DEAR HARRIETTE: My boyfriend of six years and I broke up about a year ago. He said he needed to find himself and grow up. He never stopped texting me, though. A couple of months ago, he asked if we could get back together and try again. I love him, so I agreed to try. We spent time together over the holidays, and it was really nice. But then Valentine's Day came and went. He didn't even call. The next day, he called to ask my advice on an outfit he was going to wear to go out with friends -- without me.

Am I missing something here? If he's trying to be in my good graces, don't you think a simple call on Valentine's Day would have been in order? I don't know what he's thinking about, but it doesn't seem to be me. I'm not asking for much, and I don't even mean to get caught up in a holiday like that, but I just feel like his absence is indicative of him not taking me seriously. Should I say anything? I'm tired of hoping for more and not getting it. -- Not My Valentine

DEAR NOT MY VALENTINE: You dated this man for a long time. You know him, and he knows you. After a breakup, if he is not stepping up his game and working hard to win you back, he doesn't deserve to have you. One of the easiest things to do is to wish you a happy Valentine's Day. Right or wrong, our culture screams it leading up to the day. That he missed it says he doesn't have you top of mind -- especially if that is something you celebrated in the past. Though you say you love him, what you need to do is assess if he loves you the way you want to be loved. If not, it is time for you to walk away.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I just got a call from a family member who says she wants to visit me with about 10 other relatives this summer. Nice idea, I guess. Terrible timing, though. She wants to come at a time when my family and I are usually traveling. She didn't ask, by the way. She informed me that they were coming and then listed the things they want to do while they are here. One good thing is that they don't expect to stay with me. I have a small apartment and couldn't possibly house all those people. But they do expect me to host them. I don't want to do this. How can I squash it without dashing her dreams? -- Poorly Timed Trip

DEAR POORLY TIMED TRIP: Be honest with your relative. Tell her that you don't plan to be in the city at the time that she and the others want to come. Offer to recommend things that they might do if they come anyway, but be clear that you will not be there.

If she really wants to organize the trip at a time when you will be available, have that conversation. Discuss her ideas and expectations. You will need to be direct and honest about what you can do to support this trip. Hosting a group of 10 or more people is a big job. Be crystal clear about what you are willing and able to do and what they would need to do on their own. Be mindful of cost and upfront about what you can afford. Having frank conversations on the front end will help mitigate concerns on the back end.

DEAR HARRIETTE: My next-door neighbor had a baby about a year ago. She is a sweet baby, and I am happy for the family. What I don't like is how the mother will knock on my door with the baby on her hip and ask me to watch the baby while she runs off to do whatever. She is often gone for hours, and she never plans these outings. She basically dumps the baby on me. I get that she doesn't have family here, but I do not like the way that she uses me with no regard for my schedule. How can I get her to be more organized and respectful of my time? -- Not Your Baby Sitter

DEAR NOT YOUR BABY SITTER: You may need to stop answering the door for a while. When you have time, ring her bell and sit down for a heart-to-heart. Tell her how much you love her baby and want to support her young family, but you do not appreciate the haphazard way in which she asks for your help. Make it clear to her that you are happy to be supportive when you can, but you need fair warning. Make it clear that you can no longer be the one who has to drop everything to watch the baby because her mom hasn't figured out her plan in advance. Be firm. That's the only way she will realize that you mean business.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I always enjoy reading your column, but I would like to comment on the Jan. 11 letter from "Down and Out," the person feeling overwhelmed by his station in life.

Underpaying workers is a fundamental economic problem in America today. Capitalism devours itself if it doesn't ensure that both management and labor receive a proper percentage of the profits they create together in business. This fact is disputed by modern economic theory, but, nevertheless, it is true. Learning to live on less and accepting the situation is a disservice to everyone.

Over the past several decades, worker productivity has increased by about 40 percent, but wages have remained essentially unchanged when inflation is taken into account. This practice has been covered up by the fact that cheap credit has been available, which made it possible for workers to appear to maintain an increasing standard of living by borrowing money to cover the shortfall. Thus, the economic mess we find ourselves in today lets the rich get richer and the poor stay poor. Capitalism is like a machine; if things get out of balance, it eventually grinds itself into dust. -- Fair Wages

DEAR FAIR WAGES: The fight for fair wages has been a front-line issue for generations, and you are correct in pointing out that there is a lot of work still to be done. I believe that to create fundamental change requires engagement with Congress and possibly the Supreme Court.

