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by Abigail Van Buren

Romance Is Not on the Menu for Waitress's Elderly Patron

DEAR ABBY: I work as a waitress although I have a college degree. I am happy with my life. I'm unattached, childless and take three or four vacations every year.

A couple of years ago I started waiting on "Tom" at the restaurant where I work. As time went on, we became friendly. Tom is in his 70s, and I am in my early 40s. Last year at Christmas he gave me some nice costume jewelry and asked if I'd have dinner with him sometime.

I was touched and saw no harm in it. We had dinner a few times and went to a couple of movies. Soon after, he started acting as if we were a "couple" and I began declining his dinner invitations. A family emergency came up and I was able to remove myself from the situation for a couple of months. I thought it would cool him off.

For my birthday last month, Tom presented me with a jewelry box and a bracelet with my birthstone. He was angry because I wouldn't go out to dinner and because I went on vacation for 10 days the following week. I'm having a difficult time letting him know I'm not interested because I know he's a lonely old man. I don't want any more gifts from him.

What on earth is Tom thinking? He's my father's age. Do you know what they call a middle-aged woman who hooks up with an old man? A nurse! How can I stop Tom's attentions without being rude or hurting his feelings? -- REALLY NOT MY TYPE

DEAR REALLY: You may not be able to manage that. You and I both know what he is thinking, and his intentions are not "fatherly." In fact, because you accepted his gifts and his dinner invitations, he thinks you have a relationship and he has become possessive.

Return his gifts with a short note explaining that you did not understand when he gave them to you that you were being courted. Tell him you like him and always will, but not in the way he would like you to, and that you hope he will find someone who can reciprocate his feelings. And do not be surprised if he takes his business to some other restaurant.