DEAR ABBY: I'm a single mother. My two sons are practically grown and out of the house. I haven't dated much over the years, but there was one man I did bond with and cared very much for at one point.
He lived across the country, and the long-distance relationship was difficult. I was reluctant to move my kids across the country for someone I barely knew, so the relationship ended. Thank God, I followed my instinct on that one!
Feeling sentimental one evening, I went online and searched for his name. Up popped a mug shot of him posted on a Megan's Law website, identifying him as a deviant offender. The police code indicated he was someone who had intercourse with a person under the age of 13. I couldn't believe my eyes.
Now I can't stop thinking about what might have happened had I not followed my instincts. I'm afraid to date anyone for fear I'll find another creep. Is there a way to "screen" prospective mates without them knowing -- like a background check for daters, perhaps? -- STILL SHOCKED IN TEXAS
DEAR STILL SHOCKED: The way to screen someone for a criminal conviction would be to go online and search in the state the person lives in or came from. That, however, is no guarantee you won't meet another creep.
Finding Mr. Right is a process that involves trial and error. In many cases, a lot of error. That's why it is better to meet men through personal introductions, volunteer groups or because you have mutual interests -- and even then, take your time getting to know them.
DEAR ABBY: May I tell you about an incident that happened last Halloween? I took my daughters, ages 12 and 6, and a co-worker's 4-year-old son trick-or-treating. My 12-year-old is becoming a young woman and appears older. When we came to one house, the homeowner promptly gave the smaller children candy and had a conversation with them, but completely ignored my older daughter. She was very hurt, and it cast a pall on the evening. I was stunned.
I'm the kind of person who doesn't care how old you are -- if you're dressed up for Halloween, you can come knocking and you'll get a treat. I'd rather give someone candy than have him or her feel the way my daughter did.
How should I have handled this? Is there an age limit for trick-or-treaters? -- FESTIVE MOM IN KANSAS
DEAR FESTIVE MOM: If you refrained from challenging the homeowner, you handled it correctly. Halloween is a holiday during which all of those who participate celebrate their inner child. As my dear mother once said to me, there were times when the doorbell would ring and she wasn't sure whether to offer the trick-or-treater candy or a martini. And I think that's where I'd draw the line.
DEAR ABBY: I'm 10 and I have a sister who copies everything I do. For example, I was known for my good cooking until she made "amazing" banana bread. Now nobody thinks I'm the best cook in the house anymore.
My sister tags along with whatever I do. I sell dog treats; she sells dog treats. My mom thinks it's cute and says I should be flattered. All I want is to be unique, but it's hard with my sister who steals the show. Please help! -- FRUSTRATED IN BEND, ORE.
DEAR FRUSTRATED: Talk to your mother again about this. While I agree that your sister's desire to do what you do is cute, it can also create a cutthroat competition between siblings. Your mother could avoid this if she would encourage your sister to develop interests or talents of her own and help you become involved in after-school activities that do not include your sister. Sports or a church group come to mind.
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.
Good advice for everyone -- teens to seniors -- is in "The Anger in All of Us and How to Deal With It." To order, send your name and mailing address, plus check or money order for $7 (U.S. funds) to: Dear Abby, Anger Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Shipping and handling are included in the price.)