As many know, the fight for equal pay for women has been waged for generations. The Equal Rights Amendment has yet to be passed. President Obama's Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 was created to right the wage disparities between men and women. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. For those who are willing to fight the big fight, it certainly remains an issue across the board. Thank you for the reminder.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I have a nice co-worker who tries hard to do a good job. She is much older than me, and I can tell that some technical stuff is hard for her. I have helped her to learn how to manage some of the programs we use online and other techy stuff. What I don't know how to address is the fact that she often smells like menthol. I guess her bones must hurt. That's why my grandma applies menthol to her body. Whatever her issue is, she comes to work smelling like she just rubbed herself in arthritis cream. I want to tell her that this is not a good idea. She is barely able to keep up with work; smelling like an "old lady" is not doing her any favors. I am worried that if I say anything, it could become a human resources issue. How can I support her? -- Menthol-Free Workplace

DEAR MENTHOL-FREE WORKPLACE: Maybe, privately, you can use a bit of humor to get a conversation going with your co-worker about the smell. Next time you notice it, jokingly say, "Girl, you smell like my grandma!" If she reacts to your comment, you can tell her that you recognize the smell because your grandmother uses a mentholated cream for her arthritis. If your co-worker acknowledges that she uses such a product, you might point out that the smell is strong and lingers all day. Don't connect the dots for her about old-lady smell and job performance. She has to figure that out for herself. But your mention of the aroma may get her to tone it down or apply only at night.

DEAR HARRIETTE: My partner and I have recently decided that we want to move. We are so excited about this new chapter in our lives.

One thing that has come up quite frequently in our discussion is where we will send our children to school. We have found a great county just outside of New York City that has two towns we love. The first town is my favorite and has the best school district, but not a great house selection. The other town has a house we both absolutely love, but the school district is not great.

I have been going back and forth with my partner, discussing the importance of education and home life, and which of those has a higher ranking when it comes to the outcome of children. Do you have any opinion or insight on this? -- Weighing My Family's Options, Westchester, New York

DEAR WEIGHING MY FAMILY'S OPTIONS: Put education first. Many families move specifically so that their children can have access to quality education. Some even rent homes in good school districts and move after the children have completed high school. Others buy and then sell and upgrade to a better home after the children are gone.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I am a stay-at-home father with a son and a daughter. My wife works from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at a law firm and travels frequently on the weekends. I feel my relationship with her is getting weaker, and I can see us drifting apart. I believe that we still love each other and are both committed to our marriage, but we see each other so little that it's hard to maintain the type of relationship we had before work and kids got in the way. I don't want us to grow further apart and would love a way to redefine a new relationship. How do I do this? -- Stay-at-Home Husband, Dallas

DEAR STAY-AT-HOME HUSBAND: What you are feeling has historically been the feeling of the stay-at-home mom. As you are experiencing, it can seem disconcerting and uncomfortable to be in this position. You love your spouse and family and want nothing more than to remain close during the journey of your lives. This is where clear, compassionate communication comes in. Sit down with your wife and tell her how you are feeling. Better still, show her what she's missing. Plan a special moment for the two of you where she can feel relaxed and at ease. Do things that remind her of how much you enjoy being in each other's company. Extend that to moments when the whole family has a blast. Then sit with your wife and remind her of why you love each other. Ask her to carve out time for you and the family because you miss her and want to stay close.

Showing her your love rather than guilting her into spending more time with you should help her to see that the family is worth her focus.

DEAR HARRIETTE: My older sister and I are 18 months apart. Growing up with a sister this close in age may seem like a great idea because we can be "best friends," but it is terrible for me. Not only do we get into fights daily about sharing clothes, sharing the car, etc., my parents also treat us drastically differently. I understand that because she is older, she gets certain privileges that I don't get yet, but the amount of attention she gets from my parents compared to me is huge. I want to talk to my parents about this and ask them to stop treating us differently, as my sister and I are both their daughters. Is this a good idea? -- Pissed-Off Sister, Portland, Oregon

DEAR PISSED-OFF SISTER: I think your plan will get your feelings hurt. Your parents are probably not consciously favoring your sister. That doesn't mean you don't experience their behavior in this way. Rather than pointing out what is bothering you, think of things you would like to do with your parents that will draw their attention more directly toward you.

