Dear Abby:

I am in an uncomfortable spot. I met a great woman last month and have developed feelings for her. I'll call her Carmen.

Every time I try to focus my energy into starting this relationship, my ex, "Rita," pops back into the picture. Most recently, she was calling about a cell phone we had when we were together.

Carmen is aware that I got out of a 51/2-year relationship six months ago, but every time Rita does something to upset me, Carmen tells me she thinks I am not over Rita. Abby, I feel the relationship with my ex is over. I sincerely want to explore things with Carmen.

I have talked to Rita a few times to get everything squared away so there will be no more reasons for further contact, but something else always keeps coming up. I don't want Carmen to be scared off. What should I do?

Ready to Move On in Duluth

If you allow it, Rita will always find an excuse to maintain contact. It is time to put your past firmly behind you and move on. This means making a clean break with Rita. Tell her that communicating with her is causing problems for you, so you won't be doing it anymore. Then keep your word -- no phone calls, no e-mails, no visits.

Dear Abby:

I am one of your older readers -- age 90 -- but I don't look a day over 70. I recently told my sister that I wear hip-huggers, and she asked me if I'm going senile. She thinks it's awful. I say hip-huggers are comfortable in the summer heat. What is your opinion?

"Hip" in Casselberry, Fla.

I know women 30 years younger than you who are reluctant to bear their midriffs because their skin is no longer taut. However, since you are comfortable wearing hip-huggers, the choice should be yours and your sister should refrain from making any more catty comments. (Could she be jealous?)

Dear Abby:

Please tell people that when shaking hands, not to "squeeze" a person's hand hard. I have arthritis in my hands and it hurts so bad when some people shake my hand. Just a gentle shake is sufficient. Please print this.

Sore Hand in Pilgrim, Ky.

A person can shake your hand only if you extend it. The next time you're in a social situation and someone extends his or her hand -- smile, reach out and touch the person on the arm and say, "I'd shake your hand, but I can't because I have arthritis."

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)2004, Universal Press Syndicate