DEAR HARRIETTE: I have been seeing this guy for 10 months now. We get along great, and I have completely fallen in love with him. I think he feels the same way about me, but we have yet to say the words "I love you" to each other.
He does not refer to me as his girlfriend, and I do not refer to him as my boyfriend. My friends and family think this is very abnormal because of how long we've been an item. What is your take on my situation? Is this a huge red flag? -- No-Status Relationship, Jackson, Mississippi
DEAR NO-STATUS RELATIONSHIP: Because you both are behaving the same way, this is not as odd as your loved ones think. Many young people address their relationships more casually than observers consider ideal. Determine how you feel about this man and what you want from the relationship. Do you love him? If you do, why not tell him?! He may be afraid to express his love for you openly. If you truly love him, it's OK to be honest -- even if he doesn't say it back to you. The fact will have been spoken.
Labeling your relationship is less important than how you treat each other. If you feel loved and respected consistently, that's the key to a healthy relationship. Because people always want to know, you may decide to talk about it with him. "What should we call each other?" could be the question that launches a rich conversation.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I baby-sat for a family last night for the first time. A couple of weeks ago, I met the parents to discuss my hourly salary and the kids' schedule. Everything went well, and I enjoyed baby-sitting. My employers paid me in cash.
This morning, when I checked the amount, I realized they underpaid me for the amount of time I was there. I'm a little confused, because we went over my rate prior to last night. How do I bring up the uncomfortable topic of money to people I just met? -- Underpaid Worker, Southampton, New York
DEAR UNDERPAID WORKER: I'm sure you already know that the biggest mistake you made was to leave without counting your money first. This was a business transaction, and it's normal that you would check your fee before walking out the door. Since you didn't do that, the situation is more awkward than necessary.
The best approach now is an innocent -- but direct -- one. Contact the family immediately, and tell them that when you got home and counted the money, you realized that they had not paid you the full amount that you had agreed upon. Say that perhaps they miscounted. Then remind them of the hourly rate that you agreed upon and how many hours you worked. Apologize for not counting the money when they gave it to you. Hopefully they will apologize and give you the balance right away. If not, you will have to decide if you want to work for them again. If you do, be crystal clear about the fee before you begin.
DEAR HARRIETTE: Many of my friends are going to graduate school post-graduation, but I have not made this decision for myself yet. My career values experience more than a master's degree, but I feel like all of my peers are continuing school and I would, quite frankly, feel stupid if I were the only one without a graduate degree. Should social pressure lead me to obtain more education, or should I try to find my way in the professional world? -- Needing More, New York City
DEAR NEEDING MORE: While peer pressure is real and can cause a tremendous amount of concern, you cannot succumb to it as you plan your life's steps. You must look at your career path and learn everything you can about how people excel. If it is true that work experience is king in your industry, then get to work. There will always be time to go back for a graduate degree should you need to have one.
If you find yourself having to defend your decision, consider this fantastic. You should be comfortable explaining why you have made the choices that you have. You should be as at ease telling your family as sharing the news with your friends or colleagues. So practice. You will become better at it, and better at your work the more you claim it.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I graduated from high school years ago, and sadly, I did not keep in touch with any of the teachers who had a big impact on my future. I have also moved out of the town I went to high school in, so I haven't stepped foot in the school in years. Is it still appropriate to reach out to them and try to meet up with them? I will be going home for the summer, and I thought it might be nice to do. -- Years Later, Pittsburgh
DEAR YEARS LATER: I vote for reaching out to these former teachers. Chances are, they will be thrilled to hear from you and to learn what you are doing with your life these days. Typically, only a few students return to their high schools to stay in touch with their teachers. The ones who do are greatly appreciated. As you know, the job of a teacher is to prepare a student with key tools to live an effective and inspired life. If you feel that you benefited from the interactions and lessons you received from your high school teachers, by all means go back and look for them. Depending on when you left, some teachers may still be there. Others could already be retired. Go to the principal's office to do some research. You may receive help locating retired teachers.