As far as your relationship with your sister, figure out what boundaries you want to enforce. Be crystal clear about what bothers you and what points aren't that important. Ask her to be more thoughtful. Create ground rules for when and how she can use your stuff. Build a friend base outside the family so that you don't rely as much on your sister for your social satisfaction.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I have been dating my boyfriend for four years. He treats me well, but some issues have been arising due to his problem with drugs. I can see how it is changing him and how he acts, therefore changing our relationship. I have tried talking to him about it by suggesting he get help or talk to someone else about this. Every time the topic comes up, it starts an argument and he blames me for acting like his mother. I don't want to act like his mother or tell him what to do, but in these situations, it's my instinct to intervene and tell him to stop because it is creating problems in our relationship. Is there anything else I can do to help him? -- I'm Your Girlfriend, Not Your Mother, Syracuse, New York

DEAR I'M YOUR GIRLFRIEND, NOT YOUR MOTHER: It is time for you to do a gut check. Is your boyfriend being realistic at all about his drug use? Can you talk to him about it directly? If you can talk at a moment when he is clean and sober, make it clear to him that you do not want to be with him if he is going to continue to use -- whatever the drug is, including weed. Be firm that you care about him, but you love yourself more. You do not want to get caught up in drug issues. Tell him you will support him if he wants to go to rehab. Otherwise, you feel you have to walk away so that you do not become like his mother, nagging him to get help without ever finding fulfillment. Draw the line. If his addiction is not too severe, he may be able to climb out of his stupor. If not, you don't have the expertise to be with him safely, not now anyway.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I am a mother of three children under the age of 15 residing in Connecticut. Recently, my husband has been offered a job overseas. We have been discussing moving for the new job because it would be the best opportunity for his career.

I wouldn't mind moving, but I am very worried about my children's reaction. They have lived here their whole lives and are very attached to our family home, their school and their friends. I am not sure if it is the right thing to follow my husband's career and uproot my family or remain here and have my husband keep his current job. How do we make this decision? -- To Leave or Not To Leave, Stamford, Connecticut

DEAR TO LEAVE OR NOT TO LEAVE: Moving is a constant for many working people. How you move is what can be the creative solution to a mobile challenge. Talk to your husband about the pros and cons of this new job location. What can you and the children learn from spending time there? What will be difficult? What will be worth it? Present the move to your children as an adventure where they will learn and grow. When they push back about leaving their friends, remind them of the technology they can use to stay in touch. Your attitude toward the move is what will keep them focused. I say go for it. Manage everyone's expectations and expand your horizons. It will be bumpy, but worth it!

DEAR HARRIETTE: My daughter is in college and has just started dating a guy who is a year older than her. I have met the boy a couple of times and like him. He seems like a responsible person who treats my daughter well. Because he is a year older than my daughter, he has already graduated and gotten a job.

I am worried about how my daughter acts with her new boyfriend. Everything she does seems to revolve around his schedule and what he wants to do. I can see her losing some of her friends and her drive to do anything independently. I need some advice on whether I should intervene and say something to my daughter or leave her alone to make her own decisions. -- Concerned Mother, Washington, D.C.

DEAR CONCERNED MOTHER: Sadly, the chances that your intervention will change your daughter's course are slim to none. And you know that. Your daughter is flexing her independence. Rather than pushing back, stay in the flow. As long as she isn't hurting herself, just listen. Learn about how she is living her life. Of course, if she has a boyfriend, she is spending less time with her single friends. Don't make a big deal about that unless she is totally isolating herself and is showing signs of being in an abusive relationship. Pay attention and learn from her. If your daughter stops seeming happy, jump in and ask more questions. It could be, though, that she is settling down -- for now. Ideally, you should get to know the boyfriend better so you have a sense of who you are dealing with.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I have severe anxiety about flying. I'm not sure where it came from because no one in my family has a fear of flying, nor does anxiety run in my family. I have recently started a new job that I am now finding out requires frequent travel. I am supposed to be on a plane every two weeks, traveling to different sites. I don't want to lose this job, but due to my fear of flying, I would like to talk to my boss about reducing the number of times I have to travel. Is it too much to ask when I just started? -- FEARFUL FLYER, Cleveland

DEAR FEARFUL FLYER: You call your anxiety severe. If this means you do not believe you will be able to board a plane every two weeks, you have to tell your boss. Remind your boss that you were not informed when you interviewed for the job that travel was a requirement.

