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Dear Abby

Dear Abby

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DEAR ABBY: When I was a young adult, I had difficulty speaking with strangers. I recall, some years later, attending a party in honor of someone I truly admired. Most of the people there didn't know each other.

Someone had the bright idea for each of us to tell how we knew the honoree. We went around the circle describing our connection to the person. This not only kept the spotlight on the honoree, but it was a great icebreaker. I found myself interested in several of the folks there, and it gave me fodder to follow up with questions for them when we began to mingle.

I learned a valuable lesson that night. Curiosity is wonderful, and as you have pointed out, people like to talk about themselves. Now when I'm in a room full of strangers, I find it easier to smile and ask, "How do you know Susie?" or, "What brings you to this event?" I am no longer shy about attending gatherings where I won't know anyone. I actually like meeting new folks.

Abby, thank you for your column and for offering your booklet that teaches people how to be more comfortable in social situations. I'm sure more than a few of your readers need it. -- MIXING AND MINGLING IN NAPA, CALIF.

DEAR M AND M: You're welcome. No one is born knowing how to be social. Social adeptness is a skill like any other. People don't have to be brilliant or a laugh riot. Part of being social -- something you picked up on at that party -- is the importance of showing an interest in other people. A smile is an excellent icebreaker, and part of being charming is being a good listener.

Of course, you should cultivate your own interests so you will have something to add to a conversation. My booklet "How To Be Popular" contains many useful tips for polishing social skills for people of all ages -- how to approach others, what to say and what not to say. It can be ordered by sending your name and address, plus a check or money order for $8 (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. Good conversationalists prioritize 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 focus on only one thing at a time. So forget about yourself and concentrate on the OTHER person. If you try it, you'll find that it works like a charm.

DEAR ABBY: Why does my boyfriend always expect me to help him with his home repairs when I don't live there and don't plan to for a long while? I live in my own house, and I don't ask him to come help me fix a downed fence. How should I handle this situation? -- FIXIN' TO ARGUE IN TEXAS

DEAR FIXIN': Do not "argue." If you prefer not to help your boyfriend with his home repairs, tell him you have other plans. (And if you don't have any but don't want to be conscripted, MAKE some.)

DEAR ABBY: I'm 16, and I feel as though my mother (a single parent) does not respect that I have differing political opinions. She is very liberal and is a registered Democrat. I am very conservative and, as of a few weeks ago, a registered Republican.

When I want to leave the house, if I'm wearing any of my conservative slogan apparel, she yells at me and tells me I'm not allowed to represent "us" like "that." I always do my best to be respectful of her beliefs and to have a civil conversation with her about politics, but she just ends up yelling at me and telling me I'm never going to get a girlfriend or find a job with my beliefs. At the same time, she's the most loving, supportive person I know when it comes to anything BUT politics. What can I do to get her to respect who I am and what I stand for? -- FREE-THINKING GUY IN D.C.

DEAR GUY: Be patient with her and remain respectful. Because you understand that your mother is the most loving and supportive person you know (except when it comes to politics), try to accept that she's being protective in the only way she knows how -- warning that in this current environment, expressing political beliefs can have lasting consequences. No matter what your political leanings are, as you mature I'm confident you will find a girlfriend and job that are compatible.

DEAR ABBY: My husband and I moved to a new neighborhood right before COVID hit. One of our neighbors is frequently out inspecting our lawn and has even trespassed through our gate into our back yard to offer his "reminder" about lawn maintenance.

We mow our yard every few weeks because the grass doesn't grow terribly fast. We don't feel comfortable going out to buy a better lawn mower until things improve in our state. We also both work with people who are affected by the pandemic so, frankly, we have bigger concerns. How do we handle this diplomatically? -- GRASS ISN'T GREENER

DEAR GRASS: "Diplomatically" tell your neighbor you are maintaining your lawn as best you can, and from now on, you want him to stay off your property and in his own yard. Said with a smile, the message may be more easily accepted. If it isn't, please understand that being direct is the only way to get through to this nosy, presumptuous person.

