DEAR HARRIETTE: I am 47 years old, and I think I am having a midlife crisis. I am financially stable, I'm healthy and I have a great family, yet I am suddenly feeling very unsatisfied with my life. I feel as if I don't know what my real purpose in this world is, and that feeling really scares me. I have tried expanding my comfort zone and explored new hobbies to try to change this feeling, but nothing seems to be working. Is this a normal feeling? Do you have any ideas about how I can find my real passion in life? -- Midlife Crisis, Sarasota, Florida
DEAR MIDLIFE CRISIS: For some people, a midlife crisis is a real and terrifying experience. It can be unnerving to feel like you don't know what to do with your life. You do have choices. It would be smart to seek mental health support by going first to your primary care physician and getting a physical to ensure that your body is healthy. Ask for a referral for a therapist who can help you think through what's happening in your life. If you have a spiritual life, you may want to dive more deeply into your spiritual practice.
Another idea is to take a vacation. Go to a destination that you have dreamed about but never visited. Treating yourself to something you have longed to do may help relieve some anxiety.
DEAR HARRIETTE: My fiance and I have decided to move in together. We bought our first home a couple of months ago, but haven't moved in yet. We are in the decorating stage, and he and I have come to disagree on quite a few things. Basically, we have polar opposite design styles -- everything I like, he does not like, and vice versa. It has become a daily argument on what color the walls should be or where the couch should go. All of this stress does not seem worth it! Do you have any advice on how my partner and I can argue less and make this move-in process more enjoyable? -- Move-In Drama, Las Vegas
DEAR MOVE-IN DRAMA: This is an important challenge that you are facing. Just as you do not share design styles, there are likely other areas where you disagree. It is important for you to figure these things out and learn how to compromise.
Perhaps you can choose rooms that each of you can design any way you want. By having complete freedom in one space, you can exercise full creativity. Beyond that, agree to compromise. Pick colors together. Try the couch out in one area and move it around until you both are comfortable. Mix furniture styles. Yes, you can have mid-century modern and antiques side by side. Get creative with the intention of honoring both of your interests. There is an art to decision-making that you must develop in order to create joy and peace in your life -- especially when you disagree.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I have begun the process of downsizing to move into a small apartment. Originally, I thought I could have a minimalist lifestyle, but I've realized I am too attached to my clothing. How can I possibly let go of my prom dress, my first pair of high heels or my old college sorority shirts? Is downsizing not a possibility for me? -- Memories, Chicago
DEAR MEMORIES: Go through your belongings carefully and put them into piles. Which items do you need for your life -- for all four seasons? Which items fit into the memorabilia category? And which are simply extra? Maybe they don't fit, are out of style, whatever.
Allow yourself the opportunity to let go of things that are holding you back from your move. Solicit help. You may want to start by reading "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up" by Marie Kondo. This is a precious book that will help you learn how to let go of things that are cluttering your life.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I have been a part of a chat group for a year or so. We originally bonded from our love of playing video games, but we have now turned into a global support system for each other. We have spoken through video chats, and I have found all of these people on social media, so I know I am not being "catfished." I want to organize our first meetup in person. Would it be crazy to invite them to stay at my place? I don't have the funds for an international flight, so I figured I'd be doing my part by allowing them to stay in my house. -- Online Family, West Palm Beach, Florida
DEAR ONLINE FAMILY: Given that this is a group of people -- and not just one -- chances are that you will be safe if they all descend upon your home. What could easily be awkward, though, is managing expectations and expenses. Should you decide to suggest this idea, why not float it first to see who is interested?
If there is substantial interest, lay the ground rules in writing to the group. Without changing the energy of your communications, let them know that you are happy to have everybody stay at your house if everyone agrees to pitch in with particular responsibilities, including chipping in for food (and cooking) and keeping things tidy. Make your list as thorough as you deem important, and only move forward if several people agree to come. A one-on-one meetup could be awkward and unsafe.
DEAR HARRIETTE: My wife has gone completely bananas baby-proofing our home. She is 8 months pregnant and snaps at me if I don't replace the plastic outlet cover the second I am done using power. Also, I don't always close the gate on the stairs since we do not yet have a child. She thinks these habits of mine will carry over when we have a child, but I think she is overreacting. How can I get her to realize we have months before we seriously have to worry about a mobile baby? There's Time, Pittsburgh
DEAR THERE'S TIME: Beware the intensity of a pregnant woman's demands. I say that having been pregnant myself. The mothering instinct kicks in, and for some women it becomes all about safety. And dare I say, for some of us, a certain skepticism arises as to whether anyone, including Daddy, can possibly keep the child safe enough.
You are dealing with a woman who sounds like she is living somewhere in that state of mind, so tread lightly. Do your best to try to remember to close the gate and cover the outlet. These are simple yet important requests. When, in your estimation, your wife goes too far, ask her to reel it in a bit. Point out that the baby will not crawl, or even sit up for that matter, for a long while after it is born.
Promise to work together with your wife to protect your child. And then, remember to do it. Don't slack. Do pay attention -- all the time. It is actually extremely hard to do, by the way, which is why your wife wants you to practice now.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I am a larger woman who typically wears an XL to XXL. Sometimes friends will express that they enjoy my outfit and want to borrow a top or skirt. Although I am flattered, these girls are twigs! There is no way my clothing could look like anything but a potato sack on them.
How can I react when my friends ask to borrow my clothes? I don't want to seem upset about my size, but there is no way I can share clothes with these size 2 ladies. -- XS to XL, Cincinnati
DEAR XS TO XL: Consider it a positive that your friends appreciate your style and want to borrow your clothes! That means you clearly have a look that they admire.
