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DEAR ABBY: I'm a 43-year-old divorced mother with three kids, ages 17, 13 and 9. I have been dating a wonderful man I'll call Earl for more than a year. Everything is great; we plan to be married. My kids love him, he is great with them, and he has two teenagers of his own.

I recently suggested that my kids start calling him "Earl" instead of "Mr. Earl," as they have called him since they met him. But Earl said that even after we are married, they should continue to call him "Mr." because it is a matter of respect. I say that no stepfamilies do that, and if we are all sharing a home together, it's too formal. Your thoughts, please? -- IN A QUANDARY IN GEORGIA

DEAR IN A QUANDARY: I agree with you. Once you are married and living under the same roof, his insistence that he be addressed as "Mr." will be emotionally distancing for your children. It will also make them feel like second-class citizens if his own children call him "Dad" while yours are compelled to call him "Mister." Your boyfriend appears to have some significant self-esteem issues. I strongly recommend that they be dealt with before you marry him.

DEAR ABBY: I met a very kind man about two months ago. From then on, we saw each other twice a week at group get-togethers. He would always lead me away from the others, talking to me and flirting with me. He's very forward. He is always touching me, putting his arms around me -- and he asked me for my phone number the second time I saw him.

We have still been hanging out, but I found out he has a girlfriend! He doesn't know that I know. When I pull back from his touching me, he asks me why. Is it possible that he doesn't have a girlfriend? Or is he just one of those guys who will flirt with anyone -- including me? -- ANONYMOUS

DEAR ANONYMOUS: Although it's possible that he doesn't have a girlfriend, it is more likely that he does. Ask the people who have told you he has a girlfriend for more information about her -- like her name and phone number -- and give her a call. Remember: If he'd cheat on her, he would do it to you. And the next time you see this Romeo and he hits on you -- because that's what he's doing -- tell him you'd consider it if he were eligible, but he's already taken, and then go back to the group.

DEAR ABBY: My infant son has a medical condition that requires occasional visits to a local hospital. On each of the last two visits, I have run into an acquaintance in the hospital hallway -- once someone from work, and another time, someone from church.

After stopping and exchanging greetings, both of these individuals asked me why I was at the hospital.

I think that question is inappropriate. Medical matters are personal. I was very uncomfortable because I don't want to share my son's condition with others. They were both asking out of concern, but in my opinion, the question just should not be asked. Do you agree? -- STRICTLY PERSONAL, ROCHESTER, N.Y.

DEAR STRICTLY PERSONAL: The question may seem intrusive in a situation like yours, but is also natural and spontaneous. Because your son's condition is of a private nature, I suggest that when you are asked that, you "deflect it" by responding, "What are you doing here?" And then change the subject.

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