DEAR ABBY: How can I let someone know about my good fortune without appearing to be bragging? The intent is to hopefully form a business alliance, but I do not want to be misconstrued, misinterpreted or perceived as a braggart. -- GOOD FORTUNE IN THE WEST

DEAR GOOD FORTUNE: Preface your announcement by explaining why you are sharing the news. Example: "John, I have some important news. I'm sharing it because it may present an opportunity for you. I just won $1 million in the lottery, and I'm thinking of starting a new business. Are you interested?" Approach this way and you will come across as generous, not braggadocious.

DEAR ABBY: What is acceptable after a breakup occurs? Several years ago, I reached out to an ex-girlfriend. We had dated for six months, but she broke up with me to take a job in another state. A year later, I heard through mutual friends that she had recently moved back. I didn't call or text, but I did send an email asking how she was doing and if she'd like to talk.

She completely freaked out! She threatened to get a restraining order and told many of our mutual friends that I had been stalking her for a year. From that experience I learned never to contact an ex-girlfriend if they initiate the breakup.

Fast-forward: I recently ran into another ex-girlfriend who initiated the breakup. She told me that for an entire year after that breakup she hoped I would call her and, when I didn't, it proved I had never loved her. Abby, I feel like I can't win. It's similar to how some women say they won't let a guy kiss them unless they ask first, and others say if a guy asks, he's a wimp and they would refuse. As a man, I feel like I'm in an impossible position. No matter what I do, half the women on the planet will either view it as too aggressive or too passive. Help! -- CONFOUNDED IN OREGON

DEAR CONFOUNDED: Welcome to reality. Accept that no matter what you do, you can't please everyone. If the only contact you had with that first ex-girlfriend was ONE email after her return to your city, then she was either grandstanding to get attention or it was a symptom of emotional instability. As to your second ex, men with self-esteem rarely call back after being rejected because once is enough.

Please don't let those two "dolls" sour you on all women. As you know, the #MeToo movement has highlighted the importance of consent. Asking a woman before you make a move is always prudent.

DEAR ABBY: I have struggled with my weight for years. My husband doesn't eat sweets, but we have a friend who insists on dropping off trays of dozens of cupcakes, candies, cookies, etc. I appreciate the time, money and effort, but I'm finally on an eating program that's working for me. I told her (nicely) that while I appreciate her gesture, I can't be trusted alone with such goodies, so please share them with folks who have better self-control. Well! She swore at me and told me to lose her number.

To say the least, I was shocked. Abby, I was as gentle and appreciative as could be. I explained that I have a problem and I'm the only one here who indulges in such foods. Was I wrong? What gives? I would donate them, but since I have a problem with sweets, I prefer not to have them in my house. -- SWEET LOVE/HATE IN NEW JERSEY

DEAR SWEET: You did nothing wrong; you did yourself an important favor. That woman is not only not a friend, but she is also someone who cares nothing about your health and well-being. She is a "saboteur" with a vested interest in keeping you heavy.

I admire your determination to take a stand on behalf of your eating program and your health. It took courage, and I applaud you for doing it. Sadly, too many people are afraid to do what you did.

DEAR ABBY: For the past eight years, my son has been seeing "Tanya" and, according to him, she spends a lot. I'm concerned about it.

Because of the pandemic, Tanya got furloughed from her employer. She lives in an apartment but has all deliveries sent to OUR home address. Since the pandemic, we are receiving many more packages for her every day from online stores. Our son has mentioned to us that she has huge credit card bills. I'm worried if these two get more serious (marriage), it will cause problems in the future.

I'm tempted to say something to Tanya about the sudden increase in deliveries. Or should I keep quiet? We tell our son, but he always has no comment. Some days it's like Christmas Day for packages. -- PERPLEXED DAD IN CALIFORNIA

DEAR DAD: Your son and Tanya are adults. If anyone addresses her spending, it should be your son. I don't advise saying anything to Tanya because it's sure to be resented and could possibly cause a rift between you and your son. Talk to him one more time and explain your concern that his girlfriend is showing symptoms of being a spendaholic. But after that, drop it because the problem will be his, not yours, to solve.

DEAR ABBY: I'm a man living in a small town, and I frequent a local cafe for breakfast. The waitress who serves me each morning, "Rita," does a terrific job, and all of my needs are met. In turn, I leave her a generous tip.

Abby, despite exchanging small talk during coffee refills, Rita snubs me when our paths cross outside the diner. She will look directly at me, turn her head and offer no greeting.

