DEAR HARRIETTE: I belong to a public service organization that is largely dysfunctional. I know that's a bold statement, but I'm not kidding. I joined thinking that we were going to do good work for children in need in our community, but it looks like what we do more than anything is argue and bicker over little things that shouldn't matter. I have tried to speak up for the people we are supposed to represent, but I feel like the arguing is drowning out the good work that we are trying to do. I feel like it is time for me to resign my position. Some friends in the organization are encouraging me to run for president instead. I just don't think that I can make a big enough difference, even if I could win. I'm also not a quitter. What should I do? -- Wanting the Best
DEAR WANTING THE BEST: Human dynamics can get in the way of humanitarian work, unfortunately. If you ask around, you will probably hear that bickering is the culprit for many a dashed dream. That said, in your case you have to decide if you have the energy and coalition around you to fight for the children. You are right that you cannot do it by yourself, but if you have a large enough group of active members who would be willing to support you if you did take over the leadership, go for it. Walking away will not likely wake the group to better behavior.
DEAR HARRIETTE: Three of my college friends are getting married this summer. I am close to all of them and want to attend all three weddings, but I already know that I will have to make some cuts. One is in our hometown. Two are destination weddings. I can probably go to one of the travel weddings, but not both. How do I decide? And what do I say to my friend whose wedding I cannot attend? -- Wedding Blues
DEAR WEDDING BLUES: When wedding season arrives in your friend group and multiple friends choose to marry in a short time period, this often occurs. Attendees have to make choices that are weighted by finances and time. To figure out whose wedding to attend, consider a few factors. Who are you closest to? Which destination is more affordable and the best timing for you? Which friend would be the most understanding if you could not make it? Which invitation did you get first? Answer these questions, and consider the answers.
In the end, you should be thoughtful and honest with all of your friends. To the bride whose wedding you cannot attend, admit that you simply cannot afford to come. Apologize for your absence. Tell her you love her and look forward to supporting her in the months and years to come. You may also want to invite her and her husband to a special dinner with you after their wedding. You should also let her know that you will be attending a couple of your friend's weddings, so that she is not shocked if she sees you or learns about your presence at other affairs.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I was scheduled to have lunch with a dear friend I haven't seen in person for a year when she bowed out, saying that she couldn't tear herself away from the impeachment hearings in order to meet with me.
I do believe it's important to stay abreast of current events -- especially something as important as this topic is for our country -- but I feel like my friend is getting absorbed in the drama of the news cycle and all the craziness that is happening these days. In the midst of all of this, I think we should still live our lives and spend time with our loved ones. I was upset that she bailed on me in order to watch this. -- Blinded by Politics
DEAR BLINDED BY POLITICS: It is good that your friend feels it is important to stay on top of current events. It is not good that she is stalling her life in order to do so. This is why technology is important. Many TVs or cable and streaming services allow you to save programs to watch when you are ready. You should recommend this to your friend for next time. Make it clear that your feelings were hurt that she dumped you for this event. Suggest that keeping her plans with you is also important for her life.
DEAR HARRIETTE: My girlfriend has been confiding in me about her sex life with her husband. He has erectile dysfunction, and she is upset about it. He won't go to the doctor because he is too embarrassed.
My friend is worried about her husband's health, but sometimes she says she thinks it is happening because he is having an affair and has nothing left for her when he gets home. It is a mess, and I feel so bad for her and for them.
I don't know what to say to her. When she asks for my advice, I am dumbfounded. I am not a doctor or a therapist. To be fair, usually I pipe up with all kinds of advice for her challenges, but I don't know what to tell her. She says I'm being selfish because suddenly I'm quiet. How can I get the point across that this is above my pay grade? They need to visit a doctor. -- A Friend's Problem
DEAR A FRIEND'S PROBLEM: You are doing the right thing by keeping your mouth closed. This is your friend's problem, not yours, and it is a sensitive one. Do not share your opinion at all, no matter what it is.
You can point your friend to some facts about erectile dysfunction, namely that some serious illnesses are often the culprit. High blood pressure, diabetes, alcoholism, Parkinson's disease, high cholesterol and obesity are among the underlying causes for this problem.
It is important for your friend's husband to get a physical. You might say that it is more likely that he has a medical problem than that he is having an affair. She may be able to use that argument to push him to make an appointment.
For more information on this condition, point her to medicalnewstoday.com/articles/5702.php.
