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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: After reading "Used in Jonesboro, Tenn.," about the woman who married a man who had lied about his past, I feel compelled to share my story.

I, too, asked all the right questions. Here's what I later found out:

His first wife left him and got the child he didn't care about. The second wife, who gave him two children, got a thousand bucks and an old car when he decided it was time for wife No. 3. Wife No. 3 left when it was time for wife No. 4. He sold the house she had paid for from her previous husband's life insurance. Wife No. 4 got nothing except the joy of meeting wife No. 5. Wife No. 5 is now deep in credit card debt and will have to work a long time because her retirement money is missing. Wife No. 6 (me) lost not only retirement money, but a house and car that were paid for. It was his turn to make the car payment, and he let it be repossessed. (He did, however, "find" the money to make the payment on his pickup.)

There's a lot more misery I could share, but it would curl your hair. -- USED UP IN TEXAS

DEAR USED UP IN TEXAS: I believe you. If it's any comfort, you're not alone. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: I have a male relative who has been legally married and divorced 13 times. He is in his 50s, has three college degrees and is very charming.

I've met many of his wives. What amazes me is how gullible they are. They are lonely, Christian women who believe everything he says. What seems to trip them up is that he immediately offers marriage, and they see this as the ultimate commitment. Ha! When they do start asking questions, he leaves them saddled with huge debts and takes off. -- STUNNED OBSERVER

DEAR STUNNED: Why are you stunned? A common denominator with sociopaths is their abundance of charm. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: Ten years after my divorce, I decided it was time to start dating again. I met a nice man. We dated steadily, sharing our life stories as we went. However, early on I caught an inconsistency in his marriage history, so I decided to check him out.

Marriage, divorce and property transactions are all public records, so a trip to my county courthouse was all I needed. I discovered he had been married not once, not twice, but at least five times.

I also learned that he did not own the home he claimed was his. There's no telling what other lies I would have uncovered had I kept looking. It gave me great satisfaction to tell this guy in no uncertain terms that he'd been "busted."

Later, I began dating another man. Once again, he and I shared our life stories, and I wasted no time in visiting the courthouse. The people who worked at the courthouse were most helpful. They directed me to the proper offices and helped me find the information I was looking for. Abby, every detail was exactly as he told me. Eventually we married, and we share a happy life.

At first he was offended that I had checked out his story. To this day, he teases me about it. But I'm proud that I went into our marriage with my eyes wide open, and I encourage everyone to do the same by taking advantage of public records. -- SMART IN CINCINNATI

DEAR SMART: Good for you! Public records can eliminate not only private pain but public embarrassment.

For an excellent guide to becoming a better conversationalist and a more sociable person, order "How to Be Popular." Send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $5 (U.S. funds) to: Dear Abby -- Popularity Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included in the price.)

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