I'm not seeking a relationship with her. In the cafe, I always sit alone and enjoy reading my newspaper while I eat my breakfast and drink my coffee. It just bothers me that she won't offer a simple, civil greeting outside the diner. Would I be justified in reducing the amount of the tip because of her behavior? -- PUZZLED PATRON IN INDIANA

DEAR PATRON: Have you tried speaking up and saying hello to her? I don't know Rita. She may be unfriendly or prefer to draw a firm line between her professional life and her personal one. You stated that you tip her generously because of the terrific service she gives you. If that's true, I don't think she should be punished for keeping her distance when she's not at the restaurant.

DEAR ABBY: My husband plays a video golf game most of the time while we watch TV together. If I ask him an occasional question or want to show him something, he says I am interrupting him and I need to wait until he takes his golf shot.

It's very frustrating to always be put on hold when we are together. I think communication is more important than a game. I'm tired of always having to wait, so I just say, "Never mind." Any suggestions? -- OUT OF THE GAME

DEAR OUT: Just saying "never mind" doesn't get your message across. The next time it happens, TELL your husband how you feel about coming in second place behind his toy, because you don't "interrupt" often and you are more important than his video golf game.

DEAR ABBY: I am recently divorced after a 19-year marriage, and to my great shock, I already find myself in love with another man. I didn't come out of the marriage looking for anyone, nor did I think I'd ever marry again, but this man wants to marry me, and I'm seriously considering it.

We bonded when he contacted me to offer support after he heard about my divorce, and it was love at "second" sight. Why "second"? Because we grew up together -- literally next door -- and he's my first cousin.

Despite the societal taboo, it is legal in my state for first cousins to marry, and genetic issues with offspring aren't a concern. We're both sterile and have no ability (or desire) for more children. My siblings suspect and aren't pleased with the situation. His parents know and are happy for us.

Am I crazy to think I'm in love again this quickly? It doesn't feel too fast because we've always known each other and been close; it's just that the form of love has changed. How do we break it to the rest of the family? The world? People can be so judgmental, even though in many parts of the world it is perfectly normal to marry your cousin. -- SECRET LOVE IN THE SOUTH

DEAR SECRET LOVE: You are not "crazy," but you may be in an altered mental state, as many recently divorced people have found themselves. They describe it as a kind of high.

If you are wise -- and I hope you are -- you will slow this romance down and allow enough time for your family to become accustomed to the changed circumstances of your relationship with your cousin. The "world" isn't going to care about this the way your family does, so don't concern yourself with explaining anything to the general public. (How often have you asked couples to explain if they are related in addition to marriage? Not many, I'll bet.)

My advice is to let this new relationship evolve more slowly. If you do, the outcome may be more positive than if you hurtle to the altar.

DEAR ABBY: I have the best wife and daughter ever, and here's my dilemma. My daughter lives in another state and would love us to build a second home nearby to be closer to their family.

My wife and I are nearly 80 and very active. I play tennis or pickleball every day. My wife walks an hour to an hour and a half every morning. We are happiest when we are active. Where my daughter lives is not conducive to walking, and my wife would be very unhappy.

Please don't suggest a gym or a treadmill -- been there, done that. Plus, my wife has no desire to take on the added burden of a second house. We just downsized five years ago. How do I keep the two women in my life happy? -- FIGURING IT OUT IN FLORIDA

DEAR FIGURING: Recognize that it won't be possible to make both women happy. Your first loyalty should be to your wife.

Explain to your daughter that you know she means well, but that at your ages (80), your routine is extremely important. (It's true.) That routine may be what keeps you as healthy as you are. Back it up with the fact that two homes would be too much for you and her mother to manage, which is why you have BOTH decided -- as much as you love her -- to keep things as they are. And stick to it. Your daughter can visit you, and you can visit her, but stay where you are.

DEAR ABBY: May I share four words that planted a positive seed in my heart? They are, "Make Gratitude Your Attitude." They are strong medicine I use in coping with my disabilities, and it works. -- HINT FROM HILO, HAWAII

DEAR HINT: Thank you for wanting to share your "strong medicine." I agree it's hard to think negatively while counting our blessings.

