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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: My mother and stepfather, "Rick," are being divorced after 12 years of marriage. Mom had an affair, and I understand that Rick is angry, but he is being vindictive. My sisters and I have tried hard to maintain a relationship with him, but he doesn't understand this is his divorce. It shouldn't involve us or the rest of the family, but Rick has involved everyone.

He says we have to choose sides, and if we're on his side, we must cut off contact with our mother. When we said we weren't about to take sides, he got angry. He has told his side of the family that we're horrible people, and they're not allowed to have contact with us any longer.

Abby, these are people we have known for 12 years. They want a relationship with us and we with them, but after the terrible things Rick has said about us, we don't know if we can face them. Please tell us what to do. Any advice would be helpful. -- NEEDS AN OPINION IN VIRGINIA

DEAR NEEDS AN OPINION: Your almost-former stepfather is upset. He wants to punish your mother. For him to demand you "divorce" her in order to maintain a relationship with him is childish and unrealistic. The only person he's really isolating is himself, which is sad.

Rick's family has had 12 years to get to know you and your sisters. I'm sure they recognize that he is being irrational. Please don't allow yourselves to be intimidated by whatever he might have said about you. Talk to them. Burn no bridges. The divorce will end and life will go on. If the relationship you have had with these people was built on a solid foundation, it will endure.

DEAR ABBY: I am an average-looking, middle-aged woman. I have many friends and a career I love. What I do not have is a partner. It breaks my heart. I feel excluded from an important part of life -- romantic love.

I have had relationships with men. All of them were disasters. At the age I am now, there seems to be little or no hope of finding anyone.

Most of my friends are married or in committed relationships, and I feel like an outsider. I am involved in my church and my career, and to all outward appearances, I look happy and successful.

But, Abby, inside I am terrified that I'll be alone forever. Sometimes I wonder how I will survive this life. How do I cope with my sadness and my fear of being alone forever? I hope for some good advice. -- SINGLE IN DIXIE

DEAR SINGLE: There are worse things than being alone. Chief among them is being stuck in a relationship (formal or otherwise) with someone who isn't right for you. If you are spending most of your time with couples, perhaps you should arrange to spend more time with other singles. Expand your circle. Travel, if you can afford it. It will make you a less depressed, more interesting person to be around.

If you need help for your depression, talk to a therapist. But never tell yourself you will never meet someone. It's self-defeating. People of every age meet and fall in love every day, and they are being married at later ages, too.

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.)