DEAR HARRIETTE: My in-laws are Jehovah's Witnesses. That means that at the holidays, we end up not spending much time together. We don't want to be insensitive to their values, which require that they not celebrate holidays, but we miss not spending time with them. Lots of family members come to town for about a week, and we struggle with how to include them. As my in-laws are getting older, we want to figure out a way to include them more in family activities. Any ideas? -- Family Ties
DEAR FAMILY TIES: If your family members are together for a week, map out a range of activities that are not holiday specific. While you may organize a special meal for the holiday to which they would not be invited, you can plan a family gathering the next day that is just to get together.
If you believe your in-laws would appreciate gifts that are not tied to a celebration, encourage family members who are coming from out of town to bring tokens of love for them, and those of you in town can make or buy something special for them. Call them "I love you" gifts.
Consider that you can fill your week with many special moments that include your in-laws if you start thinking of the gathering as family time rather than holiday time.
DEAR HARRIETTE: My grandmother was a domestic worker for her entire life. She didn't have much, but somehow she was able to provide for her family. Her husband helped only a little because he was sickly and really didn't make much money. When I think about my grandmother's life, I wonder what I have done wrong. I am college educated and have had decent jobs in my field over the years. But I am woefully in debt and really don't have anything to show for my hard work. My grandmother owned her home. I know that my mom and her siblings helped to buy it, but still. I rent my apartment and own nothing. What am I doing wrong? -- Next Generation Blues
DEAR NEXT GENERATION BLUES: Do some family research and learn what you can about your grandmother's discipline and lifestyle. Chances are, she lived far more simply than you do. Work to live within your means. That requires cutting back on credit cards and any other type of debt you have. List all of your bills and all of your income. Do your best to figure out how to pay down your debt. Get financial advice if you cannot figure out a path on your own. A debt consolidation plan may be worth it for you.
What you need is a mindset change. Think about how you can live with less. Cut back wherever you can. If you stick to the plan, you should be able to free yourself from financial hardship.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I was talking to a colleague, and we were bragging about our children -- something that many parents do for small talk. I was saying something upbeat about my daughter when she revealed that her daughter was having a difficult childhood in part because she and her husband were going through a nasty divorce during that time. I listened and stopped talking about my life, which sounded idyllic in comparison.
What should you do when you discover that somebody you are talking to has suffered a lot more than you or your family? I wasn't competing with this woman about our children, but it ended up feeling uncomfortable since her story was so heavy. What do you do in an awkward situation like that? -- Making Comparisons
DEAR MAKING COMPARISONS: In the natural course of conversation, you are bound to learn things about the people with whom you are speaking. Sometimes that information will be more intense, or emotional, or otherwise difficult than yours. That's fine.
If you are paying attention, then you should read the moment. In some instances, like the one you described, you may want to give the person space to tell her story. In other instances, if the conversation gets too heavy, you may want to change the subject, not necessarily to your family but to some neutral ground where you and the person and others who may be in earshot can get back to a more stable base.
DEAR HARRIETTE: When I travel on business, it is often with another colleague. We typically eat our meals together in between meetings, but we have to file separate expense reports. In the interest of time, I often buy my colleague a coffee or other breakfast items. I used to include these things on my expense report, but the accounting office is getting stricter. I told my colleague that now he has to pay for his own coffee and even gave him the receipt for one that I picked up for him. He did not reimburse me. I don't want to make a big deal out of this, but I also do not intend to pay for his food. How can I get him to understand that he has to cover his own expenses? -- No More Coffee
DEAR NO MORE COFFEE: This one is easy, even if it may feel awkward. Stop buying your colleague coffee, snacks or whatever else you used to purchase. You set the tone for this, by the way, by making these purchases and expensing them yourself. He probably isn't fully aware of the impact of him not picking up his own tab. Nonetheless, if you stop buying his food items, he won't have them anymore, and it will be jarring. Tell him that you will pick them up if he gives you the money in advance. Otherwise, he has to make the purchases himself. Company rules.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I was feeling really down the other day, and I told one of my good friends that I sometimes think I am worth more dead than alive. I said it because I bought a sizable insurance policy after my daughter was born. I don't mean to sound morbid, but when I am struggling to pay for food and worried sick about everything, I remember that my daughter gets $1 million when I'm gone. That said, I'm not thinking about offing myself. I guess I hold onto that fact in case I never get my finances together. Anyway, my friend now calls me every week worried I'm going to do something rash. I am not. How can I calm her down? -- Not Suicidal
DEAR NOT SUICIDAL: You may not consider yourself suicidal, but you are not in a healthy frame of mind. Your friend, who cares about you, is right to check in to make sure that you are not teetering on the edge of taking your life. The dangle of the $1 million for your daughter is a hefty lure that could become more attractive if your circumstances grow direr.
