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Dear Abby: I am a twice-divorced woman who has never been good at choosing the men in my life. Two years ago, I met a man who is 12 years my senior. He is sweet, thoughtful and caring, and would do just about anything for me. What started as companionship has turned into a full-blown love affair.

The problem is that he is married. His wife is not well. She has a chronic disease and other medical problems. The way he cares for her is what attracted me to him in the first place. He spends what time he can with me, but mostly he is there for his wife. I am OK with the situation, as I don’t want him to leave her for me.

I have tried breaking it off with him, but he gets me to take him back, saying he doesn’t know what he would do without me in his life. He is very strong-willed. Abby, I feel like I’m in the background waiting for her to die so I can take her place as his wife, and I hate this feeling. What should I do?

– Guilty in Kentucky

Dear Guilty: Your feelings are well-founded. You ARE waiting in the background for this man’s wife to die. But what if she doesn’t?

You say you have never been good at choosing men, and I have to agree. Please don’t think I am unsympathetic, but it’s time to ask yourself why you chose to get involved with someone who isn’t available except for a few stolen moments. If marriage is what you really want, your priority should be to find a man who doesn’t have the kind of previous commitment this one does.

Don’t respond to inmate

Dear Abby: I have recently been contacted by an old boyfriend who is now incarcerated. He claims I was the love of his life and he thought about me often after our breakup. He is now asking me to become his pen pal and send him money occasionally.

I have bitter memories of our relationship, so it’s hard to believe he cared for me as much as he says. He is begging me not to “abandon” him or forget about him, but I don’t want the role of pen pal and provider. How do I share my thoughts without hurting his feelings?

– Reluctant in California

Dear Reluctant: If you are smart, you won’t respond to him at all. I have printed letters from more than one prison guard who wanted to warn kind-hearted, gullible women that inmates send multiple “solicitations” of this kind in the hope that several of the recipients will send money.

You are not responsible for this man’s well-being. Since your breakup, your lives have obviously gone in polar opposite directions. My advice is to keep it that way, for your own sake.

Write Dear Abby at www.DearAbby.com or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 60069.