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.
DEAR ABBY: We recently moved to a small town. Our neighbors came over to introduce themselves, and we adore them already. The husband speaks with a stutter. This doesn't bother me, but I want to be sure that I'm being respectful to him when he's trying to get a word out. Is it preferable to wait him out, or would it help if I "suggest" the word I think he might say? -- UNCERTAIN IN IOWA
DEAR UNCERTAIN: Although you mean well, the respectful way to handle it is to let the man speak for himself -- even if it takes a little longer.
DEAR ABBY: Today, after an absence of many years, I met a former employee. He looked the same as he did, except he had no hair. He said he felt fine but -- could it be cancer? Chemotherapy? Should one comment? I ignored it and we exchanged small talk going back several decades. Would it have been proper to ask about his baldness? -- CURIOUS IN NEW ENGLAND
DEAR CURIOUS: The questions, "How are you?" and "How have you been?" are a part of normal discourse. If his response was he is "fine," then that's an indication that he didn't want to discuss his changed appearance. He could be in treatment for cancer. He could also have an immune disorder that caused him to lose his hair. Because he didn't volunteer more information, you were right not to question him.
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