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

by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I would really appreciate your help in understanding the real issue in this situation.

My boyfriend, with whom I have been living for the past seven years, keeps a post office box in another town. I have been curious as to why, so I asked him last night because the subject of mail came up. (I had asked before, but got no reasonable answer.) He immediately became agitated and defensive and said it was none of my business. I told him that he was not reacting rationally and the reason he offered -- that he didn't want to do the paperwork to switch over to our hometown post office or home delivery -- didn't make any sense to me.

At that point he stomped away from the dinner table and claimed the real reason I asked that question had to do with lack of trust.

It's true, Abby. When our relationship was rocky a year ago, I learned that other women used that P.O. box to write to him. (He never confessed his affairs; I discovered them myself and confronted him.)

What is the real reason he is keeping this P.O. box?

He says he wants to marry me, but given his verbally abusive and physically threatening behavior last night, I have grave doubts that he can be trusted to build an honest relationship. He wouldn't even speak to me this morning.

What is really going on here? -- SEALED WITH A TEAR IN OREGON

DEAR SEALED: The truth is obvious -- but it's too painful for you to accept. He can't be trusted. Sorry.

DEAR ABBY: I am a Catholic priest who left the church 38 years ago to marry a widow with seven children. That wonderful woman died last June. Before she died, she made me promise that I would remarry.

At the time, I couldn't imagine marrying again, but while attending a grief session at the hospice center, I met an ex-nun who was also grieving, and we have been together ever since. Someday we may marry. I am 72 now and considering it. Why should I be lonely? Life is too short.

My stepchildren fear that I will be out of their lives and will forget about them if I remarry. I say "rubbish" to that. What I will be doing is giving them another mother.

What do you think, Abby? If you print this letter, I'm sure they will see it and maybe they'll feel less resentful about me and my grieving friend. Sign me ... SAD GRANDPA

DEAR SAD GRANDPA: Give your stepchildren time to get to know the woman you want to marry. I can't imagine why, after you've been in their lives for 38 years, they fear that you will "forget" about them.

Remember your promise to your dying wife. (It seems she judged her children's reaction with accurate foresight.) I believe you've earned the right to some happiness in your remaining years. Follow your heart, and God bless you.

CONFIDENTIAL TO ASPIRING ACTRESS IN ACTON, CALIF.: Remember, average is as close to the bottom as it is to the top. Don't settle for less than your potential -- strive for the best.

For an excellent guide to becoming a better conversationalist and a more attractive person, order "How to Be Popular." Send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby Popularity Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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