DEAR ABBY: I'm a 23-year-old woman and I'm dating a 47-year-old man. I am very mature for my age and have always seemed to relate better to older men. Our relationship is very serious and he's asked me to marry him. Al treats me wonderfully, and I would love to spend the rest of my life with him.

Here's the problem: Al is my mother's age, and I'm afraid if my parents find out the age difference, they will be against our marrying. My mother thinks he's 42, which is OK with her, but I'm sure five more years would make a difference. I try not to let other people influence my decisions, but my parents are a big part of my life and it's not easy for me when we disagree.Abby, this man is wonderful, and we both think we are right for each other and the age difference shouldn't make a difference. Do you think it does? - IN LOVE WITH AL

DEAR IN LOVE: The age difference is not the issue. The fact that you consider yourself "mature" and are still lying to your parents in order to win their approval is. Be honest with your parents about this man's age. If Al is all you say he is and your parents are intelligent people, the age difference won't matter.

DEAR ABBY: There is a man I work with who always needs a ride somewhere. He owns a car, but it doesn't run. He bums rides to work, to the bank, to lunch, to the mall after work - and these rides are not along the way; they're sometimes 15 or 20 minutes out of the way.

It's not just me he hitches rides from. It seems like it's just me who minds. There are two co-workers who pick him up every morning for work. He doesn't have a phone, so when he decides he's not going to work, they have to drive the whole way to find out.

While giving him a ride, I had to stop for gas and discovered I had no cash with me, so he gave me $3, which I assumed was a gift in return for all the free rides I had given him. Three days later, he asked me if I had forgotten about the $3 I owed him! I reluctantly gave him $3, but it really burned me up. After that I was so mad, I decided he would never get a ride from me again.

Now, I find myself hiding when it's quitting time and making up stupid excuses to get out of giving him a ride. I don't know what is more annoying: the rides, or this. How can I get out of this mess? - HATES FREELOADERS

DEAR HATES: Be up-front and tell him he can no longer depend on you for free transportation. And if he asks why you suddenly made that decision, TELL HIM THE TRUTH, and don't pull any punches.

CHUCKLE (OR GROAN) FOR TODAY: "Asking a working writer what he thinks about critics is like asking a lamppost how it feels about dogs." - Christopher Hampton

Abby's family recipes are included in her cookbooklet! Send a long, business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada), to: Dear Abby, Cookbooklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054. (Postage is included.)