DEAR ABBY: I've been married for five years. Before meeting my husband, I never thought I would find "the one." Recently, I have been having feelings of wanting to experience sleeping with a woman. I've always been sexually adventurous, and I have mentioned a threesome, but he isn't interested.

I don't want to die without experiencing sex with a woman, but I also love my husband dearly, and we have a great partnership that I don't want to destroy. Help! -- WOMAN SEEKS WOMAN IN NEW YORK

DEAR WOMAN: It's time for another frank conversation with your husband. Explain clearly that although you love him dearly and do not want to destroy your partnership, you are bi-curious and you would like to experience sex with a woman. However, if his reaction is negative, you must then decide how important fulfilling this fantasy is to you in light of the fact that it could threaten your marriage.

DEAR ABBY: I am a 37-year-old mother of two (ages 9 and 11). My husband and I have built a beautiful life together. We live in close proximity to his family, whom I absolutely love.

My question involves my own family. My father passed away 2 1/2 years ago. We were very close, so it is an ongoing struggle for me. My mother has since disowned me and my children. She's a textbook narcissist who has said many very hurtful things and has a new man and new life. Our relationship was always strained, and I knew it wouldn't be the same without Dad because he was the glue.

I have come to terms with this for myself, but we haven't talked to our children about it. How do I explain to them that their grandma doesn't want to be a part of their life? They love her and ask about her often, so I keep making stuff up.

She won't answer phone calls from me or my husband. I believe she has us blocked. She has also blocked us on social media along with other family members.

I want my kids to know the truth, but I don't want to hurt them. How can I do this? -- MOTHERLESS IN OHIO

DEAR MOTHERLESS: Stick as close to the truth as you can, with some editing. If your children ask about their grandmother, explain that people deal with the death of a loved one in different ways. In your mother's case, "She needed to look forward and not look back. Because your father's death was so painful, she is concentrating on things other than family, and although we might miss her, we should be comforted that she has found a way to cope. It may not be what we would have wished, but it is her way, and we have to respect it and go on with our own lives."

DEAR ABBY: My husband and I were invited by an older friend to lunch on his patio, while observing the social distancing rules. Before we left his home, we thanked him profusely as we greatly appreciated the visit, especially given our lack of social interaction during the pandemic.

When we arrived home, I wrote a thank-you note and put it in the mail. However, I'm wondering if I should also have sent an immediate text or e-mail message to our friend. Are there new rules that cover immediate electronic communication vs. old-fashioned thank-you notes? -- WONDERING IN ALABAMA

DEAR WONDERING: Many people use immediate electronic communication as a way to avoid the "hassle" and expense of penning a handwritten thank-you note. However, making the time and effort to show your appreciation the traditional way rather than doing both wasn't a faux pas, so stop worrying.

DEAR ABBY: Five years ago, my older brother had an accident and needed to live at my parents' house while he recovered. He brought along his 4-year-old dog, "Pepper." The dog needed to be on a special diet.

My father, who is a major alcoholic, enjoyed having Pepper there, but because he is an alcoholic, you can't tell him anything he doesn't want to hear. Because my brother had been seriously hurt and was in a hospital bed and wheelchair, my father fed the dog. Despite my brother's pleas, my father fed Pepper whatever he wanted -- including chocolate. It made Pepper very sick, and he was dead within three months. The vet said it was because of what my father fed him.

My brother blew up at my father. He called him every name in the book, concluding with the comment that my father was a filthy drunk who deserved to die in the gutter. Despite his injuries, my brother left the house and has never spoken to us again. Regrettably, my mother and I were both dependent on my father and didn't want to anger him, so we took his side.

A month ago, I decided to track my brother down. He is now married and lives out of the country with his wife, daughter and in-laws. My brother told me he's sorry for not staying in touch with me, but he no longer wishes to speak to our parents. My mother is pressing me for information, but I am afraid to tell her and my father much of anything. Should I tell my parents about my brother? -- ABANDONED SISTER

DEAR SISTER: I'm guessing your parents wouldn't be pressing you for information if you hadn't revealed to them that you found your brother. If that's the case, that was a mistake. If you must reveal anything, tell them your brother is well and happy, but hasn't changed his feelings about them and still wants no contact.

DEAR ABBY: I just received a brief, friendly email from my husband's grandmother. In it she asked me if our newest addition was "a good baby." That phrase is a pet peeve of mine.

