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

by Abigail Van Buren

Host Confronts Latecomers, and Not a Moment Too Soon

DEAR ABBY: I'm writing concerning a problem I deal with all the time. We have relatives who can never be on time for anything. This is not a big deal at a barbecue, but for a sit-down holiday dinner it's a real headache.

Some of the actual comments I have received: "How late can I be before I inconvenience everyone?" "We'll be late -- hope your dinner won't be ruined." "Dinner at 4? We might make it by 4 or 5." "We can't make it that early. Back dinner off an hour, will you?"

I used to juggle the time around, trying to suit everyone, which is impossible. Or I would tell them that dinner was a half-hour earlier than it actually was. The late ones would STILL be late.

Finally, I had had it. I responded: "No, you won't ruin my dinner, because we are eating at 4." "Oh, you won't inconvenience anyone, because dinner is at 4, as planned." "You can't make it at that time? Sorry. We'll miss you."

Well, now I'm the villain! But only to the third of the family who is always late. The "late ones" were even late for their mother's surprise birthday party.

Abby, was I too rude, or were my assertive statements justified? -- IN THE DOGHOUSE

DEAR IN: It was rude of your chronically late relatives to demand that you put your dinner party on hold to suit their schedules. You were overdue in asserting yourself and issuing your "Declaration of No More Co-Dependence."

Rather than laying a guilt trip on you, the late-niks should have simply agreed to join you and the rest of the family for dessert and coffee -- and whatever was left of the leftovers.

DEAR ABBY: This is in reference to the item in your column that if the three wise men had been three wise women, they would have asked directions and arrived on time.

In the interest of historical accuracy, it should be pointed out that the three wise men DID ask directions -- from King Herod. It's possible that a great number of babies might have been spared if they hadn't. -- WILLIAM ROBINSON, SOLON MILLS, ILL.

DEAR WILLIAM: You are not the only person to point out that the feminist joke I printed was historically inaccurate. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: We had to write in response to the letter from the Burleson, Texas, reader. You need to study your Bible (Matthew, Chapter 2). The problem with the joke is that the three wise men DID ask for directions. As a result, Herod was tipped off to the birth of the Messiah, necessitating the flight of Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus to Egypt. It also caused the deaths of thousands of innocent children.

Little wonder that men have been afraid to ask for directions ever since. -- LLOYD AND KATHY RAPPLEYE, MESA, ARIZ.

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, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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