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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I am 43 and deeply in love. For five years I have been dating a 57-year-old man I'll call Ray. When Ray enters a room, I honestly feel my heart skip a beat. Although we do not live together, we share many of the same interests and have lots of fun together.

My problem is that Ray has a mean streak. If I complain, he has a sarcastic answer or turns it around and blames me. For example, I was diagnosed with cancer last fall and needed emergency surgery. The day after my surgery, Ray left on a 10-day golf trip with his buddies. I felt alone and abandoned. When I told him how I felt, he said my illness couldn't have been that serious because I survived.

Ray likes to be around his friends and family but rarely includes me. When I suggest that I'd like to be a more important part of his life, he tells me I am too "clingy." In our five years together, I have spent several Christmases and most Valentine Days alone, and I sit around while he takes numerous vacations with other people. Ray tells me he loves me, but doesn't want to marry me. Dating is a comfortable arrangement for him.

He gave me a diamond "friendship ring" for my birthday. I am too embarrassed to wear it. My family, friends -- and I -- expected an engagement ring.

Do you think I am being jerked around? -- OUT-OF-SORTS IN OTTAWA

DEAR OUT-OF-SORTS: You bet I do -- but you have allowed it to happen. The diamond ring (are you sure it's genuine?) is a "payoff" so you won't notice that you really have neither a healthy relationship nor someone you can count on. Even if the stone is genuine, the man is a phony. As soon as you lose this loser, you'll start to feel better. Trust me.

DEAR ABBY: My fiance and I have a problem on our hands. Saturday night we invited a couple and their two kids over for dinner. The husband/father works with my fiance.

The kids (girls 11 and 15) were upstairs watching TV in our bedroom a good portion of the evening, while the adults were downstairs visiting.

Last night I was about to run to the market and asked my fiance for some cash. He told me to take some out of his wallet. I came back saying, "Since you have only $5, I'll cash a check while I'm out." He immediately replied that there should be at least $60 in there.

Apparently three 20s were removed from his wallet, which had been sitting on our dresser in the bedroom the night the kids were there. We also discovered a diamond ring and pair of earrings were missing from my jewelry box.

Since my fiance works closely with the father of those girls, we're not sure if and how we should approach him. We're afraid if one or both of the kids were brazen enough to take things, they won't be forthcoming about admitting it to their parents if we call them on it.

Please tell us what to do, Abby. We are very upset. -- RIPPED-OFF IN PLEASANTVILLE, N.Y.

DEAR RIPPED-OFF: The father of the girls should be told by your fiance about the missing items and money. It may not be pleasant, but it will be better for all concerned.

Explain that unless the items are returned, you will have to make a police report in order to be reimbursed for the jewelry by your insurance company. And if the items aren't forthcoming, that's exactly what you should do.

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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