Join the debate. Vote Now on the Dear Abby Poll of the week.

DEAR ABBY: I have a dilemma. I have known the man of my dreams, "Gabe," for 14 years. We have been in a serious committed relationship for more than two of them. Gabe has said he wants to marry me, and even went so far as to look at engagement rings and ask my input as to what my dream wedding would be like.

We found a location, the ring, and even set a date. But now Gabe says he doesn't need a license to make him feel like he is married to me. I'm ready to leave because I want to be a wife and have children. Should I wait for something that may never happen, or follow my instincts and make a new life for myself with a man who wants the same things out of life that I do? -- TIRED OF WAITING IN TEXAS

DEAR TIRED OF WAITING: You have asked exactly the right question, but you're asking the wrong person. Ask Gabe why he has suddenly gone from finding a location, a ring, and setting a wedding date to dragging his feet.

The difference between being married and "feeling" married is night and day. If you want the guarantees that a marriage license brings, you may have to listen to your intuition and find another man.

DEAR ABBY: This may be an unusual question for your column, but as tattoos have become more mainstream, what is the proper procedure for tipping the tattoo artist? Would it be different than a hairdresser, as many tattoos run into the hundreds -- and sometimes thousands -- of dollars?

I'll be starting a back piece soon, and I think $125 an hour is plenty when it will take 20 hours to complete. -- DOESN'T WANT TO GET "STUCK" IN MICHIGAN

DEAR DOESN'T: I Googled "tipping for tattoos." The Web site I went to stated that "between 10 and 20 percent" is an appropriate gratuity.

However, according to the several tattoo parlors I checked with, tips for tattoo artists are not necessarily calculated by a percentage of the cost. Tipping for a work of art -- and that is what a tattoo is considered to be -- reflects the customer's satisfaction with the result, the time required to apply it and the intricacy of the design. (To me, this implies that the amount could be larger than stated on the Web site.) Sometimes, rather than money, gifts are given to the artist, such as art books, spiritual artifacts, jewelry, etc.

DEAR ABBY: My husband, "Elmer," and I care for his elderly mother and we rarely have time alone together. Ever since our mutual friend, "Stan," started working with Elmer, he has been at our house every weekend.

Last weekend, Elmer and I had planned a date -- just dinner and a movie -- but it was time we had planned to spend together. Stan decided that he wanted to spend the weekend with us, and he didn't like the movie we had chosen or the restaurant we had selected for dinner. He's the kind of person who, if you criticize him at all, will react in the most insulting way possible.

I don't know what to do. I don't want to come between Elmer and his best friend. -- THREE'S A CROWD IN CALIFORNIA

DEAR "CROWDED": You may not want to, but unless you and your husband assert yourselves, that's what his friend may do to you. It's not a criticism to inform Stan that you and Elmer have previous plans -- and frankly, the person to do it is your husband. Stan will take the news better if he hears it from Elmer anyway.

To order "How to Write Letters for All Occasions," send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $6 (U.S. funds) to: Dear Abby -- Letter Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included in the price.)

4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600

More like Dear Abby