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Woman is trapped by guilt

DEAR ABBY: Years ago, I was friendly with a man from work who was very close to his mom. She came along with us once for lunch and ended up really liking me. From that point on, whenever he and I would get together for lunch, she would tag along.

At one point, without my permission, he gave her my phone number, and she began calling me. A little has turned into a lot. She contacts me every day via text or phone, almost always to complain about something in her life. She always wants to get together for lunch and is constantly asking me for favors, including rides to work (we do not have the same job or the same hours) or taking care of her dogs and cats while she’s away on her various work trips.

I no longer speak to the man, but I speak to his mother every single day. She considers me a dear friend and is a very sensitive person with obvious abandonment issues. My problem is, I have zero desire to be this woman’s friend. We are very different in pretty much every way imaginable. I get together with her, respond to her messages, answer her calls and do favors for her out of guilt, not wanting to be yet another person who kicks her to the curb.

How do I handle this? Should I continue to allow her to use me for favors and as a sounding board for all her various complaints, or is there a way to gracefully bow out without breaking this woman’s heart? — WALKING A FINE LINE IN ILLINOIS

DEAR WALKING: A way to bow out would be to start weaning her. Do not make yourself available to the extent that you have. Screen your calls and resist the impulse to be so helpful. It’s all right to have other plans you need to attend to instead of being at her beck and call every day. This is how people distance themselves gently.

The alternative would be to stop responding at all, which would be cruel. While you are no longer close to her son, contact him, tell him what has been going on and ask if he can help with this.

DEAR ABBY: In the past three weeks or so, a man has placed a flower blossom in a small cup on the edge of my patio. This has happened 18 times. The flowers are, seemingly, from surrounding yards. I live in a golfing community, and many golfers pass by daily. Once, he left a golf ball as well.

As I was looking out one day, I saw a man wearing a red shirt, tan cap and shorts. His cap was pulled low, so I couldn’t see his face. He looked to be middle-aged, and he walked away quickly. He has never tried to make contact with me.

My partner is not happy about this, and I’m afraid if he catches the man in action, he may cause a scene. I don’t know if I should be flattered or afraid. Also, the man might be shocked to learn that I’m 85. (Well, yes, I am kind of flattered.) What to do, Abby? — SECRETLY ADMIRED IN FLORIDA

DEAR ADMIRED: Here’s what I’d do. I would accept the compliment, but I would also leave a note on the edge of the patio addressed to “Secret Admirer.” In it I would say that I’m 85 years old and, while flattered, I’m not available — so please stop leaving “gifts” on my patio.

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DEAR ABBY: I am very lucky to have wonderful in-laws. I have been married to their son for five years and together for 10. We have one child. My in-laws are divorced but friendly, and my husband has one brother.

My question revolves around my brother-in-law’s new fiancee, “Tami.” They dated only a short time prior to getting engaged. My in-laws were very slow to warm up to me and hard to get to know. It took almost four years for me to become close to them and feel comfortable.

At this point, I am deeply involved with the family. My mother-in-law and I talk almost every day, and my father-in-law shows a lot of affection toward me. I have received all the family heirlooms and am the “daughter my mother-in-law never had.”

It is apparent that Tami feels less welcomed, and it makes me sad. The difference in the way family members interact with us is striking, and I can’t imagine that it makes her feel good. The family doesn’t intend this. Knowing them takes time. It’s just the way they are.

I have tried hard to involve Tami, but she isn’t local. The family is very spread out, but my in-laws visit us frequently due to the grandchild. My question is, how can I help her feel welcomed and comfortable in a slow-to-warm-up family? Should I offer some of the heirlooms prior to their wedding? Is there anything else I can do, aside from maintain a good relationship on my end? — SHARING GOOD WILL IN THE MIDWEST

DEAR SHARING: It is entirely possible that Tami has taken the cold shoulder she has received personally. She is lucky to have you as an ally. If you haven’t already, it would be a kindness to have a private chat with her and share what you have written to me about your in-laws’ family dynamics.

Although you are well-intentioned, at this point, you would be jumping the gun to give her any of the heirlooms. Once she and your brother-in-law are married, and she has been accepted into the family, ask your mother-in-law if she would mind your doing so.

DEAR ABBY: My mother passed away six years ago. I have two older brothers and a father in my immediate family. There was a rift between my brothers and me several years ago. I made clear to them in a letter how badly they had hurt me. Instead of apologizing, they choose to no longer have a relationship with me.

Dad refuses to get involved. He says his kids are adults, and we should work it out. Recently, he admitted he was verbally abusive to my mom while I was growing up. I remember it well from my childhood. I believe my brothers mimicked his behavior with me while I was growing up and as adults.

I resent my dad for not helping to resolve this issue. He was an angry and insecure person while I was growing up and took things out on Mom. What’s the best way for me to address this with him instead of harboring resentment and avoiding a relationship with him? — WITHOUT FAMILY IN NEW JERSEY

DEAR WITHOUT FAMILY: What exactly do you expect your father to do at this point? Order your brothers to apologize? He is neither willing nor capable of doing it, as he has made clear.

Accept that this is the way things are and keep a cordial relationship with your father if you can. It would also be healthy for you to concentrate on maintaining relationships with people who treat you well and who make you feel accepted and valued. And recognize that THOSE people are your “family” rather than the dysfunctional one into which you were born.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Contact Dear Abby at www.DearAbby.com or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.

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