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DEAR ABBY: I was physically and emotionally abused by my parents. Mother left home when I was 11. When I was in my early 20s, I was attacked and raped by a stranger. I have been through many abusive relationships and several failed marriages. My last two boyfriends were sexually abusive. Now I'm afraid of men, and especially afraid of sex.

About a month ago, I met a man who seemed nice. He gave me his number. A week later when I lost my job, I called him to see if he knew of any openings. He invited me over to look at my resume, and I went.

We began a deep friendship. I told him things about my past that gave me low self-esteem. He told me he had studied counseling and asked if he could work with me. I agreed.

His help has brought back many painful memories, and we are dealing with them together. He says things to improve my self-esteem. He believes in me and wants me to have a better future. He even hinted he'd like to be part of that future. His tenderness is incredible, and I find myself melting into his arms.

Now for the bad part: He told me that he spent 25 years in prison. Although he is no longer the same person who committed those crimes, he was incarcerated once for rape and two years later for sexual assault. He now has erectile dysfunction, so I know he couldn't do it again, even if he wanted to.

I am starting to care for him a lot, but at the same time I'm scared of him. I don't believe he would ever harm me, but ever since he told me the truth, I've been having nightmares about someone chasing me and trying to hurt me.

Should I stop seeing him? He does everything he can to reassure me that he won't hurt me, and I want to believe him. Please help. -- SCARED IN FLORIDA

DEAR SCARED: Your subconscious may be warning you. A synonym for "chased" is "pursued," and in a sense, this man is pursuing you. He is not a licensed therapist. He is a serial perpetrator of sex crimes. Sexual assaults are sometimes less about sex than they are about control. In other words, rape is not always physical; it can also be emotional.

Although you may be infatuated, you have only known this man for a month. That's not long enough to make rational judgments. You may have placed yourself in the hands of a skilled manipulator as well as a sexual deviate. Do NOT allow an amateur to doodle with the strudel in your noodle. If you want to conquer your problems, consult a qualified, licensed therapist.

P.S. Did he help you find a job, or were you lured to his dwelling to be seduced? Only you can answer that.

DEAR ABBY: My cousin, "Debbie," will be married next October. We have never been close. She was supposed to be in my wedding, but she never showed up for the fitting, so I replaced her with a friend.

My dilemma: She told me my husband is not invited to her wedding because the dinner is $100 a plate and no spouses or boyfriends are allowed.

What do you think I should do? -- INSULTED IN OHIO

DEAR INSULTED: Politely inform cousin Debbie that you will be unable to attend her wedding, and send a small token gift instead. She is obviously ignorant of the fact that a married couple, unlike boyfriends and girlfriends, are officially one unit, and that it is a breach of etiquette to invite one and exclude the other.

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