DEAR HARRIETTE: I live in a duplex building with my cousin. I have a pretty simple life, but my cousin is another matter entirely. He is an attractive young man in his early 20s, and he constantly has women coming in and out of the house. I know because I often run into them. I get that he doesn't have to have a steady girlfriend, but this is ridiculous. I know it's only a matter of time before one of them runs into another. Plus, I worry about my cousin's health. You can't be that promiscuous without the chance of contracting some type of STI.
What can I say to my cousin to get him to think differently about his choices? For me, if he keeps this up, I want to move. I don't want to be in the middle of what will surely soon be a mess. I moved here hoping to have peace and a bit of protection by having my male cousin in the same house. -- Promiscuous Housemate
DEAR PROMISCUOUS HOUSEMATE: You are smart to know that you have no power in getting your cousin to curb his promiscuity. This is his life and how he chooses to live it. You are also smart to consider that things could get ugly if one woman discovers another when they are coming and going from your building. Your best bet is to tell your cousin how you feel: You are disappointed in what you consider to be his reckless behavior, and you believe it is unsafe and unsavory for you to stay in this environment. Tell him that you intend to move if he continues.
Start looking for a new place right away. You have no reason to believe that his behavior will change. Just know that when you move to another location, you will have to deal with whatever your new neighbors' proclivities are. So weigh the odds before you take your next step.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I am a recent college graduate, and I have been looking for a job for about nine months. So far, even with my degree, I have found nothing in my field. I am sad about this; I put my all into college, believing that it would set me up for success. Now I'm broke. Student loan debt is looming over me, and I don't know what to do. I need a job. Should I look outside my field? I don't want to start out as a failure. -- Need a Job
DEAR NEED A JOB: You are not alone. It can take time to find the right fit for a job, especially when you have built a career plan that doesn't seem to be unfolding as you would like. Do not dismay. Your job will become apparent to you, but it may take longer than you would like.
For now, it's time to be practical. Look beyond your narrow search, and consider what other skills you have and how you can earn a living. Look broadly -- from customer service, to tech, to telemarketing. Basically, right now you want to find something that will give you income while you are on your search. It could be best to look for a part-time job at night so that you have time during the day to search for a career position. Instead of giving up, get more creative. And don't think any job is beneath you -- it is not.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I have been on my own for most of my life. I had a boyfriend many years ago, and we lived together, but that was then. Now that I am approaching retirement age, I realize that I will probably be alone forever. This makes me sad. I enjoyed having a companion, but I haven't met anybody for a long time who is compatible with me. I have enough retirement to take care of myself, but I feel lonely. It's no fun getting old by yourself. What can I do to make my life less lonely? I don't have much family left. I am all alone. -- By Myself
DEAR BY MYSELF: You do not have to be alone. You can join a senior center to participate in a wide range of activities with people your age. You can learn about activities in your city that attract mature people and go out to participate in them.
The key is that you have to choose to be in the company of other people. The range is broad. Your spiritual community could be an opportunity. Volunteering at a charity that needs help could be gratifying. Figure out what you like to do that includes other people -- and do it.
DEAR HARRIETTE: My husband and I have been married for a long time, but we have not been close for years. We look good at a party, but we don't share any type of intimacy. In part, it's my fault. We were at each other's throats some years back, and he was not nice to me at all. That's when I stopped being intimate with him. After a while, it just started being habit that we weren't romantic. Now, our son is about to go away to college. I worry that if things don't change, we won't have a reason to stay together. I can't make it on my own financially, but I also don't know how to turn the romance back on. Do you have any suggestions? -- Turn It On
DEAR TURN IT ON: You can't have it both ways. Either you work to repair your marriage, or you prepare for the potential of a life on your own. If your husband is interested in intimacy, figure out how to reignite your own interest -- assuming you want to. Would the two of you consider going to counseling? You could choose marriage counseling or even sex counseling. You need to address the problem before you in an open and thoughtful way, which is why professional help may be in order.
You have to decide what you want in your life. Staying with your husband for financial reasons while withholding intimacy doesn't necessarily seem like a fair trade. Once your child is gone, you are probably right: He may no longer feel obliged to stick around. You need to answer the questions of what you want and what are you willing to do to have it. After that, the work begins.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I got into a stupid fight with my sister the other day, and I realized that we had fallen back into childhood behavior.
