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

by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: "Cautious Bachelorette" (July 16) asked you how she should respond to a workman who asks if she lives alone. Having worked 30 years in a maximum security prison, I can assure your readers that criminals gravitate toward jobs that provide access to people's homes as a way of scouting victims, so "Bachelorette's" concern is well-founded.

I advise single women to keep a few articles of men's clothing, such as a jacket, work boots and other items, visible in their homes. They can be purchased inexpensively at a yard sale or local thrift shop. When a stranger is invited into her home, she can simply pick up one of the articles stating, "Here, let me get John's coat out of your way." It does provide a very real deterrent to criminals or others looking for a single woman to victimize. -- RONALD A., WASHINGTON STATE DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS (RETIRED)

DEAR RONALD: My readers agreed that setting the stage (with an invisible housemate) is an effective way to give the impression to outsiders that you do not live alone. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: Take a suggestion from a senior citizen who has lived alone for many years -- and it applies not only to females, but also to males of any age. Singles should purchase articles of the opposite sex and display them prominently in their homes so they can be seen by any stranger who comes into their homes. That way, the question, "Do you live alone?" doesn't come up. -- SAFE SENIOR CITIZEN IN THE SOUTH

DEAR ABBY: I would recommend "Cautious Bachelorette" purchase a male beta fish. They take very little time and energy to care for. Name him Fred, or some other masculine name. That way, when she's asked if she lives alone, she can honestly say, "No. Fred lives with me." If people inquire deeper, she can say that they have a close one-on-one relationship, and he is very dependable. She could even add that he is a professional swimmer without fibbing. That way she will be able to have a truthful reply for any who ask. -- FRED'S HOUSEMATE

DEAR ABBY: I live alone and I keep a men's magazine on my coffee table, a second set of towels in my bathroom and even went to the thrift store and bought a bathrobe that hangs on a hook behind the bathroom door. Also, my table is always set for two, and I always speak in terms of "we" whenever I have a stranger in my home. -- SINGLE BUT CAUTIOUS IN PLANO, TEXAS

DEAR ABBY: Here's how I give the illusion of not living alone. I have two deck chairs set out and often leave things outside like a shovel, my brother's flip-flops, or I toss a baseball cap onto the porch swing. -- LONGTIME READER IN EL CERRITO, CALIF.

DEAR ABBY: My husband and I were married 24 years, but the last several years were extremely difficult. We have separated, but have not filed the paperwork yet. I would like to begin moving forward with my life. It has been six months and there will be no reconciliation.

Recently, someone who knows my circumstances asked me out on a date. Would it be inappropriate for me to go, or to date in general? -- DATING DILEMMA IN NEW HAMPSHIRE

DEAR DATING DILEMMA: If you are truly ready to move forward with your life, file the paperwork first. Even divorces that start amicably can become messy to some degree. Filing the paperwork first will make it less so.

TO MY MUSLIM READERS: It's time for the breaking of the Ramadan fast. Happy Eid al-Fitr, everyone. May God make yours a blessed feast.

Good advice for everyone -- teens to seniors -- is in "The Anger in All of Us and How to Deal With It." To order, send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $6 (U.S. funds only) to: Dear Abby -- Anger Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included in the price.)