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DEAR ABBY: I have been married for 35 years. I worked for the first few years, but my husband, "Lou," was mean and beat me. He broke my arm, my shoulder, my jaw and a couple of ribs. Lou wouldn't let me have contact with friends or family because it took time away from him. He said he couldn't stand coming home to an empty house and that was why he cheated. Then Lou decided I could no longer work because he wanted me home when he got there.

So I gave up my job, stayed home and cleaned, cooked and raised our children. (They are now all grown and married.) I waited on Lou hand and foot. I felt more like a slave than a wife -- but I loved him.

Well, now he has a girlfriend. He met her at the country club. We used to golf there together. She knew Lou was married but still asked him to come home with her and lured him into her bed.

Last week, Lou told me to get a job and credit cards, and learn to take care of myself. I want to die. He was my whole life. If a man steals your car or burglarizes your house, he goes to jail. Yet someone can steal your husband and walk away free. There ought to be a law to stop this kind of thievery. -- SCARED OF A NEW LIFE IN NEW JERSEY

DEAR SCARED: I find it interesting that instead of aiming your anger at your husband where it belongs, you have directed it at his next victim. He was obviously doing a lot more than the usual amount of "swinging" at the golf club. If she marries him, he will do to her exactly what he has done to you.

Please recognize that the good Lord has blessed you with a chance for a better life. You have been handed the keys to your prison cell. You now have the opportunity to regain a relationship with the family from whom you were isolated and to build healthy, supportive friendships. Once you are back in the work force, you will regain your self-reliance and dignity. Counseling can help in each of these areas, so please stop clinging to the past and avail yourself of it.

Consult a lawyer ASAP to make sure your husband cannot hide his assets, and find out what you are entitled to after 35 years of servitude. You may be pleasantly surprised.

DEAR ABBY: My boyfriend, "Oscar," and I have been dating for more than two years. In the last few months, we have begun talking about eloping, but I have reservations because I have never been introduced to his parents, who live out of state.

Oscar's parents are not financially able to visit us, so last year, he arranged to have us visit his parents over the holidays. However, the plans mysteriously unraveled.

I have asked Oscar several times if there is something that he is afraid to tell me, but he insists that he is merely unconventional.

Am I right to be worried? Or am I just being paranoid? -- FRUSTRATED IN MARYLAND

DEAR FRUSTRATED: You are right to be worried. When you marry someone, you also marry his or her family. Make no more commitments until you -- and your family -- have met Oscar's family. It appears that your "unconventional" boyfriend has something to hide.

DEAR ABBY: I never thought I would ever write to you, but last night our son -- who is engaged -- came over and told us that his fiancee's parents are upset with us because we didn't pick up the check for a dinner THEY invited us to.

Were we wrong not to offer to pay for the dinner? -- ELOISE IN NEWPORT, R.I.

DEAR ELOISE: There was obviously a miscommunication somewhere. Invite them to dinner ASAP, pick up the check, and in the future, offer to split the bill.

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