DEAR ABBY: I read the letter from the young woman who is concerned about dating someone significantly older. In 1958, when I was 17, I met a man who was 34. He was handsome, easygoing, quiet, and I fell in love. He was a widower with two children - a 13-year-old girl and a 9-year-old boy. They lived with his mother.

His mom was not at all happy about our relationship, nor were his sisters, my parents and his kids. We wanted to get married, but my parents refused to sign. I felt like the whole world was against us. But I loved him dearly.

In March 1959, I turned 18. We were married on April 4, against everyone's wishes. We had four more children. My dad did not set foot in my home until my first child was born.

My mother-in-law finally told me she loved me and knew I was good for her son on our 10th anniversary. All our children are close, and his two call me Mom. His daughter was a great help with our babies and cried when she got married and left home.

We have had our ups and downs, but we have also had 56 wonderful years of marriage.

Age really is just a number!

- Janet in Indiana

DEAR JANET: In many cases that's true. In others, couples with such a large disparity in age have been known to grow apart instead of on a parallel path.

Because you and your husband's relationship turned out to be a soul match, you are not only lucky to have found each other, but also blessed to have enjoyed such a long marriage. My congratulations to you both as you celebrate your 56th anniversary today!

Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Contact Dear Abby at www.DearAbby.com or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.