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College teen should wait to settle down

Dear Abby: I'm a 19-year-old girl in my third semester of college. My boyfriend, "Tom," attends a community college nearby. Both of us live with our parents. I have had only three boyfriends in my life, and Tom was my high school sweetheart.

Tom just proposed. I immediately accepted, but now I'm second-guessing my decision. We're just starting our adult lives, and I'm still learning what that entails. I want to study abroad during college to enhance my experience of the world. Also, because neither of us has ever moved beyond our childhood homes, I think we should both have more exposure about the world beyond.

Everyone is supportive of us, including our parents. I will always be committed to Tom and I trust him completely, but I feel that by prematurely locking ourselves in, we're setting ourselves up for failure. Am I overreacting? – Fledgling Fiancee in Louisiana

Fiancee: Not at all. The points you have made in your letter are well-reasoned. You ARE very young to be making a permanent commitment, and you're both entering a period of growth – and possible divergence in your level of life experience. Tom may have proposed because he was afraid if he didn't, he might lose you now that you're attending different schools.

Tell Tom you care for him deeply, but think you jumped the gun. Make it clear that you would like to keep seeing him, but on a nonexclusive basis until you return from your studies abroad. I agree that by prematurely locking yourselves in, the odds of the relationship not lasting are high. Be sure Tom understands that you aren't trying to end the relationship, only postponing the engagement.

Dear Abby: I was always a laid-back and easygoing person. But I was in a terrible car accident, and ever since I have suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. I have received counseling and function pretty well as long as I remain in a calm environment.

My problem is that my husband's family comes to visit each year for anywhere from 4 to 8 days, and when they're here my stress level is very high. Their last three visits resulted in my getting migraine headaches, which I had never experienced before, as well as TMJ (pain in my jaw) and painful neuropathy, which the doctor explained was brought on by stress. It has lasted two months.

I like my in-laws, but I am unwilling to deal with more pain as a result of their visits. My husband doesn't want to send them to a hotel, which I understand. Therefore, I feel that since this is MY problem, I should move to a hotel during their visits. What do you think, Abby? – Pushed To The Limit

Dear Pushed: Unless this is handled delicately – and by that I mean carefully explained to your husband's family – it could cause hurt feelings. Surely your in-laws are aware of your car accident. What they may not be aware of is the lingering damage it has caused. Your husband should explain this to his relatives and ask if they would mind staying elsewhere BECAUSE OF YOUR MEDICAL CONDITION.

If you can tolerate their "tumult" on a limited basis, this might solve the problem. If not, then I agree you should stay elsewhere so they can have a good time together.

However, this should happen with full disclosure and preferably no hard feelings. If you can see any of them individually for a short time, you should make every effort so they won't feel you are avoiding them for any other reason.

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, CA 90069.

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