Dear Amy:

I'm a 44-year-old woman trying to enter the dating world through an online service. I raised my daughter on my own and have had limited dating experience with men. I have had an active social life, but it has mainly revolved around my women friends. I married my first serious boyfriend, spent my 20s married and my 30s as a single parent.

I've done online dating for the last six months, and I've met two nice men, one of whom I wasn't interested in seeing beyond a second date. I was interested in the other man, but he indicated that he wanted to date someone else exclusively at that point.

I'm not desperate or bitter, but just a bit bemused. I think the experience has been good for me in some ways even if nothing has developed because at least I tried something new to meet men and I did meet guys who were normal and OK, just not for me.

Does anyone ever meet someone and end up in a serious long-term relationship or marriage? It seems as if the odds are stacked so much against that happening. Or is there a curse of being over a certain age and dating?

Maybe I should take a break and try again later?

Dear Challenged:

I have been single and sporadically "out there" for 16 years. That's 16 years of coffee dates, mismatches, short relationships, huge mistakes, good times, friendships formed and some sobbing into my pillow.

At six months, your dating life is still in its infancy.

I know many middle-aged couples that have met over online matching sites. The dating deck is not stacked against you because of online dating; the dating deck is stacked against you because love is rare.

I say that, in six months, if you've met one guy you're interested in, that's pretty good. The typical pattern for online dating is to attack it with enthusiasm and vigor at first and then to take a break of a couple of months.

I don't want to advocate online meeting over other ways of meeting people - but it's another tool, a database of people who are interested in having relationships. Think about your own expectations, and try to enjoy the experience itself.

Dear Amy:

Here is how our family handles the stress of holiday giving.

Mine is one of those blended families where the oldest "kid" is 32 and the youngest is 8.

Our most recent solution is that all the guys put up a fixed and modest sum ($100) for a "guy activity." This might mean spending the day doing paint ball or riding race cars together.

The women do the same thing and usually choose to have a spa day together. The key is to do something together.

Dear Alexa:

I love this idea.