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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: A 70-year-old man wrote that he has been seeing a recently widowed woman, and they are considering living together. He asked how he should introduce a live-in companion to friends. You gave him a variety of choices, running the gamut from "best friend," "partner" and "sweetheart" to "friend."

Abby, there is NO acceptable term to call someone you are shacked-up with. A person's age does not matter. If they are living together in sin, that is what it is!

We need to stop accepting unacceptable behavior. Your best advice for "Confused" should have been to do the right thing: Marry the lady. -- TIRED OF ALL THIS MISBEHAVING, SANTEE, CALIF.

DEAR TIRED: I disagree. The gentleman did not ask whether or not he should marry the lady. Times have changed. Seniors who live together choose to do so for a variety of reasons, which are usually well thought out. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: Tell the 70-year-old Florida widower not to hesitate in calling the widow his wife. Long before governments issued licenses, a marriage was -- and still is -- essentially an oral contract. A license per se does not keep people married. A license is simply a matter of record against any litigation.

If an elderly couple has spelled out all their health and financial involvements for each other, let them be husband and wife. Our courts still rule fairly whether every detail is spelled out or a marriage license is in sight.

Certainly the license concept is good, as it prohibits underage unions and marriage falsifications. But for the government to use it as a gun to rob the elderly of pension or handicap benefits is a disservice.

Why California needs to charge a $60-plus marriage license fee (tax) is another issue. It's an impediment to the poor. Maybe Florida charges as much. Yes -- she can be his "best friend," etc., but in God's eyes and those of their witnesses, that couple can also be husband and wife. -- PASTOR WIL NUCKOLLS, FAIR OAKS, CALIF.

DEAR PASTOR NUCKOLLS: I admire your compassion and your wisdom. I know there are pastors such as yourself who are willing to perform "commitment ceremonies." I hope the couple in question takes your letter to heart.

DEAR ABBY: My ex-husband passed away recently. We were married for 17 years -- divorced for 16 -- and we had three children. Both of us had happily remarried years ago.

Since his death, my closest friends (and even my sister) keep asking me, "Are you OK?" "Are you going to be all right?" I find this very annoying.

I think their sympathy should be expressed to my children instead of me. Have you any suggestions as to what I can say to them? -- EX-WIFE IN KENTUCKY

DEAR EX-WIFE: Your certainly don't want it to appear that you don't care that your ex-husband has died. Simply say: "Yes, I'm fine. I'm sure the children would love to hear from you."

DEAR ABBY: I would like to add this to your "You Know When You're Getting Old" collection:

You know you're getting old when you don't recognize a single celebrity in the "Today's Birthday" column of your newspaper! -- JOSEPH H. ZIMMERMAN, WILMINGTON, DEL.

To receive a collection of Abby's most memorable -- and most frequently requested -- poems and essays, send a business-sized, 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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