DEAR HARRIETTE: I grew up religious and went to church faithfully every Sunday with my grandmother. As I grew older, I noticed that religion can and has been used to justify bad behaviors toward others. This caused me to question what I had been taught -- especially as an African American. For instance, Christianity was used to justify slavery and the killing of nonwhite people. Many Christians perpetuate an image of Jesus with blue eyes, fair skin and long hair, but I struggle with worshipping an entity that is depicted as looking like the oppressor.
I know this is a tough subject, but I also think it takes strength to not blindly follow the things we were taught as kids. I don't want to give up my religion completely, and I still feel a spiritual connection with God. How can I balance the knowledge I gain with the faith I am supposed to have? -- Spiritual Wanderer
DEAR SPIRITUAL WANDERER: Many religions have stories that include exploitation of certain groups of people in the name of faith. Is that wrong? Absolutely. But it is common. Given what you know about your faith, should you walk away from it? Only you can make that decision.
I would recommend that you look for a denomination or a particular church where you feel resonance. Look for a pastor whose message is empowering and honest in your eyes. Continue to do your research so that you can be aware and clear about your beliefs and how they mesh with your faith.
Know that there are images of Jesus other than one with long, blond hair and blue eyes. In Catholicism, there are saints who are dark-skinned as well. Keep searching for answers to your spiritual and historic questions. A book you may enjoy is "Jesus and the Disinherited" by a formidable African American religious scholar, Howard Thurman.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I have been dating a nice guy for a few months now. He is so sweet to me. He is also so different from the guy I dated for several years who was never consistently attentive. That said, this guy has limited life experience. He grew up poor and hasn't been exposed to much. Whenever we go out, there's something new that he doesn't know. I mean small stuff, like how to eat a formal meal or what to wear when you have to get dressed up. I know these things shouldn't matter so much, but they do. How can I educate him about some basic things without hurting his feelings? -- Step It Up
DEAR STEP IT UP: First, you have to figure out if you value this man enough to want to share more of your world with him as you also learn about his. Don't start coaching him unless you are in it for the long haul. If you are, be honest. Tell him you want to share some pointers with him that may be helpful as you negotiate your way in life together. Ask for his blessing to teach you. Then take it easy. Don't inundate him with a list of his mistakes. Share the details about social graces with him over time.
Also, be sure to pay attention to what he teaches you. His lessons will likely be just as beneficial.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I will be applying to numerous jobs in the upcoming months, and I know some places ask for letters of reference. As a businesswoman, do you think it is better to get a letter of reference from a professor the person is close with, or a previous employer who might not have as much of a personal opinion on the person?
I will be applying to different companies, so should the letter change depending on the type of company I am applying to? -- Letters of Reference, Jackson, Mississippi
DEAR LETTERS OF REFERENCE: I recommend that you secure multiple letters of recommendation from people who know you in different ways. A professor who taught you and knows your study habits and capabilities is excellent. You should also include any employer you have worked with who you think would give you a positive report. The employer doesn't have to know you extremely well. Instead, the employer should be able to speak to your focus as an employee, your commitment to the work and your ability to get the job done.
What's most important when you apply to different types of jobs is that your cover letter be specific to the role you are applying for. It is up to you to showcase your assets in the best possible manner. Your letters of recommendation serve as backup to your presentation.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I have an interview coming up at a restaurant where I have applied to be a host. What do you think is the appropriate attire to wear to this interview? Usually I would dress in business casual to an interview, but because the restaurant is casual and I am interviewing for the position of host, I'm not sure if wearing a suit and tie is appropriate. Are there different places or occasions where casual dress is better to wear than going formal? -- What to Wear, Syracuse, New York
DEAR WHAT TO WEAR: This is tricky. On one hand, a suit and tie is the classic interview outfit, but if everyone is wearing jeans and T-shirts at this restaurant, you will stand out as not being aware of the restaurant's style if you dress too formally.
So, what to wear? I think a jacket is smart to put over a shirt with trousers, preferably not jeans. You don't need to wear a tie. The shirt can be a dress shirt or even a dressy T-shirt -- as long as the jacket is professional-looking. Shoes should be just that -- shoes, not sneakers, even if you will never wear shoes if you get the job.
