DEAR ABBY: I have an answer for a question from "Excluded in the East" you printed on Sept. 24: "Why do married couples exclude single people?"

As a single mother with three children for 15 years, I made the conscious decision to conduct myself as I always had when I was part of a couple. I hosted backyard parties and holiday dinners and invited my married friends. I initiated invitations for dinner and a movie.

At restaurants, I made sure to pick up my own tab. If a couple insisted on paying for my meal, I insisted on paying the tip and was prepared with cash. Why? Because I was mindful that some men felt uncomfortable about taking money from a single woman.

If I wanted company for the evening, I drove to their house. Sometimes I volunteered to be the designated safe driver. Most important, I never complained about my ex or vented about the difficulties of coping as a single mom.

Needless to say, there was no flirting or inappropriate comments. I also avoided lengthy side conversations with one spouse. In short, I worked hard to make sure my married friends enjoyed my company as much as I enjoyed theirs, and it worked! -- LAURA IN NEW YORK

DEAR LAURA: I'm glad it worked for you. After I asked for readers' input on the topic, I received many interesting responses. Read on for a sample:

DEAR ABBY: I suspect that married couples are afraid divorce is contagious. It could have something to do with the fact that some married people are no longer happily married and they fear if they include a divorcee, it might trigger a divorce. -- HAPPILY UNCOUPLED IN OHIO

DEAR ABBY: I have been married for 10 years. A lot of couples exclude singles because they don't want them to feel like third wheels. I remember when I was single feeling that way in some groups, and it was depressing. Marrieds also have a different mindset than singles, which can lead to awkwardness. It can work, but it has to be the right group. -- MARRIED IN THE MIDWEST

DEAR ABBY: We're a gay male married couple. We have many friends -- singles and couples, gay and straight -- with whom we socialize, usually at restaurants. We often dine with single friends one at a time, because splitting the tab is simply a matter of two credit cards. If we're with another couple, that's two credit cards. Three couples, it's three cards, etc. But with five or seven people at the table, paying for the meal turns into an exercise in high finance. -- KEEPING IT SIMPLE IN PALM SPRINGS

DEAR ABBY: I'm in my early 60s and still single. I actually PREFER to be left out of invitations to eat in restaurants, go on trips, etc. with my many coupled friends. It makes me somewhat depressed to be with those who have found their mates. "Excluded's" friends may be sensitive about this, too. I'm very comfortable at home with my menagerie, and I often invite people over -- married couples included. -- DOG LADY IN BIRMINGHAM, ALA.

DEAR ABBY: Couples who tend to exclude their single friends, for whatever reason, need to remember that one day they, too, may be single and overlooked. My dear mom was left out a lot after her divorce, and I remember how sad it made her feel. -- ANDREA IN DENVER

DEAR ABBY: I play cards with a group of men I have known for more than 20 years. We switch partners after six hands so everyone partners with everyone.

One member of the group has now become unable to remember the rules and constantly asks how he should respond to his partner's bid. He also keeps asking the score and whose deal it is. Because we give small prizes for the high score, I think it's cheating to discuss a hand across the table.

What should we do when he asks the rules or how to bid a hand? I think we should play as we always have, and not discuss the hand or how to bid. Should I find another group to play with, and how can I explain my reason for quitting the group? -- PLAYER IN THE SOUTH

DEAR PLAYER: What a sad dilemma. Before quitting the group, discuss this privately with the other members. Are the small prizes worth the friendship?

Because this man is no longer able to remember how the hands are played, in light of your long friendship, perhaps the group could arrange to do some other activity with him once a week instead of the card game. That way, although he's no longer able to participate in the games as he has before, he won't be completely isolated. In situations like this, relationships and emotional support are very important. I hope you will consider it.

DEAR ABBY: One of my nephews is turning 24 soon. I am reluctant to get him a birthday gift because he's lazy and disrespectful and makes up excuse after excuse for not working. On top of that, he has a 1-year-old daughter and managed to get his family evicted because he felt the mother should do everything -- and I mean EVERYthing.

