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DEAR HARRIETTE: I recently met a man through a mutual friend, and I find him kind and thoughtful. We have spoken a few times and even met up as a group with others, and we always have fun.

I learned from our mutual friend that this man has cancer, and he is working hard to fight it -- but he has never mentioned it to me. I would be happy to support him on his health journey, but I don't feel like it's my place to talk about his illness unless he mentions it to me. I really like him and would like to be there for him. How can I get that message across without giving away that our mutual friend told me what's going on? -- Friend in Need

DEAR FRIEND IN NEED: Do not betray your friend's confidence. That will only make for an awkward situation. Instead, be a bit more assertive when you reach out to this man. Invite him to a home-cooked meal at your house. Find out what his favorite foods are, and offer to make a meal in his honor. If this seems too forward, make it a small dinner party.

Ease into closeness with this guy as you make it clear to him that you like him. Listen for cues that will allow you to let him know that you enjoy being his friend and would like to spend more time together.

If ever you notice that he isn't doing well, that's when you can ask him what's wrong and offer to be of help.

DEAR HARRIETTE: My mother moved into a retirement community a couple of years ago. It has been good for her overall. Now she can interact with people every day, rather than waiting for her family or friends to stop by when it's convenient for them.

The downside is that her longtime friends are not nearly as attentive. She used to talk to several of them on the phone multiple times a week and have regular visits from them. That seems to have dried up. Everybody is old, and they all seem to be absorbed in their own problems. This makes my mother sad, though. I don't think that she is picking up the phone regularly to call them, either. How can I support her? -- Losing Friends

DEAR LOSING FRIENDS: One of the more challenging realities of growing old is that you often lose friends along the way. Apart from those who die are those who are busy navigating their own challenges. In your mother's case, there is another common situation, namely that without consciously making the effort to stay in touch, it is easy to lose closeness with those friends who are left.

You can help your mother by placing calls for her when you are together so that you put her on the phone with those old friends. You can help keep the engagement alive by facilitating calls and occasional visits. Yes, this is work on your part, but it will surely be worth it.

DEAR HARRIETTE: How can I appropriately shop in a hurry? I know my general style, but I hate going into fitting rooms to try things on. I'd rather be able to look at an outfit and know by the material and size if it will be a good fit. As someone in the fashion world, do you have any quick tips to help me pick clothes in a non-time- consuming way? -- Hate Shopping

DEAR HATE SHOPPING: Ready-to-wear clothing is meant to fit many bodies who have the measurements of a particular standard size. If you know your measurements, theoretically you should be able to look at a garment, check the size and be able to fit it.

In reality, it's not that easy. People carry their body weight differently. Height, weight and proportions figure prominently into whether a garment will fit you. If you have a sense of what shapes look best on your body, go for those silhouettes. This will, at least, get you closer to a good fit right away. Look for fabrics that stretch, as they are more forgiving in their fit.

Finally, shop at places that will allow you to return everything within a manageable period of time. In this way, you can purchase what you are interested in and try the items on in your own home rather than in the confines of a dressing room.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I recently started suspecting that my sister is involved in an abusive relationship. This wouldn't be her first time dealing with a toxic partner, but I thought she would have used her past experiences to never return to the same situation. I am not 100% sure, but there are a few signs that I am picking up on that let me know that things aren't going well for her. For instance, I noticed she had two broken nails wrapped up in a bandage. When I gently asked her about the situation, she told me it was her boyfriend who was the cause. She explained how they were just playing, and he's too rough at times. This doesn't sit well with me. I don't want to overstep my boundaries because she always protects his image and would get defensive if I accused her boyfriend of such a serious thing. However, I want to find out for sure if she really is in an abusive situation. How can I help find out and help my sister, without it being too obvious? -- In Danger

DEAR IN DANGER: Unless you physically witness your sister's boyfriend hurting her, it will be difficult for you to prove anything. What you can do is talk to your sister and remind her how much you love and appreciate her. Tell her that you are worried about her well-being and that you hope that she will tell you if she ever feels unsafe or is in trouble. Tell her that you will do whatever she needs to help keep her safe. Encourage her to do things with you and with friends outside of the relationship. Resist the temptation to judge her. Be a good listener.

