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by Abigail Van Buren

Woman Living on Her Own Leans Too Heavily on Friend

DEAR ABBY: "Tracy" and I have been best friends since junior high. (We're both 31.) A couple of months ago she and her two sons (my "nephews," ages 9 and 5) moved out of her parents' home and into their own apartment.

Tracy has never lived on her own before. As a result, she's constantly asking me to come over, spend the night, keep her company, etc. I'm happy to visit for a couple of hours once a week or so, but feel uncomfortable and pressured doing it to the extent she's asking. She didn't act this way when she lived with her parents.

I am single, childless, have my own place and a full-time job. My home is my sanctuary and I value my peace and quiet. The last thing I want at the end of a hectic workday is to go to her apartment and hang out for hours on end with her and her sweet (but loud and rambunctious) boys.

Tracy is also single. She works full-time and is a devoted mom, but there's an obvious deficiency in her life. I try to encourage her that she'll grow accustomed to her new life, but it doesn't stick. How can I make her understand that while I love her dearly, I can't be her lifelong security blanket? -- SMOTHERED IN THE EAST

DEAR SMOTHERED: Do it by explaining to your friend what you can give her, rather than what you can't. If it's one afternoon or evening a week, arrange your get-together for when you're available.

Let her know you need time to yourself to unwind after a hectic day at work, that you also need to run errands and do housework. You can be her good friend without coming running every time she snaps her fingers. And remember, she can't "smother" you any more than you allow.

DEAR ABBY: My niece is getting married in two months, and our invitations just arrived. My daughter, who was divorced last month, was invited with no "and guest" after her name. Who knows? In the next two months she might meet someone she'd like to take to the wedding.

Would it be tacky to respond "two" and see what happens? Or should she take her wounded heart and not go at all? The family knows about her divorce but still addressed her that way. -- KEEPING OPTIONS OPEN

DEAR KEEPING OPTIONS OPEN: While it would have been thoughtful to have invited your daughter and an escort, your relatives may have been more preoccupied with financial considerations than the fact that your daughter wouldn't have a date sitting with her. And yes, it would be tacky to write "two" on the RSVP and "see what happens."

Consider this: For your daughter to bring a date might invite suspicions that she was involved with the person before her divorce. And to ask a man you don't know well and have been seeing only a very short time could be construed as rushing things, and might be a turn-off for the man she had her eye on.

DEAR ABBY: The young lady I have fallen for (and am probably in love with) is half my age. Is it wrong to like someone who is almost young enough to be my daughter? -- YOUNGER THAN SPRINGTIME

DEAR YOUNGER THAN SPRINGTIME: No, it's not wrong -- it happens frequently. A more pertinent question is could she be seriously interested in someone who is almost old enough to be her father? Only she can answer that.

To receive a collection of Abby's most memorable -- and most frequently requested -- poems and essays, send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $6 (U.S. funds) to: Dear Abby -- Keepers Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included in the price.)