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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I come from a Third World country and live as a legal alien in San Francisco. I grew up reading great American authors, watching American TV and Hollywood movies, so I thought I had a good understanding about your Western societal structure. I have made many friends in this wonderful city, but the women here drive me crazy.

I am a romantic at heart, but not desperate. However, my gestures are often misunderstood. One time I gave a feminist/radical girl a book about the feminist movement and she freaked out. She said she wasn't looking for anything serious and didn't want me to expect anything from her. Abby, it was just a book, not a diamond ring.

I was in a relationship for four months. It was fine, until I told her I was madly in love with her. She freaked out and said she didn't want to get tied down. I was dumbfounded and heartbroken.

A few months later, I started dating again and met an incredible woman who made my heart skip a beat. I enjoyed being with her so much I sent flowers to her workplace. She freaked out, too.

Am I being completely ignorant to believe in romance? Or is there something wrong with me? -- CALIFORNIA DREAMER

DEAR DREAMER: There isn't anything "wrong" with you, but I suspect you're coming on a bit too strong, too quickly. Life in the United States isn't the way it's depicted in novels, television and Hollywood movies. Getting to know someone takes time -- so take more time before declaring you're madly in love. And the next time you feel the urge to give someone flowers, send them to her home because some professional women prefer to keep their private lives separate from where they work.

DEAR ABBY: My husband of 27 years has been having chemotherapy for lymphoma off and on for two years. Friends and neighbors call him often. However, not one of them has ever asked me how I'm doing. I understand the awkwardness of emotional conversations, but it deeply disappoints me that people act as though my husband's cancer doesn't affect me.

What's the best way for us to care for each other? We are all so fragile and vulnerable. -- HURTING TOO IN HAWAII

DEAR HURTING TOO: I agree. The answer is for people to realize that life-threatening diseases affect the entire family, not just the patient. In your case, if someone asks how your husband is doing, you should say, "'John' is doing well so far, but his illness has been very stressful for me. Thanks for asking." It may start the conversation you want to have.

However, if it doesn't, you should check out the American Cancer Society's website, � HYPERLINK "http://www.cancer.org" ��www.cancer.org�, which lists the location of support groups everywhere. It would be helpful for you emotionally and spiritually to join a group of caregivers who are coping with what you have been experiencing.

DEAR ABBY: An acquaintance recently announced that she's pregnant. None of us were aware that she was in a relationship. Is there a polite way to find out who the father is? -- JUST CURIOUS IN NEW MEXICO

DEAR CURIOUS: I can think of two ways: The first is to wait for her to tell you. The other is to just ask.

For an excellent guide to becoming a better conversationalist and a more sociable person, order "How to Be Popular." Send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $6 (U.S. funds) to: Dear Abby -- Popularity Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included in the price.)