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Dear Ann Landers: I read the letter from "Hurting in Ohio," the lesbian whose sister became upset when she let her hand rest on her partner's knee at a nephew's birthday party. Since then, the entire family has been in an uproar.

Your response was that she should keep her hands off her partner's knee, and you suggested that she reiterate her apology. You've got this all wrong. An apology is due -- from the sister and the rest of the family -- to "Hurting." What would your response be if this were a heterosexual couple? Or a couple of female friends? Since when does a sign of affection cause an entire family to be in turmoil?

Ann, your message should be to the family. Tell them to loosen up. It would do them all a world of good.

-- Adele in Connecticut
Dear Adele: You are right -- but the family did not write to me. "Hurting" wanted to know how to make things better. I told her. Even though her sister made an attempt to accept the couple, she was not, in fact, ready to do so. A hand on the knee is not simply a sign of affection, it is also a sign of intimacy. (How would you feel if your husband put his hand on his secretary's knee?) Considering how tentative the sister's feelings were, "Hurting" should understand why it caused a problem.

Of course the sister should accept the couple, but you cannot force her to do so. This isn't about right or wrong. It is about how to make the family close again.

In-law not so bad

Dear Ann Landers: I have been married for four years. The first three years, I did not get along with my mother-in-law. Happily, in recent months, we have mended some fences and become close. I would like to offer your readers a glimpse of what I have learned that made our relationship better.

I have learned that those things I love most about my husband -- his character, his honesty and his sense of humor -- are "gifts" from his mother. How could I possibly not respect and love the person who raised my husband to be such a wonderful man?

I also learned that my mother-in-law and I both want the same things for the man we share -- a healthy, happy life surrounded by the people he loves and who love him. What more could a woman wish for?

Your readers should remember this when they are tempted to view their mothers-in-law as "competition." I wish I had caught on earlier. My life would have been a lot more peaceful.

-- Daughter-in-Law in Arlington, Va.
Dear Daughter-in-Law: You "caught on" after four years of marriage. Good for you. Some daughters-in-law NEVER catch on, so consider yourself a quick study. The woman who competes with her mother-in-law (or daughter-in-law) will never win. And it's dreadful for the children. If ever harmony between two people is needed, this is the place.

Send a gift and hope

Dear Ann Landers: Two of our co-workers became engaged recently. The couple argued constantly and broke up every other week. We decided, in order to be "safe," to wait until they got married before sending a wedding gift. Well, the couple did marry. We all sent gifts, they left for their honeymoon, and then broke up the day they returned. They kept all the gifts!

I know this has come up in your column before, but tell us again, Ann, how long do we wait before it's safe to give a wedding present?

-- Skunked in San Antonio
Dear Skunked: These days, there is no set timetable. Send the gift and hope for the best. P.S. That couple who kept the gifts are four-door, brass-plated clods.

Problems? Dump on Ann. Write her at The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, N.Y. 14240.

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