Dear Abby:

I have a beautiful, loving niece, "Marissa," who just turned 30. She desperately wants to be married and have children.

Marissa has been dating a man for two years. Last week, he told her that she's the one he wants to marry and have children with, but he's not ready to do it yet.

We have tried to talk to Marissa and encourage her to go out with friends and enjoy life, but she can't seem to do it.

Every time she hears that someone has gotten engaged or become pregnant, she gets depressed. Have you any words of wisdom for Marissa? We have exhausted our supply. Please print this. When I see your answer, I'll run it right over to her apartment.

Caring Aunt in Ohio

If Marissa won't listen to you and those who love her, she's not going to be receptive to "wisdom" from me. She does, however, need some answers before she devotes any more time to her boyfriend.

After two years, why isn't he ready for marriage? Is he not ready emotionally? Financially? Does he still have wild oats to sow? Her biological clock is ticking. If he really plans to have a family with her, a talk with her ob-gyn might speed him to the altar. If it doesn't, she should move on.

Dear Abby:

I have several good friends. Whenever a friend starts to become "clingy," I start to withdraw and even try to avoid them. By "clingy," I mean they phone one or more times a day. Sometimes it's people who expect me to go with them all the time, or "always" sit by them at gatherings or events. Not all my friends act this way, and I have great relationships with those few who don't.

How can I convey to the others that I like my space and feel intruded upon when they become clingy? I try to laugh it off, but it wears on my nerves, and then I feel guilty for feeling the way I do.

Feeling Bad in Texas

When people call too frequently, draw the line by telling them you are too busy to talk and will call them when it's convenient. When you feel encroached upon, explain to those who expect you to accompany them "all the time," that you have other plans.

Not all relationships need the same amount of care and feeding. The people with whom you interact need to learn to respect your boundaries. But in order for that to happen, you must level with your friends about your feelings and not beat yourself up for doing so.

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