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E-mail-order bride and Cheap and uneasy and The religious write

Q: What are the chances of a relationship working out between two people who met on the Internet, live roughly 1,000 miles apart, and have seen each other in person only once? I'm 27, she's 26. She rarely writes and calls only sporadically, but she says that she wants to have a committed relationship with me. She tells me she loves me and that she wants to move to my city (in the process, leaving her family, her friends and her job) in order to get our relationship off the ground. Is this the talk of a stable person? Could she really be in love after speaking with me via phone for five months and meeting me only once? –Object of Desire

A: Don't break out the frankincense and myrrh just yet. Your aspiring e-mail-order bride's message, "I'm madly in love with you and I can't go on without you" might as well be addressed to "Dear Occupant." Maybe she talks a good game ... on the rare occasions that she calls. But, at this point, it sounds as if you've spent more quality time with the 10-items-or-less guy at the local supermarket. If she's in love, it's not with you as you, but with you as an escape hatch. Chances are, she got out of school with dreams of Prince Charming and Job Charming and a Metropolitan Home – dreams that solidified like cold hamburger grease into a so-so job, a cramped apartment she shares with a chain-smoking roommate who sheds, and a slew of dull, nose-picking friends.

Then you appeared: "Calgon, take me away!" "Sorry, but my name's not Calgon," should be your response. If you let her come Velcro herself to your life, she's going to try to suck you dry of things you can't give her – like a self and a life of her own. Eventually, she'll realize that she's just as empty as she was back home in Dullsville ... which is where she'll be stuck until she starts looking within instead of within the chat room for all the answers.

Q: In November, I started dating a guy I've known since childhood. He's very sweet and our relationship is progressing, but there is one small problem: He's cheap! Since we started dating, we haven't even been to a movie or out to dinner at his expense. At Christmas, I bought him loads of clothes, and he only bought me a clock radio. Over the years, he's told me about the gifts he's given to other women. Now that he's with me ... zippo! Jack-bone! Am I being selfish to think this way? How can I get my cheap boyfriend to be generous with me? –Scroogie's Squeeze

A: Picture a woman who's about to leave a bartender a tip; a woman extracting pieces of change from a change purse as if she were peeling off strips of her skin. You're probably picturing a woman who's homeless, ragged and hungry. If so, you're picturing all wrong. This particular woman is wearing Max Mara and vintage Pucci and carrying a little Kelly bag (probably not a knock-off, either). After I'd witnessed (and subsidized) this former friend's failings in the tipping department for nearly a decade, she let loose a little story about her father: He was such a skinflint, she confessed, that he used to brake for roadkill – which he'd bring home to serve for dinner. (Beats that bargain-rack beef by at least $3.78, plus tax.)

The plastic apple never falls far from the plastic tree. Your boyfriend's probably been cheap as long as you've known him; probably because he's inherited from his Ma and Pa some irrational fear that every dollar that slips through his hands could be his last. To change, he's got to acknowledge his behavior, understand that it's irrationally motivated, want to change and force himself to behave differently – i.e. become a big tipper, and not just when you're looking.

For best results, point out his behavior in a kind way; perhaps by starting a nonconfrontational conversation about how he feels about money and why. This would be a very good time for you to hoe a few of your own rows – like your expectation that he graphs his love for you in piles of presents. If he wants to transform from Scrooge to Santa, encourage him by leading by example and by expressing your enthusiasm for any gift he brings you – even a furry one with tire tracks across its back.

Q: Your responses to people's love questions are quite good. You answer in a way that is extremely frank, but has a keen sense of humor, which must get the attention of many readers. There is One higher than you, though, who really has all the answers – he is Jesus Christ! –True Believer

A: Unlike Jesus, I'm accessible by e-mail. Got a problem? Write Amy Alkon, 171 Pier Ave, #280, Santa Monica, CA 90405, or e-mail AdviceAmy@aol.com

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