DEAR HARRIETTE: I have been involved in my cultural community for many years, and I feel strongly that I should support our causes and work to build up the community in any way I can. I am African-American, and I understand the issues that we face; I have marched and petitioned and participated in Black Lives Matter and other things over the years to support my people. I am very active.

I joined an organization a few years ago, but I didn't really pay attention to the bylaws. I have now learned that this particular group has a rule forbidding marrying a white woman. I get their point: They want black people to love and choose one another. The thing is, I met and fell in love with a white woman. I don't want to walk away from my community, but I do want to marry this woman. What should I do? -- Racial Divide

DEAR RACIAL DIVIDE: This is such a prickly topic -- for you as an African-American and, dare I say, for many people of all ethnic backgrounds. For generations, the tradition for most people has been that people marry within their groups -- whatever those dividing lines may be. In this country, it was illegal for many years for blacks and whites to marry. This was called miscegenation, and it often came with penalty of arrest, ostracism and even death by the community at large. In reaction to the extreme practices of racism, some groups chose to create their own rules to protect their communities and keep them strong. This may be why your organization made this bylaw.

The realities of love and intimacy have always been different from those of the law. When people fall in love and choose to build their lives together, it's not automatically based on their ethnic or religious backgrounds. Many prominent African-American civil rights leaders were married to white people. They had their personal lives AND stayed in the struggle. I say choose love. You can leave that particular group or try to change its bylaws, but don't allow it to stifle your joy.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I started a new business, and it's going pretty well. My office phone is the same as my cell because I don't really need a business line. I have a frequent customer of the opposite sex, who texts, calls and emails me at unusual times, like late at night, early in the morning or on weekends. As you might imagine, my significant other doesn't love it. He says I have to set boundaries with my clients. I don't want to risk losing this client, but I see my boyfriend's point. If it were happening to him, I don't think I would like it. How can I handle this? -- Blurred Lines

DEAR BLURRED LINES: Stop answering this client's calls after hours. Create a voice message inviting people to call your business during a particular time. With this client, stop being so available. Return his calls and texts during normal business hours. Stay pleasant and upbeat but firm. After a while, he will get the message

DEAR HARRIETTE: I'm 39 years old, and I've been in a monogamous relationship for seven years. Not long after moving into the house I own, my girlfriend quit her job. She's been unemployed for more than five years now. We've had sex once in the last three years.

Even though I care about my girlfriend and want her to be OK, I've checked out mentally. I've expressed that things aren't working between us. I don't want to just throw her out; she would be homeless. I've offered to help her out with some money, but she refuses. We've gone through this before, and eventually she asks me to give our relationship more time or pretends like we haven't broken up, forcing me to remind her of our split and crushing her. This is wearing me down. What can I do to help her get out on her own without being a jerk? -- The Breakup, Denver

DEAR THE BREAKUP: The more you avoid the end, the more difficult it will be. Talk to a lawyer to find out your legal rights in "evicting" your girlfriend. It isn't always easy to do. Research social services that may help her to make the most comfortable transition. Armed with this information, give her a deadline for moving out -- and stick to it. Help her pack her things. When the date comes, offer to drive her to her new home. If she has nowhere, drive her to a local shelter. Yes, this may seem harsh, but it may be the only way to cut the cord.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I spend a lot of time by myself, which I prefer. I moved back home a few years ago to take care of some family business after my mother died. Though I have some family here, I don't see them much. They have invited me to come spend time with them over the holidays, which is nice and all, but I don't really want to do it. They have a big family, and it brings back a lot of uncomfortable memories that are extra hard for me now that all of my immediate family is gone. How can I continue to do what I want -- to lie low -- without offending them? -- Bowing Out, Detroit

DEAR BOWING OUT: Thank your family for always including you in their celebrations. Express how much you appreciate them thinking of you. Tell them that this year you will not be attending their events. You don't have to explain why. You can simply decline their invitation -- graciously. Know that one day they may stop inviting you if you never go. Know, too, that getting out and being with family, even if they are a bustling one, may be good for you. You don't have to like every aspect of the experience, but you may find joy in the camaraderie.

DEAR HARRIETTE: My brother is married to an opinionated big-mouth who never has a kind word to say to anybody. She frequently berates him and other members of our family. This behavior is disturbing to the entire family, especially to our mother.

