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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I started a new job eight months ago. A handsome guy works there, and I waited five months before I asked him out. Since then, we go out to lunch together three days a week and eat in the office the other days. He calls me at home in the morning to see if I want him to bring me a cup of coffee to work. He also shares his thoughts and feelings with me. I like him a lot.

Last Saturday night, I arrived at his apartment and he had candles lit, wine chilled, and served cheese and crackers. It was very romantic. We ate and drank and had a wonderful conversation. A little later, he went to lie on his bed and watch TV. He invited me to lie next to him -- and I did. (Mind you, we have never kissed or anything.) When I reached out to hold his hand, he immediately got up and went to the bathroom. Then he came out with a blanket, walked to the couch, covered himself and went to sleep. I invited him to sleep next to me on his bed -- but he refused. I went home.

I think he's really nice, cute, smart and sweet. Am I rushing things, or do you think he just wants to be friends? (I wouldn't mind being a friend -- with benefits.) What do you make of this situation? -- CONFUSED GAL IN GALVESTON, TEXAS

DEAR CONFUSED: I think you are already "friends." Forget the benefits. Your romance has gone as far as it is going to go.

DEAR ABBY: "Miserable Mom in Tucson," the single mother of two adult sons who ignored her on Mother's Day, reminded me of a similar situation I had to deal with.

About 10 years ago, on both Easter and Mother's Day, I heard nothing from my married son who lives out of state. When my birthday rolled around and he again failed to contact me, I sent his wife a sympathy card. On it, I wrote, "Why didn't you tell me my son had died? I would have come to the funeral!"

Two days later, I got a phone call and a heartfelt apology from my son. Ever since, he has never failed to call me on a regular basis. Sign me ... MOTHER OF INVENTION IN VIRGINIA

DEAR MOTHER: Not only are you clever, you got your point across with humor and without judgment. (Those are qualities we should all develop.)

DEAR ABBY: After going together for more than a year, my boyfriend, "Hank," and I rented an apartment and moved in together. While we were unpacking, Hank showed me a charcoal portrait of his ex-girlfriend wearing only a garter belt and stockings, standing behind a strategically placed tree branch.

Hank told me he's having it custom-framed to hang in our living room. When I protested, he told me it was a gift and he felt obligated to display it. (I want to burn it!)

I've given Hank stacks of photos of myself since we've met, and he hasn't framed a single one. How should I handle this? -- WANTS TO TURN THE CHARCOAL INTO ASHES

DEAR WANTS: Unless you're willing to tolerate living in an apartment with a semi-nude drawing of your boyfriend's ex, tell him in no uncertain terms this is a deal breaker. He may be an "art lover," but if he hangs that portrait, he's making an "ash" out of you.

To receive a collection of Abby's most memorable -- and most frequently requested -- poems and essays, send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $5 (U.S. funds) to: Dear Abby -- Keepers Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included in the price.)

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