What you may want to do is see a counselor. In the best of worlds, it would be good to see a psychologist and a money manager. With support from professionals, you may be able to climb out of your crisis and be able to see the world from a more positive perspective. For now, thank your friend for checking in. It is a kind and helpful thing for her to do. Hopefully it gives you the knowledge that you are loved no matter what your circumstances.
You have free articles remaining.
DEAR HARRIETTE: My girlfriend likes to dress fancy. For the past few months, she has taken to wearing rhinestones and other jewels on her fingernails. It looks nice, but I'm concerned because she is about to have several job interviews for relatively conservative jobs. She hopes to be a paralegal, and she is interviewing at different law firms.
I get that you should be able to express yourself, but so far, she hasn't had any interest from the firms. I fear that she isn't conservative enough. I think she should tone down the nails and go to the interview looking professional. Am I wrong? -- Interview Attire
DEAR INTERVIEW ATTIRE: I always think it's wise to dress conservatively for a job interview. There is a range when it comes to conservative, but you are right that for most law firms, sparkly, jeweled nails would likely stand out -- and not in a good way.
Sit down with your girlfriend and tell you need to discuss a prickly topic. Point out how much you like her flashy style, but acknowledge that she should probably play it down during the interview process. The nails should be neutral.
Additionally, she should wear a dark suit or dress with simple shoes that are not too high and even pantyhose. She may never have to dress like that again on the job if she chooses a more progressive firm, but to land the job, she should err on the side of discretion. If she refuses, tell her that her choices may impact her employment. Ultimately, it is her decision.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I have been working as a consultant for several years now. I started my business because people kept asking me for advice in my area of expertise. After my job was downsized, I figured, why not try to offer the same services freelance? It has been interesting. People are happy to ask me for my advice -- all the time -- but when I suggest that they hire me, they usually back off and mutter something about just wanting to get my advice on something. They even act offended that I would want to charge for my services. I can't afford to give away my services, including advice. How can I get people to recognize that my expertise is valuable and comes with a fee? -- Not for Free
DEAR NOT FOR FREE: Now is the time for you to start promoting your services beyond your friends and family. Believe it or not, most times your loved ones are not the people who buy the things you sell. They will celebrate you and share the good news with their friends, but rarely do dollars change hands among friends.
If you are serious about becoming a paid consultant, you need to target an audience that will be interested in your services and market directly to them. You can ask your friends if they have referrals to make. Outside of that, enjoy your friends' good will, because you will stay mad if you are waiting for a paycheck from them.
DEAR HARRIETTE: My husband and I are college graduates, and we always assumed our kids would go to college, too. Both of our children are in their 20s. They have decent jobs, but neither of them finished college. We are so disappointed. We know we can't live our children's lives for them, but we have read that you can definitely increase your salary with a college degree. Should we continue to encourage them to go back to school or just let them live their lives? -- College Dreams
DEAR COLLEGE DREAMS: Rather than admonishing them about a choice they have made, talk to your children about their visions of the future. Ask them to imagine their lives five to 10 years from now. What are they doing? How are they earning a living? Do they have a family? Do they own a home? Based on their answers, ask them how they are going to plot their course so that they are prepared to meet their expectations. By engaging in this exercise, you may be able to help your children see the value of pursuing higher education. This could be vocational, by the way. There are many tech jobs, for example, that can be high-paying but that may not require four years of college.
Your children are not thinking within the construct that guided you when you were growing up. You all may need to think outside the box in order to figure out a path toward stability and success. Encourage them, but don't browbeat them.
DEAR HARRIETTE: My son is coming home from prison after being there for more than 15 years. I have built a community of friends who don't even know that I have a child. I feel bad about that, but he has been gone so long that I haven't talked about him. Honestly, I am ashamed of the crime he committed and the life he led that got him there, so I just walked away when he was convicted.
