Dear Ann:

I am a successful businesswoman, divorced and the mother of two adult sons, who are both on their own and doing well. Their father has never been a part of their lives, which is just as well, since he ran around on me and was never there when we needed him.

Last summer, I bought a computer, and have been having a lot of fun with it. I know all about the potential dangers of meeting people through chat rooms, and so I took my time becoming friendly online. Several weeks ago, I became involved in an ongoing exchange with a man who lives in Fort Worth, Texas. (I live in Seattle.) He says he is divorced and has two daughters. Both girls married well and are on their own. He told me his wife got the six-bedroom house, two cars and a big settlement, and that he has no further financial obligation to her. I look forward to our exchanges, and am embarrassed to admit that I have sort of fallen for him. We have exchanged photos, and he is quite handsome.

I offered to come to Fort Worth so we could get together in person, but he was cool to the idea. He said he would rather come to Seattle. I've asked several times what he does for a living, and so far, he has not been specific. I would like your opinion on what is going on. I have made mistakes in the past, and don't trust my own judgment.

Need Help in the Northwest

Slow down, Sister. It sounds as if your Texas Romeo may be all hat and no cattle. It's a long trip from Seattle to Fort Worth, but it would be a good idea to go down there and check the herd before you get in any deeper. I recommend an on-site visit in a public place.

Dear Ann:

My husband and I have invited his unmarried secretary, "Eva," to various social functions for the last seven years. This includes dinners, movies, plays and basketball games. We always pick her up and take her home. During this time, she has never once offered to pay a dime toward the meals, drinks, tips, gas or admission fees.

We started inviting Eva to join us because she seemed lonely and I felt sorry for her. Now, I have had enough. I don't know anyone else who expects to be treated every time they go out. Even my mother-in-law, who is on a fixed income, insists on picking up the tab now and then.

I think Eva is taking advantage of us, and I want it to stop. Since she still works for my husband, I don't want to ruin the relationship, but I've had it with her freeloading. Any suggestions?

Enough Already in Arizona

Since your pattern of hosting has been going on for seven years, you are going to have a hard time changing it. If you are determined to do so, you must be blunt and forego the niceties. Simply say, "Eva, it's your turn to pick up the check" (or buy the tickets).

P.S.: Since Eva works for your husband, you'd better run this by him to make sure he approves.

Dear Ann:

We are a young couple with two small children. We put down new beige carpeting several months ago, and it was quite expensive. We make our kids remove their shoes when they come into the house, but it is already a mess. We will soon be having it cleaned, and wonder how to politely ask guests to remove their shoes.

Nameless in Maryland

Carpets are made to be walked on. Unless it is snowing or raining, asking guests to remove their shoes would be most unseemly. Settle for getting the carpet cleaned more often, and be done with it.

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