Tell your boss you believe you will succeed faster if you are able to fulfill the basic requirements without going up in the air. Since this was not a known job responsibility, you have an excuse to bow out. But I suggest that you go for it. Try to see if you can overcome your fear of flying enough to do the job you have been given. Sometimes things become easier thanks to necessity.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I never thought I would be diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder, or any other psychological issues. I was speaking with my psychiatrist the other week, and we were talking about some of the bizarre thoughts I have and the even weirder behaviors that follow those thoughts. We reached the conclusion that I have mild OCD when it comes to having bad thoughts that something might happen to my family, and if I did not knock on my head, those things would come true. I have been living my life completely normally, knocking on my head, and not thinking anything of it. My doctor thinks it's something I should look into, but I think if my ritualistic behavior does not affect anyone but me, why go get it fixed? I have gotten many mixed opinions about what I should do, and was wondering what your advice might be. -- Knock Knock Knock, Little Rock, Arkansas

DEAR KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK: I want to start by pointing out that you acknowledge that you have a psychiatrist, which suggests that you felt the need to seek professional support. You should take that support seriously and follow whatever regimen you are given for an agreed-upon finite period of time to see if it helps you to lose some of your concerning behavior. You are describing your thoughts and behavior as "bizarre" and "weird." Why not find out if those "bizarre" and "weird" things go away with treatment?

By the way, you should consider yourself to be the most important person in this scenario. Imagine how relieved you can be if the thoughts and actions no longer bother you because they dissipate?

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DEAR HARRIETTE: I have been nannying for the same family for about three years now. I love the kids, and I genuinely enjoy working with them. Recently, I have been feeling a little used. The parents have asked me to go on errands such as doing their grocery shopping, or picking things up at the pet store. I don't mind doing these things, but my friends have been telling me that it's unusual. They say I should be getting paid way more than I already do for doing extra things. I had never thought much about this until they brought it up to me. I am pretty comfortable with my pay, but I see my friends' point that I should be paid a little more for the extra work that I do. How do I bring this up to my employer in a non-awkward way and in a way that doesn't make me seem too bratty? -- Nanny Who Needs a Pay Raise, Denver

DEAR NANNY WHO NEEDS A PAY RAISE: Tread carefully here. Since you have no issue with the requests of your employer, you do not have to make it an issue. Instead of immediately asking for more money, pay attention to what you are asked to do and how you spend your time when in their employ. At the natural end of an employment cycle -- or if you begin to feel overwhelmed by the extra work -- bring it up to your employer, explaining that the extra work that they have given you, beyond caring for their children, feels like a lot and you would appreciate being compensated for it.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I am a mother of two boys; my youngest is 8 years old, and the older one is 13. I have noticed that my middle-school-age son has been coming home from baseball practice very upset the past couple of months. My husband and I approached him about the situation and learned he has been getting bullied by the team. He is in seventh grade, and I am not quite sure how to handle this situation. I don't know how involved I should get, or what is appropriate to say to the coach. I don't want to embarrass him, but I also don't want my son to feel the way he has been feeling lately. -- Intervening Mother, Denver

DEAR INTERVENING MOTHER: This is a tricky age for children. On one hand, they are learning to be more independent and discovering how to fend for themselves. On the other, they remain vulnerable to their peers' bad behavior and don't always have the tools to take care of themselves through challenging situations.

Before intervening at the school, try coaching your son. Get him to open up to you even more so that you can learn exactly what the other students are doing and saying to him and how he is responding. If possible, suggest actions that he can take to stand up for himself without putting him in harm's way.