Now my son wants to come and live at home because he doesn't have a job or anywhere else to live. This worries me for many reasons. I don't want to have to take care of a grown man -- even if he is my son. We haven't stayed in touch much over the years, and now I have a lot of explaining to do with my friends if he comes to live with me. How should I handle this? -- Wayward Son
DEAR WAYWARD SON: First things first. You need to talk to your son before he gets out to make a plan with him. Find out what his parole officer recommends. Often, people transition into halfway houses before being allowed on their own, so he may not be able to move in with you right away anyway. Find out what your son intends to do with his life. To the best of your ability, support him. That does not mean he has to live with you, though.
Regarding your friends, tell them when you are ready. You may want to confide in the people you are closest to in your friend group and share with others over time.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I am scheduled to travel for work for about a week. I travel for my job, but I have tried to scale back now that my mother is older and has some health issues. This upcoming trip is mandatory. I want to set up a support system for my mother while I am away, but I don't have any family in my hometown. Do you think it would be all right to speak to a couple of family friends to keep an eye on her? Should I hire someone? -- Help for Mom
DEAR HELP FOR MOM: Evaluate how stable your mother's health is. That will let you know if you should have medical support on hand, or if friends will be enough. Think about who in your network your mother would trust and who is capable of helping her in ways that will make a difference. Once you identify a couple of people, call them and check in to see if they are willing to help you out. You want to make sure that whoever you choose will be responsible and responsive.
If you cannot find the support you need, see if your mother's insurance will pay for a visiting nurse service. If not, find out what it will cost for you to arrange for support. You can ask your mother's doctor or at a local hospital or health center, and you can call her insurance company for referrals.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I have two friends who want to get married, but both of them are unemployed. They are good, smart people who find themselves struggling like crazy. I feel so bad for them. I know they are trying to get it together, but something always seems to stand in their way. A few friends have been talking about throwing them a wedding party -- something small but nice. Do you think that's a good idea? We don't want to interfere with their life together, but they have been talking about marriage for so long, we want to help them make it happen. -- Planning a Wedding
DEAR PLANNING A WEDDING: Your idea is lovely, but it may not be the right idea at this moment. If your friends are struggling for basic needs, a party may not be the best way for them to spend their time or your money.
I recommend that you run the idea by them. Tell them what you have in mind, and ask them if they welcome it. They may want to focus on stabilizing their lives before formally tying the knot. Or they may want to go for it. Take their temperature to see what makes sense for them. Then, honor their desire.
For example, they might appreciate whatever money you were going to spend on a party to help them pay rent or buy food. Or they may be so happy that friends want to help them cross the threshold to marriage that they decide to embrace your idea. Ask them and pay attention so that you are clear about their wishes.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I don't know what's wrong with me, but I seem to have no libido whatsoever. My husband is mad at me because I have not been interested in sex for years now. He is a good man who hasn't strayed (yet), but I feel bad because it's not fair to him. How can I get interest back?
When it first started, we were having serious marital problems, and I didn't want to be bothered. Now I can't put my finger on it. I just have no sexual feelings at all. How can I get them back? -- No Libido
DEAR NO LIBIDO: Start by going to your doctor for a checkup. Explain your situation. Ask if there is any medical reason why you have lost interest in sex. Ask if there is anything the doctor can recommend to help you get your desire back. There may be nutritional supplements that you can take to support you.
You may also want to go to a therapist. Especially since this dry spell began due to friction in your marriage, you may have some unresolved issues that you need to address. A psychologist may be able to help you sort through your experiences and feelings to get to the other side. Consider going to a sex therapist -- someone who specializes in helping people to unlock their issues to help them find their way to a healthy sexual life.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I just received a Facebook message from a guy who used to date my sister back when we were in grade school. We are now in our 50s. This guy wrote to me to say he wants to be in touch with my sister, but he can't find her on social media. He asked me to help.
I spoke to my sister, and she is completely not interested. She said they haven't talked for like 40 years, and she has no desire to speak to him now. What do I say to the guy? He has been blowing up my Facebook messenger. I don't want to hurt his feelings, but my sister said no. -- No Rekindling
DEAR NO REKINDLING: As difficult as it may seem, you will have to tell this man that you've passed along his request, and your sister will reach out to him if she decides to do so. You can tell him that she is busy and preoccupied, so you can't guarantee anything. Do not lead this man into believing that your sister may contact him in the future. You can tell him that your sister does not use social media and generally she has a small network of people in her personal sphere. Perhaps this will help him to not take it personally if she never picks up the phone. Know that this is not your problem. You do not have to hold this man's hand through the experience. You will have done your job after you spell it out for him once.
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