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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I read your column daily, but never thought I'd write to you. Now I need an objective opinion, because my family is on the verge of a meltdown.

Almost three years ago, I allowed my sister-in-law (the wife of my half-brother) to take over my cellular phone account. She ran up charges of nearly $750, then refused to pay the bill, so I had to pay it. I have been trying to get her to pay me back since that time, and although she has told several members of the family that she'll pay me, she has not. After all this time, I have come to believe that she will never pay me unless she is forced to, so I have filed a suit against her in small claims court.

Now my family is angry with me. They say I should have just let the money go. I say that's wrong, and she should not get away with it just because she's family.

Please advise me, Abby. Was I wrong to pursue this matter in court? -- TORN IN TEXAS

DEAR TORN: "Because she's family" is no excuse for this woman to stiff you out of $750. If she had intended to repay the money for the phone bill she ran up, she could have done it on installments and had the amount entirely reimbursed by now. I think you did the right thing. But I'm not family, and you may have to take some flak from yours for a while for standing up for yourself.

DEAR ABBY: I am writing to confirm the observations of "No Longer Looking in Upstate New York." His description of the male bashing he heard going on in the kitchen, while at least a dozen eligible men mingled in the next room, hit the nail on the head. This is a sad, frustrating pattern in our society. I know, because for years I was one of the loudest male bashers.

After being in one abusive, disrespectful relationship after another, I finally realized that the common thread in all those encounters was ME. I was choosing those men.

Teetering on the edge of despair after years of pain and disillusionment, I was determined to go out with someone completely different from the men I was normally attracted to. Today I am married to that man. Abby, he did not say all the "right things." He didn't try to pick me up. He didn't thrill my heart and give me butterflies. But, as I tell him over and over, he's the most wonderful man in the world.

It took me a while to adjust to being treated with respect and steady interest rather than flattery-selfishness-flattery. My husband treated me like an important person, of all things. And he expected me to treat him the same way.

Each phase of our relationship has been different than what I was accustomed to, but changing myself and facing the unfamiliar has brought me love, joy and peace such as I never imagined.

In my eyes, women have the responsibility to ensure that nice guys finish first -- and flourish. -- JENNIFER IN ELYRIA, OHIO

DEAR JENNIFER: Fairy tales and Hollywood productions aside, a high-quality man may not be the most handsome in the room or the smoothest talker. A diamond doesn't reach its full potential until it's been cut and polished.

You made a mature decision, and for that, I congratulate you. If more women (and men) thought the way you do, there would be more lasting relationships.

For Abby's favorite family recipes, send a long, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, Cookbooklet No. 1, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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