We had to make an agreement about something that we are doing for our mother, and the conversation -- over text -- got extremely testy and childish. When my sister, who is older, started digging in, I did, too, until we reached a standoff, and our younger sister ended up stepping in and being the adult in the situation. How ridiculous. Can you recommend ways to avoid falling into childhood behavior patterns with siblings? This is getting old. -- Stuck in the Past
DEAR STUCK IN THE PAST: Review what happened between you and your sister, and consider how you might handle the situation if it were between you and a colleague or friend. What would you have done differently? Make a list. Next, think about different times when you have interacted with your sister and fallen into childhood behaviors. What were the triggers? List them.
Next time you engage with your sister, pay attention to the conversation. If you feel things beginning to sink into old reactions, take a pause. You can stop communicating for a bit and take a few breaths to collect yourself. You can use a tactic that you would use with a colleague or friend. You should remind yourself that you have the power to stand up for yourself and not need to become unsettled by your sister's behavior or your former way of responding to her. You can become the adult in the room.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I have diabetes. I am taking the proper medication for it, and I think it is mostly under control. Occasionally I like to eat sweets, but I try to keep it in check.
Recently, I was out with some co-workers, and when I ordered an ice cream, my colleague chastised me, telling me that it was not good for my health. I was offended. My doctor says that I can have sweets in moderation, which is what I do. But even if I chose to eat the whole ice cream store, it shouldn't be her business to weigh in on my choices.
How can I get her to understand that she was out of line? It was really awful, especially because she said something in front of other colleagues who don't even know I am diabetic. -- Crossing the Line
DEAR CROSSING THE LINE: Your co-worker friend knows about your health challenges and was able to speak on it because you shared that information with her. I point this out because you have to be mindful about the people with whom you share your private business. You can speak to her privately and let her know that you believe she has your best interests at heart, but you felt she was out of line telling you what not to eat, especially in front of other people. Remind her that you are an adult and are responsible for your choices. Add that the other co-workers do not know your health concerns, and you do not want them to know. Her outburst represented a breach of confidentiality, as far as you are concerned.
Make it clear that you believe she was looking out for you, but you would appreciate her keeping her comments to herself. Check in with your doctor to be as specific as possible about what you can and cannot eat so that you stay the course.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I suspect that my super sometimes comes into my apartment when I am not at home. He's the only one with a key. I come home on occasion and it looks like things have been disturbed a bit. This is creepy. There is no reason for him to come into my apartment. As far as I know, there have been no emergencies that would warrant him needing to enter. Plus, shouldn't he tell me if he does? The rules of my building require that the super keeps a key. How can I get him to stop letting himself in, or even prove that he does? -- Creepy Super
DEAR CREEPY SUPER: It's time to invest in a device that will show you every time someone comes to your door. You can also install a monitor for inside your apartment so that you can see when someone enters. Many security companies offer these devices now, often with immediate alerts on your smartphone that will show you the activity that is happening at your door. With proof, you can go to your management company to file a formal complaint about the super.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I was ill recently, and I spent some time in the hospital. Due to my illness, I have gained about 20 pounds, and my clothes don't fit the same. I went shopping the other day, but everything made me look fat. I'm so distraught. I'm not feeling my best, and now I look horrible in my clothes. The salesperson assured me that I looked fine. I know her, so I don't think she would lie, but right now I can't trust myself. How can I get past this feeling of terror about my body? -- Feeling Fat
DEAR FEELING FAT: Before you do anything else, acknowledge how grateful you are to be alive after your medical ordeal. You are still healing from whatever drove you to the hospital, so take it easy on yourself. You may want to ask your doctor what you can eat to help heal your body completely and lose weight responsibly. If you are allowed to exercise, that may also help ease your discomfort.
Because you are so sensitive to how your body has changed, now is a good time to trust the salesperson to help you select a few wardrobe items to fit your body today.
As your body heals, you may consider getting a therapist to help you navigate this tender time in your life. You can address your physical and mental health concerns in a safe space.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I have a neighbor who is annoying, to say the least. She talks too much and is extremely loud and intrusive. I am a loner and rarely have company. She will ring my bell at all hours of the day and night and barge in because she wants somebody to talk to, or she wants a drink and is all out at her apartment. I don't want to have to let her in, but she is insistent. Sometimes she will bang on the door until it disturbs the other neighbors if I don't answer.
How can I get her to respect my boundaries? I don't want to nix her completely, but she can't just come over whenever she feels like it. -- INTRUSIVE NEIGHBOR
DEAR INTRUSIVE NEIGHBOR: What an awkward situation! When people live near those who have no sense of boundaries, it can be extremely uncomfortable for them to create space around themselves. It is going to take you being uncomfortable for a bit in order to get comfortable for the long term.
