Dear Abby: Distance tests strength of military couple's engagement

DEAR ABBY: I've been in a long-distance relationship for 2 1/2 years. We are now engaged, but haven't set a date for our wedding.

We are both in the military, and we have maintained this relationship well. But there was a time before we dated that I was dating someone else. I ended that relationship, but haven't healed from it because I see him at work often, and I still have feelings for him.

He lives in my neighborhood, and I enjoy talking to him. I like the attention he gives me, and I'm attracted to him. I blame the geographical distance from my fiance for this. I want someone close, and I would love for it to be the person I am engaged to, but although I try to abstain from this other person, I find myself drawn to him. -- CAUGHT BETWEEN TWO

DEAR CAUGHT: You say you have been together with your absent fiance for 2 1/2 years, but are still carrying on an emotional affair with the man you broke up with. When you say you are "trying to abstain" from this person, clearly you can't.

What is going on isn't fair to the man you are engaged to. If he knew, I'm sure he would agree. Do not chalk this up to "when I'm not with the man I love, I love the one I'm with." Be honest about what you really want, follow through, and you won't be writing me again years from now asking what to do.

DEAR ABBY: I am a hairstylist with a client who was referred to me by a mutual friend, "Rita," from high school. Rita is also a client, and we go back 20-plus years. The client, who's close friends with Rita, is picky and a terrible tipper.

She box colors her hair at home, but comes to me for her haircuts. I offer her 10% off of her haircut for prebooking, so she gets a $35 service for $31.50. She usually tips me $3.50. She keeps asking me to sell her hair products at a wholesale cost, which I do for my family and for Rita, but no one else.

Cutting her hair is a chore, because she's never completely happy with the service and has asked to come back for free retouching. If she were anyone else, I'd part ways with her, but because of her close relationship with Rita, she sometimes comes to dinner with us on girls' nights and is involved in our group chats.

Is there a discreet way to end this business/client relationship without screwing up my friendship with my high school pal? I'm tired of dealing with her, but I don't know how to get out. -- CUTTING HER OUT

DEAR CUTTING: Handle this by telling Rita what you have written to me and explaining that the two of them may be friends, but you no longer want the woman as a client. Then sweetly tell the woman the next time she calls that your professional relationship doesn't seem to be a good fit because she has voiced dissatisfaction with your work. Then offer to refer her to someone else. Not every client is a good fit and vice versa. It's a fact of business life.

Needy woman takes advantage of co-worker's kindness

DEAR ABBY: There is a woman where I work who is emotionally needy. My work is autonomous, but we are in the same group, so I have to interact with her to some extent.

Early on, I made the mistake of offering her emotional support, thinking she was going through something temporary and her life would get better. This is not the case. Her life is an anxiety-ridden train wreck. She doesn't think she needs to see a therapist, which, I guess, makes sense since I have been performing that role.

Our conversations begin with her asking how I'm doing, then 30 seconds later turn into a monologue of whatever her current drama happens to be. I need things to be copacetic with this woman, and I have no idea how to pull away from these interactions that leave me overwhelmed and emotionally drained.

I'd like to tell her what the problem is. I have gently suggested how to look at herself in a situation or how she can do things differently. She's not inclined to hear anything she doesn't agree with. She only wants to complain and dump her emotional garbage on me.

She's now asking me if she has done something to upset me, as I have become increasingly distant since we began working from home. Should I tell her what my problem is or leave it until we go back to the office and refuse to interact with her unless it's work-related? -- REACHED THE LIMIT IN CALIFORNIA

DEAR REACHED: Tell your co-worker that as much as you like her, the reason you seem more distant is her personal problems have become more than you can handle hearing about. Explain further that you are not qualified to advise her, and even though she doesn't want to see a licensed mental health professional, you feel she would benefit from it. It's the truth, and the truth will set you free.

DEAR ABBY: A longtime friend and I have always exchanged birthday cards. For years, we would try to "one-up" each other with funny cards or sometimes sweet ones. I have always spent a lot of time in card stores choosing just the right one for her.

For the last four or five years, my friend has sent me the SAME card, one which obviously is taken from a box of cards. They are so old that the paper has yellowed and the message is generic and impersonal.

It's obvious that she does not care enough to give my birthday any thought and, frankly, it's tacky. It aggravates me so much that I'd rather not receive a card from her. I rarely see or talk to her anymore. Am I being petty to let this bother me as much as it does? -- PRETTY MAD IN KENTUCKY

DEAR PRETTY MAD: Before making more negative judgments about your old friend, make an effort to find out why her pattern of behavior changed so radically over the last four or five years. Is she having financial or health problems? That she REMEMBERS your birthday -- regardless of how humbly -- should count in her favor. The two of you are long overdue for an honest conversation to catch up with each other.

Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Contact Dear Abby at www.DearAbby.com or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.