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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: When I read the letter from "Repented in Oregon," I had to write. When I was a teen-ager in a small town, I, too, was promiscuous -- and for basically the same reasons. I wanted attention, and believe me, I got it! It was the wrong kind of attention, and every boyfriend I had left me.

Later in life, I grew accustomed to short-lived romances, and I dumped every love I had before he could dump me. Your advice to relocate was sad, but it was right on. I moved away, changed my name, and moved on with my life. Life hasn't always been easy, but nothing worthwhile ever is.

I have been happily married for 10 years and have two wonderful children. My husband knows all about my rocky past, for we have no secrets between us. I'm active in the school's PTO and am working on my bachelor's degree. I now have love and, finally, respect!

I wish "Repented" the best of luck. It does get better, life does go on, and she will be happy. -- DEEP IN THE HEART OF TEXAS

DEAR DEEP: You have obviously done a lot of work on your emotional self, and for that I congratulate you. In order to be respected, a person must understand and respect one's self. It's sometimes a painful journey -- but it is always worth it. Read on for a letter that illustrates my point:

DEAR ABBY: "Repented in Oregon" has walked in my shoes. I married a young man from my hometown who found out about my past after we were married and had children. It's now 17 years later. We're still married, but he doesn't treat me the same as before he found out. He's not abusive, but he's also not as loving and caring as he was before. That has been painful.

My children now attend school with the children of the people I went to school with, plus all the parents who heard about me through the grapevine. The whispers never stop. I see people looking at me, then looking away. My biggest fear is that my children will find out. I don't volunteer anymore or go to many of my kids' school functions, hoping it will keep the whispers from reaching my children.

Abby, people don't forget or forgive and move on. They still see you as you were when you were a teen-ager. Please urge "Repented" to move and start over. If I'd done it, I would be a much happier person today, and not so paranoid about who I'll run into at the Little League field or at a school function.

Parents: Talk to your kids. Be involved with them and keep an open mind. If my parents had been there for me, I know I would have been a different person. -- IN ENDLESS PAIN, ORLANDO, FLA.

DEAR IN ENDLESS PAIN: I have received a barrage of letters from readers who felt I should have advised "Repented" to stay where she was -- and over time, "show" her community by her example that she has changed. Your letter is a poignant illustration that it doesn't always work -- and for that, you have my sympathy.

There is no reason why the ugly gossip of small-minded people should force you to hide or refrain from being active in your community. I may sound like a broken record, but counseling can help you rebuild your self-esteem. People have reasons that drive them to do what they do. They sometimes look for love in self-destructive ways. You don't deserve the treatment you're receiving, but before you can expect the community to forgive you, you must first forgive yourself.

Abby shares her favorite recipes in two booklets: "Abby's Favorite Recipes" and "Abby's More Favorite Recipes." To order, send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 per booklet ($4.50 each in Canada) to: Dear Abby Booklets, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included in price.)

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