When she was talking about how my mother-in-law wasn't a good baby, I told her that all babies are good babies. I may not be as upset as I am by her using those words if she wasn't terrible with children (e.g., overly strict, too-high expectations) and if she didn't have a knack for getting into fights with and complaining about nearly everyone.

I want to respond to her email, but I can't bring myself to agree with the premise that the possibility exists that my infant, or any infant for that matter, could be anything other than a good baby. I also don't want to start a fight with her that would seem petty, and I don't want to blow off her email. What should I do? -- INCENSED IN INDIANA

DEAR INCENSED: In the interest of whatever family harmony is left intact in "Granny's" wake, limit the drama and give her a brief reply that doesn't refer to "good babies" -- something like, "It was good to hear from you." Period.

DEAR ABBY: When I was a child, my dad told me, "If it weren't for you kids, there are so many things your mother and I could have." What I remember most was the intensity in his voice.

When I was old enough to work, I had a job after school so I could pay for my own clothes although my family wasn't poor. My father repeatedly let me know I was "lucky" I didn't get taken out of school to help support the family. When I graduated from high school at 17, I immediately went to work, and I paid for my board.

I married at 18 to get out of the house and paid for my own wedding. It never even occurred to me to ask for help. When I ended up divorced, I worked my way through college. When I graduated, my mother had to make my father go to my graduation because he didn't want to.

I have never been able to shake the feeling that I don't have a right to anything, and I'm not good enough. My other siblings are a mess, too. How do I shake this feeling of not being worthy? -- WORTHLESS IN FLORIDA

DEAR WORTHLESS: Children develop their feelings of self-worth from their parents. It appears at least one of yours was missing in action from the time you were little.

I don't have a magic wand, and I can't make the negative message your father implanted in your head disappear. On the upside, your upbringing made you independent, if only out of necessity. It may take help from a licensed mental health professional to make the scars from the way your father raised you fade.

DEAR ABBY: I have been married for 30 years. I still work full time, and my husband is now retired. We have had issues during most of our marriage, mainly concerning his not getting enough sex. A couple of times a week isn't sufficient.

In the past, he looked at porn a lot. He likes to take pictures of me that he stores on his phone, wants me to wear seductive clothing when we go out and demands that I send him naked pictures of myself from work. It makes me very uncomfortable, but he gets angry when I don't play his game.

He tells me often that I am no fun. When he gets angry, he says I am not sexy enough, too fat, not smart enough, etc. Yes, we have gone to marriage counseling in the past, and I have gone to counseling alone.

I've tried to learn to cope with living with him because I really don't want to divorce and destroy our family unit. We have three grown children, and in the past he bullied our only son for not being the best sports player he could be, even though he excelled.

I would like to retire soon, but now I wonder if he expects me to be his entertainment once I do. He has no hobbies. Do you have any advice? -- PLAYTHING IN TEXAS

DEAR PLAYTHING: I am amazed you were willing to tolerate your husband's criticism and abuse for the length of time you have. Not once in your letter did you mention a single positive trait in the man. You wish to keep together a family that your husband has eroded.

My first tidbit of advice is this: Go back to counseling! If you actually plan to live out your life this way, you will need every ounce of support you can pay for. My second tidbit would be to talk to a lawyer. You may want to keep the family unit intact, but the price seems exorbitant to me.

DEAR ABBY: I have a very close friend, "Sandy." Sandy and I talk about everything. She suffers from bi-polar disorder, which, for the most part, is controlled. However, she has hit a downswing.

A few months ago, she volunteered to start babysitting my child, one evening a week for a few hours. Sandy has never had the first complaint about my child or her behavior. Recently, she came over for a visit and unloaded on me. She said she finds my child annoying, that my child has a problem listening and constantly interrupts and complains. I was completely taken aback. Abby, I have never received complaints about my child's behavior, and over the course of the months, Sandy never indicated that something was wrong.

I have been a great friend to her, always welcoming her in my home and helping however I can. I don't know what to do. I am hurt and angry. I feel like she just barged in and insulted my kid. I'm no longer sure I want to remain close to her because of this. Is this characteristic of bi-polar disorder? How do I express my feelings to her without risking having her fly off the handle? Please help! -- HARSH WORDS IN THE SOUTH

DEAR HARSH WORDS: Not having met your child, I am not going to weigh in on whether what Sandy said was a slight. She may have been conveying something she thought you needed to know.

