Join the debate. Vote Now on the Dear Abby Poll of the week.

by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I can't decide what to do. I am a 44-year-old man. In 1996, my wife left me after 19 years of marriage. I have one daughter who stayed with me during the separation.

During the first year of our split, I tried very hard to persuade my wife to return home, even though I knew she was having an affair with a married man.

In 1997, I finally gave up on wooing her back and started seriously dating a wonderful younger woman. Soon we were madly in love. All my friends and my daughter fell in love with my new love.

My wife, waiting our divorce, saw what was happening and decided she wanted to come back home. After trying so hard for so long and for my daughter's sake, I decided to take my wife back and try again. It has been very difficult. We've been seeing a marriage counselor, but we fight all the time. Every time there's an argument I think of my lost love. We never fought. My wife is very strong-willed and extremely jealous of every woman who speaks to me, although I never cheated on her.

My girlfriend was heartbroken when I broke it off, but she has stayed out of my life for the last six months because she doesn't want to be a home-wrecker. She now knows things aren't going well at home. I have called her a couple of times. She has made it clear she wants me back, but only after the marriage is over.

I am ready to give up again on my wife. She knows I am not happy, and blames me for not trying hard enough. My wife hasn't slept in our bed for two weeks. My friends see the stress and tell me I should go with my heart. I'm torn about what to do. Can you help me decide what would be best for everyone involved? -- MIXED-UP IN MISSOURI

DEAR MIXED-UP: If on some level you didn't want to salvage your marriage, you would have left again instead of writing to me. You and your wife are where you belong right now -- in counseling, trying to resolve your differences. Sometimes putting the spotlight on problems aggravates the pain before it can be healed. Your wife needs to find a way of coping other than sleeping in another bed. Stop calling your ex-girlfriend and telling her how bad things are. It isn't fair to your daughter, your wife or this young woman to keep everyone in limbo. Concentrate your efforts on reviving your marriage. Then, if it doesn't work out, you'll know in your heart you gave 100 percent -- and you won't have to ask me to decide what's right for you. Good luck.

DEAR ABBY: Why are some people offended when you ask them their age?

This question has been puzzling me for years. I am 66. I know it is none of my business how old someone is, and that there are some legal restrictions about asking, but when I meet someone new, I'm tired of asking where they work, live, or if they are married. Perhaps your readers can tell me why some people are so sensitive about the age issue. -- GORDON REOME, CANANDAIGUA, N.Y.

DEAR GORDON: We live in a youth-oriented society, and some older individuals feel less valued because of their age and are sensitive about revealing it. In other societies, age is respected and revered. We could learn from them.

To order "How to Write Letters for All Occasions," send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, Letter Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600