DEAR HARRIETTE: Do you believe in love at first sight? Or even unspoken love? I'm currently in my third year of college and have noticed a certain guy around campus since I was a freshman. I can tell that he is attracted to me as well. When we first locked eyes, it's as if we recognized each other from somewhere. However, we have never actually said a word to each other.
He's on the baseball team, and his jersey number is 21. Now everywhere I go, I see that number pop up, whether it's part of the time on the clock, the number on the bus, commercials, social media, etc. ... You name it, I see it!
My friends think I'm delusional, but I feel as though he could be someone special. What are your thoughts on this situation? How do you know who The One is? -- The One
DEAR THE ONE: Stop doubting the messages that are coming to you and take action. You don't need to consult your friends. You already know that you find this man interesting. Now it's time to drum up the courage to speak to him.
You believe that he has noticed you. Perhaps you both are shy. Take a leap and go for it. Go up to him and say hello. Tell him that you have noticed him since you started at your university, and you would love to have a chance to talk. Invite him for coffee or some other quiet social interaction. What's the worst that could happen? He could say no. That wouldn't be so bad. The upside, though, is that he will likely say yes, and then you will both get a chance to see if the chemistry grows when you are face-to-face.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I have teenage cousins who want to be "famous." We all probably had that desire at one point in our lives, but as I grow older, I realize that most famous people aren't truly happy because they have to sacrifice a lot to gain notoriety. My cousins are thinking about the money and the popularity aspect of fame, but there is more to life than that. How can I show my cousins the downside of fame so they don't waste time chasing a dream they don't need? -- The Cost of Fame
DEAR THE COST OF FAME: Your cousins are growing up at a time when fame seems to be at their fingertips, thanks to social media. While it isn't really true, it appears that anybody can build a persona and cultivate a following that will bring them recognition and wealth. In reality, most people do not reach that level.
Ask your cousins to think about what they want their lives to represent. Ask them about their interests and abilities. Encourage them to think about what they want people to think about them and what they stand for. If they can tap into their interests, that's what they should be developing. They can get their core message to a larger audience through social media, but let them know that it takes a lot of time and hard work.
Remind your cousins that fame comes with a loss of privacy. People with thousands or even millions of followers may not be able to go to the grocery store without being spotted, or have a relationship go sideways without the world talking about it. Balancing a bit of "fame" with a lot of privacy ultimately is a healthier goal.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I have never been overweight, but I have also never been happy with how I look. When I was a child, I played sports regularly and ate well. In college, I loved taking different workout classes and trying new diets, which is why my weight fluctuated a little bit. Now I work a 9-to-5 job and rarely get to work out. I usually eat pretty healthy, unless I am tempted to pick up a burger on the way home or order something extravagant at a restaurant.
I want to get back into a good workout regimen, but I'm not sure where to start. Do you think it's easier to work out with a friend? Work out in the mornings or evenings? I want to get into a schedule so I can stay on top of my weight. -- When to Work Out, Seattle
DEAR WHEN TO WORK OUT: Having a buddy can be helpful to jump-start your workout regimen. What's most important, though, is building fitness into your schedule. See if you can get up an hour earlier and go to a local gym. Conversely, you can work out immediately after work. Pick a time and then commit to three to five days a week for starters. Track your progress over a month. Then recommit for another month.
DEAR HARRIETTE: My boyfriend is a recovering drug addict. About a year ago, he was in a bad place in his life and was in a downward spiral. He got his act together and has now been sober for a year. I am proud of how far he has come and all the changes he has made, but I fear that one day he won't be able maintain his sobriety.
I have always heard the saying "Once an addict, always an addict," meaning a person never really gets rid of that addictive aspect their personality. I am afraid that one day down the road, his drug problem will come back and come between us again. Do you think this is an irrational fear? Should I focus on the here and now instead of worrying about the future? -- Questioning Girlfriend, Cincinnati
DEAR QUESTIONING GIRLFRIEND: You cannot predict the future, though it is true that many drug addicts slip. Worrying about that is a futile cause, though. You can talk to your boyfriend about the future. Get a sense from him of what his hopes are for himself and for the two of you. Share your feelings and desires as well. Reveal your concerns about his sobriety.
