Dear Abby

DEAR ABBY: Several years ago, when I was a divorced single father raising two adolescent children, we received an invitation to attend a wedding in Chicago. The bride's parents were cousins I hadn't seen or heard from in more than 20 years. The wedding coincided with the school break. I had accumulated vacation time at work and enough room on my charge cards to cover the cost of the expensive trip, so I replied that we would be glad to attend. I was excited to reconnect with the family and that my children would meet many of their relatives for the first time.

Boy, was I wrong!

The reception was held in the ballroom of an expensive hotel. Instead of being seated with my family, I was placed at a table on the opposite side of the huge ballroom. At the table were several couples and a few single women, all of whom seemed to know each other well. I felt somewhat out of place, but made light conversation, danced a few dances and tried to have a good time.

An aunt approached, tapped me on the shoulder, and asked me to join the family in a side room. When I entered, the men patted me on the shoulders and the women proceeded to tell me that the lady I had been seated next to had decided that I would be an acceptable husband for her! I was then told they would make all the wedding arrangements as quickly as possible.

At first I thought they were joking or that they had tasted too much of the bubbly. Then, in shock, I realized they were serious. I asked why they didn't consult me first. I made it plain I wasn't going to pull my kids out of school, away from their friends, sell my house, quit my job and throw away all our community relationships to move to a city halfway across the country, into an environment that was foreign to us, and marry a woman I had never met before. I told them the idea was insane and insulting.

They looked at me as if I were speaking a foreign language. I was told that because they had gone out of their way to arrange this match for me, my refusal was the height of selfishness and I was an ingrate. Angry, I took my children and left.

My children are now on their own, and I'm involved with a wonderful lady. We have been invited to a family gathering in Los Angeles, which will be attended by the group from Chicago. My lady friend has been pressing me to meet more of my family. I'm afraid to introduce her because I'm afraid she'll see how crazy my relatives are and reject me. What should I do? -- HAPPY IN SAN DIEGO

DEAR HAPPY: Talk about good intentions run amok! Your letter is a first -- and believe me, I've seen some.

At first, I thought you and your family came from some other culture. Then I called you, just to make sure, and learned that you are third-generation American. It served to remind me that people need to be careful how hard they shake the family tree because it can cause the nuts to fall out.

Under no circumstances should you take your girlfriend to meet these relatives unless you first explain to her in detail what you have told me. Every family has a few eccentrics, and it probably won't bother her as much as it bothers you. But if these relatives are as you described, she needs to understand why she'll be getting a cool reception. Forewarned is forearmed.

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Good advice for everyone -- teens to seniors -- is in "The Anger in All of Us and How to Deal With It." To order, send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $6 (U.S. funds only) to: Dear Abby, Anger Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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