He's on his cellphone all day texting other women or posting Facebook nonsense. The mother of his child finally woke up and left him, so now he has moved in with his mother.

I am trying to understand why I need to give him a birthday gift. He was dropping hints about his birthday during a family dinner the other day. No one said a word. Everyone ignored him, including his mother.

We're pretty sure he won't be living with her long before he's kicked out. We have all tried to help and support him, but we are tired and no longer want to be bothered.

Must I give him a birthday gift? Or should I use the excuse he gives everyone else: "Oh, I ordered your gift online and they must not have shipped it yet." -- TIRED OF THIS MESS

DEAR TIRED: You are not obligated to send your nephew a gift. A card would be nice, however, if you're inclined to take the high road.

DEAR ABBY: Many years ago, in a "Farmer's Almanac," I read a saying so profound and succinct, I have never forgotten it. I thought one day I should send it to you. Well, with everything that's been happening in Hollywood and beyond, this is the time.

It goes, "If you don't want anyone to know about it, don't DO it!" -- FAITHFUL READER IN CARMEL, N.Y.

DEAR READER: AMEN to that!

DEAR ABBY: I grew up watching my mom being abused by her husband. It was terrible. Unfortunately, he eventually murdered her. She was only 36. I was 16 at the time, and although it has taken almost 30 years, I have finally found peace.

My message is to people who are currently experiencing abuse. No one deserves to be battered physically, mentally or emotionally. When people suffer from addiction (alcohol, drugs, etc.), they can get help only when they are ready. However, with domestic violence, the victims must consider not only themselves, but also their children. If you are a victim of domestic violence, PLEASE get out and get help. -- HEALED IN GEORGIA

DEAR HEALED: Please accept my sympathy for the loss of your mother at such a tender age. In her memory, I will again print the phone number for the National Domestic Violence Hotline. It is (800) 799-7233. There is a separate TTY number for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing. It's (800) 787-3224. Its website is thehotline.org. Help is available if victims recognize they need it and reach out.

DEAR ABBY: I enjoy weekly massages from a popular self-employed masseuse. I have a standing appointment. If I cancel within 24 hours, I understand that I must pay her. However, if I give her more notice, must I still give her some remuneration? We have never discussed it.

I feel bad about canceling, as she may rely on this income, but it's difficult to pay for the event that requires me to cancel in addition to a massage that didn't happen. What would you do? -- UNSURE IN FLORIDA

DEAR UNSURE: Your masseuse has a 24-hour cancellation policy so when clients can't keep the appointment, she can fill in the time with someone else. Most personal service professionals understand that from time to time appointments must be skipped or changed.

Because you are worried about her, talk with her about it and ask if she can slot you in at a different time if there's a schedule conflict. It would be a win-win. She'll get the money, and you will still have your weekly massage, which, clearly, is important to you or you wouldn't have a standing appointment.

DEAR ABBY: I am worried about my best friend. She never eats at school, and I don't think she's eating at home either. She's beginning to get weak. Yesterday we were playing ball in P.E., and when she caught the ball, I saw her wince. I asked her if she was OK, and she said yes, but I'm still worried. What should I do? -- SCARED FOR HER

DEAR SCARED: Talk to your P.E. teacher about the fact that you are worried about your friend and why. She may not be eating because she thinks she needs to lose weight. Or she may have a serious eating disorder. The teacher will know what to do. Please don't wait.

DEAR ABBY: Recently a friend came over and took me to lunch. She has a small, 50-year-old vintage car that was very popular in the '60s. She had come from Marin County over the Golden Gate Bridge to my house.

As she drove us to the restaurant, her car stalled twice. It was very underpowered and, in my opinion, rickety. After she dropped me home, I sent her an email strongly expressing my concern that she is driving an unsafe car. I was worried for her safety. She took offense, so I apologized.

