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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: When I was 16 I fell in love with the handsomest man I had ever seen. I'll call him "Todd." Apparently everyone else thought so, too. Todd loved the women and they loved him, and our relationship ended.

After many years we were reunited. We have been together for three years now. Todd has changed a lot since high school. His personality is every woman's dream now. He is thoughtful, considerate, and tells me he loves me every day. He has apologized repeatedly for his past.

The problem is, he's no longer as attractive as he used to be. Over the years he has neglected his body, teeth, skin and hair. He is a diesel mechanic, and his hands and fingernails are embedded with grease. We no longer look like we belong together, and I'm embarrassed to introduce him to friends. (They chuckle under their breath when they see him.)

My friends and I like to go to fancy places, and even when Todd is dressed up, he doesn't look right. Forgive me if this seems shallow. I have kept my youthful looks. I still wear a size 8, and no one can believe I have three grandchildren.

How do I deal with this? I love Todd. I love being with him and talking to him. But I can't seem to overcome these feelings. -- CONFUSED IN NEW JERSEY

DEAR CONFUSED: Alcoholics Anonymous has something called the "Serenity Prayer." Commit it to memory, and use it as the need arises, because it can be a helpful tool for living:

"God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, AND THE WISDOM TO KNOW THE DIFFERENCE." (Italics are mine.)

If you really love Todd, it is within your power to "encourage" him to exercise and eat healthfully, to see a dentist and a barber regularly, and groom himself more carefully. If you love Todd, you will tell your friends that you do -- and if you still feel they look down on this thoughtful, considerate and affectionate man, you will cultivate friends who are more accepting.

DEAR ABBY: "Rita" and I first became close in junior high. We are both in our mid-20s and currently live about two hours apart. We spent many hours together as teens. However, her demanding nature did always grate on me.

One year, when we were living on opposite coasts, I sent Rita an expensive birthday gift and card, but forgot to call her until the next day. Instead of thanking me, she pouted and accused me of "not valuing our friendship."

A few months ago, Rita sent me an angry e-mail because I had made plans with my boyfriend for two nights during her week-long stay in my town. (She was here for the wedding of a couple I do not know.) I wrote her back, explaining that I love her, but I am now a busy woman and don't have time for her childish behavior. I told her she expects a degree of attention that I cannot give her. We haven't spoken since.

Recently Rita e-mailed me and invited me to lunch. I have not responded. I simply have no desire to see her, as I have not enjoyed our relationship for years. Do I owe Rita anything besides wishing her the best? Should I see her? -- FEELING GUILTY IN PALO ALTO

DEAR FEELING GUILTY: Because you have no desire to see her, politely refuse the invitation. Friendship is supposed to be mutual, and you are in no way obligated to continue this one. Sometimes people simply grow apart, and this appears to be the case with you and Rita.

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