Even more, write a letter to the principal outlining the value of each of your cherished teachers, adding how the high school in general helped to form the adult you have become. This type of sincere endorsement is extremely helpful for schools. It is proof that the work the school is doing is effective. Go for it!
DEAR HARRIETTE: A friend has been fighting with her parents more than usual. This friend likes to keep her life very private, but we can tell she has a lot of thoughts bottled up. She doesn't like to talk to us -- her friends -- about it because she wants us to think that she has the perfect family. She doesn't understand that every family has their fights and every child fights with her parents. We can relate. She needs someone to talk to who can keep it confidential -- maybe even a therapist. My friends want to tell her, but we know she will get upset and offended. What should we do? -- Stargirl, Providence, Rhode Island
DEAR STARGIRL: Sometimes the greatest gift in friendship is risking the longevity of the relationship for the greater good -- in this case, your friend's mental health. If you firmly believe that your friend needs psychological support in order to be healthy, make the recommendation. Frame it as you did here by pointing out that everyone has family challenges. Give an example of yourself or a mutual friend to make it real for her. Preface your next statement by saying that even though you know she will be upset by what you need to say to her, you have something that must be said. Tell your friend that you are worried about her and that you feel strongly that she should see a therapist. Explain that a neutral professional may be able to help her sort through her feelings and issues and support her in figuring out how to handle what's on her plate.
DEAR HARRIETTE: Prom is in a few weeks, and I am finalizing my dress, hair and makeup. My dress is dark blue, and my date keeps asking me what color tuxedo he should wear. He also wants to wear dark blue, but I want him to wear black. Will the blue on blue clash or look bad? What should I tell him? -- Blue Couple, Omaha, Nebraska
DEAR BLUE COUPLE: It's sweet that your date wants to match his tuxedo to your dress. The range of choices for male formal attire is so limited that he should get credit for wanting to be a bit creative. What you should know about dark blue is that it will likely read as black in many pictures if it is really dark. In terms of deciding whether it will clash with your dress, go to the rental store and take a look at the color. If you can bring your dress, that's great. If not, take a good look at it -- and a photo. Then you can compare to your dress.
Chances are, the tuxedo will look great with your dress if both are dark blue, even if the colors aren't identical. Plus, your date will feel great because you trusted him to do his best to complement you with his attire. It can be a win-win all around!
DEAR HARRIETTE: I am currently focused on building my savings account and becoming financially secure. I work a 9-to-5 job, and I bartend on the weekends, so this doesn't leave much time for myself. Recently, my friend "Alec" told me that he sees me as something more than a friend. I could see us in a relationship, but I am honestly too focused on creating stability right now. Do I let this opportunity pass me by? I barely have time for myself, let alone a relationship. -- Riding Solo, Dallas
DEAR RIDING SOLO: I believe in creating a well-balanced life. From my perspective, that includes a partner with whom you can share your victories and challenges. Sure, it's important to become financially secure. This should be a goal for every person. But to what end? I don't think you need to consider financial independence as mutually exclusive of having a loving relationship.
Instead of shooing Alec away, talk to him about your goals and dreams. Ask him to share his as well. Express your focus on building financial security. Find out his perspective on finances and the future. As you talk to him about the things that are important to you, you will discover whether you two have compatible interests and goals. If you do, consider sharing some of your time with Alec as you continue with your life's plan.
I met a couple recently who met when they were young and each dreaming about designing a better life for themselves. They started out as friends, and ended up getting married and being business partners. From nothing more than talking about the future, they built a life for themselves and a business that was worth millions.
DEAR HARRIETTE: "Sean" and I have been friends for a few years. For most of the time we've known each other, he's been in a serious relationship. That recently ended with his now-ex breaking his heart. At first, I became his confidant because I wanted to help him get through this tough time, but now I am hearing that he is staying close to me to try to use me as a rebound.
I am very put off by Sean right now, and I want to know if he ever saw me as a friend. Should I confront Sean about what I've been hearing or just let his messages go unanswered? -- Friends?, Boston
DEAR FRIENDS?: Talk to Sean directly. Tell him what you have heard about his intentions and how upsetting these rumors are. Speak about your feelings. If you like him as more than a friend, tell him. But know that people typically need time to heal right after breakups. Often, the person who is there immediately after does become the rebound person, even if it isn't intentional.
