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DEAR ABBY: My boyfriend is divorced. His ex's name is tattooed on his arm. Although I don't like it, I realize that it was long ago and before I came into the picture.

As we have grown closer over the last two years, I'm often tempted to ask him to have it removed or covered up. I think it's tacky, and I don't like it AT ALL. I know I can't demand he remove it, but would a gentle request do? Or should I wait until I have more of a formal status in his life? -- LOOKING AWAY IN THE SOUTH

DEAR LOOKING AWAY: Tattoo removal isn't as easy as waving a magic wand and presto! -- it's gone. The process can take several sessions, can be quite painful, and it must be done by a professional. If this is so important to you that you would put him through that, then ask him nicely. When you do it is up to you. You could jokingly ask him to have a circle with a diagonal line through it added to his ex's name.

DEAR ABBY: My best friend of 25 years just got engaged. I suspect her fiance is gay or there's something seriously wrong with him. They have been dating for eight months and he hasn't once tried to have sex with her. He has used every excuse under the sun as to why (bad back, tired, etc.).

He recently proposed to her in a public place in front of his family. I don't think he knows the real her, and I don't think she understands the serious implications of her decision to marry him when sexual intimacy was so important to her before. She once told me she would not marry a man without first having sex with him, and that a sexless life is her biggest fear. I feel I should speak up as her best friend. Should I? -- SEEING RED FLAGS IN GEORGIA

DEAR SEEING: Yes. And when you do, urge her to get into premarital counseling with her fiance. During the sessions, matters like sex, finances and child-rearing should be discussed so there won't be any "surprises" later. Repeat your suggestion, if necessary, until she reaches the altar. Let's hope she listens to you because his fatigue and bad back won't magically disappear after they say "I do."

DEAR ABBY: A little backstory before my question. I am 39 and the mother of three beautiful daughters, ages 18, 12 and 8. I am getting a divorce. It's an amicable one (thank goodness), and my girls are doing pretty OK with the news.

During this last year, I graduated with my AA degree. I am very proud of the achievement, but have never had a celebration. Would it be in bad taste to have a housewarming, graduation and almost-40 birthday party (my birthday is on a major holiday, and my friends are usually busy doing other things that night) and ask for gifts for my new house and the girls' bedrooms? -- CELEBRATING IN IDAHO

DEAR CELEBRATING: A party would be wonderful because you have much to celebrate. Send invitations describing it as a "housewarming, graduation celebration and 40th birthday party," but do NOT mention gifts on the invitation. If someone asks about it, feel free to tell the person. But to ask for gifts on an invitation is a no-no.

DEAR ABBY: My older sister recently passed away after a 22-year battle with lupus. She beat the odds for so long, and even gave us the miracle that is her son.

Logically, I understand that medically there was nothing left the doctors could do, but emotionally I feel like I killed her because I went along with the doctors. Is it normal to feel this guilt?

I have nightmares every night now because I hear her last words. I see how she was both on and off life support. When I make myself eat, I overeat. But honestly, I could easily go back to never eating like I did before. Is all of this normal for the grief process? -- FEELING GUILTY IN OREGON

DEAR FEELING GUILTY: Yes, what you're experiencing is normal -- to a degree. However, if the nightmares and feelings of guilt persist, discuss them with a grief counselor or a religious adviser.

You alluded to having "gone along with the doctors." If by that you mean you agreed that your sister should receive palliative care at the end, you did her a favor, not a disservice.

DEAR ABBY: I dated this woman for almost a year. It ended when she gave me an ultimatum: convert to her religion or walk. She is Pentecostal, and I am Catholic. We are both deeply rooted to our own churches.

A few months have gone by. She still has deep feelings for me, but I don't know if I feel the same way because of her ultimatum. One of us must convert or we won't be able to move forward. But there are big differences between the two religions. What should I do? -- CONVERTING IN THE SOUTH

DEAR CONVERTING: Because you are deeply rooted in your Catholicism and no longer sure you feel the same way about her, let her go so she can find a good Pentecostal husband. Religion is something a person must believe in, not switch to please someone else. There are plenty of fish in the sea for both of you, so keep fishing.

DEAR ABBY: I recently received an invitation to a dear friend's grandson's 5th birthday party. In lieu of gifts, donations were requested to a choice of politically affiliated "charitable" organizations. I cannot, in good conscience, support any of them.