My other brother is in prison on drug charges. Our family has suffered a great deal of pain because of his sentencing, but we have found strength in our unity and have remained supportive of him. My brother's wife, however, never misses an opportunity to express her hatred for my brother in prison. She's completely insensitive to our feelings. I don't treat her like a sister-in-law because she does not behave like a member of the family.

I would like to write her off and never have any contact with her again, but I worry that it would upset my mother and brother, and they don't need any more problems.

Can you please advise me how to deal with my sister-in-law without starting a family feud? -- I've Had Enough, Jackson, Mississippi

DEAR I'VE HAD ENOUGH: Speak to your sister-in-law separately, and ask her to be more considerate about your brother who is in prison. Tell her that her derogatory comments about your brother are hurtful and unnecessary. Be direct with her, and let her know that when she speaks unkindly about him, it hurts his mother's feelings and creates unnecessary tension. Ask her to stop.

When she goes in with her barbs about him -- or anybody else, for that matter -- speak up and change the subject. You can even say, with a bit of humor mixed in to lighten the moment, "OK, Delores (or whatever her name is), let it be, girl. Let's move on." Don't let her keep control of the conversation. If you interrupt her enough, she should eventually stop.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I've been dating an awesome man for about three years. Everything was great while we lived separately for the first two years. We decided to move in together about three months ago, and two weeks after that, his son's mother fell into a coma due to drinking. My boyfriend's 8-year-old son is now with us full-time and will probably be with us for a long time.

I am now acting as a mom and wife, but without the actual titles. My boyfriend has said he's "just not there yet" when it comes to marriage and that at this point he would be marrying me only to make me happy. I feel stuck now that I am living with him and his child even though he doesn't see us getting married. Meanwhile, I'm a successful professional in my 30s. How can he not want to marry me? What should I do? -- Playing House, Syracuse, New York

DEAR PLAYING HOUSE: This is an unusual circumstance that has shaken your boyfriend, and indeed, all of you, to the core. Still, you two need to take the time to assess what you want in your lives. If you want to be married, you need to lay it out for him clearly so that there is no question about your intentions. If you didn't do that already, you have some course correction to handle. If you want to be committed to him and are willing to care for his child long-term, tell him. If you are not willing to play mom indefinitely without being his wife, say that. He deserves to know where you stand.

If you believe he will not make any changes, help him to figure out ways to care for his son before you leave. You may have to walk away if your boyfriend can't take full responsibility for the changes that this tragedy has created.

DEAR HARRIETTE: My husband and I just returned from visiting friends we had not seen in a few years. As usual with each visit, we were given a tour of their home to see the redecorating, remodeling and, of course, the new furniture. We sat and listened all about their jobs, the clubs to which they belong and the committees on which they serve. Not to mention we also heard about all their trips and viewed dozens of photos of their children and grandchildren and heard all about the kids' homes, their families, their honors, their accomplishments -- as if we haven't seen all of this on social media. However, we were not asked a single question about our jobs, our children or our grandchildren, and when we began to talk about them, the topic was quickly redirected to something about them. What would be the best way to move forward with this friendship? -- Friend or Foe, Richmond, Virginia

DEAR FRIEND OR FOE: You have to decide if you care to continue to visit with these people. Since you call their behavior "usual" for how you interact with them, you cannot be surprised that they are self-centered and impatient when you attempt to share details about your own lives. If this is not satisfactory to you, stop agreeing to go to visit them.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I am 37 and have three children under the age of 12. Two years ago, my husband and I separated. He moved back home with his parents. I just found out he has a girlfriend, but he has not made any effort to file for divorce. Here's my question: How long should I go on trying to salvage my marriage? I honestly feel like I'm the only one working to save it. Should I just get on with my life without him, or keep praying he will have a change of heart and do the right thing? -- Two Years Too Long, Boston

DEAR TWO YEARS TOO LONG: Your husband is demonstrating by his behavior that he has moved on. He has moved out, is living with his parents and has a girlfriend. That doesn't sound like someone who is trying to figure out how to get back together with you. Your next steps need to have your children and yourself in mind. Contact an attorney and find out what you need to do to protect yourself and your children and to ensure that your husband provides the appropriate financial support for them. Be proactive and file divorce papers yourself. He has moved on, and so should you.

