid reason for her to have one. Before that happens, you must be confident that it will be used responsibly, and that you and her father will be able to review its history.

DEAR ABBY: Could you help all of us guys named Shelby spread the word that Shelby is not just for the female gender? Many boys and men like me have the handle and are proud of it. -- SHELBY FROM TEXAS

DEAR SHELBY: So do some automobiles! I'm glad to relay your message. Today many women have names that were once associated only with the masculine gender -- Cameron, Bailey, Logan, Morgan, to name a few -- and turnabout is fair play. I'm reminded of the song "A Boy Named Sue."

DEAR ABBY: I'm a 17-year-old girl and a junior in high school. I have a crush on a guy who's 14 and a freshman. I know age gaps don't matter as much later on, but the difference between 17 and 14 can be drastic. "Jake" is really sweet, and he's as interested in me as I am in him (unlike the boys in my grade).

I'm friends with Jake's sister "Julie," who's a year older than me and a senior. Julie has made it clear she doesn't like the idea of a romantic relationship between Jake and me because Jake is only 14.

What can I do? Should I ignore this crush? I have judged people who have dated despite age gaps. (For example, a senior boy dating a sophomore girl.) But now I understand it. If the girl is older, does that complicate things?

I don't want to be seen as creepy or gross, but, to be honest, I'm not that experienced romantically or socially myself. (I have never even been to a real party.) Must I forget my feelings and move on, or do I talk to Julie and try to pursue this? -- TEEN CRUSH

DEAR TEEN CRUSH: Julie has already given you her answer. As you have pointed out, there is a bias against dating someone so much younger, and it could cause you problems not only with your peers, but also with the law if your relationship were to become sexual when you turn 18. That's why I'm suggesting you turn your romantic interests elsewhere. When you're BOTH adults, if you're still interested, you can pursue a romantic relationship then.

DEAR ABBY: My fiance and I are being married in a few days. We are expecting our first child a few days after that. The problem is my mother. We decided on a small ceremony, but my mother is opposed to the marriage because she doesn't like the idea of me marrying -- not just my fiance, but anyone. She has always told me a man will leave me destitute, pregnant with too many kids, and I won't be able to take care of myself. She has repeated it since I was about 10.

Because she has threatened to object at the ceremony, we decided not to invite her. We have invited his parents and my father and stepmother. Mom has said she will not allow my child to see her grandfather because "he is a bad person." She may have good intentions, but dictating who can be around my child is not her choice, considering she has had little to no contact with him in 25 years.

I wish she could be at our wedding, but she has now distanced herself from me and my fiance. Should I let her cool off and hope she comes around, or accept that this is the path she has chosen? Please advise, Abby. -- PROBLEM MOTHER IN KENTUCKY

DEAR PROBLEM MOTHER: Your mother may be anti-marriage because hers failed spectacularly. She appears to be a troubled woman. By all means, let her cool off, but do not allow her to dictate your life. If she does, her anger and bitterness could negatively affect your marriage.

DEAR ABBY: The winter months are hard for me. They remind me that another year has gone by without my father and my younger sister.

Dad had been a smoker since his teens and died from pancreatic cancer at 39. I was 13, and my siblings were younger. In those days, we didn't know that smoking was a risk factor for pancreatic cancer.

My sister smoked from the time she was 13. She died from lung cancer at 44, leaving behind two young sons.

Neither my father nor my sister got to experience the wonderful family milestones and celebrations we have had. Their grandchildren will never know them. Each year during the holidays, I feel a sadness in my heart.

I urge every smoker to make a vow to quit and carry it through, not only for their own sake but also their family's. Stay determined to quit so you won't cause your loved ones sadness and won't miss out on their futures. With all my heart, I wish smokers the best of luck in quitting. -- MISSING DAD AND SIS IN SACRAMENTO

DEAR MISSING: I'm glad you wrote because the American Cancer Society's annual Great American Smokeout will be held on Nov. 16. It's a day when millions of smokers put down their cigarettes -- just for one day -- with the conviction that if they can go 24 hours without one, then they can do it for 48 hours, 72 hours, and stop smoking for good. The idea grew out of a 1970 event in Randolph, Massachusetts, and became a national event in 1977.

Readers, I'm not going to harangue you with death threats. We are all aware of the grim statistics associated with cancer-related deaths caused by tobacco. If you're interested in quitting, this is a perfect opportunity. Call (800) 227-2345 to be connected with counseling services in your community, provided with self-help materials offering information and strategies on quitting for good, and to receive information about medications available to help you quit. This service is free and provided 24/7. Or go online to cancer.org.

DEAR ABBY: I need your help. Over the past few weeks, I have been vacationing at my mother-in-law's home. The other day I was browsing on her computer and accidentally opened her browsing history. It turns out that she regularly looks at and responds to Craigslist personals.

I was shocked when I read some of the perverted requests she has responded to. The language she used would make a sailor blush. Keep in mind, my mother-in-law is a married woman.

I don't know how to react. Should I tell my wife? Keep it to myself? Make a fake Craigslist post and catch her in the act? -- KINKS IN THE FAMILY

DEAR KINKS: If you disclose this to your wife, it could damage her relationship with her mother. If she tells her mother what you found, it will create a breach in the family. If you trap the woman by creating a fake Craigslist post and she realizes she has been made a fool of, it will not -- to put it mildly -- endear you to her. Let it lie.

DEAR ABBY: Help! I'm a 67-year-old man being relentlessly chased by a 68-year-old woman. I have told her I want to date other women and will be moving out of the country at the end of the year. Despite this, she is constantly trying to maneuver me into an exclusive relationship, probably ending in living together. I don't want to hurt her, but I'm at a loss as to how to get her to back off. -- HAPPILY UNCOMMITTED

DEAR UNCOMMITTED: Here's how. Tell her you can't handle the pressure she's putting on you and end the relationship NOW.

DEAR ABBY: I am in a predicament. My therapist is great, but sometimes I think she shares too much. Last time I went, she was running late. When I finally got into her office, she told me the previous patient was nonverbal and had painted her nails during the session. Later in the session, she confided that years ago she had been date raped.

Abby, I am in counseling because my father raped me when I was 15 (I am now 24). Her sharing has me worried because I don't want her telling others what I say or do during counseling. Further, her story of the date rape scared me. She described a situation that is not uncommon for me to be in, and it caused something almost like a flashback in me. I think what she did was insensitive, to say the least.

I have nobody else to ask, so what should I do? I'm getting counseling for free now due to my income, and it took months to get set up with a counselor. Should I report her or accept that this was a mistake and say nothing? If I need to report her, how would I go about doing that? -- CONFLICTED ABOUT IT

DEAR CONFLICTED: You should change therapists because it appears this one has more problems than you do. As to what agency you should report her breach of professional ethics to, contact the state organization that has licensed her to practice.

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 www.DearAbby.com or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069

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