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DEAR ABBY: I read with great interest the letter from "Confused in South Carolina," who, at the age of 52, had fallen in love with a 70-year-old man. I read her criteria for a "lifetime mate" and yes -- he certainly has wonderful qualities.

Let me share a real-life scenario: When my father was 70, he took up with a lovely, caring woman 21 years younger. They had a wonderful life together and enjoyed each other enormously, until my aging father began to have a series of strokes that slowly eroded their relationship.

With each stroke he became more dependent, belligerent and less able to continue doing the things they so enjoyed in the beginning of their courtship. She soon tired of playing nursemaid, and the relationship fell apart.

The only advice I can offer "Confused" is to go ahead with this love of hers. But do it knowing that when you take up with an elderly gentleman, your final days could be filled with attending to his basic needs. And believe me, that will be the true test of your love for him. -- DAUGHTER WHO KNOWS, RAPID CITY, S.D.

DEAR DAUGHTER: Your warning is sobering, but I'm pleased to report that of all the mail I received in response to that letter, your father's experience was in the distinct minority. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: I have a warning for "Confused in South Carolina." CAUTION: Marry this older man only if you can stand to be adored, admired and cherished as a lover and best friend. I should know. I followed my heart and married Rick, who was 19 years my senior. Abby, that was 21 years ago, and I have never been happier. -- SYLVIA CUMMINGS, L.A.

DEAR ABBY: I was 43 and my husband was 66 when we married. We had many happy years together and I would marry him again in a heartbeat. We both recognized that my husband would probably predecease me, and he was foresighted enough to make housing and financial arrangements for me after he was gone. If he hadn't, my stepchildren would have tossed me out immediately after the funeral.

If her intended has children, "Confused" should ensure that he has made suitable arrangements for her after he's gone. The first step would be a new will -- not necessarily excluding his children, but making sure she'll be provided for. -- TALLAHASSEE READER

DEAR ABBY: My wife of 32 years passed away in 1990. She had been manic depressive during most of the marriage, and it was no bed of roses. That same year I met the daughter of an old friend, and in 1992 she moved in with me. In 1993 we married. At the time she was 47 and I was 74. I am now 81 and she has reached the ripe old age of 54.

It has been a very successful marriage for both of us. I still work; she's a professional artist. We travel a lot (last year we went to China -- Gobi Desert and all). We share a common world view, a rich sense of humor and laugh a lot. I tell her every day how much I love her, and we both enjoy physical affection. I have been living in a state of euphoria the last eight years.

Of course, we both know that eventually Mother Nature will not be denied, but we're having a wonderful time. When my time comes I will go happily, and she'll have memories that will last the rest of her life. So, "Confused," get with it -- before it's too late! -- JOYFUL OCTOGENARIAN IN SAN FRANCISCO

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