If there's a chance for the family to reconcile, your serious action toward closure will wake him up and force him to see the truth. It may also help to accelerate the inevitable. Time will tell.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I met a guy on an online dating site, and we've been dating for almost two months. I'm pretty sure he's interested because he calls often, we spend a lot of time together and he's opened up to me. But I have also noticed he's still active on the dating site we met on. What really bothers me is that he's updated his profile picture with a photo I took while we were out. I don't know if I should be flattered because he likes my photography skills or if it's completely messed up and he's just using me? -- Dating.com, Albany, New York

DEAR DATING.COM: It is time for you to say something. Start by talking about the time you two are spending together. Tell him how you feel about him. If you think there is a chance that you can build something together, tell him you would like to try.

Then tell him you noticed that he is still posting on the dating site where you met, and that you saw that he had posted a photo you had taken of him. Ask him if you should feel flattered or saddened. If you want the opportunity to date this man exclusively, you will need to say as much and ask him if he wants the same thing. If he is noncommittal, take that as a cue that this is not the man for you, at least not now.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I never thought this would happen to me: I am a 35-year-old married woman who is having a full-blown affair. When we got married two years ago, we were compatible and had similar interests. I was not in love with him, but we had been dating for four years, and most of my friends were getting married. So when he proposed, it seemed like the right thing to do. Immediately after the wedding, we began to fight. He goes out drinking just about every night, and I hate it. I have suggested counseling, but he won't go. We haven't been intimate in six months.

Several weeks ago, I became friendly with a man at work. My co-worker paid a lot of attention to me and built up my battered self-esteem. It didn't take long for me to start seeing him on the side. This new guy is 40 and has never been married. He says he can make me happy and feel fulfilled, and I know he is right. He has asked me to leave my husband and marry him. I love him (my co-worker), but I hesitate to throw away the history I have with my husband. Also, I don't want to admit to my parents that my marriage is a failure. What should I do? -- Torn and Trapped, Jackson, Mississippi

DEAR TORN AND TRAPPED: Deal with first things first. Stop dating your co-worker for now. If you feel there is a possibility of a life with him, ask him to wait until you handle your affairs at home. Then ask your husband for a divorce. Hire an attorney and draw up the papers. Take the time to go through the legal process and to explain to your husband that you no longer have faith in the marriage. Stay focused on uncoupling from your husband. When that is settled, you will discover if the other man remains an option. But don't get the two confused. You don't know what's next until you make space for it.

DEAR HARRIETTE: Our son and his wife have separated after four months of marriage; they will be divorcing shortly. They want to know what to do about the wedding gifts. Should gifts be returned when the marriage does not last six months? Many friends have said their gifts should be kept and that my son and his wife should divide them. Gifts of money were spent already on the honeymoon and on furnishing the house. -- 120-Day Marriage Gifts, Houston

DEAR 120-DAY MARRIAGE GIFTS: The going wisdom in 2018 is that you do not have to return the gifts. It is likely that the couple has used many of the gift items already. And clearly their thoughts are not on the fruits of the wedding but on whatever happened that has split them up so quickly. For now, they should focus on handling their business.

If there is any chance of reconciliation, they may want to seek professional counseling to figure that out. If divorce truly is imminent, they should handle that first. If they are inclined, it might be good to send a note to all of the guests informing them that, sadly, their marriage has ended. The note can ask for discretion and privacy during this period of transition as it also thanks guests for their love and support. This may help with the inevitable "How is married life?" questions that will pepper all conversations for months to come unless people know otherwise.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I want to adopt a dog with my boyfriend. I think it will be good preparation for a child. We are not going to have children soon, but a dog would be a nice addition for both of us.

My boyfriend tells me he's not ready for the responsibility and he doesn't know how to take care of a dog because he's never had one. I have had dogs my whole life, and I know how to do it. I'm waiting for him to become ready for a dog, but I know I will become impatient if he keeps waiting. Should I talk to him about it again? -- Wanting a Dog, Milwaukee

DEAR WANTING A DOG: Pressuring your boyfriend into getting a dog is not the best way to begin this process, especially if your goal for having a dog is to lay the foundation for having a child. It is important that the two of you work together and get on the same page about your future. Talk about your goals and dreams, and plot your course. Perhaps a dog will figure into the picture, but there is no guarantee. Many people successfully have children without ever having pets.

Figure out what each of you is willing to do as it relates to building a family. Funny enough, if you ever do get a dog, you may find yourself shouldering the lion's share of responsibility there -- at least sometimes. You have to decide what you are willing to do.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I work with my friend at the same hair salon, but he doesn't get as many clients as me. We both make good money and are very close, but my friend has been asking me to borrow money more, and the amounts have gotten bigger. His reasons include his car needing to be fixed and having past-due bills.