What's the appropriate course of action here? Must I give the child a gift anyway, or just stay away from the party? I really don't want to get into any political discussions with either the parents or the grandparents, and I think there would be hurt feelings if I don't show up. -- IN A BIND

DEAR IN A BIND: What a shame that a child's party was used as an excuse for a political fundraiser. I can't imagine any 5-year-old being "thrilled" to receive a political donation as a birthday gift.

However, because the child is the grandson of a "dear" friend, I do think a gift is in order. Make it something a 5-year-old will enjoy, have it delivered, and find an excuse not to attend if you feel it will devolve into something you prefer to avoid. Hurt feelings or not, you are not obligated to go to the party.

DEAR ABBY: My husband and my mother had a good relationship before we were married. But since our wedding two years ago, he complains about her nonstop while pointing out ways that I am like her. My brothers feed into it too. They often have long conversations together detailing her "many" negative qualities.

Recently, while we were visiting my parents' home, Mom overheard my husband say very critical things about her. She got upset and kind of shut down emotionally and socially for the rest of the visit. We both apologized to her separately, but she said she was tired of being criticized and tired of him being mean to me as well.

I have a history of depression. My husband and I have tried counseling multiple times, with no progress because he feels our problems are "my responsibility." My husband is a good person, but it hurts me to see my mother upset and to have the two most important people in my life so at odds. Advice? -- TORN IN NEBRASKA

DEAR TORN: I'm glad to offer some, but first you will have to accept that "good" husbands don't act like yours does. If there are things he doesn't like about your mother, he should take them up with her directly, not behind her back the way he did. I don't blame her for feeling hurt. How else was she supposed to respond?

What your husband did was destructive, not helpful. The same is true for the way he treats you. Counseling hasn't worked because of his unwillingness to accept any responsibility for your problems as a couple. My advice is to talk to a licensed therapist on yo

DEAR ABBY: I'm a man in my mid-30s. For the past couple of years I've been in love with my best friend. She doesn't know how I feel, and I know she doesn't feel the same way about me. (She calls me the brother she always wanted.) I try hard to fight these feelings so our friendship can continue. She has been a huge part of my life, so losing her friendship would be devastating.

To make matters more difficult, we are currently roommates and spend lots of time together. My heart breaks when she goes on dates or talks about guys she may be interested in. I know she'll never see me as more than a friend. Is there any way I can get over these feelings so we can continue this amazing friendship? -- FRIEND ZONE IN VERMONT

DEAR FRIEND ZONE: It might be easier to accomplish if you didn't live together, and I think you should tell her why. While it may end the fantasies you are nurturing, I see no reason for it to end your amazing friendship. Unless you are a masochist, please do not allow the status quo to continue because it isn't healthy for you.

DEAR ABBY: One of my neighbors invited me to go shopping for plants at a local nursery. We had gone there a few days before. I drove that time; she said she would drive this time. I enjoy her company and was happy to go again.

Well, we had to take two different highways to get there, and she drove between 40 and 45 miles an hour. Cars were passing us left and right going 65 or 70, and she couldn't understand why people honked at her. She seemed surprised when I informed her it was because she was driving so slow.

It was very scary, and I don't ever want to ride with her again. How can I tactfully let her know that from now on I'll do the driving? Also, can I suggest that she drive only on side streets? -- SCARED FOR MY LIFE

DEAR SCARED: You are right to be concerned for your neighbor's safety. Drivers like her cause accidents as people become frustrated and need to pass her.

Drivers are expected to observe the speed limits, and someone who drives at a crawl when the speed limit is 65 or 70 is breaking the law. If they are spotted by law enforcement, they can be ticketed for it. I know this because that is what happened to my grandmother when she was in her 80s. For both your sakes, please share this information with her.

DEAR ABBY: I was at an estate sale recently and saw a woman scratch the price off an item. I gave her "the death stare," but was there anything else I should have done? There were no staff around that I could see. -- UNETHICAL IN THE MIDWEST

DEAR UNETHICAL: Unless the woman was going to shoplift the item, she had to have given her money to someone on the premises. What you should have done was find someone who was staffing the sale and alerted him or her to what you observed.

DEAR ABBY: My mother is a smart, independent woman -- until she gets a boyfriend. She has been dating ever since Dad died in 1994.

