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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: The letter from "In Limbo in Washington" prompted me to write. I, too, was widowed suddenly several years ago. Because of my strong church upbringing, I mistakenly believed that a church would be a safe place to meet stable, good "Christian" men.

Wrong! The men I met in church were as fallible as those I met anywhere else.

I encountered men who were just like those I would have met in any singles club or bar every day except Sunday, and "barracudas" trolling for victims. The majority of them were either retired or unemployed, and looking for a "sugar mama" to support them or supplement their income. If they were still unmarried in their 40s, there was usually a very good reason for it.

One of my friends from church had been engaged to a fellow from the group who pestered her for sex prior to their marriage. When she finally gave in, he treated her with such disrespect and disgust that she ended the relationship -- considering it a valuable lesson learned.

I briefly dated a fellow who, after my constant questioning about his marital status, finally admitted he was only "separated" and was looking for a lady to "help him make up his mind" as to whether he wanted to divorce his wife or not!

Then there was the desperate jewelry designer with the ego problem who had more earrings and piercings in his ears than I did; the gay man trying to find a woman to marry to convince his elderly parents he wasn't gay; and finally, the fellow who thought he was the reincarnation of a 15th-century pope. They were all loyal churchgoers. I also met men who thought I would be vulnerable and easy-pickings because I was a young widow. They found out differently.

So, where did I finally meet my handsome, sweet husband? We met at a local dance bar when I was so disgusted I was ready to join a convent even though I am not Catholic.

Please, Abby, warn single women not to automatically assume that all churchgoers are honest, upstanding citizens. They are human, just like the rest of us. Also, tell "Limbo" to dump that charming -- but still married -- S.O.B. because the minute she's out of the picture, he'll find another victim. Men like that don't change. -- NO NAME, NO CITY, NO CHURCH

DEAR NO, NO, NO: Your experience proves the truth of something I've said before that bears repeating. A church is not a museum for saints -- it's a hospital for sinners. Because a man is seated in the pew next to you at 10 o'clock on Sunday morning doesn't guarantee that he's 100 percent virtuous. It simply means he's usually more sober than one you'll meet in a bar at 10 o'clock on Saturday night.

DEAR ABBY: I read the item you printed saying that if the three wise men had been women, they would have asked for directions, arrived on time, cleaned the stable, helped deliver the baby, made a casserole and brought practical gifts.

What B.S.! They would have first gone to the beauty salon, had a wash, set and manicure, then home to pick out a proper outfit. Then they would have changed the outfit five times, called everybody they knew to yak about the trip, and arrived late. VERY late. -- STAN GERSHBEIN, FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA.

DEAR STAN: Spoken like a true male chauvinist. However, you may have been topped by Paul Harvey. He said what would REALLY have happened was that halfway to the oasis, the camel would have broken down because no one remembered to check his water level.

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