If you want a real chance with Sean, you may need to step back or at least draw the line as to what boundaries you are willing to cross with him until he is on solid ground. By all means, be honest with him about where you stand and what you want from your friendship.
DEAR HARRIETTE: Before the actual prom, there is a "pre-prom." This is where we take pictures all together and then we head over to prom. Typically, the girls plan pre-prom, and the guys do after-prom. This year, it is a little different because the guys are planning pre-prom.
Most of my friends are going to prom together, but my date is in a different friend group. This means that I will be at a different house for pre-prom. All my friends are saying that I should tell my date that I want to be with my friends so I can be in the pictures, but I feel bad. I was thinking I would split the time, but I don't know if that is a good idea. What should I do? -- Splits, Buffalo, New York
DEAR SPLITS: It looks like your friend intersections aren't working very well. Ideally, your plan could work if you coordinate with everyone. If the houses are not too far away from each other, plan to split your time between the houses so that you and your date get to be in each other's company for the pre-prom photos. This may require asking for the festivities to begin earlier than normal to accommodate travel time. If you discover that you are too far away for this to be practical, plan to meet up before prom and take photos together outside before you go into the event.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I am a somewhat shy 20-year-old woman. I was invited to a party for a friend who I am not close with. By all accounts, this party sounds like it's going to be big and fancy. My friend knows a lot of people, and her family has a big, fabulous house near the beach. It sounds like a big deal. My family says the right thing to do is to go. I do not feel comfortable going alone because I don't know anyone. Would it be rude if I asked this person if I could bring a friend with me? Is that impolite? -- Party 567, Miami
DEAR PARTY 567: I like that your family is encouraging you to break out of your shell and go to the party. It can feel daunting to go for it, but it is important for you to push past your shyness and get out there. It is also smart to ask if you can bring a friend. By all means, call the host and simply ask. If this is a big party and not a sit-down dinner, chances are your friend will be happy to welcome your guest.
If you feel you need to explain why you want to bring along a guest, you can tell the truth and say you're a bit shy and generally don't go to parties alone. No need to offer up that information unless you get asked, though.
DEAR HARRIETTE: My teenage daughters are obsessed with taking photos of themselves. Just last week, I walked into my backyard to see a bikini photoshoot they were having with each other. They explained that this is all for social media and for likes. I am not comfortable with the amount of time they spend creating an image that isn't real. Another time, they spent hours doing their makeup on a Sunday, posed against a white wall and edited these photos on their laptops.
Is there any way I can control this situation? I want them to be spending their time learning or adventuring, not staring at screens unnecessarily. -- Stunned on the Sidelines, Raleigh, North Carolina
DEAR STUNNED ON THE SIDELINES: You are not likely to win the battle of getting your daughters off social media. Their behavior is similar to thousands of other teens across the country. You should take a look at some of the social media sites that they like. You will see photo shoots just like what they are doing. This may help to build their confidence. Be sure to monitor what they are posting and where. Talk to your girls about the types of images they are choosing to post. It is important for them to understand that all kinds of people can view social media. Your daughters should think about who they may be attracting. It is your job to make that clear to them. That means scaring them a bit.
In this day and age, sexual predators are a real threat to young women, as is human trafficking. I hate to be so severe, but our world has some negative forces in it, and your daughters must be mindful of being too provocative in their postings. They should never post their address, telephone number or location.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I turned 60 last week. I had a great day and spent it doing what I love, but one thing bothered me -- my own daughter forgot my birthday, while my stepdaughter remembered. She hasn't been my stepdaughter for a long time (one year), but she managed to get me a present and a card. My own daughter called me yesterday saying that her brother just reminded her she missed my birthday. I know this is simply a single day in a year, but it hurts to know that someone I raised didn't think to call me to wish me a happy birthday. Should I let this go? I am unsure how to reconcile my feelings. -- Forgotten Father, Las Vegas
DEAR FORGOTTEN FATHER: I understand your hurt feelings, and I'm sorry your daughter did not remember you on your special day. I must ask you, though, how often do you communicate with her? Your stepdaughter is new in your life in that role, so your being "Dad" to her is top of mind. How engaged you are in your relationship with your biological daughter may influence her remembering to contact you on your big day. I'm not making an excuse for her, by the way. I'm just pointing out that family dynamics can be complicated.
