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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: For the past three months, I've been seeing a guy I met in night class. However, all of a sudden, it seems like our relationship is going backward instead of forward.

He's dealing with a very stressful situation at work, and I'm doing my best to be supportive by not pressuring him. I don't want to seem pushy, so I haven't said anything, but sometimes I feel neglected.

At first, we were e-mailing and talking on the phone daily. We even started calling each other "honey" and "darling." Physically, we're really into each other -- but when we're not in bed, we can't seem to hold a conversation.

Can this relationship be saved? Or is he trying to tell me something? -- LOST AND CONFUSED IN MASSACHUSETTS

DEAR LOST AND CONFUSED: One of the major problems with jumping into bed with someone without getting to know him first is the problem you're having now. You don't know him well enough to know if he's telling you the truth or trying to back away.

The smartest thing you can do is to be sympathetic about his work problems. Let him talk to you about them. Try to learn more about his interests and concerns outside the bedroom, and talk to him about yours. In other words, give him time and a chance to see that there is more to you than the sexual side.

Whether this relationship has substance or was just a fling remains to be seen. But speaking realistically, few people can sustain indefinitely the level of heat you two were generating. When that cools, there has to be a community of interest for the romance to survive.

DEAR ABBY: I am a 53-year-old woman planning to live with my 54-year-old boyfriend. The term "boyfriend" is the problem. I feel silly introducing him as my boyfriend, but I don't like the terms "lover" or "significant other," "life partner" or "domestic partner." Nothing sounds right to me -- even "friend" feels inappropriate.

Any ideas, Abby? -- EAST COAST LIVE-IN LADY

DEAR LADY: Since you don't like any of the commonly used terms, simply introduce him by his name: "... and this is John Smith." The way you and John treat each other will convey your message more effectively than any label.

DEAR ABBY: "Learned Too Late in Fort Worth" was written by the husband dying of cancer who pondered the wasted years with a wife who was always too busy for him.

That letter reminded me how fortunate I am to spend each precious day with my wife of 60 years. In fact, our relationship once prompted me to write some song lyrics using a theme I hope all seniors with living spouses will embrace.

AUTUMN DAYS

When autumn days remind us that the summertime is gone

And the shadows show the sun is on the wane,

It seems so easy to forget that life continues on

As we revel in our strolls down mem'ry lane.

But then I stop to reason that living knows no season,

And realize our numbered days are few.

That's why I don't recall if summer skies were gray or blue

But live each lovely autumn day with you.

-- FRANCIS STROUP, DEKALB, ILL.

DEAR FRANCIS: You're not only a lyricist, you're also a poet and philosopher. May the melody linger on.

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

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