Dear Amy:

I am a 39-year-old divorced man with a beautiful 6-year-old daughter. I have been divorced more than five years, and the dating scene is tiresome. The women I meet do not seem ready for the family life that I so desire.

I have been talking more frequently with a woman I have known for the past three years. She has been unhappily married for seven years. We have become close and actually have gone out a few times. We have connected in ways I never knew existed. We have spoken about our life together once she is out of her marriage.

I feel that her ex-to-be is going to make this difficult for her. He has become so suspicious of her that he confronted her about her distant behavior.

She told him she has been talking to someone as a friend. He obviously did not take this news well. She was physically abused, and now I fear for her safety. I asked what I could do to help, but she assures me she can take care of it and does not want me involved. We have mutually decided to cool it.

I have fallen in love with this woman and cannot imagine my life without her.

How should I handle this?

Desperate

If you fear for your friend's safety, you should do everything possible to make sure she is safe while keeping your distance so that you don't make things worse for her. If you know any of her friends or family members, contact them immediately and ask them to check in with her. Battered women often declare that they can take care of things themselves, but they cannot.

You can speak with a domestic violence counselor by calling the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233. Make sure that your friend has the phone number and that she will get out of the house immediately if she is afraid.

You also need to focus on your own behavior. You have chosen to engage in an adulterous relationship. Because you say that your family life means so much to you, I'm not sure how you can square your stance on family life with your presence in this relationship. You're setting a poor example for your young daughter.

Dear Amy:

I disagree with your answer to "Confused," who discovered a problematic instant-message dialogue with a friend on her 16-year-old daughter's computer document file.

You stated that her daughter had no right to privacy when she stored documents on the family computer. However, it is my belief, as a marriage and family therapist intern, mother and grandmother, that we all have a right to privacy, whether the information is in a diary under a pillow or in our computer.

I do not open my husband's document files and he doesn't open mine, without consent. If I left a letter addressed to me "lying around," no one else would have the right to read it, even though I hadn't locked it up.

What if the friend had told her story face-to-face or over the telephone? Would the daughter then be obligated to tell her mom?

I know from my own counseling experience that trust is an extremely important issue for teenagers, and because it wasn't her own daughter who "Confused" suspected of engaging in inappropriate behavior, she should have respected her daughter's privacy.

Ellen Howe

The letter in question regarded an instant message from the girl's friend about sexual behavior that wasn't just "inappropriate" but was also apparently nonconsensual -- and happening in the girl's home.

I understand and respect your point of view, but in my house, if I discover (not through snooping but through the normal course of events on the family computer) that my daughter's friend is engaging in alarming behavior, then I'm intervening.

Then I'm going to sleep like a baby, even if I have violated the privacy of two teenagers.

You are right. In families, trust is paramount. Kids should trust that their parents will take the responsibility of intervening out of the hands of teenagers and place it into the hands of the grown-ups, where it belongs.

Write to Amy Dickinson at askamy@tribune.com.

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