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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I'm an athletic, youthful-looking 58, and my son, "Barry," is 24. We go out alone for dinner quite often because my husband (Barry's father) doesn't enjoy eating in restaurants. My problem is the angry stares my son and I get from younger -- and older -- women who mistake me for a "cougar" out on a date with my "cub."

The other night when I left our table to use the restroom, a woman approached Barry, told him he was "disgusting," and asked, "Why don't you date girls your own age?" He informed her that I was his mother, but even if I wasn't, it was none of her business. Another time, a girl Barry's age asked him why he was out with "an old hag" and said, "How can you want her over me?" This happens every time we go out.

I dress well and look like I could be in my 40s, but I have to wonder about the rudeness and ignorance of someone insulting my son without knowing the circumstances of the situation. Some of them refused to believe the truth even after Barry told them.

Interestingly, young men who have commented thought it was "awesome" that Barry could be out with a cougar. It's only the females who have a problem with us. Can you comment on this? -- HAPPILY MARRIED MOM IN OHIO

DEAR MOM: Some thoughts do come to mind: Women who are happy in their personal lives don't approach strangers with snide remarks like those you have repeated. The women were rude, presumptuous, probably envious -- and I'll bet they were also alone, because it's hard to imagine a woman with a date doing something so outrageous.

I'm not surprised that younger men might think it was "awesome" that your son could be out with a cougar. When the subject was raised in my column, the men who commented said what attracted them to older women was that they are confident, relaxed, comfortable with themselves and fun to be around -- while younger women didn't bother to be subtle about their preference for men with money.

And one more thing: You must be quite a knockout to attract the kind of attention you're getting.

DEAR ABBY: I am a 19-year-old guy who doesn't know what I want to do with my life. I know I'm still young and shouldn't stress out about what my career in life will be, but nothing seems to interest me. I don't want to be a doctor or an astronomer like some do. I can't cook or play any instruments, and I'm not very good with numbers. I have thought of hundreds of careers -- and I hate them all.

I don't want to do something I will hate for the rest of my life, but I'm afraid that's what will happen. I have been to three different counselors and none was able to help me. I'm hoping you can offer me some advice. -- HOPELESS IN CHANDLER, ARIZ.

DEAR HOPELESS: You aren't the first person to panic because he (or she) is afraid of being stuck in a career slot that doesn't fit. The good news is one of the realities of today's workplace is that in many cases, jobs no longer last a lifetime. Workers can expect to change jobs and be retrained several times -- or more -- during their working years. I hope this relieves some of your anxiety.

Although you have decided what jobs do not interest you, nowhere have you mentioned any areas in which you excel. For that reason I'm advising you to go to your nearest community college career counseling center and ask to take some aptitude tests. People usually enjoy doing something they're good at.

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.)