You should consider going to Al-Anon meetings. These are support groups for people who are in relationships with alcoholics and/or drug addicts. In these meetings, you learn how to cope with your feelings and the way in which your partner's behavior affects you. You need support independent of your boyfriend so that you learn coping techniques. This will help you to figure out if you can go the distance with him.
DEAR HARRIETTE: My boyfriend is in a band that travels around to perform at different events such as weddings and corporate functions. I am proud of him for pursuing his passion and being so dedicated to his band. I was lucky enough to attend a couple of the events in New York, where we live.
Next month, my boyfriend has an event in Colorado. He and the rest of the band members have rented a big house and are going to make a weekend out of the gig. I would like to go, but I'm not sure how to bring it up with my boyfriend. Am I overstepping my boundaries or crowding his space if I ask to go to Colorado? -- Band Groupie Girlfriend, Brooklyn, New York
DEAR BAND GROUPIE GIRLFRIEND: I don't think you should ask to go on the Colorado trip. Your boyfriend is finding his way with his band and deserves space to figure it out. If he invites you to attend the concert, that's fine. But if he does not, try not to be jealous. Instead, be happy for him that his band is picking up more work and finding its way. If your boyfriend begins to travel a lot with the band, you can tell him that you would like to join them from time to time.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I am the mother of two boys, ages 17 and 13, and I am afraid that my younger son is following in his older brother's footsteps. My eldest started to rebel in school and at home about a year ago. It began with him not doing his homework and being late for school, and now he skips class entirely. I recently found out that he has been taking drugs and hangs out on the bad side of town. I decided to send him to my sister's over summer break to see if getting out of the city will help.
Yesterday, my younger son came home hiding his report card. Once he gave it to me, I saw that he has been absent from a lot of his classes and is receiving much lower grades than usual. I'm scared that this is the start of a downward spiral, similar to what his older brother went through. What do you think I should do? -- Mother of Teenage Rebels, Dallas
DEAR MOTHER OF TEENAGE REBELS: Call a family meeting and ask your boys what is going on. Tell them what you have observed and what your specific concerns are. Outline what happens to people who fall into bad behavior and poor study habits. You can look up stats if you want to scare them all the way. Remind them of the dreams you had for them as children and what it takes to make those dreams come true. Ask them why they have been delinquent at school.
Talk to the teachers and school administration to find out everything you can about your boys. Your job is to inspire them to take positive steps in their lives. Figure out things for them to do that occupy their time. This could include the Boys and Girls Club, Boy Scouts, church groups or other organized group activities. Don't give up!
DEAR HARRIETTE: After graduating from high school, I lived by myself in apartments for 25 years, and I was fine being alone in my 20s and 30s. My mother died 15 years ago, and it was just my stepdad and me. I have now come to the scary realization that if my stepdad should pass before me, I will be all alone. I was never close to my mom's family, so my stepdad is my only family.
With the realization of having no family when he's gone and being alone in a house or apartment, I have been having panic attacks and sleeping poorly. I have tried reading inspirational books to help me, but it's just so overwhelming to me to think about it. If I could go back in time, I would have saved money to move to a bigger city and gotten more involved in things. What can I do to make myself feel better? -- Having Panic Attacks, Frederick, Maryland
DEAR HAVING PANIC ATTACKS: Rather than panicking, it is time for you to start building your independent life. What are your hobbies? Start going to public events that pique your interest. Participate in community activities. Consider getting support from a therapist to help you face your future.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I have been a nanny for the same family for about three years. I work for them mainly during the summers, as I am still a full-time college student. I am in my senior year and will be graduating this spring, and I have been searching and applying for full-time jobs upon my graduation.
