Join the debate. Vote Now on the Dear Abby Poll of the week.

by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: We are a middle-class family with a 20-year-old son and a 16-year-old daughter. Our problem is the girl -- "Karen." She's been going with the same boy, "Mark," for a year and a half. He's 17, and they are so wrapped up in each other, it's terrible.

Karen was always a happy, outgoing girl, but now she's secretive and quiet. She used to confide in me. She doesn't go places with her girlfriends like she used to; they don't even call her anymore. Her grades have plunged this year, so she has to go to summer school to make up some credits.

I have tried to reason with her. We have restricted her to seeing Mark only once a week because they were getting too thick. (She says she "loves" him.) We have talked until we are blue in the face about doing something besides waiting for Mark to call, but she can't -- or won't -- see the light. What can we do? -- KAREN'S PARENTS

DEAR PARENTS: Your daughter has a bad case of lovesickness. She needs someone she can talk to honestly about her feelings. Unfortunately, there is now little communication between you and Karen. So, family counseling might bring you closer together.

Karen needs to see you as loving parents, which is what you are, instead of "the enemy" -- using your parental power to keep her from seeing the boy she loves. (Don't ridicule her; although she is only 16, her love is genuine.)

Ask your family doctor to recommend a family therapist. If money is tight, your YWCA may be the answer. And hats off to you for seeking help.

DEAR ABBY: I need your opinion. Two weeks ago, I gave my girlfriend an engagement ring. We have been going together for nearly two years, and it's understood that we will get married in about a year, so she wasn't exactly surprised. (I am 24 and she is 21.)

Now, the problem: The ring I gave her is a three-carat zircon -- set in white gold. It looks exactly like a diamond, but it is not nearly as expensive. I never did tell her it wasn't a diamond, and she has been showing it off at work and to her relatives. Now I'm too embarrassed to tell her the truth.

I keep thinking that one day, when I can afford it, I will replace it with a real diamond, but now I don't have the nerve to tell her the truth. What should I do? -- NO GUTS

DEAR NO GUTS: Please get the guts to tell her the truth, and the sooner the better. If she should decide to insure the ring, she would be told immediately that it is not a diamond. Your engagement would be less "rocky" if she heard it first from you.

DEAR ABBY: My mother-in-law's behavior is sometimes very puzzling to me. She will bake (or buy) some sort of pastry or dessert to take with her when invited to a get-together for a special occasion. (Birthday, anniversary, housewarming, etc.)

When the get-together is over, she always goes to the kitchen and packs up whatever is left over from her "offering" and takes it home with her. Trying to get her to leave even a portion of it is like pulling teeth!

I'm embarrassed when she does this in front of my family, or even her own children. My husband and I feel that whatever she brings to the home of another is a gift, and she has no right to take home even a part of it. -- CONFUSED IN MARIPOSA, CALIF.

DEAR CONFUSED: The leftovers should be left -- unless, of course, the host or hostess insists that the donor take them home. And by the way, when one takes a "goody" to the home of another, it would be very thoughtful to bring it on a paper plate, a box, or some other type of disposable container that need not be returned.

Abby's family recipes are included in her cookbooklet. Send a long, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, Cookbooklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054. (Postage is included.)

4900 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64112; (816) 932-6600