DEAR HARRIETTE: After being a teacher in my district for 25 years, I was offered the position of school principal. I had already been thinking about retirement and everything I still want to see in the world. I was planning on retirement in the next 10 years, but if I accept this position, that wouldn't be a possibility. The salary, however, is significantly more than I am making now. Should I take on this position to have a cushier retirement fund and sacrifice a few years still working? -- New Opportunities, Salisbury, Maryland
DEAR NEW OPPORTUNITIES: Congratulations on the honor of being offered the role of principal after so many years of service. Before you pass on the job, consider a few things. Start with why you think you would have to work for more than 10 years. Unless you have a contract that requires a specific tenure, this may not be a valid issue. What will be important is evaluating your energy level and your willingness to put in the work. Being principal is a much bigger job than being a teacher, and it requires different skills. You will have to establish a vision, administer a large staff and follow governmental guidelines. If you are up to the tasks before you, consider this a golden opportunity. Then set goals for yourself and work to meet them.
If you want to retire in a particular period of time, map out a plan that allows you to reach the academic goals you envision and retire as you desire.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I am going to college in a few months, and I am very nervous about it. I have never left home for a long period of time. I never went to sleepaway camp, and I never liked to sleep out of the house. I am nervous that I am going to get homesick and want to come home. I am scared that I am not going to like the people or the school. What do you suggest I do to prepare for the next four years? -- Nervous Student, Trenton, New Jersey
DEAR NERVOUS STUDENT: Find out what extracurricular activities are available at your school that are of interest to you. Join affinity groups that match your interests so that you fill up your free time. The more connected you are to engaging opportunities, the less time you will have to be homesick. Find out if any students from your high school or neighborhood will be attending your college. Do your best to connect with anyone you already know, at least for the initial transition time. While in your classes, notice students who share your interests. When you identify someone who may share similar preferences, speak to that person and see if the two of you naturally connect. Homesickness takes a backseat when you meet new friends and begin the adventure of your new life.
Also establish a regular time when you talk to your parents. You may start with a daily call and end up calling weekly. As you establish your independence, don't forget to stay in touch with them.
DEAR HARRIETTE: A close friend who moved away a few years ago is now moving back to my town. We fell out of contact over the last year because she left. A few days ago, she came in contact, informing me that she was moving back. She never put in the effort to keep the friendship going when she moved away, so I stopped, too.
I have an established group of friends, and it is going to be tough to rekindle my friendship with this girl. Since she knows me, she wants to cling to me. I am not sure I even want to be best friends again. What is the best move? -- Distant Friend, Cambridge, Massachusetts
DEAR DISTANT FRIEND: You do not need to figure out the future just yet. Consider it respectful that your friend let you know she is moving back home. Don't read any more into it right now. When it is convenient for you -- and she initiates the call -- agree to get together with her and hear her out. Find out what she has been doing over the past few years, and what brings her back. Let her know that it hurt your feelings that she left and didn't bother to stay in touch with you. You can forgive her without agreeing to include her in your new friend group.
If you feel that a heart-to-heart will be heard, tell her that you have moved on and that you aren't inclined to incorporate her in your new circle of friends. If you have any interest in rekindling a bond with her, you can agree to get together with her on occasion and see how it works. You may find that you want to be friends again. Either way, forgive her for not being as connected as you would have liked. Let the present unfold before you.
