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

by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I'm 27 and in a three-year-long relationship that has been slowly falling apart. A year before it began, I ended a two-year union with another guy. While the two men are completely different, both relationships ended for similar reasons.

I am a successful, independent woman. Apparently, this made each one feel like less of a man. While I'm told my qualities are part of the reason I'm attractive, men want to "prove themselves" before they commit to marriage. Things usually fall apart when their career plans shift and they feel like they're starting over. I try to be supportive, but nothing works. They begin resenting me for everything I have accomplished.

I am on a path to achieve everything I can before I scale back to have children and put my family first. I have two master's degrees. I'm working on my license in a traditionally male profession. I'm on the board of directors of several nonprofits. I own my own home. But I'm beginning to be afraid I'll never have the family life I have always wanted. Should I resign myself to the fact that I can't have it all? -- SUCCESSFUL ... ON PAPER, CHARLOTTE, N.C.

DEAR SUCCESSFUL ... ON PAPER: Please don't. And don't give up and lower any of your goals, either. What you need is a man who is more secure within himself than those you have been involved with. The traditional roles of men and women have been turned upside down in the last few years, and the last thing you need is someone who would resent you if he couldn't match or surpass your achievements.

At 27 you are hardly over the hill. Keep your options open until you find someone who appreciates that a husband and wife are a team to which both bring their own strengths and weaknesses, and who will revel along with you when you succeed. As long as a couple is compatible, it doesn't matter who is the larger wage earner. Please don't settle. If you do, consider the message it will send to your daughters.

DEAR ABBY: My friend, "Gail," is estranged from her family and has no significant other. She is always trying to improve herself. She works out at a gym daily and has spent a fortune on plastic surgery.

People have told me that Gail's laugh is loud and embarrassing. Abby, it's not just her laugh that's grating, but her speaking voice is equally unpleasant. She is so loud that she has been asked to "lower the volume" in restaurants.

How can I tell her that her money would be better spent on voice lessons? -- SOUNDING OFF IN SANTA ROSA, CALIF.

DEAR SOUNDING OFF: Because your friend speaks so loudly that she has been asked to quiet down, the first thing to do is suggest to her that she have her hearing checked by an audiologist. It's possible that she is suffering from a hearing loss.

If that's not the case, then tell her that since she has done so much to improve her appearance, you think she could benefit from some sessions with a speech therapist because it would make her picture perfect. It may not be what she wants to hear, but sometimes it takes a friend to tell the unvarnished truth.

The acid test for situations like this is to ask yourself: "Is it true? Is it helpful? Is it kind?" And in this case, the answer to all three questions is yes.

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.)