DEAR ABBY: I am a 35-year-old single man. Three years ago, I took legal custody of my niece (who is now 8) to prevent her from becoming a ward of the state. Her parents were drug addicts. Shortly afterward, my mother moved in to help me raise her, which is greatly needed and appreciated.
The problem is, I had to dramatically alter my lifestyle -- no more staying out late on weekends or impromptu trips to visit college buddies -- and worst of all, an end to dating.
I used to go out with a lot of women, but I haven't been with anyone in more than two years. I didn't like the idea of bringing ladies around my niece whom she might never see again. It was easier to just give up dating than to deal with her questions and looks of confusion. She has had enough instability in her young life, and I didn't want to add to it.
Now I'm starting to get lonely, and I'm not sure how to get back into the dating scene. How would I explain my living situation to a potential wife: "I have a kid and my mother living with me, and that's not going to change. Interested?"
Abby, any thoughts or suggestions would be welcomed. -- LONELY BY DESIGN IN WEST VIRGINIA
DEAR LONELY: Explain your living situation to the women you meet in much the same way as you have explained it to me. You are taking care of your 8-year-old niece with the help of your mother because if you hadn't stepped up, she would have become a ward of the state.
Any mature woman who is worth her salt will respect that, just as I do. Immature women who are only looking for a good time -- or a meal ticket -- will probably run in the opposite direction, which is a good thing.
You won't find what you're looking for in bars as you may have done in the past. You would probably have better luck if you join a group like Parents Without Partners or ask some of your married friends if they know someone nice.
DEAR ABBY: My family and I were watching a popular annual awards show recently. Like most of these, this one included an "In Memoriam" segment in which was featured a slideshow of the photos and names of people from the field who had died during the year.
The segment was well done and very meaningful. When it was over and the lights went back up, the audience clapped. My family applauded, too. That made me feel uncomfortable, so I didn't join in. What are your thoughts on applause at a memorial tribute? -- TO CLAP OR NOT TO CLAP
DEAR T.C.O.N.T.C.: Audiences clap for many reasons -- among them, a spontaneous gesture of emotion or to show appreciation. (Some may do it because everyone else is doing it.) However, in this circumstance, it is not required or prohibited. As long as the applause is sincere, I think it is appropriate.
What teens need to know about sex, drugs, AIDS and getting along with peers and parents is in "What Every Teen Should Know." Send your name and mailing address, plus check or money order for $7 (U.S. funds) to: Dear Abby, Teen Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Shipping and handling are included in the price.)