Every relationship starts out well; the guy seems nice. Then he moves into her house and things change. Mom stops thinking for herself and turns into a brainless, spineless puppet. It causes conflict between us because she thinks I'm selfish and trying to sabotage her relationship.

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She has had her current boyfriend for two years. I'm 37, disabled and require some help from Mom. So do my grandparents and a family friend Mom takes care of to supplement her income. The boyfriend is pushing Mom to spend three to four months of the year with him in Arizona, leaving those of us who need her without help.

None of these men ever help her out financially. Should I say nothing and let her disappear? What happens to the people who depend on her? -- JUST HER DAUGHTER IN COLORADO

DEAR JUST: What happens to the ADULTS who depend on your mother is they arrange for outside assistance during the time she's in Arizona. And if this is the first time in years that she will have taken a break, you should all wish her well.

DEAR ABBY: One of my co-workers constantly interrupts when I'm having a conversation with other people. It doesn't seem to matter who I am speaking with or what the subject is. She'll interrupt in the middle of the conversation, and everyone must stop and look at her or acknowledge her.

We are in a professional environment, and I feel her behavior is extremely discourteous. The subjects she discusses are things like the sandwiches her husband bought the day before, what they had for dinner that night or whatever is trending at the moment. She never discusses work-related issues.

This happens every day and it's disruptive. Would you kindly share some ideas on how to deal with her interruptions? -- BOTHERED OFFICE GUY

DEAR OFFICE GUY: Obviously, your co-worker was never taught that interrupting while others are talking is rude. Because it bothers you, the next time she does it, tell her it's distracting when she breaks into your conversations and to please stop. If she persists, and other co-workers feel as you do about it, bring it to the attention of your supervisor or HR and let that person handle it.

DEAR ABBY: I am 28 and I'm disgusted with myself about how I talk to my mother when I'm stressed out. I know it's not her. It's me.

My other issue is road rage. When I'm behind the wheel and the cars ahead of me are going too slow or the drivers make stupid moves, I'm annoyed to the point that I sometimes take risky chances to get away from them. I know it puts my life and the lives of others at risk, and I don't want to be like this.

I sometimes wonder why my parents didn't teach me ways to tone down my anger when I was younger. I'm lucky they still love me, even when I snap at them. Do you have any tips on how to control my temper? -- SIMMERING IN SUBURBIA

DEAR SIMMERING: If you think you are alone in having these issues, you are mistaken. We are living in increasingly stressful times that have affected most of us in one way or another. If, however, you continue allowing your stress to dictate your behavior, it may eventually drive a wedge between you and the people you care about.

It's important that you realize anger is a normal emotion. At one time or another, anger is experienced by everyone. Recognizing what is CAUSING your stress and anger can help you to avoid taking it out on others.

It takes self-control -- and maturity -- to react calmly, instead of reacting angrily. Being able to identify what's triggering the anger and causing you to verbalize it can help to prevent an outburst. Instead say, "When you do or say that, it makes me angry." Or try saying, "Mom, I'm stressed right now. Can we discuss this later?" Or, "I've had a really rough day. I need to be alone for a little while." Then go for a walk to help you to regain your perspective. Developing the ability to do this will not only lessen your guilt, but also earn you the respect of those with whom you interact. My Anger Booklet contains many suggestions for managing and constructively expressing anger in various situations. It can be ordered by sending your name and mailing address, plus a check or money order for $7 in U.S. funds to Dear Abby -- Anger Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. Shipping and handling are included in the price. As to your "over the top" reactions when you are in your car driving, try to remember that we are all human and make mistakes. I have made them, and so have you.

If you MUST drive during rush hours, try listening to music or an audio book. And count to 10 before you hit the accelerator. Avoid blasting the horn or making rude gestures. (Screaming is permissible as long as your windows are closed.)

People who lose control not only can get hurt in a variety of ways, but also hurt others -- including innocent bystanders. That's why it is very important to be able to express anger in healthy ways.

We are living in a time when the anger level in our society has reached new heights. As we have seen all too often in news reports, explosive anger is the most dangerous of all. Perhaps constructive anger management should be taught in schools to help people more effectively communicate in a healthy manner.

DEAR ABBY: I've been seeking the answer to this for years. My husband is deceased. Am I still related to his family? How do I introduce them? -- IN LIMBO IN PENNSYLVANIA

DEAR IN LIMBO: You are as related to them as you WANT to be. Introduce them by their names or as your former in-laws.

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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