DEAR HARRIETTE: I was visiting with a good friend recently and noticed as he was looking at his phone that he had been watching ear wax removal videos. I asked him about it because it looked like he had a lot of these videos open. It seemed weird and kind of gross to me, and I really couldn't figure out why this seemingly normal guy would be into something so nasty.
My friend got defensive when I asked him about it, and he told me that the videos are weirdly fun to watch. He got into it during the pandemic. He said he was looking at a different random video when one of the earwax ones popped up. One led to another, and he got hooked. I thought he was being particularly odd when he told me, but when I looked it up, I saw that there are many of them with huge numbers of views. This creeps me out. I feel like my friend has become somebody I don't even know. How can I get him to separate from this nasty stuff? -- Addicted to Earwax Videos
DEAR ADDICTED TO EAR WAX VIDEOS: According to TikTok, earwax videos have received more than 1.4 billion views since just 2020. It clearly is a trend that your friend has hit upon. While it seems gross to you, my research suggests that the "big reveal" of a clean ear at the end creates a level of satisfaction in some viewers after watching these things.
Rather than rejecting your friend or judging him for his choices, just move on. You do not have to think about or talk about this compulsion of his. It is not something that he will likely do when in your company. He probably got obsessed with it when he couldn't go out, and a social media algorithm then directed him to more and more of these videos.
By the way, the same thing happens these days no matter what your area of interest is. Whatever you look at, the algorithm will show you more ad nauseam. The way out is to put down your device and go out and live your life. Invite your friend to hang out with you. Stepping away from the electronics is a healthy alternative for everyone!
DEAR HARRIETTE: I've been in the same friend group for two years, and we are all in a group chat. Lately though, the environment has become super toxic. It forces me to feel like I'm always competing to be heard and to be wanted. My friends tend to be negative and stressed out about college, which makes me feel anxious as well. I want to leave the group chat and friend group, but I don't know how to do it in a way that does not cause unnecessary hurt. Any advice? -- Leaving Friend Group
DEAR LEAVING FRIEND GROUP: You can consciously stop engaging the friend group and group chat without saying a word. Since your friends seem to be so intensely engaged that they don't give you space to communicate anyway, just stop talking to them. Focus on your work, your future, and your goals. Stop looking at or writing in the chat.
You can also stop hanging out with them. When asked, tell them you are working on school and don't have time to hang out right now.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I recently found my boyfriend's old Twitter page, which has been inactive for many years. Some of his tweets and hot takes on there were problematic, to say the least. Even though he hasn't used the account for many years, I still find myself being bothered by the fact that he would ever think it was OK to say those things on a public platform. Should I confront him about this? -- Old Twitter
DEAR OLD TWITTER: If you found your boyfriend's old Twitter, so can others. Out of concern for him, you should talk to him about it. Tell him what you found and ask him about his thoughts. Tell him how you reacted when you read what he had written and that even though the tweets are many years old, they remain disturbing. Get him to explain himself. Listen so that you get a clear sense of who this man is and whether you think you still share values. Don't feel guilty if you feel the need to sever ties. If he continues to believe the views he expressed years ago and that doesn't align with you, it's OK for you to separate. But don't do so without giving him a fair chance to explain himself.
Also, encourage him to delete the posts and the old account entirely. Many people have lost everything when their social media from years back resurfaces. Urge your boyfriend to take it all down. More, let him know that he may need to defend his thinking to others if anyone else finds those disturbing posts.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I have a feeling that my best friend is lying to me about still seeing her ex. They were together for quite some time, and while he did several awful things to her over the course of their relationship, the final straw for her was when she found out he was cheating with one of her classmates. She cried over him for days and swore she would never speak to him again. That was about two months ago.
We each have access to location services on the other's phone, so I can see everywhere she goes. Most nights -- when she leaves her location on -- I can see that she's at his apartment complex. I understand that in the grand scheme of things, it isn't really my business, but that's not how our friendship works. We're always supposed to be 100% honest with each other and promise not to judge. While I wouldn't approve of them being back together, it does hurt that she doesn't think she can tell me about it. Should I ask her directly? I'm scared to overstep and cause a rift. -- Suspicious
DEAR SUSPICIOUS: Your friend is probably worried that you will judge her. Ask her if she is OK. Ask if she is seeing her ex again. Encourage her to talk about what's going on in her life. Suggest that she spend some time alone so she can sort through her feelings. Remind her that you are there for her -- always.
DEAR HARRIETTE: My friend won't stop making comments about my weight gain. I know that I've gained weight. I'm probably about 20 pounds heavier since the start of the pandemic, but I'm taking the necessary steps to lose the weight now. Even when I feel a bit healthier and smaller, she will still find a way to sneak in an uncalled-for remark. She's someone who has always been on the thinner side, so she has no perception of how hurtful those comments can be. Even when she means her comments as compliments, they make me uncomfortable and insecure for the rest of the day. I'm growing to resent her. Do you think it's worth addressing, or should I cut her off? My other friends think I need to kick her to the curb, but I'm unsure. -- Weight Gain
DEAR WEIGHT GAIN: Tell your friend you want to talk to her, then lay it all on the line. Point out that whether or not she realizes it, her comments are hurtful. You are completely aware of the fact that you have gained weight, and you have started to do something about it. Having her constantly berating you for how you look is not helpful. Tell her that she is constantly hurting your feelings and that you want her to stop. If she cannot figure out how to be supportive, make it clear that you will have to distance yourself from her.
There's a chance that your friend isn't conscious of her ongoing criticism of you. If she honestly attempts to curb her comments, keep her in the friend group. Otherwise, pivot away from her and toward your healthy practices and supportive friends.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I'm starting to suspect that my friend is using me for my platform. I have a music blog that is starting to gain some traction, and whenever we speak, he asks about placement for his music on my blog. To be fair, he was one of the first people who showed support when I began my blog. He was always giving me random shoutouts and reposts, and he "liked" all of my content.
Now that my blog is starting to stand on its own, I'm wondering if the support was genuine. The other day, he asked if I could interview him on my page, and he spent the entire interview plugging his music and merchandise. I still really appreciate the love that he shows to my blog, but it's starting to feel a little excessive. He pretty much expects me to post about him whenever he wants. What do you suggest I do? -- Blogger
DEAR BLOGGER: You can remain grateful to this friend who helped you in the early days of establishing your blog without being beholden to him. Establish criteria for how you create content for your blog. What do you want to talk about? Who do you want to feature? Ideally, what kinds of stories do you want to share? Think about these things very clearly, and write them down as editorial guidelines. This can include guests' product promotion.
As far as your friend goes, make sure you follow your guidelines with him. You can tell him that you have to wait a bit to interview him because you just had him at a particular time, and it's too soon. Point to the guidelines to back yourself up. Remain grateful to him, but stand your ground. You do not have to do what he says.
Harriette Cole is a lifestylist and founder of DREAMLEAPERS, an initiative to help people access and activate their dreams. You can send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106