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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: My husband, "Earl," and I married when I was 23 and he was 26. We had dated for five years long-distance. We moved to an area where he could get a job -- 15 hours from my home in Connecticut, but only two hours from his home in South Carolina. Since I am a teacher, I have more flexibility.

During the first year, Earl quit his job to go to college. He also began an affair, which resulted in his moving out of our apartment and moving in with his girlfriend, who was also married. Because of state law, we had to be separated a full year before filing for divorce.

The year is just about to end. I have moved to New Jersey and Earl has gone back to his original job. After six months of not seeing or hearing from him, he called my family to get my phone number. Now Earl is saying that he has realized his mistakes and is straightening out his life -- yet he is still living with his girlfriend! He suggested that divorce is "not needed" and that "possibly" things may work between us.

Abby, I am not a silly schoolgirl thinking her knight has returned, but should I EVER (even if not now) give Earl the chance to re-establish the relationship that was so strong between us for 5 1/2 years, as purely friends? My friends doubt whether I could ever trust him as a friend, but should he be given the chance? -- SOON TO BE A GEN-EX STATISTIC

DEAR SOON TO BE: You have nothing to lose by listening to what your soon-to-be-ex has to say. But remain skeptical until he leaves his girlfriend. Even if he wants to revive the marriage, do not agree until the two of you have had many months of marriage counseling.

DEAR ABBY: My boyfriend and I have been together for two years. We live together. I am 29 and he is 31. I love him and think we have a great relationship.

His mother passed away last summer. The nursing home she was in took all her savings and she didn't have funeral insurance, so the costs for everything rested on the two of us. While he has two older sisters and one older brother, two of them didn't even come to the memorial service or help pay for the funeral costs. We chose to have her cremated.

We had very little money at the time, but a minister friend of mine held a lovely church memorial service in her honor, and my father held the repast at his home. My divorced parents made sandwiches and drinks for my boyfriend's family, and one of my boyfriend's sisters graciously paid for 75 percent of the cremation costs.

A few days after the service, his sister returned home and his mother's ashes were left with us. None of the children want them, and for the past year my boyfriend has stored them in our bedroom closet. I am uncomfortable with them being there. I really liked his mother a lot and have a problem seeing that box of ashes every morning when I get dressed for work.

How should I broach this with my boyfriend? -- HAUNTED IN NEW JERSEY

DEAR HAUNTED: Since the remains make you uncomfortable, suggest to your boyfriend that his mother's ashes deserve a more dignified resting place than a box in a bedroom closet. Then go with him to investigate the cost of placing her ashes in one of the local cemeteries, and discuss payment plans.

Another option: According to the Funeral and Memorial Societies of America, as of 1998 it's legal in all 50 states to scatter ashes. Perhaps you can find an appropriate and meaningful spot for her remains.

For an excellent guide to becoming a better conversationalist and a more attractive person, order "How to Be Popular." Send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby Popularity Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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