You have a couple of options on how to react when your thinner friends want to borrow your clothes. You can thank them for the compliment and lightheartedly point out that the garment in question would not fit them. You can also let them try on the garment. Occasionally, loose-fitting tops on lean bodies do look good, either when they are just flowing or belted. You may be surprised to learn that one or more of your clothing items could look great on one of your size 2 friends. As long as you are comfortable letting your friends play dress-up in your clothes, it can't hurt to let them try on their favorite items.
DEAR HARRIETTE: After applying to over a dozen jobs for this summer, I have heard nothing -- not even a rejection. I have started calling places where I've applied to ask them if they've received my application. While I'm usually met with a startled employee, I believe that I am owed at least a rejection from a company. Is this not the case anymore? It's been a while since I've been on the job hunt. -- New Playing Field, Boston
DEAR NEW PLAYING FIELD: A form letter -- at the very least -- remains the protocol that a job applicant should be able to hope to receive. The reality is that there are so many applicants these days for virtually every available position that employers often do become overwhelmed and, in turn, less gracious.
Sorting through job applications to find the right fit for the position in question and discarding the rest has become the norm for many companies. Cold, but true in many cases.
What you did, calling to check on the status of your application, is a great idea. I recommend that you continue to place calls to the businesses where you applied. With an upbeat attitude, call and state that you are following up and are hopeful that the job for which you applied is still available. Launch into clear reasons why you believe you would be perfect for the job. Point out that you can imagine that they have been inundated with applications, and you want to make sure that they got a chance to see yours. Ask if you can resend it directly to whomever you reach on the phone. Your proactive approach may help to land you a job after all.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I have just purchased my first car ever. Although it is a used car, it is in immaculate condition, and I hope to keep it this way for a long time. Many of my friends have had their cars purchased for them by their parents, and they don't respect their vehicles -- or mine. I am sick of dirty shoes being put up on my dash and food being dropped onto the seats. How can I make rules that will be enforced? I feel like a parent in my own car. -- Clean Car, Detroit
DEAR CLEAN CAR: Teaching others to respect your property is not always an easy job. Beware that it may cost you some friends, and it might even earn you an unfavorable nickname. As you put it, having to be a parent in your own car may not be the most fun, but it is the only way to lay down the law and have your friends honor it.
So what should you do? Let your friends know they can ride in your car only if they abide by your rules. Outline the rules -- from no food to no feet on the dash. Include no alcohol and anything else you have seen them do that may bother you. If they balk or do not honor your wishes, simply do not offer them a ride anymore.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I am beginning to worry about my husband's mental health. He has a very stressful job and is now logging more and more hours to save for retirement. We have more than enough to live on comfortably, so I am not sure where this panic is coming from. Every time I try to bring up his 15-hour workdays, he begins to repeat how he's only trying to help the family. I know he is actually spending this time working because he is being paid overtime. How do I get to the root of this busy-bee syndrome? -- Ready for Retirement, Atlanta
DEAR READY FOR RETIREMENT: When was the last time your husband had a physical examination? It might be time for a complete checkup to allay any hidden fears he or you may have. It may also help to identify any issues he may have around anxiety. Sometimes a person's physical state can affect his actions.
Beyond that, try to schedule a week off with your husband where you do something quiet together. It could be a staycation -- a week you spend at home relaxing with each other, talking about life, enjoying your city and not thinking about work. It could also be a trip to a place you both have always wanted to visit. Consider it a trip where you are trying out what retirement might look and feel like. Begin to talk about what you would like to do in retirement and how you might execute your plans. Making the transition to retirement a concrete idea may take away some of the angst regarding whether you will have enough money to enjoy this upcoming time in your life.
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: I am a very particular eater who cannot share a plate with anyone. I was on a date, and over wine and flirtation, "Jess" reached her fork over and tried a bite of my food. I couldn't touch it after that; the meal had lost its appeal. I doubt Jess noticed, but is this quirk something I should be revealing to people, or should I expect them to have the manners to stick to their plate? -- Contaminated Calamari, Miami
DEAR CONTAMINATED CALAMARI: If you've got it that bad that you can't eat another bite if someone touches your food, you owe it to yourself and your dining partner(s) to say something. You can point out your quirky peculiarity in jest to make it heard without seeming too odd. Tell your dining partners that you have a phobia about food. Ask them not to pick off your plate. When they ask you why, tell them that you know it may seem illogical, but you have always been like this -- and you won't be able to eat if they reach over and taste anything on your plate. Now, if you are OK with sharing by placing a bit of food on a separate plate that you hand to them, make that suggestion as a way to keep sharing hygienically.
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: I am about to become an empty nester. I spent the past 20 years taking care of my children, and now I have only a few months left with children at home. I am completely unsure about how I am going to react. Most of my friends work at least part time, but I haven't had a job in decades. Should I attempt to get into the workforce? Should I try to find a new passion? My husband has not been helpful during this time. -- Every Chick Gone, Mamaroneck, New York
DEAR EVERY CHICK GONE: A good friend of mine gave me a piece of advice when my daughter was born: namely to put my husband first before my child. "Why?" I exclaimed, rather shocked. "Because one day your child will leave, and all you will have is each other." That was great advice.
Rather than bemoan what will happen when your children are gone, begin to cultivate bonding activities with your husband. Reinstate date night once a week. Plan fun activities that you both enjoy, and rekindle the bond between the two of you.
Personally, I think it might be perfect to take a class to learn something that interests you greatly but that you haven't taken the time to consider. You can also volunteer for a charity or hospital where you give your time and resources to others in need.
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