The best thing you can do is to speak to her directly and tell her that she is disturbing your peace. Tell her that she can no longer visit you uninvited. If she tries to get around your decision, tell her you will no longer answer the door.
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You must accept a reality: You do not need to answer your door just because someone knocks on it. You can simply not answer. As uncomfortable as that seems, you can do it. If your neighbor gets loud and surrounding neighbors get upset, one of them may chime in to ask this person to stop or go home. You can also speak to her through the door and let her know that it is not a good time for her to visit. If she gets completely out of control, you can call the police, though I would leave police involvement to the most extreme of circumstances. You can report a noise violation by calling 311.
DEAR HARRIETTE: My in-laws are extremely judgmental. I get nervous sometimes because they will say anything, including talking about people when they are in the room. We had a family dinner recently, and many people were there. One of my cousins is extremely overweight. You guessed it. My mother-in-law lit into her when she went to get some dessert.
I know it would be smart for my cousin to skip dessert, but it was not my mother-in-law's place to reprimand her. She felt differently. When I tried to change the subject, she went in on her even more, harping about how she is killing herself. Whether her words are true or not, they were grossly inappropriate at this meal in front of a bunch of people. How can I get her to stop? Or should I just stop inviting her places? -- NEED A MUZZLE
DEAR NEED A MUZZLE: It is hard to change behavior, especially in a mature adult. But what you can do is decide what you are willing to accept or not. Talk to your spouse about the behavior of their parents and ask for support. Whatever you do will require a united front from both of you. You may want to talk to your in-laws together and let them know how hurtful your mother-in-law's comments were to your cousin.
But more effective may be to talk to them and let them know that if they cannot curb their disrespectful comments, you will have to curb their visits. You will probably need to limit the occasions that you get together with them to times when there are few people present and when you are willing to speak up and ask them to stop when they cross the line.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I have gone to the same lawyer for more than 10 years. Today, I find myself in a predicament where I need a specialist to help me with a problem that is beyond my lawyer's expertise, but I feel like it's almost like breaking up with a hairdresser. I asked my lawyer for a referral for a specialist, and he got offended and told me he could handle it. When I pressed him on the importance of finding an expert, he said he would find someone but charge me a fee for the referral. I don't understand that. I have sent people to him over the years and never asked for a cut. Why should I give him a cut of something he cannot handle? -- Lawyer Trouble
DEAR LAWYER TROUBLE: It is true that a long-term relationship with an attorney can feel personal and intimate and, therefore, difficult to leave, even if only for a particular project. You should say as much to your attorney. Let him know how hard it was for you to come to the realization that you needed someone else for the legal challenge that you are facing.
In terms of paying a fee, that depends on how much work your lawyer did to identify this specialist for you. While some attorneys make referrals gratis, others do charge a fee if they vet the new lawyer, introduce him or her and oversee at least the early process to ensure that you are properly cared for. Evaluate what your attorney is doing for you before you complain. If you think he deserves something, negotiate with him on that amount. If not, find another attorney who is completely independent of your guy.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I just learned that my godson is gay, and it sounds like he is struggling with his sexual identity. His mom says he is drinking heavily and trying to act "straight" when he's drunk. He is having a tough time.
He has not told me, and we are not particularly close, but I have talked to other young adults about sexual identity over the years, and I think I might be of help. How can I approach him without seeming like a busybody? -- Coming Out
DEAR COMING OUT: Do not approach your godson. Since his mom is the person who told you what he's facing, talk to her about your idea. Describe to her some of the conversations you have had with other young people surrounding sexual identity. Ask her if she thinks it might be helpful for you to reach out to her son. Additionally, ask if she would like to have a sense from you of what your discussions have been. If she is open, you may want to share some ideas and insights with her to use at her discretion.
She may, on the other hand, think this is a perfect time for her son's godparent to step up, step in and be of support. Just know it is not up to you. This is a sensitive topic for their family. Be mindful not to be too pushy. Just offer your support, and see what his mom agrees to allow.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I know a woman who sells beauty products through a multilevel marketing company. She is aggressive with her pitching, and recently she focused in on me. I must get three calls or emails a week from her, all pushing me to come to a meeting and sample her products and consider becoming a salesperson. I like this woman, but I am not interested in buying or selling beauty products. I have limited time and resources, and I have already committed to what I spend my free time doing.
