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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: My boyfriend, "Sean," and I met online six months ago. We are now at the stage where we are meeting and going out with each other's friends and co-workers, and the question, "How did you meet?" is coming up.

Sean prefers his friends and family not know we met on an online dating site, while I have been up-front with my circle of friends. I would rather get our history straight before these groups meet each other.

How do we balance his need for privacy with my openness? I would also like to use this as an example to de-stigmatize online dating for my single friends. -- DATING IN D.C.

DEAR DATING: Doesn't your boyfriend know that many people meet online these days? Would he prefer his friends and family thought he picked you up in a bar? Joining a dating site is nothing to be ashamed of, and I have known several online matches that have led to happy marriages.

Doesn't the fact that Sean wants to fudge the truth with his family and friends bother you? I find that to be more of a concern than how you met.

DEAR ABBY: A year and a half ago, right before I turned 16, I made the decision to start dating. Before I had my first boyfriend, I set some guidelines for what I wanted in a relationship -- someone who isn't controlling, who treats me well, etc.

I also decided to wait to have my first kiss until I found someone special. These days, I think too many people my age are too sexually active. I don't want a boy to feel that because I let him kiss me, I will take the next step with him. I think there is a line that should never be crossed before marriage.

Do you think I am taking this too far by wanting to wait to be kissed? Or are the boundaries I'm setting for myself reasonable? -- HOLDING OUT IN OREGON

DEAR HOLDING OUT: Of course the first person you kiss should be "special." And when you meet him, I am sure you'll know he's the right one. You have to do what is right for you. I respect the fact that you have set boundaries and refuse to do something just because someone else may be doing it.

DEAR ABBY: Knowing how much you care about animals, I hope you will make your readers aware of how dangerous lighted candles can be where there are pets in a home.

Many of us love to brighten our home with candles. They have become popular accessories due to home decorating shows and magazines. But for people who have pets, candles can pose a real danger. A cat can walk past a burning candle and ignite its fur. A happy dog's wagging tail can knock a burning candle over.

A candle placed too near a curtain can cause a whole house to go up in flames. And a person who leaves a candle lighted while he or she goes out on a quick errand can come home to find a tragedy. Please remind your readers to be mindful and to practice candle safety. -- ESTHER MECHLER, DIRECTOR, SPAY/USA

DEAR ESTHER: Thank you for the timely reminder that candles present a real danger if left unattended in a household with pets -- or small children. The good news is that flameless, battery-operated candles are now available that look exactly like the "real thing."

To receive a collection of Abby's most memorable -- and most frequently requested -- poems and essays, send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $6 (U.S. funds) to: Dear Abby -- Keepers Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included in the price.)