DEAR ABBY:

My boyfriend and I have been dating for almost eight months. We love each other and talk often about marriage, family, etc.

The other night, just for fun, I looked online at rings and showed my mom a few I really loved. She quickly dismissed all of them, and started telling me how I need a big stone and that it needs to be expensive. Then she went online and looked herself and was telling me which ones I should be interested in. Mom offered to take me to a jeweler's to find the "perfect" ring.

She has always been a helicopter parent, but now, as my boyfriend and I are becoming more serious, she's going into warp drive. How can I tell her gently to butt out? Also, what's your advice on the ring situation?

- Daughter of a Helicopter Mom DEAR DAUGHTER: You and your mother are both jumping the gun. "Talking often of marriage, family, etc." is not an engagement. If you allow your mother to involve herself in this, I predict you will never get engaged because your boyfriend, if he's smart, will run for the hills. When and if you do decide to tie the knot, the two of you should go to a jeweler together and select something he can afford and you will enjoy wearing. Period.

Often feels she's outside looking in

DEAR ABBY:

I'm a young woman in my 20s. I have been blessed with a loving family, lots of opportunities, and people who care about me. My problem is, I don't feel worthy of any of it.

A lot of the time, when I'm around people, I feel like I'm on the outside looking in - like an intruder. When I join groups and listen, I feel like I'm eavesdropping. When I try to pitch in, I feel like I'm annoying everyone. I try to be like people whom other people like, but I feel I fall far short.

I wish I could change and be less irritating and more interesting, but I don't know how to change, or even if I could. I'm just tired of not feeling worthy enough. What should I do?

- Unworthy

DEAR UNWORTHY: There is nothing so defeating to social success than low self-esteem - feeling not good enough. The first thing you should do is stop trying to change yourself to please others. Then try to pinpoint where these feelings of unworthiness originated. If you can't manage it on your own - many people can't - make an appointment to discuss it with a licensed mental health professional. You deserve to feel good about yourself.

Grief and loss? Send that card

DEAR ABBY:

Years ago, it was considered improper to send a holiday card to a friend or family member who experienced the loss of a child or spouse during the year.

What is correct today? And what about an invitation to a party?

- Careful in California

DEAR CAREFUL: If there was a "rule" that people who have suffered a loss should not receive a holiday card, I have never heard of it. Those who are grieving might appreciate knowing they were being remembered.

As to inviting the person to a party - not everyone grieves in the same way or for the same length of time. Unless religious custom prevents it, if you think the friend or relative might enjoy the event, by all means extend an invitation. The invitee can always refuse if it's too soon.