DEAR HARRIETTE: College is coming up. My parents keep warning me that college is a lot more difficult than high school. They tell me that since I am going to have a lot more free time, I am going to have to learn to manage it well. I am nervous that I am not going to be able to keep up with the work. I love to procrastinate, and I know that I will not be successful if I continue that trend. It was fine in high school, but it must change for college. What do I do? How do I change it? -- Procrastinator 101, Topeka, Kansas
DEAR PROCRASTINATOR 101: How well did you do in high school? In the classes where you excelled, what did you do to stay the course? A great way for you to develop discipline for school is to build upon any good habits that you have as you also establish more positive habits. This includes keeping a calendar of your classes and your assignments. Give yourself deadlines that are ahead of your professors' deadlines so that you have time to review your work, complete all details and turn it in on time. Most important: You must begin to believe that your life is valuable and that education will help you to build a happy, healthy life. With faith and focus, you can reverse the trend of procrastination. You have to believe you are worth it!
DEAR HARRIETTE: My sister is very indecisive. She does not understand that her behavior influences others' lives. For example, she bailed on a family vacation after we had already paid for it, citing that she just doesn't feel like it is the right decision anymore. How can I balance her indecisiveness without going insane? I can't just exclude my sister from family gatherings. -- Choose One, Minneapolis
DEAR CHOOSE ONE: You can work on making your sister more accountable. If she didn't pay for her share of the family vacation, tell her she will have to pay for it because the family was all in it together, and she will be creating a hardship on the rest of you by not taking care of her part.
In the future, continue to invite her to participate in activities, but give parameters. Require her to pay for her part. More important than her wallet is her heart. Appeal to her love of family. Remind her how much your family loves and wants to be with her. Explain that when she flakes, it hurts everyone's feelings. Ask her to think about the rest of you before she bails on family activities.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I am a divorced parent who does not have full custody of my children. My ex-wife and I get along well, but she has recently been harping on me for missing my son's basketball games. I work long hours to be able to have my son play sports and have all the newest clothes, so I can't leave work early to go to these games. My ex says it affects my son, and I'm being a bad father. Should I just ignore what my ex-wife says? My son seems happy with the gifts I can give him, and those come from my long hours at work. -- Not Always Around, Silver Spring, Maryland
DEAR NOT ALWAYS AROUND: Your intentions are honorable and understandable. It takes a lot of money to support a child and yourself, even more sometimes when you are not living with your child. Even for parents who live together, often one of them is working many hours and largely unavailable to be present to support extracurricular activities.
Here's what I know: While children love "stuff," they typically prefer their parents' loving presence, cheerleading and engagement a whole lot more. Your ex-wife is not wrong in pointing out to you that your son needs you -- literally your butt in a seat -- at least sometimes. I recommend that you review the sports calendar and figure out a way to attend at least one or two games per season. Similarly, during the summer, find time to participate in activities with him. Those bonding moments are priceless and will be remembered for years to come, even as the clothes will become too small and out of style.
DEAR HARRIETTE: An ex-boyfriend keeps messaging me at 4 a.m., when intoxicated, saying something like, "I miss you." I never acknowledge it, but it continues to happen.
I want him to stop messaging me, but I don't know if that's him indirectly saying he wants to talk to me about something. I want him to stop. Do I say something? If so, how do I word it nicely? -- Past Midnight, Austin, Texas
DEAR PAST MIDNIGHT: Your ex may be remorseful about the way your relationship ended. He may even want to get back together. So what! I don't mean to be harsh, but I want you to throw some cold water in your face and look at what's happening. He is not being respectful of you when he texts you in the wee hours of the morning, drunk, lamenting his state. This behavior is extremely selfish and unworthy of your attention. Saying something will not help matters, either, as that will let him know that you are noticing his texts.
Put your phone on "do not disturb" during your normal sleeping hours. That way you will not hear the buzz or chirp of a text or a call. You can also block his number if the messaging gets too frequent.
DEAR HARRIETTE: At dinner with my children recently, I noticed them treating the waitstaff poorly. They would roll their eyes, not say thank you and barely acknowledge the servers. I was mortified and asked where they learned this. They all shrugged. A conversation is necessary, but I am not sure whether to start with my ex-husband -- who is notorious for being a menace to any staff -- or with my children. Should I start at the root of the problem, or just focus on my children's behavior? -- We Say Thank You, Shreveport, Louisiana
DEAR WE SAY THANK YOU: Do not bring your ex-husband into a conversation with your children where you are reprimanding them about their behavior. No good will come of that. Instead, be direct with your children, and let them know that you have observed unacceptable behavior from them and you want to talk about it. Give specific examples from your most recent restaurant experience with them where you can point out clearly how they were rude, dismissive and disrespectful. Be clear enough that they cannot wriggle out of it by saying they didn't do it. Speak about what you witnessed firsthand and how awkward it was for you to see.
