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Dear Abby: I'm married to a wonderful man. He is very generous, hardworking and has always earned a decent living for us. He provides me with a new car and a lovely home. Everyone thinks I have the ideal husband and thinks he is a terrific guy - including me.

The only problem is that although we have always gotten along and I have always been proud to call him my husband, I'm not sure I've ever really loved him.How important is it to be in love with the man you are married to when everything else is so good?

- Not in Love

But Living Well

Dear Not in Love: It's very important - but bear in mind that there are as many definitions of being "in love" as there are people. Many women would consider what you have to be wedded bliss.

However, since you feel that an important aspect of your marriage is missing, you owe it to yourself to find out what it is. Consult a marriage counselor without delay.

The longer you dwell on what you think you're missing, the greater the chance you'll lose what you have.

Dear Abby: I am a 45-year-old woman who has had arthritis for years - mostly in my hands. I need to know how to avoid a simple handshake without appearing rude.

People seem to want to shake hands (even in church), and they approach you with a very firm grip - this is terribly painful to my swollen joints. Men are the worst offenders, but some women are just as bad.

No one notices my swollen knuckles. Abby, please let your readers know that not everyone enjoys a firm handshake.

- Unshakable in Milwaukee

Dear Unshakable: When you are approached by someone who goes for your hand, very quickly say, "No handshake, please. I have arthritis."

If you do this often enough, it will become automatic.

P.S. Not only women have this problem; men have arthritic fingers, too.

Dear Abby: I am a 16-year-old girl who baby-sits for several families.

Whenever I have a cold, I always warn the parents, in case they'd prefer their child were not exposed to it. I sure wish the parents would return the courtesy, and let me decide whether or not I want to baby-sit a sick child.

I have caught colds from baby-sitting children whose parents were just going to a movie or a party. On a couple of occasions, I got so sick I had to miss school. I wouldn't mind if the parents needed me because they had to work or there was an emergency.

Please print this.

- Sick in Florida

Dear Sick: You are right. If the children are ill, the parents should warn the baby sitter in advance, and give the sitter the option of taking the job or declining it.

Dear Abby: You were asked how many rings a person should allow before giving up. When I worked as a switchboard operator many years ago, I was taught to let the phone ring 10 times.

I still do, 25 years later.

- Ma Bell in Lafayette, Ohio

To receive a collection of Abby's most memorable - and most frequently requested - poems and essays, send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby's "Keepers," P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)