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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: My problem is that I am boring. During my 33 years of living, I have had only one or two friends at a time and none of them has been close. I am terrible at starting conversations with strangers, and just as bad at holding up my end of a conversation if I do get engaged in one. In addition, I have a monotone voice and not much energy due to sleeping problems (I am working with a neurologist on this).

I've had many opportunities to make friends, but I can't seem to do it. I never know what to say, and I can tell when I'm talking to people that they are bored. Some turn to other people; most excuse themselves after a few minutes. I have two friends now (one sort of close, one an acquaintance), and although I try to keep in contact, sometimes I don't even want to call because I don't know what to say.

On top of that, I am a very serious woman and find it hard to joke with people and to catch on to their jokes. I even have trouble talking to family members. I am not a "fun" person, but I'd like to be. What can I do to help myself? -- LOOKING FOR FRIENDS

DEAR LOOKING: Just as you are seeing a neurologist to help with your sleeplessness, take some voice lessons to learn how to sound more expressive. The increased energy and improved voice will increase your confidence.

Being a good conversationalist is an art that can be cultivated. As I point out in my booklet, "How to Be Popular," being a good listener will do more for you than being a good talker. People enjoy talking about themselves when given a chance, and they'll end up thinking YOU are a fascinating conversationalist.

Being INTERESTED is more important than being INTERESTING. Look at the world around you. Surely there are some things that capture your attention -- art, animals, cooking, children, sports, medicine -- it doesn't matter what it is, as long as you find it interesting. Your interest, enthusiasm and knowledge about even one topic will make talking about it fun, and others will enjoy listening to you.

There are many books of amusing quotations that might appeal to you more than jokes. Buy several, and you'll find yourself smiling before you are finished. Trust me.

DEAR ABBY: My dad carried on a 30-year affair with a married woman I'll call "Lily," until he immigrated to Canada with Mom in 1984. Despite Mom's constant anguish over the affair, she and Dad stayed married for almost 54 years. Mom passed away 19 months ago.

Lily, now widowed, recently moved in with Dad. He is now 79 years old. My siblings and I do not object to his relationship because we want Dad to enjoy the years he has left. However, out of respect for our late mom, we declined his invitation to meet Lily. Dad is disappointed when we tell him that we don't care for Lily's company during our future visits with him.

Abby, Dad's affair left a deep scar on our childhood. Do you think we acted reasonably under the circumstances? -- AT A DISTANCE, ONTARIO, CANADA

DEAR AT A DISTANCE: Your feelings are understandable. However, unless you want to create a breach with your father, you will have to release some of your resentment about his old mistress.

DEAR ABBY: My first wife, "Roberta," passed away in 1976. I married "Margaret" in 1983. Roberta is buried in a city that is some distance from where Margaret and I live. Margaret and I plan to visit that city next month.

Would it be appropriate for me to visit the cemetery alone and place flowers on Roberta's grave while we are there? Or should I ask Margaret to visit the grave site with me? -- UNCERTAIN IN GEORGIA

DEAR UNCERTAIN: If you prefer to visit the grave alone, I am sure Margaret will understand. Otherwise, let her know she is welcome, but not obligated to accompany you.

Everybody has a problem. What's yours? Get it off your chest by writing to Dear Abby, P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, Calif. 90069. For a personal reply, please enclose a stamped, self-addressed envelope.

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