Dear Abby

DEAR ABBY: I have been in a long-distance relationship with my girlfriend, "Elli," for two years. We haven't seen each other for almost six months, and now she has decided she wants time apart.

Our relationship was suffering during my last year of graduate school because I wasn't able to give Elli the time she deserved. Now I have graduated and have a job that gives me more time to dedicate to her.

She decided when I relocated that she would not move to the city with me. She says she wants to keep me in her life, but she "needs space" to find herself. We schedule chats on the phone and try to avoid discussing the status of our relationship, but we usually end up arguing and crying.

I suggested visiting her now that I can afford to, so we can talk through our differences in person, but Elli says it would be too much for her to bear. She says she loves me and that she's doing this for the good of both of us. I miss her terribly. I think about her constantly, but I don't want to smother her and have her resent me. Is there more going on here than meets the eye?

— OUT IN THE COLD IN D.C.

DEAR OUT IN THE COLD: Yes, there probably is. When someone you haven't seen in six months tells you that you need more time apart, it means that she isn't as committed to having a relationship as you are. She may love you, but the question is, is she still IN love with you? The next time you chat, ask her that.

Please realize that when someone says seeing you would be too much to bear, it sends a strong message — regardless of whether or not it's the one you want to hear.

DEAR ABBY: I am writing about a change I have seen in church. I accept the loud guitar music and informal settings, although I do miss the traditional hymns and formal altars.

What I cannot get used to is the forced "friendly" greeting and handshaking. I attend church to meditate and worship with my family. I do not go to shake hands with strangers and give them a greeting dictated by a pastor.

I like people. I am naturally caring, outgoing and friendly. However, I believe that a greeting or handshake should come from my own heart.

I have mentioned this to friends and family from all faiths, ages and walks of life. None of them like this scheduled "greeting" either. Many say they head for the restroom at that time, turn their backs or just shake hands with the people they came with, come to church late to avoid it, or don't come at all. Others feel the practice is unsanitary.

I suggest that church leaders take an anonymous poll and ask how many in their congregations agree with me. What do you think, Abby?

— MINISTER'S DAUGHTER, CAYUCOS, CALIF.

DEAR DAUGHTER: Thank you for asking my opinion. Here it is: Something is wrong in our fragmented society if, for one moment in a house of God, people cannot find it in their hearts to reach out and make sure that everyone feels included and welcome. And for those who fear it is unsanitary — bring small bottles of hand sanitizer.

DEAR ABBY: What is a polite way to let someone know that reading a book in your company, when you have been invited to visit, is offensive?

— NOT A BOOKWORM

DEAR NOT: Picking up a book and reading in the face of a guest is a not very subtle hint that you have overstayed your welcome. And the appropriate response should be, "Well, I'll get going now," followed by a hasty exit.

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.