She has plenty of money to buy a safe used car like anyone else, but she says, "I like driving vintage." I don't want to get into her car again. Was I wrong to tell her I felt her car was unsafe? -- NERVOUS PASSENGER IN SAN FRANCISCO

DEAR PASSENGER: You weren't wrong to warn her. However, you may have been wrong to assume that she has "plenty of money to buy a safe used car." Nobody has as much money as others assume they do. Because you don't want to get into her car again, you should provide the transportation from now on or meet her at the restaurant.

DEAR ABBY: My across-the-street neighbor and I have become friendly. She has a 15-month-old and a newborn. Not only is she not married to the baby's daddy, but they don't even live together.

She has been asking me to help her a lot now that the baby is born. I'm 10 years older and raising three kids, all in their teens.

Abby, I don't want to raise anyone else's kids. How can I politely tell her that I have my own family to care for? She has a tendency to overreact. -- KEEPING DISTANCE

DEAR KEEPING DISTANCE: To tell your neighbor you "don't want to raise anyone else's kids" may be accurate, but it's a bit rough. When she asks you to do things for her, be pleasant and say -- consistently -- that you are busy, you don't have time, you have other plans, etc. If you do, she will soon realize that you are not to be depended upon.

DEAR ABBY: My son has lived overseas on and off for six years. He's being married to a wonderful young woman where they met, which was in Wales. Needless to say, not everyone can attend, so we are having a reception for them here in the States.

My son already has a fully furnished house overseas and doesn't need anything, plus the cost of taking gifts back would be astronomical! Anyway, he is thinking of asking for monetary help with the honeymoon. Would this be all right to do and, if so, how do you ask people for it? -- HELP FOR THE HONEYMOON

DEAR HELP: Many young people today post requests like that on their wedding website. Or, because friends and relatives may ask what they need after receiving invitations or announcements, the message can be conveyed verbally. According to the rules of etiquette, however, requests for gifts or money should NEVER be included WITH the invitations or announcements.

DEAR ABBY: I am president and co-founder of the Wildlife Center of Virginia, one of the leading teaching and research hospitals for wildlife medicine in the world. We have treated more than 70,000 wild patients since our organization was established 35 years ago. Like the reader ("An Apple a Day," Aug. 11) who is under the impression that throwing an apple core out the car window is doing something positive for the Earth, many individuals make "little" decisions without considering the unintended consequences.

The example of the apple core has been at the heart of our education program for more than three decades. Before throwing that apple core out the window believing that some small animal will come finish what's left, people should consider what will happen if the animal coming to eat their scraps happens to be on the other side of the road.

Throwing out that apple core will lure that creature into harm's way. Countless opossums, raccoons, skunks and other small mammals are killed every day because of human food waste on the shoulder of the road. And it doesn't stop there. Predators like owls also suffer. They hunt along the side of the road, not because they eat apple cores, but because they eat the mice, voles and other small animals who are attracted to feed on that apple core. Then, when the opossum, raccoon or owl is killed by a car, scavengers are attracted to the pavement, where their lives, too, are at risk.

If readers want to help the Earth, they should take their waste home and dispose of it or recycle it properly. The small act of throwing an apple core out of a car window can cost the lives of the very creatures they claim to want to help. -- EDWARD CLARK, WAYNESBORO, VA.

DEAR MR. CLARK: When that letter appeared, I received a flurry of mail about it. Many readers touched on some of the points you have expressed. Thank you for writing so eloquently to educate my readers -- and me. Lesson learned.

DEAR ABBY: I'm 29 and I'm having trouble holding down a steady job. I am a college graduate, and it's not because I don't like to work. My problem is I have a strong personality and I tend to butt heads with management. Deep down, I think I'll only be satisfied with a job if I'm the boss or own my own business. Do you have any suggestions about positions for someone who can't handle having a boss? -- MISS INDEPENDENT IN THE BRONX

DEAR MISS INDEPENDENT: No. Unless someone has rich parents or a magic lamp, most people have to work for -- or with -- others until they build enough capital to start a business. Even then, business owners must interact with clients they don't always agree with. Because you tend to butt heads with those in management positions, you would be wise to start working on becoming more patient and less dogmatic. Both qualities will help you in the future if you can develop them.

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: 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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