That said, because Sandy finds your child annoying, she should no longer babysit for you. All children interrupt at one point or another. They don't always behave perfectly. I hope you won't take what Sandy told you as an insult worthy of ending a longtime friendship over, particularly knowing the woman has mood swings and has been cycling down.

DEAR ABBY: My wife and I have a 45-year-old nephew who married for the first time two years ago. Before that, he was engaged to a woman I'll call Anita for two years. We assumed the reason for their breakup was she wanted children, and he did not. Last year, we attended Anita's wedding, as we are still friendly with her.

Our nephew was, and still is, furious with us for going. He claims "only 5% of people attend one's ex's wedding." He says we should have been loyal to him and abstained because Anita was a "vicious, lying, rumormonger."

He still emails and calls us, ranting and raving to the point that we might lose the relationship with him forever. We feel we did nothing wrong and were not obligated to get his permission to attend that wedding. What do you think? -- BIG SIN IN OREGON

DEAR "BIG SIN": I think you were right to attend Anita's wedding, in light of the fact that you are still friendly. You didn't need your nephew's permission. I seriously doubt his breakup with Anita had anything to do with whether she and your nephew disagreed about having children. More likely it had everything to do with the fact that your nephew is stubborn and behaves irrationally.

DEAR ABBY: My wife has no friends of her own and no hobbies. She's miserable most of the time, and happiness with her seems fleeting. I think she needs to see a counselor, but she refuses. In couples counseling, when the counselor pushed her on her issues, she quit.

I realize now that she is able to hide these issues from everyday acquaintances. But we have a 1-year-old daughter, and I'm certain that as she gets older, she'll see these issues as well. What do I do? -- LOOKING FORWARD IN PENNSYLVANIA

DEAR LOOKING: Whether your wife has postpartum depression or longstanding mental health issues I can't guess, but something is not right with her. I think it could benefit you greatly if YOU go back to that counselor, if only to ask for advice on how to handle this situation and provide as healthy an environment for your daughter to grow up in as possible.

DEAR ABBY: I am having issues with one of my good friends. When we hang out one-on-one, she's great. We laugh at just about everything and agree on a lot of different topics. However, when we hang out with other people, it's a different story. It seems as though all attention needs to be on her. It's not something I'm jealous of. It's more an uncomfortable feeling for everyone else. She's almost like a 4-year-old who needs constant attention and all eyes on her.

I enjoy hanging out with her when it's just us because I don't see this side of her, but in groups or even with one other person, it's like it's her world and we are just living in it. We are planning a trip soon, and I feel hesitant about being with her for long periods of time. -- WEARING THIN IN WASHINGTON

DEAR WEARING THIN: I'm puzzled as to why, knowing your friend behaves the way she does, you would be planning a trip with her. Unless it's a road trip -- just the two of you -- I think it could end the friendship. Considering who she is, the less time you spend in groups larger than two, the better.

DEAR ABBY: I'm an adoptive mother who has had more than my fair share of inappropriate comments directed at me and my children. They usually come from strangers or acquaintances. I'm about up to here with them, so I thought I would write you about etiquette for interacting with adoptive families:

Though we may stand out to you, we think of ourselves as a family like any other. Please do NOT start a conversation with us that has the sole purpose of pointing out the obvious. Remember that my children have ears.

Please do not ask questions in front of them about them or their adoption. Don't ask in private unless you are a close friend. Better yet, let me broach the subject.

Please do not ALWAYS comment on my daughters' hair. Yes, it is nicely braided and decorated with beautiful beads. But isn't there something else you can say about them? Maybe just once? And please don't talk in front of them about how hard it must be for me to do their hair. I LOVE braiding it.

Please don't say I am a saint for adopting them. I chose to adopt because I never wanted to have biological children. And please don't say how nice it is for me to love them so much. Why would you expect that I wouldn't love my children?

Please do not pity my children. They have amazing lives, are fiercely loved and have bright futures ahead. And please do not introduce me to others as someone "who has adopted two girls from Africa." Because my daughters are black does NOT mean they are from Africa! I would much prefer you simply say, "Anne has two 8-year-old daughters."