You can also suggest she learn more about getting support by calling 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). You can read more at thehotline.org/help/help-for-friends-and-family.

DEAR HARRIETTE: During his first year of college, my son joined a fraternity. I am concerned that what he went through during his pledging process did not adhere to his and our religious ideals. I don't want to control his religious identity, but he tells me he is still Muslim, and I expect him to live in accordance with our faith.

How do I ask if my child still believes in our religion, and what should I do if he doesn't anymore? I would disagree with him but want to respect his choice. -- Religion in College

DEAR RELIGION IN COLLEGE: When your child gets to the point of college, your prayer should be that you have laid the groundwork for him to make smart decisions based on the values you have taught him and the decision-making tools you have given him. Will he make mistakes? Without question. Should you still have some measure of influence over him? Yes, but now it is limited. Your son needs to have space to make choices and live with them. I do not recommend that you query him about every single thing he does. Instead, I suggest that you continue to talk to him about values and ask him to consider how he can become part of his college community without losing those beliefs.

The pledging process for fraternities and sororities has many "secret" components. You may never learn all that he experienced, and honestly, that's probably for the best. Beyond what has already occurred, focus on the future. Encourage your son to navigate his life keeping his religious beliefs in mind. Be aware that he will not be perfect in his efforts to grow into adulthood. If you think back on your own life, chances are, you made your share of mistakes, too.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I am the youngest of four children. My older sister has had the same boyfriend for four years. I like the guy, but I can see how he can be shady at times. My sister thinks he is perfect and hopes to marry him one day. When I ask my sister if they have ever spoken about marriage before, she says they have not because he doesn't like talking about the future, which I think is a little odd. I know my sister very well, and I know she is itching to get engaged soon. Do you think it is inappropriate if I ask my sister's boyfriend what his intentions are with my sister, or if he plans to marry her? -- Protective Sister, Las Vegas

DEAR PROTECTIVE SISTER: Do not ask your sister's boyfriend about his intentions! Instead, coach your sister on how to talk to her beau. She has to put her stake in the ground and tell him what she wants. The only way they have a chance of building a life together that works for the two of them is if she speaks up and lets him know what she wants and needs.

I remember my mother telling me that she and my father dated for several years. At a certain point, she told him that he had to make a decision or she was going to walk (my language). Her ultimatum prompted a proposal. They were married for 42 years before he died. It can work!

DEAR HARRIETTE: I commute to work every day, and have done so for the past year. I usually keep to myself and read or listen to music. The other day, a young man sat down next to me and was extremely distracting and loud. He was FaceTiming his friends and screaming into his phone the entire train ride.

I know it is a public train, and people are free to do what they want, but at the same time, there is an unspoken rule that you don't act too obnoxious or loud on the morning train rides. I got off the train very annoyed, and it kind of ruined my morning. Do you think it would have been OK to say something to this young man, or is it not my place? -- Train Rider, Westchester, New York

DEAR TRAIN RIDER: You could have kindly asked your seatmate to lower his volume, but I totally understand how unnerved you were. When extreme behavior shows itself before you, it can render you dumb. That is not me being disrespectful. This has happened to me on several occasions.