Tell them that this is not the way you reared them, and they must stop. Ask them to put themselves in the waiters' shoes for a moment. Imagine how bad they would feel if someone treated them in that same way. Suggest that before they react to others, they think for a moment about how the behavior they want to engage in at that time could be hurtful or helpful. Help them to see the folly of their ways.
DEAR HARRIETTE: My friend "Kim" has been having a rough time recently. She is going through a lot, but she's lashing out at me due to stress. I understand she has a lot on her plate (a critically ill parent, children in trouble at school and a stressful job), but this has been months of me feeling emotionally drained every time she calls me to vent or chastise me for not doing a favor properly for her, like unloading the dishwasher. When can I reach my boiling point? I feel bad for her, but I need to preserve my sanity. -- Emotional Crutch, South Bend, Indiana
DEAR EMOTIONAL CRUTCH: You have every right to speak up for yourself right now. You are Kim's friend. You are not her therapist. You should schedule a time to see Kim so that you can speak face-to-face. Tell her how sorry you are that she is going through so much difficulty right now. Make it clear to her how much you love her and wish that her load would not be so hard to bear. Then tell her that you also forgive her for being unkind, harsh or unreasonable in her interactions with you, but you need her to know you cannot handle her intense ways of communicating with you anymore. It is wearing you down. Suggest that she see a mental health professional who can give her strategies for handling her life's challenges. Let her know that her difficulties right now are too much for you to manage. Be clear that you are not abandoning her; you will continue to support her as you are able, but you believe she needs professional help.
DEAR HARRIETTE: My neighbor "Mary" lives alone and is in her 50s. She has always kept her garden in pristine condition, but I've been noticing her making more comments about feeling achy and not up to the challenge anymore. My son can mow lawns, and I think my daughter would benefit from some time learning from Mary. Should I offer to pay them to help Mary, or should they be doing this out of the goodness of their hearts? -- Teen Motivation, Pikesville, Maryland
DEAR TEEN MOTIVATION: You need to gauge your children's behavior to decide which approach will be most effective. For some teens, it is understood that you help your elders with whatever you can. This could include doing a bit of yardwork. Other teens can feel resentful that they have to spend their time in this way. You can choose to teach them a lesson about offering from the heart if you believe they will be kind to Mary. But if you believe they may take their anger out on her in any way, prevent that by offering them a small stipend for doing the yardwork. It can be like an allowance based on their hard work and thoughtful effort.
Talk to your teens about how helpful they can be to Mary and how grateful both you and she will be for their help. Encourage them to learn from Mary and observe her so that they can discover how they can be of support. Over time, they may grow to enjoy working in the garden with her. The lessons that will come from simply being together will be invaluable.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I am a preschool teacher in an inner city. My student "Jayden" told me that his daddy is in jail, so he can't celebrate Father's Day this year. I want to create a classroom activity that all students can appreciate, but I'm not sure if it's possible. Should I continue having everyone make the same card or take the children who don't have their fathers in their lives aside and have them make an appreciation card for a parental figure? -- Modern Families, Chicago
DEAR MODERN FAMILIES: It is OK to acknowledge Father's Day in your class. For Jayden, you can tell him privately that he may want to write a card to his father to send to him in prison. Chances are, his father would greatly appreciate receiving a loving communication from his son.
For the class in general, you can suggest that they make Father's Day cards for their father or for a father figure in their life. It could be a minister, a super, a grocer, an uncle or an older sibling. Whoever it is, suggest that the person who shows them loving kindness and guidance on a regular basis would love receiving a card from them.
Alternatively, in some single-parent households, mothers take on the role of fathers, too. If you have students who say that their mothers really are superheroes in that way, suggest that they make a card for their mother to acknowledge how she does everything.
Harriette Cole is a life stylist 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