And last, please remember that you and I are both people who love our families, and we have more in common than you might think. -- ANNE FROM CALIFORNIA

DEAR ANNE: Thank you for a great letter. Sometimes well-meaning people simply don't think about the impact their words can have when they begin a conversation. I hope my readers will take your words to heart because they are valid.

DEAR ABBY: While separating photographs after my divorce from my wife, I found some photographs of relatives' and friends' weddings. Is there any protocol on what to do with them? In some cases, the marriages (and friendships) have ended, so I assume I should just dispose of them, correct? I will send my ex-wife any photos of her and her family, but none that include my family. Is this the right way to go?

We don't live in the same area anymore, and our families were never close. I would be interested to hear what you think should be done with family photos that include me, my ex-wife and our children. Should they go just to the children? I am in a new committed relationship, and I do not wish to keep any photos of my ex for any reason. Can you please help? -- NEEDS TO KNOW IN NEW YORK

DEAR NEEDS TO KNOW: Send the family pictures to your children and instruct them to share them with your ex IF she would like to have them. If you still have a relationship with the friends and relatives, inform them that you found the photos and ask if they would like to have them. That would be the considerate thing to do.

DEAR ABBY: My husband and I have been married 30 years. I recently retired, and we are planning a cruise to Europe and a two-month stay, returning on the same cruise line. The cruise line is rather posh, and travelers are asked to "dress appropriately" -- which means, essentially, men should wear a jacket to dinner (no tie required).

My husband is balking at the idea he should have to wear a jacket on his vacation and now says he won't go. Abby, we have already invested several hundreds of dollars in deposits, so what do I do? I'd rather not spend 14 days at sea with a husband whining over wearing a jacket for 30 minutes a day and end up dining alone (we reserved a table for two so we wouldn't be stuck making small talk). We are cruising because he will not fly. -- TEXAS WIFE

DEAR TEXAS WIFE: You have already accommodated your husband by booking a cruise instead of flying. Could his problem be that his jackets no longer fit him? If that's the case, buy him one that does. However, if his objection is that he really doesn't want to GO, why not take your husband up on his offer to stay home and ask one of your girlfriends to accompany you? Then all three of you might have a better time.

DEAR ABBY: I am 61 and dating a 63-year-old man, "Charles." I live in my own apartment, pay my own bills, and I like and enjoy life. Charles is constantly over at my apartment and ends up falling asleep for hours at a time. It irritates me when he sleeps six, seven and even eight hours at my place. I feel he has a place of his own, and he should be doing that there.

He has told me numerous times that he doesn't feel safe at his apartment because of the neighborhood. He says that is why he is spending time with me. I like my alone time, which I don't have often. Prior to him, I wasn't in a relationship for seven years.

I feel that Charles is needy. Am I being unreasonable? I don't think I am, and it always ends up in an argument. If you could please give me some advice, I would appreciate your input. -- NOT HOTEL ACCOMMODATIONS

DEAR NOT HOTEL: Wake up and smell the coffee. Charles told you he spends all that time with you because he doesn't feel safe in his apartment, NOT because he loves your company so much he cannot stay away. What did he do before he met you?

From where I sit, it appears he's angling to move in. It isn't unreasonable to want your own space, particularly if you are the one paying for it, while he snores away the hours. If the status quo isn't what you want, it is up to you to change it.

DEAR ABBY: My wife's family drops by our home several times a week, usually unannounced. I don't mind them dropping in, but what does bother me is they bring their kids and expect us to feed them during the visits. It has gotten to the point that I hide our snacks and beverages in the bedroom because if I leave them in the cupboard, they disappear. They often end up eating the leftovers I had planned to be my lunch for the next day.

I have talked with my wife several times about this situation. She agrees with me, but she says there's nothing she can do about it. I wasn't brought up that way. I would never think of going to someone's home, opening up cupboards and helping myself to food without an invitation. Also, I'm retired and on a fixed income. Am I overreacting, and must I just keep my mouth shut? -- FRUSTRATED IN THE WEST

DEAR FRUSTRATED: This is your wife's family, and she is the one who should deal with this. All she has to say is she would appreciate it if her relatives ASK when they'd like some food or drinks because their foraging through your cupboards has created a problem for the two of you.

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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