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Dear Abby: Suicidal chats online require help

Dear Abby: I’m a grad student who enjoys perusing social networks. The other day, I came across a post from someone who said he wanted to kill himself. Naturally, I kind of freaked out.

I contacted the person to ask him not to. Thankfully, he didn’t. Normally I don’t do the whole “Internet friend” thing, but we decided to keep chatting. Since then, we’ve become fast friends.

He’s in the military and fears losing his job if he seeks help. I don’t want to pressure him into seeing a professional, since part of what’s causing his anxiety is being ordered around, but I don’t want him to hurt himself. I know I can’t save him; I can only walk alongside while he figures it all out, but I don’t want him to suffer. What should I do?

– Long-Distance Friend

Dear Long-Distance Friend: I’ll try. Are you sure this person is who he purports to be? Suicidal people don’t usually broadcast it to strangers. When you say he’s afraid that if he seeks professional help he’ll lose his job, is he intending to make a career in the military? If the answer is yes, and he doesn’t like “being ordered around,” he has chosen the wrong career.

You should tell him it’s essential that he talk to someone about his suicidal impulses who has the training to actually help him. If you encourage him to lean on you, it will only prolong his procrastination about standing on his own two feet. For both your sakes, deliver your message clearly and back away. Because you have known each other for such a short time, it shouldn’t be too traumatic.

RSVP’s meaning unchanged

Dear Abby: My husband and I will celebrate our 50th anniversary soon – 125 invitations were sent, and 80 people have responded that they’ll be attending the party. I have wondered about the 45 invitees who didn’t respond one way or the other.

Now, I’ve been told there’s a new rule of etiquette regarding the RSVP on an invitation – that one doesn’t have to respond unless one is attending the function. Is this true? Am I out of step with the current social culture? So in planning any function that entails food, hotel rooms, etc., am I to assume that no response is a negative one?

– Questioning in the Southeast

Dear Questioning: You are not out of step. There is no “new rule,” unless the invitation specifies “regrets only.” RSVP still means what it always has: Répondez s’il vous plaît. That’s French for “Please respond.” It doesn’t mean to respond only if you plan on being there. Polite people take note of the phone number at the bottom of the invitation, or the little card included with it, and accept or decline.

While it’s safe to assume that the individuals you didn’t hear from won’t be coming, it’s also a clue that they may not have been taught good manners.