Should none of those measures work, tell him that you plan to speak to his baseball coach. (You want to avoid any surprises.) Then request a private meeting where you outline what you have observed about your son's mood as well as the reports he has shared with you about the other students. Ask for the coach's help in rectifying this situation. Make it clear that you do not want your involvement to cause your son embarrassment, but you need him to feel safe.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I am a school counselor who works hard to earn money. I save as much as I can, and I have enough money to buy my first car. I think this is a big milestone in my life, and I am feeling excited and nervous at the same time. Do you have any recommendations for how someone should go about choosing the right car? A new car is a huge investment, and I want to make sure I am going about this the right way. -- New Car Owner, Norfolk, Virginia

DEAR NEW CAR OWNER: First of all, know that you can buy a good car without having to buy a brand-new car. Used cars are much less expensive and can be perfect, especially for a first car. Just make sure you have it thoroughly checked out so that you don't have surprises down the line. You can also consider going to government auctions for cars. At different times of the year, most cities auction off cars that have been impounded or otherwise abandoned. Often, you can find incredible deals for cars in excellent condition. Get creative. Look online for bargains. You can buy a car and be frugal at the same time!

DEAR HARRIETTE: I have a set of 12-year-old twin daughters. They are both sweet, smart, funny girls, but they are different in a lot of ways. One of them is confident and social and speaks her mind constantly. She is also considerate of other people's feelings while maintaining her leadership skills. My other daughter is not so outgoing. She is shy, spends a lot of time by herself and is more of a follower. She has an amazing attention to detail and is very dependable when I need her for something. I try to accentuate my daughters' differences but also treat them the same.

As they are approaching high school soon, I would like my daughter who is shy to become more social. How do I get her to come out of her shell without pushing her too far? -- Mother of Twins, Minneapolis

DEAR MOTHER OF TWINS: Start by accepting your daughters for who they are -- as they are. Your introverted daughter may remain quiet and somewhat withdrawn. That is OK for her. Do not push her. Instead, learn what her interests are, and point her in those directions. If she is into music, encourage her to play an instrument or take singing lessons. If she likes a sport, suggest that she join a team. Whatever she fancies, you should encourage. Chances are, she will blossom naturally when she is in an environment that feels safe and stimulating to her.

As far as your outgoing daughter, pay attention to her as well. Check to see if she is making smart choices in terms of friends and social activities. Often, the gregarious ones intersect with others who do not always share your family's values or views. Be sure that both daughters learn how to be true to themselves.

DEAR HARRIETTE: My partner and I have recently decided that we want to move. We are so excited about this new chapter in our lives.

One thing that has come up quite frequently in our discussion is where we will send our children to school. We have found a great county just outside of New York City that has two towns we love. The first town is my favorite and has the best school district, but not a great house selection. The other town has a house we both absolutely love, but the school district is not great.

I have been going back and forth with my partner, discussing the importance of education and home life, and which of those has a higher ranking when it comes to the outcome of children. Do you have any opinion or insight on this? -- Weighing My Family's Options, Westchester, New York

DEAR WEIGHING MY FAMILY'S OPTIONS: Put education first. Many families move specifically so that their children can have access to quality education. Some even rent homes in good school districts and move after the children have completed high school. Others buy and then sell and upgrade to a better home after the children are gone.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I am a good student who studies hard and works to get good grades. I have recently been going through a lot in my personal life. It is affecting how much time and effort I put into my work. I failed an exam last week; it was the first exam I have ever failed, and I'm not sure if I should tell my parents. Part of me wants to keep it a secret because I know how disappointed they would be, but another part is telling me I should be honest with my parents. What do you think I should do? -- Worried Student, Philadelphia

DEAR WORRIED STUDENT: Keeping secrets is generally not a good idea, especially from your parents. It is their job to support you as you navigate your life and your academic journey. Clueing them in on your difficulties now may turn out to be a big help. They may be able to see ways in which you can rebalance your schedule -- or even just serve as a shoulder to cry on.

Additionally, you should speak to your teacher to find out what makeup work you can do. Ask if you can retake the exam. Sometimes this is possible. You must also evaluate your personal life to see what needs attention and what requires change. There should be a mental health counselor at school who can help you work through your difficulties and determine the best next steps.

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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