I have a big problem with my friend because he goes out to eat and buys small gifts for himself, like new shoes and jewelry. It upsets me that he is still asking for money while occasionally buying things for himself. How do I tell him I'm not giving him any more money without losing our friendship? -- Not Your ATM, Brooklyn, New York

DEAR NOT YOUR ATM: Just stop. There is no rule about friendship that suggests that to prove your loyalty you must supplement your friend's income. Close your wallet. If your friend asks why, tell him that you can no longer afford to supplement his bad habits. You, too, have bills and responsibilities, but you've figured out how to work within your budget. He is going to have to learn to do the same.

If your friend points out that you make more money, point out that you also spend less money. Remind him of the accessories and restaurants that he pays for. Suggest that he cut back on those items so that he can learn to live within his means.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I had a girlfriend for four years during college; we broke up about two years ago, and it ended badly. We are no longer on speaking terms. That being said, I will always care for her, and I like to hear that she is doing well.

Last week, one of our mutual friends informed me that my ex is sick. There is something wrong with her lungs, and she has been having trouble breathing on her own for the past month or so. When I first heard this, my heart hurt and my immediate reaction was to call her. I got no response, and then I wondered if it is my place to reach out. Under these circumstances, what is the right thing to do? -- Caring Ex-Boyfriend, Cincinnati

DEAR CARING EX-BOYFRIEND: I am sorry to hear about your ex-girlfriend's health challenge. It was kind of you to reach out to her during this time of need. It is also important that you not have any expectations about how she might respond. Given that she is ill, she may not be able to reach back to you even if she wants to. It could also be true that she does not want to reopen that door in her life.

Send her a get-well card and keep her in your prayers. You should not continue to contact her, though. Give her space. If you feel comfortable staying in touch with the mutual friend you saw, check in periodically to see how your ex is doing and if you could be of help. Don't be pushy, though.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I have been invited to a wedding this summer in Rhode Island as my fiance's plus-one. The wedding is an orthodox Jewish wedding, and this will be the first religious wedding I have attended. I am unfamiliar with Jewish wedding traditions, and I'm struggling with what to wear. I have done some research online about appropriate attire, but I am a little confused because some sites say I need to cover my shoulders and knees, but others say they just need to be covered for the service, and I can be showier at the reception. I don't want to offend anyone with my dress. What type of outfit do you recommend I wear to this orthodox Jewish summer wedding? -- Orthodox Wedding Attire, Denver

DEAR ORTHODOX WEDDING ATTIRE: For traditional weddings in general, you should have your shoulders and knees covered. Indeed, many women wear sheer hosiery so that their legs are not bare. In terms of attire for the reception, it's best if you wear the same outfit. Your goal should be to dress modestly. If you wear a dress that is sleeveless, keep your shrug or shawl on until you get a cue from other women at the reception that you are free to remove it. Sometimes women can bare their shoulders while dancing. Don't be the first to try that out, though. Observe others and follow their lead. You may feel more comfortable staying modest throughout the event.

DEAR HARRIETTE: How do you prepare for a spontaneous job interview? I recently spoke with a radio executive, and he asked me about myself and whether I knew about his radio station and some of the local channels. I knew of the channels, but I wasn't sure about the details. I felt so embarrassed. He said that he will forward my resume to the hiring manager for any potential positions, but how should I stay prepared for times like this? -- Ever-Ready Interviewee, Salisbury, Maryland

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DEAR EVER-READY INTERVIEWEE: The way you stay ready for any interview is to remain up on current events and pay attention to your surroundings. While it is impossible for you to be knowledgeable about every subject, your general awareness of current events and local culture should help you to engage in smart conversations whenever they occur. Be mindful never to lie about what you know. Instead, when you so have a bit of knowledge, use that to participate in a conversation. Then pivot and start asking questions so that you can learn. For example, you could have said what you do know about the station, followed by a question about what he thinks the best programming is today or what he likes most about the station. Your follow-up to this man should include you doing research about the station so that when you write to him, you share something more that you have learned about the station that demonstrates your interest and enthusiasm about the company.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I have a client who comes in to my work; I don't speak to her much, but I know that she is a transgender woman. We usually just say "hello" and "goodbye." Last week, we had a full conversation, and I accidentally said "he," which is not her pronoun of choice. I felt horrible and apologized repeatedly. She understood, but I still feel bad.

