TO MY IRISH READERS: Have a joyous St. Patrick's Day, but if you're drinking, don't drive. And if you're driving, don't drink.
DEAR ABBY: I am newly single after a 30-year marriage. Would you please explain to me the protocol regarding intimacy? After how many dates is it appropriate to engage in intimacy? And afterward, should the man call the woman or the woman call the man? How long should one wait before calling? I'm afraid if I call too soon I'll appear needy, and if I wait too long to call I'll appear to be a player. -- TENTATIVE TOM IN TAMPA
DEAR TENTATIVE TOM: When an individual has reached middle age, that person is considered mature enough to know when he (or she) is comfortable enough with another person to engage in "intimacy." No time limit is engraved in stone. As to who should call whom first to offer congratulations on a fine performance, there is no reason to stand on ceremony. Everyone likes a compliment, and a prompt, "Thank you for a wonderful time; it was great," is not considered needy -- it's good manners.
DEAR ABBY: I recently experienced an awkward situation. I reconnected with an old friend I hadn't seen in about four years. The last time I saw her she was pregnant. I asked about her baby, and she informed me that he had died a few months after his birth.
She clearly found the memory sad, but at the same time had moved on. I didn't want to force her to re-experience the event by asking her what happened, but it seemed rude to abruptly change the subject to some minor matter after such sobering news.
What is the polite thing to say when someone tells you about a tragedy, but long after it happened? -- WORDS FAIL ME, PEKIN, ILL.
DEAR WORDS: The correct way to handle it would have been to say, "I'm so sorry for your loss," and let your friend decide whether to discuss it further or change the subject. In other words, let her take the lead.
DEAR ABBY: When I was married I had an affair with a married man. We had a child together, and I divorced my husband. When the affair ended, child support was never mentioned, and for the last nine years I have raised my daughter by myself.
I am recently married to a wonderful man who takes care of both of us very well. My daughter has never asked anything about her father, but I know down the road she'll want to know what happened. I don't know when I should talk to her about this, and if I should take any legal steps to claim child support. Part of me feels that I should go for it; part of me is saying I should just let it go. Your thoughts, please? -- AMBIVALENT IN PLANO, TEXAS
DEAR AMBIVALENT: The time to tell your daughter the details is when she starts asking you questions. Whether you should seek retroactive child support is something you should discuss with an attorney. While it might result in a nice chunk of change that could be put toward your daughter's college education, it could also result in the biological father's having access to the girl. And frankly, a man who not only cheats on his wife but shirks his financial responsibility to his daughter strikes me as less than a positive role model.