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Sense & Sensitivity

Sense & Sensitivity

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DEAR HARRIETTE: My best friend was housesitting for me while I went out of town for a few weeks to visit family. One of the most important tasks I gave her while watching my house was to take care of my houseplants. My plants are very large and require proper care and sunlight, or they will quickly start to wither and die.

When I got back, my plants were extremely wilted and looked as if they had not been watered at all. My tallest plant, which my great-aunt gave me before she passed away -- was pretty much dead. This plant was the most important thing to me because I promised my aunt that I would take care of it when she started to get sick.

I'm furious with my friend. She knows how much these plants meant to me, and I have no idea if she even tried to take care of them. I know it may seem like I'm overreacting, but I am very upset with her carelessness, and now I can't help but feel differently toward her. I know that this is not worth losing a friendship over. How do I address this with her? -- Plant Mom

DEAR PLANT MOM: Talk to your friend. Tell her how disappointed you are that her plants were not watered and are almost dead. Ask her what happened. Be specific. Ask her why she did not do the most important task that you gave her. While there is no legitimate excuse not to honor the agreement, listen to what she says.

You also need to look at yourself and your decisions. You asked this friend to housesit with the most pressing job being to water your plants. Did you have any indication that she has a green thumb or any consciousness about plants? Some people do not pay attention to plants. This may be hard for you to believe, but it's true. It seems that you did not choose well when it came to having this task fulfilled. You are actually equally if not more to blame for this mishap because you asked the wrong person to do the job. You can forgive your friend -- and yourself -- for what happened. Next time, choose more wisely.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I have been in love with a man for the past 30 years -- from a distance. The timing was always wrong for us to be together, mainly because he is a bit of a player. I never totally waited for him. I got married and had a family, but he has stayed in my heart as "the one." I know it's horrible, but it's true. Anyhow, recently he called us "spiritual husband and wife" and told me that he loves me more than any other woman in his life. What am I supposed to do with that? Saying these words doesn't give us the kind of relationship that I have always wanted. It kind of makes me mad. He declares these things without accepting any responsibility or role in demonstrating this love. I don't know what to do. I'm still married, though not particularly happily. But I don't think this guy would be there for me like I need, even if I did leave. -- Not Enough

DEAR NOT ENOUGH: You need to let go of this man. Stop letting him pull your strings. It's not fair for him to have your heart from a distance. Stop giving it to him. Focus on the life you have chosen. Right now, you are not being fair to your husband or yourself. It is not possible to find happiness in this way. Life is not a game, even if he seems to be playing one.

DEAR HARRIETTE: Just about every time I walk outside, someone asks me for money. I know that millions of people are out of work, and I want to help, but people are getting kind of aggressive. If I don't have money to give every moment, how can I remain kind but firm? Some people have rushed up on me and taken me by surprise, coming close enough to touch me. I feel really uncomfortable, but I don't want to be rude. -- When To Give

DEAR WHEN TO GIVE: The number of unemployed has surpassed 46 million. Naturally, there are more people in desperate straits because of the lack of resources. What you can do is give when you can, and be firm when you can't. Pay attention when you go outside, which you should be doing anyway. Notice if people are coming into your personal space, and move away. Sometimes when people are feeling desperate, they can make poor choices. You don't want to find yourself in the middle of a confrontation that you could avoid. That said, you can look people in the eye and greet them. You can speak to the humanity in each person who encounters you and see them, even if you cannot give them money. That way you avoid being dismissive and cruel. Be aware. Be kind. Be firm about your personal space. Be a citizen of the world, which means continue to care about your fellow humans.

DEAR HARRIETTE: Even during these times when so many people are out of work, I am seeing that some young people do not want to work hard. Am I wrong to say that? I have hired two recent college grads in the past two months. And -- can you believe it? -- they don't show up to work, meaning to a Zoom call, on time. They arrive 10 to 20 minutes late to meetings without even an acknowledgment that they were late. I don't want to seem like a crotchety old boss, but I don't get it. I am giving them a chance to work at a time when I need their undivided attention and focus, and I'm not getting it. How can I motivate them? -- Unmotivated

DEAR UNMOTIVATED: Now is the time to teach. You say your employees are recent college grads. The transition from school to work may be more of an adjustment than they imagined. They also may not know things that you consider basic -- such as how important it is to show up on time.

Write up office rules that outline specifically what your expectations are for your employees. Review them with your staff, and have them sign the document to say that they understand and accept the rules. Point out to them that in the virtual work environment, you have specific expectations, and you need them to be honored.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I'm the mother of 17- and 20-year-old sons who've both gone through non-bathing phases. I agree wholeheartedly with the mother of the 22-year-old who suggested not pushing the issue too much because it could tip him over to suicide. Our oldest lost his best friend to suicide his senior year. Being a teenager is rough in ordinary times, but now they are really struggling. Bathing may be one of the few things he can control in a world that feels out of control. Not bathing won't kill him. Eventually he'll come around. In the meantime, let him make his own decisions about his body. -- Another Parent of Teens

DEAR ANOTHER PARENT OF TEENS: I am so very sorry for your loss. Teen suicide is a real issue in our community, something we must all take seriously. Of course, bathing or not doesn't hold a candle to the much bigger issue of mental health.

