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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I'm 22 years old and in college. I had always planned to remain single through my 20s so I could do all the things I wanted to do before I settled down. But seven months ago I met a wonderful 28-year-old man, and after dating each other exclusively for three months, he asked me to marry him.

I was hesitant about giving up single life before I had accomplished all the things I had planned for my 20s, but I loved him so much that I warmed to the idea and said, "Yes." Of course, I shared the good news with our family and friends without delay.

I planned our engagement party and reserved a hall. I was so excited, as were our families and friends. Then last month, he told me he had decided he wasn't ready to get married after all, but he still wants us to date.

Abby, I put so much into the relationship that I feel like I've been the butt of a cruel joke, and I'm hurt and embarrassed to have to tell everyone the wedding is off. While I still "care" for this man, I don't feel the same about him as I did before he called it off. Should I wait and see if this blows over, or dump him now? -- EMBARRASSED IN ELKHART

DEAR EMBARRASSED: Do nothing in haste. Allow yourself a cooling-off period and then see how you feel. Don't fail to consider that there are worse things than being single and independent. One of them is being married to a man who doesn't wholeheartedly want to be married. If he doesn't come around, you can then proceed with all the plans you made for your 20s.

DEAR ABBY: I feel sorry for "Keeping the Peace," who wrote in response to "Charlotte in North Carolina." Both women have mother-in-law problems. I would like to tell you my experience:

Like you, Abby, I love my mother-in-law. She knows that I didn't take her place in her son's eyes, and she never tries to come between us. In fact, my husband is an only child, and she refers to me as her daughter. We have received some strange looks when she introduces me as her daughter and then as her son's wife! To my mother-in-law's credit, even though she wants a grandchild badly and her son and I have been married five years, she is not pushing us.

My parents and my husband's parents get along so well that the six of us often do things together. It's not unusual for us to spend birthdays together, and no one has a problem sharing holidays.

I consider myself lucky, and I want others to know that not everyone has in-law problems. -- HAPPY IN-LAWS IN OKLAHOMA

DEAR ABBY: Of course they don't. However, the vast majority of the people who write to me do it to unload their problems, not count their blessings. I'm printing your letter for all to see that in-law relationships don't have to be adversarial -- and in fact, are often loving and supportive.

DEAR ABBY: Like many others, I never pictured myself writing to you. However, recently I read the letters from women complaining about their husbands. Their complaints ranged from the left-up toilet seats to toothpaste caps to kissing with their eyes open.

I have finally reached my limit. My husband died unexpectedly in May of 1997. Our third child was born a month later. I am 37 and our other two children are 7 and 4. Abby, I would gladly overlook a left-up toilet seat and cap the toothpaste tube every day for the rest of my life to have my husband here. I would kiss him with eyes closed, open, or standing on my head if I could.

To all you women with your petty complaints, I say, "Get a life, get a grip and get grateful!" And just for the record, my husband did not leave the seat up, he capped the toothpaste, and he was an incredible cook who had dinner on the table when I came home from work. -- GRIEVING IN NEW YORK

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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