Dear Abby:

My girlfriend, "Kit," has been living with me for almost four years, and our love for each other is stronger than ever. Kit has asked me to marry her many times, but I always divert her attention or change the subject.

The truth is, I don't believe in marriage and would rather have Kit as my girlfriend for the rest of my life. What scares me is the fact that my last girlfriend dumped me when I leveled with her about how I never want to marry.

Please tell me what to do because I don't want to lose Kit.

Forever Single in San Francisco

First of all, level with Kit about how you feel and why. While it may seem romantic to have a girlfriend forever, mature people want to take care of those they love. There are legal protections and benefits for spouses that single people do not enjoy. Your lawyer can explain them to you. As things stand, if something were to happen to you, Kit would be left with nothing but memories. Is that what you want?

Dear Abby:

"Concerned Mother" wrote that she wants to move because her neighbor, "the Wicked Witch of the West," likes her dogs better than "Concerned Mother's" children. ("She ignores the innocent greetings of our children, which hurts their feelings. ... I worry what a person so filled with anger may be capable of.") May I politely suggest that not everyone wants other people's children bothering them? I realize that "Mother" believes her children are the salt of the earth and her world revolves around them. However, I'm a middle-aged, childless single woman who works hard all day juggling two difficult jobs. The last thing I want to deal with when I get home is someone else's children. In the last place I lived, my next-door neighbors sent their kids into the hallway at night to play cricket and couldn't understand why that bothered me!

Your suggestion that "Mother" instruct her children to leave the neighbor woman alone is a good one. However, advising her to add that there is something wrong with the woman ("explain that the neighbor is troubled and unhappy") fosters bad manners. It should make no difference to the kiddies why they are to leave that woman alone. It should be enough for them to understand that the neighbor doesn't wish to be bothered. The sooner they learn that not everyone thinks they "hung the moon," the happier they will be.

Kate in Toronto

The parents of the cricket-playing kids in your hallway were responsible for the racket -- not the youngsters. The little ones were just doing as they were told. I'm printing your letter because it's true that not all adults relate well to children. (W.C. Fields was an example of that.) However, it's safe to say that most adults do. But sometimes even the kindest and happiest people don't like to be disturbed.

Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Write Dear Abby at www.DearAbby.com or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, Calif. 90069.

(c)2003, Universal Press Syndicate