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DEAR ABBY: My husband left me two years ago. Since that time I have struggled financially with no help from him. I earn only half of what I need to pay my bills each month. Several times this past year I was sick and missed work with no compensation -- so you can imagine the poverty level at which I live. My three children still live with me. They are 17, 19 and 22.

The problem is, my two oldest boys have full-time jobs, yet they refuse to help out financially. I ask only that they contribute $50 a week. I know I am doing them a disservice by allowing them to freeload, because they're not learning to take responsibility. However, I cannot handle the ultimatum of "pay up or get out."

Should my kids choose to leave, I would be sick with worry. I am worried now, too, but not nearly as worried as I'd be if they were to walk out of my life, as my oldest son did when I gave him that ultimatum a year ago. He has only recently started talking to me again, but our relationship is strained. He blames me for the hardship he experienced when he went out on his own.

Is there another way to make my children contribute to our household without taking drastic measures? Please help, Abby. I am too tired to get an additional part-time job in order to keep our heads above water. -- AT A LOSS IN RIVERHEAD, N.Y.

DEAR AT A LOSS: Please do not tolerate this situation any longer. You're doing no one a favor -- including yourself.

Your boys have a lot of growing up to do. Your request for $50 a week from the older boys is not excessive. They are young men now and should want to ease the burden you're carrying to give them a home.

Call a family meeting. Explain your financial situation in no uncertain terms. Then decide -- as a family -- what steps can be taken.

DEAR ABBY: I have been married for 32 years. I love my husband dearly, but last year I had a cancerous breast removed. I am doing well so far. The problem is my husband has not touched me since the surgery.

In the meantime, I ran into an old friend with whom I was very much in love when I was 17. He is also married. We see each other as often as possible -- which isn't very often because his job takes him all over the country. I am not sure he would give up his present life, nor am I sure I would give up mine, but my husband is pushing me out the door.

I can't seem to get my high school sweetheart off my mind. He treats me so much better than my husband, who has a bad temper, has hurt me more than once and obviously can't stand to look at me. At my age, should I grab what little joy I have left, or forget it? -- HURTING IN THE MIDWEST

DEAR HURTING: Before making any decisions that could affect the rest of your life, please pick up the phone and call the American Cancer Society. It sponsors support groups nationwide for survivors of cancer and their spouses. To find one in your community, call the toll-free number: (800) 227-2345. It is imperative that you and your husband start communicating again. As things stand, you are flirting with disaster -- and the one who could be seriously harmed is you.

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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