DEAR ABBY: I have strong feelings about the word "love." I use it only when I truly mean it. My husband's family, however, bandies it about as a common word.
How does one respond when someone says "I love you" when you know he or she doesn't mean it and is only saying it as a pleasantry? I hate saying it back to someone I don't really love. I feel the phrase should be reserved only when you are saying it from the heart. Any advice on what I should say, if anything at all? -- KEEPING MUM IN MISSISSIPPI
DEAR KEEPING MUM: Because you are part of the extended family, and family is supposed to "love" each other, the expected and appropriate response would be, "I love you too, darlin'!" But since you can't bring yourself to go that far, just coo in return, "And you're such a love to say that!"
DEAR ABBY: I know it may seem early, but this is the best time to start thinking about the Christmas holidays. Can you offer suggestions on what to buy for family and friends? Money is tight in this economy, and lots of good folks are out of work.
This issue will present itself for everyone. What can parents buy or give to their children and vice versa? -- LOOKING AHEAD IN VISTA, CALIF.
DEAR LOOKING AHEAD: Money IS tight in this economy, and the unemployment figures are mind-boggling. For too long, every holiday has been turned into an opportunity to induce people to shop, shop, shop and buy, buy, buy. That's why I'm suggesting we stop for a moment, examine what's really important about the Christmas season, and focus on that instead of spending money.
The time has come to seriously return to the basics. The most precious gift one can give is the gift of self. A meaningful example of the spirit of giving would be to volunteer some time as a family to serve food, or collect and distribute toys and clothing at a shelter or program for people who are in dire straits.
DEAR ABBY: After our father's death last year, my brother, "Rex," and I moved in with our mother to help her out emotionally and financially. Rex and I have always respected each other's privacy and have always supported each other.
Rex has put a lock on his door, which makes Mom and me feel as if he doesn't trust us enough to respect his privacy. We have never invaded his space or given him cause not to trust us. He is a caring, considerate person, financially stable, socially active, and helps Mom out with any repairs needed around the house. I love him dearly, but I am puzzled that he feels he needs to lock his room as if we are not trustworthy.
My feelings are hurt. Our family has never had trust issues before. What do you think of his behavior, and am I being overly sensitive? -- OPEN-DOOR SIS IN MISSISSIPPI
DEAR SIS: Yes, you are, so please stop personalizing it. Your brother is an adult, and adults are entitled to their privacy -- which, by the way, your brother has sacrificed to some extent by moving back with Mom and you. Respect his boundaries. The lock indicates to me that he feels he needs some.
For an excellent guide to becoming a better conversationalist and a more sociable person, order "How to Be Popular." Send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $6 (U.S. funds) to: Dear Abby -- Popularity Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included in the price.)