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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I am a young man with a burning question: Does an engagement ring have to be a diamond? I'm not ready to pop the question yet, but I'd like to know just the same. -- GEMSTONE INQUIRER IN ILLINOIS

DEAR INQUIRER: I took your burning question to Carol Brodie, director of global communications for Harry Winston Jewelers. Our conversation was fascinating. She says the tradition of giving a diamond as an engagement ring began in 1477, when Archduke Maximillian of Hamburg presented one to Mary of Burgundy. At that time, diamonds were regarded as "charms" that would enhance the love of a husband for his wife.

In more recent times, diamonds were the logical choice because their hardness equates to durability. However, it is not the only choice; much depends on the woman's taste. Rubies, sapphires and colored diamonds (pink, yellow, etc.) are also popular. (Because emeralds are the softest of the precious stones, they are not recommended for use as engagement rings.)

It goes without saying that fine jewelry should be purchased only from a reputable jeweler. The Better Business Bureau can recommend one if you need a referral.

A final thought: Although the idea of presenting a ring (on bended knee) might seem romantic, most modern women prefer to be part of the selection process. A practical way to arrange it is to call the jeweler ahead of time and arrange for a selection of stones in your price range to be shown to both of you.

DEAR ABBY: I am a 23-year-old mother of two boys, ages 4 and 2. I left their father because of spousal abuse, and I suspect he molested my oldest son, "Doug." Because I was never able to prove it, our mediator ignored it.

Now my son shows signs of damage. I see his pain and anger, and I don't know how to help him. Some of the things he does scare me, and I am afraid one day he will hurt himself or his little brother.

Doug talks as though his dreams are reality. One minute he will walk into my bedroom and say, "I love you, Mom." However, as he walks out the door, he growls in anger. He tells neighbors that I killed his dad. He has to have his blankets perfectly centered on his bed while he sleeps. He covers his brother's mouth so he can't scream. He says there are people in his room -- the list goes on and on. I don't know what's going on in his mind or how he feels inside. Sometimes Doug screams and cries for so long I get scared someone will think I'm beating him, because he makes sure everyone can hear him. I don't know what to do. Please help. -- AT MY WIT'S END IN CENTRAL CALIFORNIA

DEAR WIT'S END: Although some of what you have described may be considered "normal," the combination of behaviors has me concerned. Since you suspect Doug was abused, I urge you to contact his pediatrician and schedule a complete evaluation -- and, if necessary, a referral to a psychiatrist who specializes in children. The sooner the better.

DEAR ABBY: I am in my second year of college and have a wonderful girlfriend back home. She's the smartest, most sincere person I've ever known. I love her.

The problem is, I am attracted to nearly every girl I meet here at school. Several have pursued me and offered "everything." I have taken some of them up on their offer, but it leaves me feeling guilty. At the same time, I want to keep having fun. What should I do? -- CONFUSED IN NORTH CAROLINA

DEAR CONFUSED: You are clearly not ready to make any long-term commitments to anyone. Do the honorable thing. Tell your girlfriend you feel it is in both your interests to date others. You'll be doing her a favor.

For everything you need to know about wedding planning, order "How to Have a Lovely Wedding." Send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $5 (U.S. funds only) to: Dear Abby -- Wedding Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included in the price.)

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