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by Abigail Van Buren

Advancing Age Changes Man in Ways That Surprise Him

DEAR ABBY: I'm a man in my mid-70s, and I'm beginning to understand why some old people are annoying cranks. It has something to do with the nearly constant physical, emotional and spiritual pain. (And if you're not sleeping well as a result, that only makes things worse.)

My body is breaking down, and something hurts all the time. My wife died some years ago, other loved ones are gone as well, and my grief is an unending process. I know my remaining time here is limited, and I'm not sure I want to depart the only life I've known for an uncertain future.

I have started alienating friends and others by the things I say, and I didn't used to be this way. There's no excuse for this, of course, but what I'm saying is, there are reasons. And yet, some people age gracefully. My question is, how do they do it? -- ALAN IN FLORIDA

DEAR ALAN: It is extremely important that you speak to your doctor about everything you are experiencing. Your unending grief might be lessened if you discuss it with a licensed mental health provider.

It's true that not everyone ages physically at the same rate. Some individuals start preparing in their 40s and 50s for the later stages of life by eating healthier and exercising. The saying "use it or lose it" has a lot of truth to it. Muscles that don't move tend to freeze up and cause pain.

Volunteering is a wonderful way to stay busy, active and focus on others, and volunteers are needed in every community. Please consider what I have written, and let me know how you are doing in six months. I care.

Man Is Mostly Absent From Marriage and Family

DEAR ABBY: I met and married my husband 20 years ago. Twelve years ago, we had a child. Since then, I have felt like a single parent.

I think things were always this way, but I didn't notice as much until we had a child. My husband has a good heart, and I know he loves us, but he rarely spends time with us. He works long hours in retail and chooses to spend his off hours with others and without us. He loves people and is quite a social butterfly.

He can go days without speaking to us, and is content most nights with kissing our daughter goodnight after she has already gone to sleep. He makes plans and decisions on his own -- without me -- including about money matters.

Am I overreacting when I complain? I'm contemplating a divorce because I need more than a part-timer for a mate. -- LONELY MARRIED MOM

DEAR MOM: Overreacting? Frankly, I am surprised that it has taken you this long to write to me. The person you married appears to be totally detached and more of a roommate than a husband. That he goes for days without speaking to you and your child is emotional cruelty.

Spouses are supposed to socialize together -- at least most of the time -- and make financial decisions together. The only positive you've mentioned is that he's the family's bread-winner.

That you are contemplating divorce isn't surprising. Your husband left you behind emotionally more than a decade ago. Consult an attorney and familiarize yourself with as much financial information as possible before making any announcements.

For an excellent guide to becoming a better conversationalist and a more sociable person, order "How to Be Popular." Send your name and mailing address, plus check or money order for $8 (U.S. funds) to: Dear Abby, Popularity Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Shipping and handling are included in the price.)