This is something I've never had to face until now. I don't want to feel awkward around her because of the mistake I made. I don't have anything against the transgender community, but my mistake makes me feel like I'm insensitive, which is not true. How do I move on from my mistake? -- Transgender Stumble, Pikesville, Maryland

DEAR TRANSGENDER STUMBLE: Move past your embarrassment at not having the language to be respectful to your client. Staying uncomfortable will only reinforce your ignorance next time you see this customer. Instead, do your research so that you can learn more about the transgender community and how to be supportive.

As far as language goes, you can use gender nonspecific pronouns. Saying "they" or "you" rather than "he" or "she" is common the days. Yes, it can be a bit confusing when it comes to grammar and number agreement, but it's getting more common to be vague when referring to others. Many individuals have become "they" in contemporary speech. This is a safe way to avoid being gender specific when you aren't sure.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I wanted to know your perspective on a gap year, or "summer of fun," when a student takes a year or a summer to relax before he or she starts a full-time job in the real world. I am about to graduate college and hope to secure a job after graduation. Recently, I have been thinking I should take the summer to hang out, travel and spend time with my family and friends. A lot of my friends plan on doing this, so I know it's common, but I'm not sure if it is the best move. As a businesswoman, what is your take on going straight to work? -- Summer of Work or Fun?, Dallas

DEAR SUMMER OF WORK OR FUN?: Theoretically, I like the idea of a summer of fun. Practically, I have very different thoughts. There are thousands of college graduates who begin to look for work even before senior year ends. Most jobs are highly competitive, and even though the economy seems to be improving, young people continue to have difficulty finding work immediately upon graduation. Assess how long you can afford to live without having a job. If your parents are willing to support you during your time off and the period it takes you to find a job, that time of fun and exploration could be worth it, as it also can give you fresh eyes with which to consider your future. If you cannot afford it, look for work now and take a vacation when you earn time off.

DEAR HARRIETTE: My girlfriend's birthday is this week, and I have planned on taking her out to dinner to celebrate. I asked her what restaurant she wanted to go to, and she told me to choose. I don't want to make it obvious or make her feel bad, but the reality is that I don't have a lot of money at the moment, and I cannot afford to spend too much on her birthday dinner. I have been researching places that are affordable, but I am afraid that she will think I'm being cheap or don't want to give her a nice birthday dinner. Do you think I should just let the dinner happen and not mention anything about the money? -- Girlfriend's Birthday Dinner, Memphis, Tennessee

DEAR GIRLFRIEND'S BIRTHDAY DINNER: Your girlfriend may be more aware of your reality than you give her credit for. Get creative. Identify an affordable and fun or romantic restaurant to visit with your girlfriend. Add special touches like asking the waiter to bring a bottle of bubbly shortly after you two arrive. Select a special dessert and ask them to bring it with a lit candle. Your added touches that show how much you care can go much further than an expensive plate of food.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I have been going back and forth with the idea of attending graduate school to receive my master's degree. There are many reasons for my waffling: I don't have enough money to attend, so I would need to receive some sort of scholarship or loan, and I am not sure what graduate program I want to do. Another reason I am conflicted about the idea is the timing of it. Should I be attending graduate school immediately after I received my undergraduate degree, or work for a couple of years to gain experience and then go back to school to earn my master's? What do you think is most beneficial or looks best to a prospective employer? -- Master's Degree Debate, Philadelphia

DEAR MASTER'S DEGREE DEBATE: Timing for graduate school is an important decision that prompts many questions. Think about what you want to do for your career. Ask yourself what your career interests are and what steps you need to take to get there. This includes both the education track and the employment track. Can you find a job in your area of interest so that you can gain experience as you earn money? Can you look around for scholarships for your advanced degree or find a program that is relatively affordable? Could you work as a teacher's assistant to offset the costs? Exhaust your options, and write them on a list to compare working first versus going to school immediately. Evaluate your research to decide what your heart and gut tell you to do.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I am moving to Philadelphia in a couple of months, and I am deciding who I want to live with. I am a social person and have a bunch of friends I could possibly live with. My grandfather works in real estate and told me he can get a great apartment for me, but it is a one-bedroom, meaning I would not have any roommates. I am thinking about taking him up on his offer, just because it is such a great deal financially. I also keep thinking about how lonely I might be if I do decide to live alone -- I have never lived alone before, so it is a little nerve-wracking. What is your opinion on living alone versus living with roommates? -- Living Solo or Not, Atlanta

DEAR LIVING SOLO OR NOT: Living alone and being able to make your own rules is a luxury. Your grandfather has offered you a gift by finding an affordable one-bedroom. Typically, when young people are starting off, they need roommates in order to pay the bills. My vote would be to live alone and build your network of friends peripherally.

