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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: What has happened to communication in America? When I write to someone, I discuss what is going on in my life, inquire about the health, happiness, and what is going on in the lives of mutual friends. I generally try to carry on a written conversation that will delight the reader.

If I receive a reply, it is usually on a scrap of paper, or written to be mailed to 20 other people, and starts out, "Hi, just a short note to keep in touch ..."

Maybe they should just say, "Hi, just a short note to say I can't be bothered to formulate a real letter. I am too lazy, illiterate, insensitive, or all of the above."

Abby, are people's lives so shallow they have nothing to say? Or are they so busy that they have nothing to give of themselves in simple written language?

Is it possible in this modern age that communication has been disconnected or is no longer in service? -- KYLE

DEAR KYLE: The sample letter you offered is better than nothing (almost). The most I can say for it is: The recipient will know that the writer is still among the living.

In my view, it's not a matter of communication "no longer in service"; it's just different. Times have changed and people are busier now. Short notes, form letters, faxes or quick phone calls are time-savers. And for those into computers, electronic communication is the "in" thing.

DEAR ABBY: I am having a disagreement with a friend and we have decided to let you be the judge. If a couple is engaged to be married, and the woman decides to end the engagement, should she return the engagement ring? -- B.A. HEITKAMP, CINCINNATI

DEAR B.A.: The ring goes back. When a woman accepts an engagement ring, she is also making a promise to marry the man who gave it to her. If she changes her mind, the ring should be returned. Occasionally, when the man breaks the engagement, he may offer to let the woman keep the ring, but he is not obligated to do so. Easy rule: The ring belongs to the person who paid for it, until the marriage has taken place.

DEAR ABBY: I had to chuckle when I heard your comment about "sex" on the first date. (You had misheard the question on the "Larry King Live" show.)

I had an experience in my younger days with a girl I wasn't particularly enamored with.

When I asked her for a kiss on our first date, she said, "No, not on our first date!"

I answered quickly, "Well, how about on the last date?" -- PHIL FROM JERSEY

DEAR ABBY: In response to the letter you had some time ago about sleeping in the nude:

In the late '40s, I worked for Dr. Karl Menninger at the well-known clinic in Topeka, Kan.

He always recommended sleeping in an extra-large gown or nothing. His theory was that tight nightwear (pajamas included) tends to nudge one's nerves, making for a restless night.

My husband always said, "Nightgowns should be on the floor near the bed in case of fire." We have been married for 46 years. -- MRS. ROSE SPICER, REELSVILLE, IND.

To order "How to Write Letters for All Occasions," send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, Letter Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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