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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I am a 34-year-old woman living in my parents' home. We have a male friend, 10 years older than I am, who is the caretaker of a campground we visit during the summer.

Last fall he invited me to visit with him at the campground. When I told my mother about my weekend plans, she seemed OK with it at first. The next morning, she told me she and my father had discussed it and didn't think it was appropriate for me to go there alone because he lives by himself in a secluded area. She felt we don't know him well enough, and we couldn't be sure what he was thinking.

I did go to see him, but only for the day. Since January, I have been talking to him on the phone trying to get to know him better. I think he's trustworthy. I'm sure he has strong moral values and religious beliefs. He has always shown respect for my parents and me.

He has invited me to visit again. When I mentioned it, my mother said she would be more comfortable with the idea if my younger brother and his girlfriend chaperoned me.

Abby, I think I can trust him. I'm quite sure I can handle myself. But Mother would rather I drive six hours round-trip in one day instead of spending the night in his guest house.

I would like to explore this relationship a little further -- I think something good could come of it. How can I cut the umbilical cord without causing a fuss? If my mother doesn't let go, I may never find anyone she feels is good enough for me. -- WANTS FREEDOM FROM THE APRON STRINGS

DEAR WANTS FREEDOM: Accept the fact that at this late date you probably can't cut the apron strings without a fuss, so prepare yourself for one. Begin checking the classifieds for an apartment so you can live independently and enjoy the freedom that a woman your age should have. If you don't, you'll find yourself your parents' little girl at 50.

Inform your parents that you neither need nor want a chaperone, then visit your friend. At your age, you owe no explanations or apologies to anyone for doing so.

DEAR ABBY: I am a 42-year-old divorced woman who works in a hospital. I am attracted to a doctor who is also divorced. I think he is attracted to me, too. Sometimes he comes into my department to do some of his paperwork. He sits by my desk and talks to me (and forgets to do his paperwork). My co-workers tease me, saying he comes into our office to flirt with me.

I have fallen for him. I look forward to running into him in the halls or in the cafeteria. We also work out at the same fitness center. If a day goes by that I don't see him, I feel an emptiness in my chest. The problem is, we are both shy. I am tempted to say something, but I don't know what to say -- and I don't want to make a fool of myself.

Abby, how can I know for sure that he's interested in me? Is there anything I can do? -- SHY AND IN LOVE IN LOUISIANA

DEAR SHY: To make a move at the hospital where the balance of power is unequal might be unwise. However, when you see him at the fitness center, ask the doc: What's up? -- and would he like to grab a bite or have coffee with you after you've finished your workout. Good luck.

Dear Abby is written by Pauline Phillips and daughter Jeanne Phillips.

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