I get that she is trying to build her business, but I do not want to get sucked in. This woman won't take no for an answer. Honestly, she is a bit stalkerish. How can I get her to stop? -- Don't Market to Me
DEAR DON'T MARKET TO ME: The woman in question is doing her job -- being a salesperson. Her pushiness is probably something she learned from her multilevel marketing company's training. What you have described is not unique. It is standard practice for some salespeople.
You do not have to succumb to her pushiness. Stop answering this woman's calls and emails. Stop engaging her. If you don't begin a conversation, you can't have one. If you have already told her you are not interested, let that be the end of it. One of the most powerful things I have heard women leaders say is, "'No' is a complete sentence." You can say and mean no by ending the discussion there.
A problem that many of us face is that we feel guilty for not allowing our compassionate side to lead with salespeople. But you must begin and end with no when no is what you mean.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I have been going out with a really nice guy for about a year. He spends the night at my house occasionally. I like that part, but what I hate is that his feet stink. When he takes off his shoes, the room fills with the smell of dirty socks. It's gross. I now light candles when I think he's going to come over, but that feels like a ridiculous mask for the funk. I need to tell him. What should I say? -- Stinky Feet
DEAR STINKY FEET: I may run the risk of sounding sexist here, but I am going to tell you something that I learned early on that seems to be true for many men before they get into long-term relationships. In the spirit of being well-balanced, I will add that perhaps it is true for single women, too. I don't know.
Here it is: Many men have to be taught to be more sensitive to grooming and hygiene at the beginning of relationships. If they live alone or with other guys as roommates, they might not wash their clothes regularly, or they wear socks multiple times before washing. Generally, bachelors may not be as fastidious as men in relationships.
Enter a partner. This is you. If you want your guy to pay closer attention to his dirty socks, tell him. Be kind and use humor. Let him know that his socks are more fragrant than the dinner on the table or whatever else has an obvious aroma. Ask him when he last washed those socks. You don't necessarily have to offer to wash them, but you may need to point him in the direction of more careful grooming. Let him know you want him to be clean for you. If you suggest it in an enticing way rather than a judgmental one, the smell may go away!
DEAR HARRIETTE: My boyfriend speaks Spanish and English. His family is from Mexico, and his parents speak Spanish only. Whenever we are together with his family, he serves as translator. I know virtually no Spanish, and they about as much English. I feel terrible about this. I want to be able to communicate with them directly. We smile a lot and certain messages get across, but no real language is happening. I feel like I should take a Spanish class, but I doubt it would teach me everyday Spanish. Plus, I don't know if we are going to stay together. Is it worth it to invest in learning another language? -- Learning Spanish
DEAR LEARNING SPANISH: Spanish is one of the most commonly spoken languages in the world, so it will not be a waste for you to learn it. It certainly will endear you to his family for trying.
You are right that a basic Spanish class will teach you grammatically correct speech versus the vernacular, but it is a start. You can ask your boyfriend to help you with sayings that are particular to his family and community. This can be a lot of fun for the two of you and will surely make him feel happy that you care that much.
You can also take a course or search online for support. One site you may want to visit is Fluentu.com, which has sections dedicated to slang.
DEAR HARRIETTE: Now that the weather is so cold, I am worried about my mom, who is old and lives by herself. The other day, when it was well below freezing, she told me that her heat wasn't working well. I have invited her to stay with me for a few weeks -- until the cold blows over, just to be safe -- but she says she wants to stay home. I am not asking her to move in with me permanently. I know she values her independence, but I don't feel like I can care for her properly when we are not in the same house during this period. I have a husband and young children to make sure I get to school, so I cannot move in with her. What should I do? -- Mom in Need
DEAR MOM IN NEED: You are experiencing that moment in a parent-child relationship when roles reverse, and it can be extremely challenging and emotional. Your responsibility now is to require your mother to do something for her health that she doesn't prefer. You should bring her to your home during this cold spell. Let her know that you must do this for her, even if she doesn't like it.
Remind her of your childhood, when she made you wear thermals or extra layers during the winter. What about times when she wouldn't let you go outside and play with your friends for fear of frostbite? Bring up whatever else you remember that will illustrate for her some decision she made when you were a child and needed her guidance. Tell her that it is your turn now to care for her, and you will not allow her stubbornness to lead to her freezing in her own home. She has to come with you -- short-term -- until the weather breaks. Then, pack her bag and go.
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