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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: When you told "Confused Heart," "When in doubt, don't" and, " ... the sooner you set her free, the sooner she can begin healing so she can look for someone who will love her," you jumped to the conclusion that what he was experiencing was not love.

If he has not had examples of loving relationships in his life, as his letter indicates, he may need to work through his feelings with a therapist, alone or as a couple. But I'd hate to see him throw away a three-year relationship because of your advice. I have not known a single person contemplating marriage who hasn't experienced doubt, or wondered if the grass wasn't greener with another person.

My advice to "Confused" would be to find a therapist and work out his feelings about love, commitment and relationships. If his current relationship does not work out, he'll have a much clearer idea of what he is looking for in a mate the next time around. And who knows, his girlfriend may just be the "right" one after all. -- NO LONGER CONFUSED THANKS TO THERAPY

DEAR NO LONGER CONFUSED: I received a bushel of well-reasoned responses to the letter from "Confused Heart in Manhattan," the majority from readers who endorsed my answer. But I agree with you; counseling could be very helpful to that doubt-ridden young man. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: I was in a relationship like "Confused Heart's." I ended up dating a man for 13 years. He was too afraid of losing me to let me go, but all the while he never gave himself fully to me because he was always wondering what else was out there. Finally, I left him.

My advice: If, after three years of dating, you still have a difficult time picturing yourself with your friend for the rest of your life -- if it is not how you imagined things should be -- get out. To stay is simply leading your girlfriend on and giving her false hope. To jump into marriage at this point with all your doubts would surely make you another divorce statistic. You would always continue to wonder, as you have put it, "Is there real love out there?" -- HAPPILY MARRIED IN PENNSYLVANIA

DEAR ABBY: I read with great empathy the letter from "Confused Heart," who loved his girlfriend but wasn't sure she was "the one." He wondered if he was living in a fairy tale world, or if there is a real love out there where there are no doubts.

I am 34 years old. I'm being married for the first time in June. As an adolescent I thought I wanted to get married as soon as possible, and regarded every guy I met as a potential mate. I stayed in some bad relationships because it was better than being alone. Over time, I matured, gained some self-esteem, and my expectations about relationships changed. I had several boyfriends, one of whom I grew to care for deeply. But I chose not to marry him because I, too, was unsure of what love was "supposed" to feel like. I didn't want to make a mistake and end up divorced.

Then I met Dan. I can't explain how I knew. I just "knew" Dan was the one for me. I had no doubts. Abby, of all the guys I dated, no one made me feel the way he does. He brings out the best in me. He's my best friend. He never gives me any reason to doubt his love for me.

I'm not saying that everyone should wait as long as I did to get married, but your advice was right on. If in doubt, DON'T -- and that applies to more than just marriage. When it's right, you'll know it. I hope "Confused Heart" makes the right choice. But as for me, I'm ... GLAD I WAITED

DEAR GLAD: Congratulations on your upcoming wedding. I love happy endings.

Abby shares more of her favorite, easy-to-prepare recipes. To order, send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, More Favorite Recipes, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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