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DEAR ABBY: I work as a staff assistant in a large department of a Fortune 500 corporation. Every year, prior to Staff Appreciation Day, each staff assistant in my department receives a formal invitation to lunch that reads:

"In appreciation for your hard work and dedication, you will be given an extra half-hour to attend the staff appreciation lunch. Location: (A fairly expensive restaurant that takes a half-hour to get to and from.) Time: 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Why: Because you deserve a long lunch." (The extra half-hour is our "gift." We are responsible for the cost of our meal.)

Is there a tactful way to point out to the powers-that-be that inviting employees to an "appreciation lunch" at their own expense, at a restaurant the honorees would not normally choose because of the cost, and then suggesting that the extra half-hour taken up in travel time is a gift, is more than a little offensive?

Believe me, I'd beg off, but I feel pressured and obligated to attend. What else can I do, Abby? -- LOST IN DILBERT'S WORLD

DEAR LOST: From your description of the "generous" policy, I think I know why it's a Fortune 500 company. It would be interesting to know what kind of performance rewards their executives get.

If it's company policy, I don't think there is anything you can do about it -- except, perhaps, to gently confide to your boss that the whole thing is a bit of a farce.

DEAR ABBY: I am 18 and have just become engaged. I want to go to college, but my fiance, "Kirk," doesn't support my decision. It was a struggle for me to finish high school. I dropped out at 16, but recently received my GED with lots of support and encouragement from Kirk. But now that it's time for me to begin college, he doesn't want me to go. He says he's ready to settle down and start a family. Well, I'm not. I think my life has just begun. Please help. -- CONFUSED IN LOVE IN OREGON

DEAR CONFUSED: You have worked hard to get to where you are. Do not allow your fiance's insecurity to hold you back. If you're not completely ready to settle down and start a family, you should not allow yourself to be pressured into it.

Tell Kirk that you love him and that you need his support now more than ever. Perhaps there is a class the two of you could take together so he won't feel left behind. Please explore this with Kirk. Good luck.

DEAR ABBY: There are two groups of girls in high school: the "cool" girls and the "not so cool" girls. I have good friends in each group, but the groups hate each other.

When I hang out with a friend in the "cool" group, my friend in the other group ignores me for the rest of the day -- and vice versa.

Abby, when school starts again, how should I handle this ridiculous situation? Help! -- CONFLICTED TEEN IN CALIFORNIA

DEAR CONFLICTED: You're already "handling it" very well by being your own person and not allowing yourself to be manipulated. Since you can't change other people, you must change the way YOU react to them. Be strong and do not allow either group to isolate you. There are great advantages in learning early how to get along with all kinds of people. Remember that.

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