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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I'm a 36-year-old food server with a 12-year-old son. I have been married four times. The first marriage lasted seven years, the second lasted nine months, the third lasted a year. When I married my fourth husband, I realized within the first two weeks that I had made another mistake, so I had the marriage annulled.

As you can guess from the number of times I have been married, I want to be married. But for some unexplained reason, I start arguments and sabotage my relationships. Since my last marriage, I find myself starting to sabotage as early as the third or fourth date.

Men usually like me and are puzzled by my arguments and sudden cold shoulder. When they ask me to explain what is wrong, because they can't figure out why I won't speak to them for days, I can't give them an answer.

Abby, I don't know why I do this. I feel terrible about it, but I can't seem to stop. I have noticed that with a couple of the men, the ones who didn't push for too much intimacy right away, I didn't start arguing or fighting quite so quickly. Perhaps I need my space, and when they encroach on it I unconsciously use arguments to regain my independence.

Have you any idea why I do this, and how I can stop driving nice men away? I do want a loving relationship. -- PAT IN POCATELLO

DEAR PAT: You are reacting the way you do because on some level you are afraid of letting a man get beyond your defenses. Why you put up a barrier is something that only you can answer.

The quickest way to get to the root of the problem is through professional counseling. You have already taken the first step by admitting that you have a problem; now, take the next step -- counseling.

DEAR ABBY: I'm the 83-year-old grandfather of a 28-year-old grandson, "Tom," who was never taught discipline. He was discharged from the military with an "unfit for service" discharge. While he was in the service, he never acknowledged gifts sent to him on Christmas, birthdays or other occasions.

Upon his return home, Tom stole his father's vehicle and credit cards and left for parts unknown. He charged hundreds of dollars on the cards, including charges for prostitutes. When he found him, Tom's father did nothing except send him to an uncle's in another state. This uncle took him into his home. Shortly thereafter, Tom stole blank checks, forged his uncle's name and cleaned out the account. The uncle didn't press charges.

Tom then visited another uncle who was ill, supposedly to care for him and help out. He did -- by stealing money from him also. This uncle pressed no charges, either.

An aunt got Tom a good job and signed papers to help him buy a car. Then he met a topless dancer in a bar and left the state with her and the car.

Upon their return, Tom and the girl came to me, and I refused to let them in my home. Did I do wrong? Now my son, Tom's father, won't call me, talk to me or anything. -- DISHEARTENED GRANDFATHER IN OKLAHOMA

DEAR GRANDFATHER: You were wise to protect yourself from your seriously disturbed grandson.

The person to whom your son should be directing his anger is himself, for not recognizing that Tom needed professional help while it was still possible to do something for him.

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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