Originally published Thursday, August 8, 2019 at 07:26p.m.

Dear Abby: I’m a middle-aged woman who has survived a 30-year toxic relationship with a covert narcissist. I am now blessed to be able to divorce him and get therapy for his emotional abuse. I have six amazing grown children. I’m also a sophomore in college and have a part-time job. This is the first time in my life I am able to actually do things by myself. To say the least, I am busy.

Most of the time, I enjoy it – shopping, movies and even dining out. However, for some reason (especially while dining out), I get unwanted expressions of sympathy for being alone. Strangers comment about how sad it is to see me eating all alone. One woman offered to introduce me to her brother. She went so far as to ask for my phone number so she could pass it along to him, so that way I would have company.

I have friends and family, and if I had wanted company at that time, I would have invited someone. Sometimes I want to be alone to enjoy my “me” time. How can I respond to these unwanted comments and nip the conversations in the bud so they don’t disrupt my entire meal? – Alone but Not Lonely in Louisiana

Dear Alone: Here’s how. Smile and thank these kind people for their thoughtfulness. Say that at this point in your life you are enjoying freedom and comfortable solitude. And the next time you enter a restaurant, ask the host to seat you farther back, so you are not the first person these individuals encounter on the way to their table.

Dear Abby: I just started seasonal housecleaning, and I’m realizing my house is filled with useless knickknacks. When I get rid of an unneeded item, I remember who gave it to me and the special occasion associated with the gift. Then I start feeling guilty and wonder if I will later regret my decision to discard it.

My other issue is, I live in a small town. I’m afraid if I donate something to a local charity, friends or neighbors may see it at the thrift store, and I’ll seem ungrateful for their thoughtfulness. How can I get over these feelings of guilt as I declutter? – Cramped in the Carolinas

Dear Cramped: Once a gift (or tchotchke) is given, it is the recipient’s to do with as she chooses. If someone challenges your decision to donate an item, do not become defensive. Calmly explain that you are downsizing and decided to “share the pleasure” the item brought you with someone else.