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STRANGER'S UNSETTLING TALE OF ABUSE

Dear Abby: Last Sunday I attended church as usual. After the service, another woman and I started talking, and the next thing I knew, we were having lunch together.

Over lunch, the other woman told me about her life. She said that as a child she had been molested by her father and when she refused his sexual advances, he started to malign her socially, emotionally and mentally. She no longer lives in the same town with him.

I have no experience or training as a relationship counselor, and found my tongue tied over her story. What should I have said to her?
-- Uncomfortable in Northern California
Dear Uncomfortable: The proper response would have been to acknowledge that her youth had been very difficult, but that she's a survivor and you're glad she got away from her abuser.

It is unusual for someone to reveal that much to a stranger, and had the woman confided in me I would have asked if she'd had counseling to help her deal with it.

Dangerous lifestyle

Dear Abby: I desperately need some guidance, because I'm afraid I'm putting myself in grave danger.

I lost my virginity when I was 16 to a boy I hardly knew. I am now 20 and off to college, and I have literally lost count of the number of men I have had sex with. Only a handful of them have actually been boyfriends. I always feel horrible and used after sex, not to mention that I am constantly worried about STDs and pregnancy since I never use protection. Yet I can't stop being promiscuous.

Abby, please set me straight.
-- Scared and Ashamed in Washington
Dear Scared: Thank you for trusting me with your problem. When you get to school, check in with the student health center. You need to be examined -- and treated, if necessary -- for STDs. You also need to talk to a mental-health professional to understand what has been driving your sexually compulsive behavior.

Showing an interest

Dear Abby: I met a girl at school who isn't the prettiest girl I've ever seen, but she's one of the nicest people you will ever meet. I really like her, but I'm scared to tell her how I feel. Would you please give me some advice on how to approach her?
-- Confused in Maryland
Dear Confused: The best way to "approach" someone is to simply show an interest. Say hello when you see her. If you share a class together, offer to study together. You don't have to declare undying love -- just be friendly.

Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips. Write Dear Abby at www.DearAbby.com or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.

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