Q: What do I do about friends who offer unwanted, unneeded, unasked-for advice?

I'm an elderly widow, financially comfortable, enjoying life to the fullest, and I wouldn't change a thing about my life.

And yet one friend inquires into my family relationships. She wants to know how often I see my children. My sons and daughters are married, raising families of their own. We enjoy, admire and love one another; we get together occasionally, but we also enjoy social lives with our own contemporaries. This friend believes in lots of family get-togethers with outward displays of affection, which is not our style. We are not kissy/huggy and would find such displays offensive. Whenever my friend sends a greeting card she adds words of advice on the importance of family togetherness. I wish she would stop.

I have two other friends who always go about in tandem. They never go anywhere on their own. I found it strange to go places by myself after my husband died, but it was either that or not go. I soon discovered the joys and the freedom of picking up and going whenever I pleased. These friends are always harping about my being "a loner."

My religious friend is "born again" and a proselytizer. She sends religious cards, some several pages long, and at a price she can ill afford. I'm a lifelong Methodist and my religion is satisfying and comforting and suits me just fine. My friend tells me she prays for me, hoping I "will see the light."

I wouldn't wish to change places with any of these self-appointed advisers. I love my life, my family, my religion, my freedom. But I find the patronizing manner of these friends insulting, embarrassing and annoying.

Is there some acceptable way of telling them to back off?

A: There are some things you can't do much about, and the attentions of well-meaning friends are near the top of the list.

You could, of course, deliver some cutting line that would put them in their place -- and would probably be as upsetting to you as to them -- or you could just quietly drop them, by breaking dates and leaving phone calls unanswered. You've invested in these relationships for years, however, and these people must mean a good deal to you -- and you to them. It would help you put up with their advice if you could understand them better.

People want you to be happy because they love you. If they think you're living less than a full life, they rush in to suggest alternatives. Unfortunately, many people, including your particular friends, have narrow perspectives, so they're sure that their way is the only way.

That's not the only possibility. If they think you really are content, your freedom may make them a bit wistful, if not downright jealous. By telling you to live as they do, their own lives look brighter and they feel better about themselves.

Whatever the reason, their behavior will improve if you downplay your trips and your social life, thank them briefly for their suggestions and concentrate on their interests instead.

Your family-oriented friend needs to know all the good news about your children and grandchildren and your plans to see them. This subtly tells her that you love your family. And then ask her lots and lots of questions about her own family. People like to talk about themselves more than anyone else.

For the friends who go in tandem, invite them out together if that's the only way they can be comfortable, and ask another friend. It's just easier in this case.

And for the religious friend -- respect her new life, so she'll respect yours a little more. She should appreciate Dear God by David Heller (Doubleday; $9.95) -- a book of children's letters to God -- and a box of those expensive cards so she can indulge in her habit. She'll send you some of them, of course, but you don't have to read the messages.

If your friends still lean on you to be like them, you'll have to ignore their bad habit of giving advice -- just as you hope they'll ignore your bad habits. They may not be worth the effort, but if they are, and they still annoy you, invite these ladies to lunch, one at a time, to discuss something very important to you.

Here you tell each friend that she means a great deal to you but not enough to change your life and if she doesn't back off, you will.

The responsibility for breaking these friendships lies with them, not with you -- and they should know it.

Questions may be sent to Marguerite Kelly, P.O. Box 15310, Washington, D.C. 20003.