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There is a good chance that this young man does not ride a commuter train often and was, therefore, unaware of how rude he was being. With the right approach, that of educating rather than scolding, you could have gotten him to consider being quieter. Try that next time.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I am applying for graduate schools and programs, and my parents are helping me pay for it. I have a few choices of schools, but my mother has been very enthusiastic about her alma mater. I like her alma mater, but I don't want her to be disappointed if I don't choose it. I'm afraid she will use her financial assistance to convince me to go there and will make me feel bad if don't. How should I choose the school that's right for me? -- Choosing Grad School, Atlanta

DEAR CHOOSING GRAD SCHOOL: Talk to your mother about your career goals and which schools have good programs that support them. Be specific with the information you share. The more you figure out exactly what you want to do and which institutions can help you reach your goals, the easier it will be for you to show your mother your options. Include her alma mater in the mix of schools. List the pros and cons of each school, and compare them. Your research will help you to determine which schools are best suited to you. Include your mother in this process so that she can see how you come to your top choices. This will make it easier for both of you to decide which is the best grad school for you to attend.

DEAR HARRIETTE: My mother and I have a very close relationship. I call her almost every day and update her with any big things going on in my life. Recently, she has started dating a new guy, and we aren't speaking as often as we used to. I am very glad that she is in a new relationship and is happy, but I miss talking to her. I'm not sure if it's selfish of me to want to speak to my mom all the time, being that I am 22 years old, or just that I'm not used to her having a boyfriend. I don't want to bring it up to my mom, because I'm scared she will take it personally or that I will seem very needy. What is your take on how much communication is healthy and normal between a mother and a daughter? Do you think I am overreacting when it comes to speaking with my mom? -- Daughter Misses Mom, Cleveland

DEAR DAUGHTER MISSES MOM: What you are experiencing is a natural shift whenever a loved one gets a boyfriend or girlfriend. Suddenly, there is less time for friends and adult children because the lovebirds are so devoted to each other. The good news is that the intensity that excludes others usually doesn't last too long. Give your mom some space to explore her new relationship. You can suggest that you spend some time together. Invite her to coffee or to go shopping, something that will get her attention. But try not to push too hard at first. She will come around.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I am recovering from a breakup, and my family and friends are supportive. My boss is encouraging and always wants me to be happy. However, she might be trying to set me up too early when I'm not fully recovered from the breakup. She has men in mind whom she would like me to meet, but I'm not ready. How can I tell her to back off for now, but that I will be ready later? -- Not Ready to Date Yet, Towson, Maryland

DEAR NOT READY TO DATE YET: It's great that your boss is supportive and that you feel comfortable talking to her. The other side of that is her being too involved. Ask your boss if you can talk to her for a moment. Thank her for her support during this difficult time for you, and tell her that you appreciate her interest in introducing you to potential new partners. Ask her to wait before she does anything. Explain that you are still hurting from the breakup and that you are too emotionally fragile to meet anybody new right now. Assure her that you will let her know when you are up for a date.

DEAR HARRIETTE: My in-laws have been coming around, and it has become an inconvenience for me and my family. We don't mind if they come over, but the problem is they come over unannounced. I work all day and sometimes come home stressed. My husband and I have told them to call before they come, but they don't. When they come in, they immediately want to jump into whatever conversation we are having. They interrupt the children to try to get them to hang out when they need to do their homework. They can be disruptive -- even though we know it is not intentional. How do I tell them they need to call before they come so they will listen? -- Need Advance Notice, Raleigh, North Carolina

DEAR NEED ADVANCE NOTICE: This is a hard situation that may require tough love. If you and your husband have the stomach for it, you may need to tell them that they cannot come in on days when you are stressed out. You can choose not to open the door, even acting like you aren't at home.

Your in-laws have a lot more time on their hands than you and your husband, which is making them not accept your schedules. You might have to hurt their feelings to give them the reality check that they need to respect your privacy. This will be an awkward period, but it should work if you stick to your plan to say no when you don't have the energy to entertain them.

Be sure to talk to them, too, and point out that when they come unannounced, they often unintentionally interrupt the children's homework and the overall family pattern. Suggest that you have a regular time when they visit for part of the day on the weekend or for dinner once a week -- something that is inclusive and manageable.

Harriette Cole is a lifestylist and founder of DREAMLEAPERS, an initiative to help people access and activate their dreams. You can send questions to askharriette@harriettecole.com or c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106

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