DEAR ABBY: May I respond to "Iowa Reader" (Nov. 10), the older woman who asked you where to turn when she needed to be hugged and listened to? I'm guessing she was married a long time and doesn't have any real friends -- just people from her married days.
I suggest she get a dog. While dogs can't hug or hold, they do love unconditionally. A dog is always happy to be with you, and will listen even though it can't talk back. I would have died of loneliness had it not been for mine. Through her, I have met other older single people on walks and at the dog park. She has given me a way to make new friends and find some company. -- MARCY IN OAKLAND, CALIF.
DEAR MARCY: Thanks for your suggestion. I promised "Iowa Reader" that if other readers shared ideas I would pass them along. Because of you and other compassionate readers, I received a wide range of heartfelt, helpful advice. My newspaper readers comment:
DEAR ABBY: I discovered a wonderful way to receive much-needed human contact -- partner dancing. I started with the Argentine tango, which might be a bit too much for some folks, but I have learned to absolutely love it. It's a safe way to enjoy an intimate connection with a member of the opposite sex, no strings attached.
It takes time to master the skills, but if you stick with it you'll find a community that shares a passion for a skill that's challenging and rewarding. Less-intimate forms of partner dance include swing, salsa and country dancing. If you love music and movement, and could use some exercise, I highly recommend it. -- CATHERINE IN HAWAII
DEAR ABBY: I was faced with the same situation when my husband passed away. I joined a Sunday school and found what I needed. Often, the only hugs I get are from people in our group.
I volunteer in the kitchen and since I like taking pictures, I've been appointed the class photographer. Others have also utilized their hobbies to reach out to people. We go on outings, and I have made many "huggable" friends. I urge "Iowa Reader" to visit places of worship and find one that has an active senior adult ministry. -- JO ANN IN ARLINGTON, TEXAS
DEAR ABBY: I have been a licensed massage therapist for 20 years. I suggest "Iowa Reader" seek out one. During her hour on the massage table she will be touched, nurtured and encouraged to speak about anything on her mind. It's my job to not only make her feel safe and healthy physically, but emotionally as well.
For many clients, I am their only source of touch. It gives me great joy to know that in some small way I can make an important difference in their overall well-being. -- HUGS FROM MAINE
DEAR ABBY: Volunteering to rock and cuddle low-birth-weight babies puts one in an environment where personal problems matter less. Brushing and petting dogs and cats at the SPCA can provide meaningful interaction because socialized animals are more likely to be adopted. There are poetry and writing groups, peer-to-peer counseling at her Area Agency on Aging, and "contact" sports like pingpong.
Abby, I once read in your column, "The best way to have a friend is to be one." To not overburden any one friend, some conversations are best done with God. -- RACHEL L.
DEAR ABBY: I encourage her to offer to tutor or read to kids at her local elementary school, visit residents at a nursing home or work at a homeless shelter. There are lots of others out there who need hugs and attention. Volunteers receive far more than they give. -- DIANNE IN GAINESVILLE, FLA.
DEAR ABBY: I work for the YMCA where we have a wonderful community of middle-aged and older people who work out together, spend time visiting during our potlucks, and who have formed circles of lasting friendships. -- CORINNE IN OREGON
DEAR ABBY: I went back to school, earned my master's and became a kindergarten teacher. I'm blessed with more hugs now than I know what to do with, and I'm told several times a week that I am loved. During summer vacation, my cat takes up the slack. -- LINDA IN PASCO, WASH.