DEAR ABBY: I was married for more than 20 years. My ex and I divorced five years ago. During that time I stayed busy focusing on my children and their needs.

About seven months ago I met a nice guy. We saw each other for about five months, then out of nowhere, he broke things off. I was devastated. He said his reason for the breakup was "he needed time to find himself." He was recently divorced and has sole custody of his kids. He has been under a great deal of stress and started seeing a therapist a couple of months ago.

I understand why he needs this time, but I also wish he would let me help. He said he wants to remain friends. I avoided contact with him for several weeks, but now I am drawn back to him. My friends keep telling me to forget him, but I can't get him off my mind. We talk almost daily and have even gotten together again a couple of times. I keep telling myself all the reasons it won't work. Should I run away, stay friends only, or hope to work things out? -- HOPELESS ROMANTIC IN WISCONSIN

DEAR HOPELESS ROMANTIC: When a man says he "needs time to find himself" and breaks things off, it usually means he's no longer interested or ready for the kind of relationship you're looking for.

This man is newly divorced and parenting solo, so he has as much on his plate as he can handle right now. That he's seeing a therapist is a wise move, so give him credit for that. But the kind of problems he is trying to work through are not ones you can "help" him with. At a later date things may work out, but clearly not now. A friendship may be possible, but only if you are strong enough to disengage emotionally until he is ready -- which could take a very long time.


DEAR ABBY: I have noticed a trend at children's birthday parties. The children aren't opening their presents at the party. Instead, the parents collect the gifts and take them home for the child to open later. To me, this seems rude and inconsiderate to the children who are attending the party. Part of the enjoyment of giving a gift is seeing the recipient's response. Please let me know the rule of etiquette in this matter. Am I correct in thinking that presents should be opened at children's birthday parties in front of their guests? -- GIFT ETIQUETTE

DEAR G.E.: No rule of etiquette decrees that gifts "must" be opened at the birthday party. Because this trend bothers you, ask the parent of the birthday child why she or he has chosen to have the gifts opened afterward, because there may be more than one reason for it. One that occurs to me might be that it's a way of preventing embarrassment on the part of children who might not be able to afford a gift as expensive as some of the other children's.

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