Yesterday, the family I work for emailed me asking if I could travel with them for the month of July. I haven't accepted the offer yet, and I am conflicted about whether I should go away with them. I've traveled with the family internationally before, and I love spending time with the kids, so the amount of time away is not the issue. They also pay me very well, which is great since I need to pay off my student loans. Is it the right move for me to take a month of the summer to nanny, or should I continue my job search? -- Summer Job Confusion, Washington, D.C.
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DEAR SUMMER JOB CONFUSION: I say take the job, but let them know that you will have to check your email and sometimes have conference calls during that month away because you are in search of a full-time job. If they agree to your terms, the trip will be smart for you and your budget. The challenge for you will be to use every minute leading up to July to look for work and to be prepared to hit the ground running when you return. Thanks to the internet, you can look for jobs the whole time you are away. You will just have to delay any in-person interviews if they want you during those weeks.
DEAR HARRIETTE: My father and I do not have a good relationship; we rarely speak, and when we do, it's usually about money. I have huge credit card debt due to student loans and paying for part of my college tuition myself. Recently, my dad offered me an "interest-free loan," meaning he would pay off a portion of my credit card debt. This would be extremely helpful to me because I wouldn't have to pay the huge amount of interest anymore. The only thing that I am hesitant about is the fact I will now have another financial tie to my dad, which is something I was trying to stop. What do you think I should do? Accept my dad's help or decline the offer and continue to pay off my credit card by myself? -- Credit Card Debt, Akron, Ohio
DEAR CREDIT CARD DEBT: Think about your creditors: a credit card company that doesn't know you but that heaps on hefty interest rates and penalties, and your dad, from whom you are estranged but who will not charge you interest. Yes, you may have to endure his commentary or whatever else is part of your contentious dynamic with him, but you will not have to pay extra fees. Plus, this shows that your dad loves you, even if he doesn't express it well. Go with your dad, and try to work on your relationship, too.
DEAR HARRIETTE: My older sister and I are close. We are only 18 months apart, so growing up we spent a lot of time together. Now that we are both young adults, we go out together in the city. The past couple of times we've gone out, my sister and I have gotten into screaming fights at the bars. She drinks too much, and we end up arguing about something stupid. I've never been embarrassed by my sister, but recently, I hate being seen with her. How do I tell her that she needs to drink less if she wants to continue to go out together? I don't want to be harsh with her. -- Stressed Sister, Detroit
DEAR STRESSED SISTER: Choose a time to talk to your sister when you both are sober. This can be in person or through a note. Tell her that you are worried about her because you have noticed that she often gets belligerent and out of control when you two go out to drink. Tell her you are worried about her and want her to know that you think she needs to cut back on her drinking. Admit that she embarrasses you sometimes, but, more, that she embarrasses and endangers herself. Ask her to stop.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I live in New York, and I am so sick of this cold weather. I am supposed to be flying to Texas next week for work. The weather forecast says there will be another snow storm the day I am supposed to leave. I'm not sure what I should do. I need to be in Texas next week for meetings, and can't miss my flight.
Do you have much experience with flying during inclement weather or changing flights due to a weather forecast? Should I try to move up my flight in case it gets canceled or delayed? Do you know if there is usually a fee for doing this? -- Nervous About the Weather, Brooklyn, New York
DEAR NERVOUS ABOUT THE WEATHER: You are not alone. This time of year is often difficult because the cold lingers in those parts of the country that have all four seasons.
I do travel a lot, and I have encountered weather challenges in the past few weeks. Watch the weather forecast carefully. Plan to arrive at your destination early, preferably a day in advance of a suspected storm. Stay in touch with the airline, and ask about free flight changes based on weather. While they are not required to do so, some airlines may support you and allow for flight changes without penalty if you establish a good rapport with them. Never forget the gift of kindness.
You must also stay in close touch with your work. Be clear with your contact people so that you can keep them informed of your whereabouts, especially if you are running late.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106