That said, if you truly believe that you will feel isolated and lonely, ask your grandfather to find you a two-bedroom apartment. Since he is in real estate, chances are he can find you what you most want. If you choose to have a roommate, make sure that person is responsible. You should both sign the lease so that you are not soley responsible for any damages. Having a roommate can be fun but challenging.

DEAR HARRIETTE: My neighbor recently had a baby, and I am so happy for her. I like her a lot and want to support her, but I do not want to invite her to my apartment. As much as I try, I am not neat -- my friends even call me a hoarder. My common areas are clean enough, but I am still embarrassed to invite her over.

Because my neighbor is staying at home, she has asked in one way or another for us to get together. I feel like it's odd that I don't extend an invitation to my place. Should I invite her over and let her decide? I am super private. I'm also always thinking I will get it together one day and have a tidy house. But right now, my next-door neighbor needs me. Should I open my door? -- Pre-Hoarder, Brooklyn, New York

DEAR PRE-HOARDER: Here is a perfect opportunity for you to face your demons as you reach out to your neighbor. You have not described the degree of your hoarding. If you believe that your home is unsafe for a child, it would be wise for you to get help to clear out your home so that you can safely invite a family with an infant to visit. If you are just messy, you can be honest with your neighbor and tell her that you want to invite her over, but you are concerned that your home might not be clean enough. Suggest that she come by alone first. If she thinks your common area is acceptable, you can invite her to bring her baby over.

Mothers with newborns need connection. If your home is not an unhealthy environment for her and the baby, your neighbor may be able to look past the mess.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I referred my cousin to a company for work because she was out of a job and I knew she would do great work for them. She was hired, and she has done well. Her problem is that the employer doesn't pay minimum wage, even though the job calls for a professional employee. She likes the work, but is barely scraping by. Whenever she approaches her boss about overtime or her salary, she gets the brush-off. Her boss says that she is being ungrateful and maybe she should leave. That sounds like a threat to me. I want to complain on her behalf, but I know she needs the work. How can I help her? -- Helping My Cousin, Syracuse, New York

DEAR HELPING MY COUSIN: Your cousin should think about her next job even as she considers lobbying for better wages at her current job. Standing up for yourself is part of the American way, yet it is often incredibly difficult. If your cousin can gather facts and figures to tell her boss why she deserves more pay, she can present that. Even better would be for her to find another job where she feels secure and respected.

It is the law that all employees, except those who make tips, are paid minimum wage, so long as the business earns more than $500,000 per year or if any transactions occur across state lines. For more information, go to dol.gov/general/topic/wages/minimumwage.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I feel like I never catch a break. I have a low-paying job, debt from school loans and bad choices, and a car that is cutting out on me. I could keep going, but it gets depressing just thinking about it. I have cut back my expenses dramatically since I have had this job, but I can't seem to get out of the hole. Just trying to pay minimums on my credit cards is close to impossible.

I have a girlfriend, and I can hardly take her out on dates. I know I got myself into this situation, but it makes me so sad. I feel like if I don't get it together, she is going to leave me. I try to put on a good face, but who am I fooling? I am tired of pretending like it's getting better when it isn't. I don't have the skills to get a better-paying job right now. What can I do to turn the corner? -- Drowning in Debt, Denver

DEAR DROWNING IN DEBT: You have taken the first step by admitting your problem. The next step is taking action. You can get support to help figure out a path to financial freedom by engaging a credit counseling service. Often, it will look at your finances and recommend debt consolidation that it negotiates on your behalf to drive down interest rates. The challenge with this is that your credit will be frozen during the period that you are paying down your debt. The good news is that when it's finished, you will be able to rebuild your credit starting with a clean credit history. To learn more, go to advantageccs.org/services/online-credit-counseling.

One other thing you can consider is to get a second, part-time job to supplement your income. Many people work two jobs to make ends meet. You will have to deal with time management challenges, but you can figure that out, too.

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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