More than your attire, bring a winning personality and clarity about your skills to show that you would add value to the restaurant.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I have an upcoming black-tie fundraiser for my company. I will be attending with my long-term boyfriend as my guest. This will be the first black-tie event he and I will be attending together. I have been thinking about my boyfriend's etiquette recently, and how he will act at this event. He is polite and courteous when he meets people, but the issue is his table manners. His manners don't bother me because I have become accustomed to them, but I know other people notice the way he holds his knife and fork, or the fact that he often doesn't wait for everyone to get their meal before he starts. I can't blame him for this because it was what he was taught growing up, but I want to bring it up in a non-condescending way to prepare him for our upcoming event. -- Table Manners, Chicago
DEAR TABLE MANNERS: Since this is the first black-tie for both of you, take the approach that you both should brush up on the rules of the table at such an event. You can point out that you learned at work that people notice when you follow the "rules" and when you don't. Suggest to your boyfriend that the two of you review the basics of how to eat at a formal table together, so that you both get it right. General rules include waiting to begin eating until all are served, using utensils starting from the outside in, putting your napkin in your lap, chewing with your mouth closed, not talking with food in your mouth, not reaching across people for items on the table and putting away your smartphone. For a diagram of a formal table setting, go to emilypost.com/advice/table-setting-guides.
You should also review the basics of being at a business event. This includes handling small talk when you arrive, working on short statements that define who you are, which you can share as you talk to people. For more ideas, go to emilypost.com/advice/download-top-10-business-dining-etiquette-tips.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I started a new job and want to become more social with my colleagues. They invite me to happy hours and evening work events, and everyone is very nice and great to be around. However, I feel like I am an outsider, or I don't match the same energy as the others. I am an introvert, but I want to learn to become more social and improve my networking skills. I want to come out of my shell, but I am afraid I may come off as fake and not my authentic self. How do I show interest and improve my networking skills while still being me? -- Shy Girl, Seattle
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DEAR SHY GIRL: The good news is that your co-workers are actively pursuing you and working to include you in their after-work events. This means they like you and want to get to know you better.
Remember that most people like to talk about themselves. Observe your co-workers and notice little things about each of them that point to their personalities and interests. When you are sitting near them at these after-work gatherings, bring up what you have observed about them. For example, if a co-worker loves animals, ask him to tell you about his pets. If another is into sports, ask what her favorite teams are. Simple questions that show you are paying attention will get your co-workers talking and engaging with you. Give it time to find your comfort zone.
DEAR HARRIETTE: My husband and I want to start a family, and we have talked about how we would like to raise our children with specific values and morals. But sometimes he thinks too much about the mistakes his family members have made and plans ways to avoid them. I try to tell him that some of those things you can't control and sometimes you must adjust. Do you think it is healthy to look at others' mistakes and change or plan your life so you can avoid the same mistakes? How do I tell my husband that he shouldn't worry himself so much and focus on our future? -- Worried Wife, Aberdeen, Maryland
DEAR WORRIED WIFE: It is good to talk through your values and about how they have or have not played out in each of your families' histories. This is good because you have examples of what worked and what didn't work. To your point, though, you should not belabor the past. Note the mistakes that others have made. Together, set a course for how you intend to guide your steps and keep it moving. You should also accept that you will make mistakes along the way, but if you focus on living by your values, your missteps should not derail your life. Accept that you are not your family members. The two of you are building your own life together. You get to make independent choices and feel confident in your decisions.
DEAR HARRIETTE: My wife and I have been married for more than 20 years. We have a solid marriage, but the intimacy seems to have faded away years ago. I feel like we are living as roommates more than husband and wife. Occasionally, I get mad about this. On more than a few occasions, especially if I've had a few drinks, I call my wife out on this. She got mad at me recently because I said something about her withholding sex from me in front of her family. Hey, I'm frustrated. I guess I figured if I say it in front of people who know her, they might be able to help me. It backfired. She got angry and slept in the other room. What can I do to get the spark back? -- Wanting More, Shreveport, Louisiana
DEAR WANTING MORE: Therapists suggest that the longer couples go without intimacy, the more challenging it can be to find your way back to it. Rather than humiliating your wife, which never works, consider getting help. A relationship coach or even a sex therapist might be helpful to you both. Chances are, something that happened years ago created a divide, and then the two of you just settled into a celibate lifestyle. You have to both want to find your way back to each other in order to get there.
Tell your wife how much you miss her and want to be closer. Ask her if she would be willing to get help with you. Be sure to have this conversation when you are sober and alone. You might also apologize for the times when you have embarrassed her in front of loved ones. Make it clear that you want the romance back, and you want to work with her to reclaim it.
