Dear Annie: I feel guilty about contacting my half sister

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Dear Annie: When I was younger, my mother revealed to me that I have a half sister as a result of an affair my father had when I was a toddler. I know their marriage was in trouble back then, but it doesn't excuse his betrayal, not only of Mom, but of me. My father has never spoken to me about "Donna," and until three years ago, he had no contact with her aside from child support payments.

Three years ago, Donna contacted him and asked to meet. The whole thing was very hush-hush, and I only found out later when my mother said it had opened up 20 years of hurt. She didn't think Donna was aware that my father was married when she was conceived.

A year ago, I made contact with Donna. We've met and have exchanged a few e-mails. I have told her everything I know, but I'm not looking for a sibling relationship. Recently she asked if I would mind sending pictures and inquired whether I had told my parents that we are in touch.

I feel a little guilty that I haven't confided this to Mom, but I'm afraid it will only hurt her. Donna also has asked if my younger sister would like to meet her. Frankly, if that happens, I know my sister will spill the beans to both our parents.

My husband is the only other person who knows I'm e-mailing Donna. Annie, if I keep this secret, I fear it will lead to a blowup in the future if the truth comes out. Donna hasn't told her mother about our correspondence, either, because the woman had such a negative reaction when Donna contacted Dad to begin with.

My father has never taken accountability for this. I think he owes it to me to discuss this directly. Should I tell my parents?

- Somewhat Sister

Dear Sister: Eventually, this information will come out. You are entitled to correspond with whomever you wish, but you won't protect your mother from the hurt by keeping secrets. Tell both your parents, together, what you have been doing and apologize if it opens old wounds.

Dear Annie: I have been dating "Jim" for five months. We are both 53 years old. When we get together, we usually have a great time. However, at some point, he always brings up his ex-girlfriend - something she said or did. He dated her for nine years and they separated three years ago. When he does this, I become upset and we argue. Then he gets up and leaves.

Am I wrong to feel that she need not be brought up during our time together? Does this mean he still cares for her? Am I overreacting? Maybe I shouldn't be in this relationship after all.

- Mary

Dear Mary: If, after three years, he still brings up the ex-girlfriend's name in every conversation, it means he isn't over her. Use that information as you see fit.

Dear Annie: I read the letter from "Broke Cousin," who attended a wedding and didn't bring a gift because she couldn't afford it.

Whoever receives an invitation to a gift-giving affair, be it a wedding, bar mitzvah, birthday or anniversary, and then attends the event has months to save up a small amount. Even a dollar a week can be enough.

For instance, a small photo album costs very little and a congratulatory note can be written on the inside cover. If she has a camera (or borrows one), she can take pictures of the couple and put them inside. A thoughtful gift like that can go a long way.

Attending an affair with no gift or card seems inconsiderate to me, no matter how broke someone is. Just cutting out one cup of coffee a week would be enough, and then she doesn't have to feel guilty for showing up empty-handed.

- No Guilt in Sarasota, Fla.

Dear Sarasota: There are myriad gifts one can give that will not break the budget. Thanks for the great suggestions.

Annie's Mailbox is written by Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar, longtime editors of the Ann Landers column. Please e-mail your questions to anniesmailbox@comcast.net, or write to: Annie's Mailbox, P.O. Box 118190, Chicago, IL 60611. To find out more about Annie's Mailbox, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

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