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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I have a neighbor (friend) who's 55. I'm 60. We're both in good physical condition and share similar interests. No matter what we do, we always have a good time. I've gotten to know her well enough to consider her the match of my dreams.

She knows how I feel about her, but early on, she stated that she had a history of bad relationships. (She's been married twice; I've been married once.) She claims that most men want only to dominate her.

Every single holiday, she leaves town accompanied by other friends with no other word to me than, "Talk to you later!" As I write this, she's been gone four days following a 10-day illness. During those 10 days, I nursed her -- running errands, buying her flowers, washing her car, bringing her food, you name it.

I don't know what to do. I have respected her privacy and given her all the space she seems to need, and I hate to walk away. This feeling of being left standing on the back porch while she's running out the front door has become really hurtful. My friends say if I confront her, she'll be gone -- and maybe I should just enjoy our relationship for what it is.

Abby, what's your take on this? -- SMITTEN IN ODESSA, TEXAS

DEAR SMITTEN: When it's clear that no commitment is forthcoming, people who want a serious relationship usually drift away. Only those who think they do not deserve better remain in the unhappy "status quo."

DEAR ABBY: After reading "Missing Mom in Minneapolis," about the sister who submitted a $10,000 bill to her mother's estate for services rendered, I was compelled to write.

I once worked for a private home health-care agency in Maryland, doing all of their billing and payroll. I understand matters of money are difficult, especially when a family member dies.

The sister who was not asked to care for their mother, but did so anyway, probably wasn't offered any help either. Had their mother had to pay for those services (24 hours/365 days/five years), the costs would have totaled about $265,000.

That family not only got a terrific deal financially, but I'm sure the mother appreciated having a family member look after her when she needed it most. -- NAVY WIFE LIVING IN JAPAN


P.S. Your figures are astonishing!

DEAR ABBY: At the end of this week, I'll be leaving my job after working here for 14 years. A co-worker with whom I have worked for three years has given me a very expensive gift worth around $400. I suppose it's a token of friendship. He didn't really explain; he just said, "I've got something for you."

Frankly, I was shocked to get such a lavish gift. It's something he and I had spoken about, so he knew I adored it, but would never buy it for myself.

Abby, what should I do? Some people in the office are saying I shouldn't accept it; others tell me I should give him an expensive gift in return. Your thoughts, please. -- EAGER TO MAKE THE RIGHT MOVE

DEAR EAGER: If your co-worker hadn't been able to afford the gift, he would not have given it. Since you had discussed the item with him, he knew it was something you would like. Count your blessings -- not the least of which is that you have such a generous friend. Write him a lovely thank-you letter, keep the gift (and his phone number), and enjoy utilizing both of them.

To receive a collection of Abby's most memorable -- and most frequently requested -- poems and essays, send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby's "Keepers," P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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