DEAR HARRIETTE: My co-worker is going to a fancy event, and she asked me if she could borrow my shoes. I thought that was an odd request, but I get it. She doesn't have dress shoes, and I do. The thing is, I don't let people borrow my shoes -- not even my family. I'm kind of skittish about the hygiene of this. How can I say no without hurting her feelings? She is so excited about this event and wants to look perfect. -- Not My Shoes, Denver
DEAR NOT MY SHOES: Be honest. Tell your co-worker that you have never loaned out your shoes because you are a germaphobe. Make it clear that this includes your family, too. Admit that you may be an extremist, but this is who you are.
You can pivot by telling her where you bought your shoes and making recommendations for where she can find affordable dress shoes. The good news is that there are many affordable outlets to consider. If you are up for it, you can even offer to go shopping with her to help her pick the perfect pair. This will show her that you care about her, even as you have your boundaries. But stay firm. If you aren't comfortable lending your own shoes, don't do it.
DEAR HARRIETTE: My family has always been very active. We all love playing sports and exercising regularly. Recently, my mother has been very into yoga. I admire her for maintaining her health and always trying to get some activity every day, but it has gotten to the point where she is obsessing over her body. She restricts her diet so much, and has been taking two or three workout classes a day.
I tell my mother that she does not need to lose any more weight, but she continues to count calories and work out extensively. How do you recommend I handle this? I want to make sure I am doing the right thing, the right way, so I do not offend my mom. -- Mother's Weight Obsession, Los Angeles
DEAR MOTHER'S WEIGHT OBSESSION: It would be great if your mother would get a physical exam. This is important because a medical evaluation of your mother's health will tell her if she is making smart choices in her fitness and diet regimen, or if she is going too far. Suggest that your mother get her annual physical soon. Point out that since she has revved up her fitness routine, you believe it would be wise to check in with her doctor to ensure that she is being safe. Tell her that you are planning to get a physical as well. In this way, you aren't just pointing your finger at her. One of the great things about Western medicine is the diagnostic capability that it has. With a complete medical workup, your mother will learn the status of her health and whether she should make any adjustments to her routine. Ask her if you can go with her when she schedules her visit. Then you can hear for yourself how she is doing.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I baby-sit for a family almost every weekend. This upcoming weekend they have asked me to stay over both Friday and Saturday nights because they will be out of town at a wedding. I usually don't mind staying overnight because it saves money and time on commuting to their house. However, they have recently downsized, and there is no longer a guest room for me. They asked if I would sleep in the daughter's room in her bunk bed. I am not a fussy person and don't have a problem with doing this, but another part of me is saying that I shouldn't be staying in the daughter's bunk bed as a 22-year-old. What do you think of this? -- Sleeping in the Bottom Bunk, Brooklyn, New York
DEAR SLEEPING IN THE TOP BUNK: You need to get practical here. Since there is nowhere else for you to sleep, that's why your employer is offering you the bunk bed. It's not about your age or station in life. This is simply a reality check. Given that you like the family and get along well with the children, I suggest that you move past the accommodations challenge. Do you know the saying "It is what it is"? That applies here.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I struggled with my weight throughout my teenage and young adult years, but I am now content with how I look and feel. An aunt I don't see often has been on a fitness journey and has been losing weight. I'm happy for her, but she always mentions my appearance and gives advice on what I should do. It makes me feel like the way I look isn't OK or is unhealthy. I don't like being around her or talking with her because it never fails -- she mentions how I look. It's frustrating me because I have grown to be confident in the way I look. How do I stay strong and respectful to my aunt's body image advice? -- Staying Confident, El Paso, Texas
DEAR STAYING CONFIDENT: Start with yourself. For your own good, get a physical to find out if you are at a healthy weight and if there is anything you should be doing to support a healthy life. That's for you to do and know for yourself, and you do not need to share this with anyone.
As far as your aunt is concerned, you need to speak up and ask her to back off. Tell her you are paying attention to your health, that you like the way you look and that you do not appreciate her constant badgering of you about your appearance. Yes, this is strong talk, but it seems like she doesn't realize how her words are affecting you. Be clear that you love her, but add that it is hard for you to talk to her because you feel she is always criticizing you.
Harriette Cole is a lifestylist and founder of DREAMLEAPERS, an initiative to help people access and activate their dreams. You can send questions to email@example.com or c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106