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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I am in my late 30s and have been dating "Rick" for six years. The problem is his daughter, "Janet." We used to get along, but now she hates me. She calls me awful names and says she wishes I would go away.

I recently asked Rick to marry me. Now Janet says I am "desperate" and she refuses to talk to either of us. I don't know what to say to her. I'm appalled at her attitude toward me, the language she uses and the things she's saying about me to her friends on the Internet. She won't listen to her dad. Her mother is encouraging her behavior and has been threatening me.

I can't get Janet to understand that her dad and I love each other, that it's all right for a woman to ask a man to marry her and it's not out of "desperation." Please help. -- NOT DESPERATE IN LOUISIANA

DEAR NOT DESPERATE: Toughen up. Recognize that for all of the joy Rick brings you, Janet is his extremely immature daughter and she's part of the package. How old is the girl? She appears to have years of growing up to do. You can't change her behavior, so go on with your life without seeking her approval. Unfortunately, nasty ex-wives are nothing new. If the ex does anything beyond "threaten" you, file a police report and let them deal with her.

DEAR ABBY: Can common sense be learned or taught? Some people seem to be born with it. Others have "book smarts" but struggle with everyday common sense.

I fail to grasp simple connections, and I sometimes ask questions that have obvious answers -- for someone else. I know other people who share the same problem, and I admire those who simply seem to "get" what's happening around them.

Is there any way to improve? I'm 38 and married to a man who has strengths in both areas. -- BOOKWORM IN MONTANA

DEAR BOOKWORM: Nobody has everything. Your strength is your intellect. Not everyone is a good student, and it can affect their self-esteem as much or more than your worry about not having common sense. If it's any comfort, people usually acquire common sense in the school of life. In other words, they learn from the mistakes they make. I'm sure you have done that and will continue to do so.

DEAR ABBY: My 34-year-old daughter blames me for her poor penmanship. When she was a baby, she started grabbing things with her left hand. Her pediatrician advised me to force her to use her right hand. Could she have had better penmanship if she had not been forced to use her right hand? -- GUILTY MOM IN MADISON, ALA.

DEAR GUILTY MOM: Probably. Your pediatrician must have been very old or very "old school." I am also left-handed, and when I was a child, educators had stopped forcing children to write in a way that was unnatural for them. I was taught to properly hold a pencil, we practiced printing and cursive penmanship, and I am told my handwriting is beautiful.

For everything you need to know about wedding planning, order "How to Have a Lovely Wedding." Send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $6 (U.S. funds only) to: Dear Abby -- Wedding Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included in the price.)