Emotions are running high for many people during this elongated period of sheltering at home. I have heard from many families who are trying to figure out how to support their children, particularly teenagers, during this time. I know the restrictions that my own teenage daughter now has to endure are the exact opposite of the freedoms we once allowed her. As a blossoming young adult, she was able to go out and be with her friends -- with appropriate curfew considerations -- but that has ended due to COVID-19, at least for now.

I agree that we need to listen carefully and closely to our children and do all that we can to keep them mentally, spiritually and physically healthy during this time.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I am a college student, and I have recently been doing extended research for a news article for my job. This will be the first major news article I've ever published. However, I just found out that someone else published an article that is almost exactly like the story I was trying to write, even interviewing many of the people I have been in the process of talking to. I have been doing months of prep work and background research, and I don't want to abandon the work I've done, but I know that the article I publish will be less significant now that someone else in the field has published. This project has meant a lot to me, and I want the work I do to be significant. What should I do? -- Outpaced

DEAR OUTPACED: Schedule an appointment with your editor immediately and reveal what you have learned. Go over the extensive research you have conducted, and then share the article that you discovered. Point out the obvious: Someone else published an article that is frighteningly similar to what you have been researching, and you are not sure what to do. Ask for guidance.

From my perspective, I recommend that you push reset and consider a fresh angle to approach the subject matter. As disappointing as this may seem, what could be worse is to be accused of plagiarism when what actually happened is simply that the other writer finished the work first.

DEAR HARRIETTE: My daughter just graduated from high school and is planning on going to college this fall, but the school hasn't announced what they are going to do in the coming year. I can tell she is very worried and stressed out about her future. How do I console her during this time when I, too, am uncertain about what happens next? -- Going to College

DEAR GOING TO COLLEGE: Your daughter is in a predicament that thousands of college-bound students are finding themselves facing. Because of the unpredictability of the trajectory of COVID-19, educational institutions do not know if it is safe to have students clustered closely together for long periods of time. It is virtually impossible in most classroom settings for students to sit 6 feet apart. So many schools are considering staggering classroom hours, extending online learning into the fall and potentially incorporating a combination of both.

Now is the time for your daughter to be patient as she prepares to approach college without knowing all of the details of how she will begin. She may need to be more independent as a learner -- much like what she probably had to do at the end of high school when most students were practicing distance learning.

If your daughter feels driven to have a personal contact at the school, she can reach out to the administrative office to see if anyone is answering calls. Also, if she already knows her field of study, she may be able to reach someone in that department or school to see if she can make a meaningful connection with a professor or administrator who can give her insight as to what is unfolding behind the scenes.

DEAR HARRIETTE: My elderly parents are struggling with being alone during quarantine. They don't get out normally, and now it's even worse. They don't have many friends, and they are afraid to go outside because they don't want to get sick. I'm working full time, so I don't want to get them sick. How do I ensure that my parents don't get too lonely while also knowing I can't be their only source of interaction? -- Saving My Parents

DEAR SAVING MY PARENTS: We are now more than a year into sheltering in place due to COVID-19. For the elderly, this time has proven extremely difficult; the recommendation is that they have no contact with their loved ones or anyone other than essential workers. If your parents or loved ones live in a nursing home or other retirement community, the rules are strict. "No visitations" remains the rule of the day -- with the exception of drive-by visits with no physical interaction. This is extremely difficult for those who feel isolated and lonely.

You are right that you cannot be everything for your parents. You can encourage them to engage their minds by playing solitaire, reading or listening to audiobooks, or starting an art project. If you aren't already communicating with them via videoconferencing, get them simple-to-use smartphones and do that regularly. Set deadlines for completion of fun projects that give them something to look forward to. Stay upbeat when you talk to them. For more engaging ideas, read

DEAR HARRIETTE: My employer wants me to go back to the office, but I don't feel comfortable commuting on public transport because I don't want to put my family at risk. I think it's irresponsible that he is asking employees to come into work so soon. Should I put my foot down and say I want to keep working from home, or go along with what my boss wants for the sake of keeping my job? -- Afraid To Commute

DEAR AFRAID TO COMMUTE: One of the biggest challenges about returning to work is the commute. People who drive their own cars have control over their interactions, but for those who must use public transportation, the notion of boarding a train or bus with many other people in order to get to the office can seem daunting.

As you contemplate your next steps, do a self-assessment. Do you have any underlying health conditions that put you at risk for coronavirus complications? That includes upper respiratory illnesses, diabetes, high blood pressure and auto-immune diseases. If so, you could mention this to your employer and say that you want to work, but you worry about exposure. You can ask if you can work from home a little longer to see how the virus manifests as public transportation ramps up.

You may need to point out how efficient you have been during this period that you have been at home so that your employer is reminded of your hard work.

If you find that you are required to go to work, follow all safety protocols. Wear a face covering during your entire journey. Keep your distance from others to the best of your ability. Keep hand sanitizer at the ready. Do not touch your face before cleaning your hands. Good luck!

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


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