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

by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: My youngest brother, Jim, and his wife, Mary, have been separated for a couple of years and plan to divorce. They have three children and I have four, all close in age.

About three weeks ago, my youngest son, Billy, said he missed his cousins and wanted to go to Aunt Mary's mobile home to visit them. I called my brother and asked how he felt about Billy's request. Jim said he would prefer that I not continue my friendship with Mary and the children. He said that we would be disloyal to him if we continue to see his estranged wife and their children.

A few days later, Billy saw his cousins in school, and they begged him to visit them. I then called Mary and she, too, invited us over. We had a very pleasant evening together.

The next morning, Jim arrived at my place and said, "I see that you chose Mary over me. I'm having a birthday party next weekend, and you and your kids are not invited. Furthermore, you can never come to my house again."

I replied, "OK, I'll be loyal to you! I won't see Mary again."

Jim said, "It's too late. You've made your choice." Then he stormed out.

I discussed my brother's attitude with our parents. Dad said, "You should be loyal to your brother." Mom said, "It's about feelings."

I think it's about Jim's insecurities.

Abby, maybe I shouldn't have gone to my estranged sister-in-law's home, but I don't think I was being disloyal to my brother. Do you think Jim was out of line? -- MINNEAPOLIS READER

DEAR READER: Your brother obviously is distraught at the breakup of his marriage, and yes, I would say that Jim was out of line.

It's sad enough that his children are losing their full-time father without losing their cousins as well.

Jim's attitude is all too common in divorce. You have the right to maintain a relationship with your brother's children. They are still family, so don't let Jim dissuade you.

DEAR ABBY: I must take issue with your answer to "Looking for Friends," the boring woman who did not know how to make friends. I think she needs an evaluation for depression, if it has not already been done, as part of her insomnia workup.

In my many years of practicing internal medicine, I have found that when I think a patient is boring (i.e., the inability to make small talk, and no sense of humor), the underlying problem is often depression. At times, the state of depression has been lifelong and the patient has no idea how to interact normally with other people. These same patients often seem angry and impatient, and my staff dreads dealing with them. Just like "Looking for Friends," they suffer from sleeping problems, a lack of "fun" and isolation.

The difference after medical treatment for depression is stunning. Their co-workers, and my staff, are amazed by their newfound ability to smile and make eye contact on casual greeting. They laugh easily and find conversation a pleasure. Even their appearance changes from drab clothing and a protective posture to bright accessories and an easy stance. Only then do they have the interest, the motivation and energy to view the world around them with curiosity, and pursue interests that will connect them with other people.

Abby, please advise this young woman to speak with her doctor or a mental health professional. -- JUDITH A. PALEY, M.D., DENVER

DEAR DR. PALEY: Thank you for offering your professional expertise. While I'm uncertain whether there is a connection between social ineptitude and depression, it could do no harm to have an evaluation -- particularly if the payoff is as profound as you describe. Readers, please take note.

To receive a collection of Abby's most memorable -- and most frequently requested -- poems and essays, send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby's "Keepers," P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600