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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: For the last seven months, I was involved in a serious relationship with "Rocky." I became close with his parents as well. I baked cookies with his mother, watched television with his father and was considered part of the family.

Rocky and I began having difficulties. In the middle of one of our "breakups," his mother called me and told me how much she missed me. Even considering our young ages (16 and 17), she confessed she had hoped to see us marry one day. Her concern for my well-being touched me and I was grateful for her attention.

My relationship with Rocky has finally ended. It was my decision because I think he has a lot of growing up to do, and I don't see myself in his immediate future. But I miss the bond I had with Rocky's parents. Am I expected to remain friends with them, or do I now ignore their existence? I would appreciate any advice you can give me. -- C.F. IN MASSACHUSETTS

DEAR C.F.: You may find that as time passes, you will not be so eager to spend time with Rocky's parents. However, in the meantime, there is nothing to prevent you from maintaining a friendship with them if everyone is comfortable with the arrangement. Ask them how they feel about staying in touch with you.

DEAR ABBY: Why aren't you more honest with your readers and tell them why so many men are nervous about marriage? It's because the price of marriage is simply too high for most men. The majority lose 50 percent of their assets and 100 percent of their children when they divorce. They are the ones who pay child support. They are the ones who pay alimony. Men are the defendants in 70 percent of divorce cases and are blamed for most of the problems in a relationship.

Nobody would expect a man to invest in a business with a 50 percent failure rate and long-term financial and emotional consequences. So why are women surprised when men balk at such a foolhardy commitment as marriage?

For the sake of candor, please publish my letter. -- WISER IN WISCONSIN

DEAR WISER: Anyone who considers marriage a "foolhardy commitment" should stay single. Most people enter into marriage thinking it will work, and when it doesn't the fault is rarely one-sided.

DEAR ABBY: I recently came across a book my beloved late wife had stored away. It is called "Tell Me a Story," written by the late actor Charles Laughton. The book contains 60 short pieces which he read aloud to audiences for many years. The next day I read your column on the response to the grassroots literacy project Rolling Readers. How fitting!

Charles Laughton was a personal friend of mine, starting in the late '40s when I appeared with him in the production of Bertolt Brecht's play "Galileo." My wife, Nora Dunfee, spent her later years as a screen actress. You may have seen her. She played the elderly Southern lady in "Forrest Gump" who tells Forrest that he need not take the bus to find Jenny's house. She passed away while still active as a master teacher of speech at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, where she taught for 28 years.

I am semiretired and am in the process of restoring the house where my wife was born on Christmas Day in 1915. In it will be a library containing over 1,000 books she collected during her 60-year teaching career.

In honor of my wife and all others who live to read, I'm looking forward to starting a chapter of Rolling Readers here in this tiny village. Thank you for this prized information. -- DAVID CLARKE, BELMONT, OHIO

DEAR DAVID: No village is too small to benefit from the Rolling Readers literacy project. I'm delighted you found the column helpful and wish you every success. For those who have missed it, the phone number for Rolling Readers is: (800) 390-READ. You can also write to P.O. Box 927315, San Diego, Calif. 92192, or visit the Web site at http://www.rollingreaders.org.

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.)

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