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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: When I go out to eat with my girlfriends, I usually enjoy myself until it comes time for dessert. Then I get grief if I don't order any and they do. They'll say, "Oh, you're so tiny. You can eat it." Conversely, if I do order something, they tell me, "Well, I'd love some but my metabolism isn't as high as yours."

I have never made comments to them about calorie counting, needing to work out or concern about my weight. I feel fitness is a private matter, and I'm not comfortable with mine being the topic of discussion. Is there any way to respectfully and tactfully respond to their comments or redirect the conversation? -- TAKES THE CAKE IN FLAGSTAFF, ARIZ.

DEAR TAKES THE CAKE: The way you said it in your letter is perfect: "I feel fitness is a private matter and I'm not comfortable with mine being the topic of discussion." Either state it when they comment on what you have ordered, or say it privately to each of your friends when you're away from a restaurant. If they are friends, they'll respect your feelings.

DEAR ABBY: Is it weird to not want to sleep in the same bed with my husband? We have an amazing, caring, fun relationship -- but when it comes to sleep, I need my space while he prefers to cuddle all night. I always end up trying to push him over to his side, or telling him to please move. I know he gets offended because he's just trying to be close.

Abby, when I'm in bed with him I hardly get any sleep! He's always on my side and I can't move. It bothers me so much I end up sleeping on the couch.

Is this a bad sign for our marriage? Should I just stick it out for his sake? Our marriage is pretty close to perfect except for this one thing. -- NEEDS MY SPACE IN WEST VALLEY, UTAH

DEAR NEEDS YOUR SPACE: If you haven't already done it, you and your husband should have a calm discussion about this when you're both wide awake and rested. Sleep deprivation can cause any number of problems -- slow reaction time behind the wheel of a car, inefficiency at work, and serious health problems. If your marriage is amazing, caring, fun and sexually satisfying for both of you, then sleeping separately isn't a "bad sign." It's the solution.

DEAR ABBY: I am a 54-year-old woman who, after a long marriage and unavoidable divorce, is ready to date. I work out daily, am active in my church, take classes, and socialize with women and married couples. I'm in excellent shape and am told I'm attractive and fun. There are few available men my age (or a little younger or older) and almost all of them seem to be looking for women in their 40s, 30s or even 20s.

Why are men my age so unwilling to date women their age? We're past the drama years, are secure in who we are, and have a lot to offer. Am I destined to spend my life without romance? I'm an upbeat person but have lately started feeling angry at how I'm being marginalized. -- MISSING OUT IN WYOMING

DEAR MISSING OUT: I can't speak for "all" older men, but many of them in our youth-obsessed culture look for women considerably younger because it helps them fool themselves into thinking they are younger than their years. You are physically, socially and intellectually active, so stop allowing yourself to be marginalized and consider dating men who are younger. It worked for Demi Moore.

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.)