DEAR ABBY: I've been dating a guy for five years. We were high school classmates and became close friends shortly after that. Abby, he's the man of my dreams. I've been in love with him since we were 16 years old. We married other people, but we are divorced now and we are together.

We are both 46. I want to get married and he knows it. We have discussed it -- but every time I bring it up (and I always bring it up, he never does), he has an excuse. He says it's only a piece of paper, we've both already been married, I have some debt, etc.

I have a 19-year-old daughter, and he has two kids, 13 and 11. We all get along, even our exes. I am tired of being just "the girlfriend." This is not how I want to live the rest of my life. I have always wanted to be his wife.

He's a good man. He treats me great, is respectful, considerate and I love him so much. Must I suck it up and live and die as his girlfriend or leave because he doesn't want to get married? If I leave, I have no plans on dating or trying to marry anyone else. I'm fine alone. Please help.

-- Wants that piece of paper

DEAR WANTS: As you have framed it, your boyfriend -- whom you love very much -- doesn't want to formalize the relationship, and if you break things off, you don't plan to become involved with anyone else. If you are asking me for magic words that will convince your marriage-phobic boyfriend to make a permanent commitment, you are asking something that isn't possible. If he feels as strongly about you as you do him, he may come around one day, but there are no guarantees. And yes, you will have to "suck it up" if you're not prepared to leave, and while you're doing that, make the best of it.

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.

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