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by Abigail Van Buren

Happy Little Family Has Everything but Marriage

DEAR ABBY: "Alex" and I have been together for almost eight years. We love each other and recently had our first baby. Our little family gets along great except for one thing. I'd like to be married, and Alex is dead-set against it. He says he wants to "be with" me forever, and his aversion to marriage has nothing to do with me.

I think it's important for our daughter to have a traditional family. I love Alex with all my heart, and I hate having to accept that we may never be married. I have dreamed about being married ever since I was a little girl.

Have you any ideas on how I can either cope with never being a bride or convince Alex to change his mind? -- IN AN "ALTAR"-CATION IN PHOENIX

DEAR IN: Counseling may help you to cope, but there are solid reasons why your boyfriend should change his mind. When children arrive, it's time to be practical. A marriage certificate is more than just a piece of paper. It entitles couples to certain legal protections such as the right of inheritance, the ability to hold title to community property, health insurance benefits, and when you are older, Social Security and pension benefits.

If something were to happen to Alex, with no marriage certificate, you would be left with nothing -- and that includes a voice in his medical treatment or even a claim to his body.

DEAR ABBY: My brother-in-law, "Charles," lives in his mother's basement. He has not held a job for more than 15 years and never leaves the house except for the rare occasion when he goes out to buy pizza. He does not date and hasn't for as long as I have known him. He has heard voices and has told all of us that he runs an oil company from the basement.

I have two children whom I do not want to be alone with Charles -- ever. I have expressed this to my husband, and it has gotten back to my sister-in-law, who insists Charles "wouldn't hurt a fly." Our children's pediatrician agrees with me. This has caused a rift in the family.

Should I hold my ground or give in to the majority? -- ANXIOUS MOTHER IN OHIO

DEAR ANXIOUS MOTHER: Charles appears to be mentally ill and delusional, and while he should be treated with kindness and respect, he does not appear to be responsible enough to baby-sit. Have any of you tried to get him professional help? Listen to the pediatrician and do not leave the children alone with this poor man. Better to be safe than sorry.

DEAR ABBY: Some people say a bride has a whole year to send out thank-you cards for gifts received. I say this is extremely rude. That rule may have been applied in the days of the Pony Express, when letters took longer to reach their destination than today. However, I don't think any bride should wait a year before mailing out her cards. I say they should be sent within three months of the wedding, preferably less. Do you agree? -- MANNERS-CONSCIOUS

DEAR MANNERS-CONSCIOUS: Not only do I agree, but so does Peggy Post, author of "Emily Post's Etiquette" (16th Edition). She writes: "Insofar as possible, thank-you notes for wedding presents should be written as soon as the gift is received. ... (I)f they are not sent before the wedding, they must be written as soon as the couple returns from the honeymoon. Even for a very large wedding, when the gifts are innumerable, all thank-you notes should be mailed within three months."

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