Sense & Sensitivity

Sense & Sensitivity

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DEAR HARRIETTE: I realize that even when I say things to co-workers in confidence, they often tell other people. I suppose I should remember that from elementary school, but I am an adult, and in my professional life, I expect people to follow protocol.

If something is considered confidential and is clearly identified as such, it should be kept confidential. My company goes so far as to outline who gets to know things that are listed as confidential. I don't want to rat out my colleagues who have loose lips, but I do believe that what they are doing is reckless and totally against company rules. How should I handle this? I am a junior executive and do not want to risk my position in the company. -- Shut Your Mouth

DEAR SHUT YOUR MOUTH: Tread carefully so that you can fully assess the situation. Who do you believe is breaking confidentiality at work? How do you know? Have you directly witnessed a breach? Taking this seriously includes being completely clear that you are an eyewitness to something inappropriate.

Next, get a sense of who is releasing the information. If the perpetrators are company favorites, you may be stepping into political waters when and if you say anything. Do you have any allies at work? As you evaluate everything, figure out if you feel alone or if you will have support, if needed.

Finally, if you feel that the information being shared inappropriately will negatively impact your company, you should speak up. You may want to speak to your boss, if you feel aligned with him or her. Or you can go to human resources. If the content seems particularly volatile, you may want to talk to a lawyer first to figure out how to protect yourself, if you may be seen as a whistleblower when you speak up.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I think I contracted a sexually transmitted disease. I got involved with a guy at my school. It was my first time, but something is not right down there. I can't tell my mom because she would be so ashamed of me. I know it is 2019, but my family is conservative. I am afraid that if I go to the doctor at my school, she will call home and tell my mother. I need to do something because I am uncomfortable. What should I do? -- Feeling Sick

DEAR FEELING SICK: You should go to the doctor at your school. Assuming that you are 18, the medical department cannot legally share your health information with anyone, including your family. You can verify that with the medical center to alleviate your fears, but that is the law.

Go get checked out. Hopefully whatever infection you have can be easily treated. I will point out, though, that not every infection is curable. Now that you have become sexually active, learn how to protect yourself as best you can from infection. Your school physician should be able to go through the details of practicing safer sex as well as give you condoms.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I live in a fairly large apartment building that, unfortunately, has thin walls. Over the past few months, I have heard my across-the-hall neighbors argue on a regular basis. It is disturbing and disruptive for us, because we can hear every word. Worse, though, the other night it sounded like the couple got into a physical fight. It sounded awful and violent. I heard it, but I didn't know what to do. I hope nobody got hurt, but I'm not sure when to call the police. I don't want to be that nosy neighbor who possibly gets somebody arrested, but I'm worried for these people. And I'm tired of having to listen to them. -- Violent Neighbors

DEAR VIOLENT NEIGHBORS: If you believe you hear or witness a crime, it is your duty to report it to the authorities. That includes calling the police if you believe that your neighbors are physically fighting. You can submit your complaint anonymously if that will make you feel more comfortable. But think about it for a moment -- you would be sick with grief if you didn't speak up and either person ended up terribly hurt or even dead. Report it, even if it makes you uncomfortable.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I got a call out of the blue from the guy I dated when I was in college. He said he wanted to get together for coffee or something. My mouth fell on the floor. What? This man was physically abusive to me. He should have gone to jail for beating me up, but I was stupid and didn't press charges. I did break up with him, and I never intended to speak to him again.

It was incredibly disruptive for him to call me and act like nothing bad ever happened between us. I asked him if he remembered what he did to me years ago. He admitted that he did, but he said that since so much time has passed, he hoped we could be friends again. I did not agree to meet with him. Do you think I made the right decision? -- Stirring Up the Past

DEAR STIRRING UP THE PAST: You have every right to keep that chapter of your life in the past. Whatever redemption this man seeks is not your responsibility. Do know that he may be involved in a 12-step program that requires participants to attempt to make amends with those they have hurt. This could be why he's reaching out. Still, you do not have to comply. If he calls again, cordially tell him that you will not be able to see him. The end.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I was told by my doctor three months ago that I need to lose weight. I was doing a good job of going to the gym and working out, but recently I have slipped. The cold weather and a lack of motivation have gotten me into a funk. Instead of losing weight, I feel certain I have gained. I am supposed to go back to the doctor for a checkup soon, and I want to cancel. I am embarrassed by my lack of progress. What should I do? -- Off the Wagon

DEAR OFF THE WAGON: Developing healthy eating and exercise habits can be challenging for people who are not disciplined in those areas. Indeed, that's probably why you are in the predicament where you are under doctor's orders. Rather than ducking your doctor out of embarrassment, face up to her and admit your struggles. Ask her to help you devise a plan that is actionable on your part. Figure out small steps that you can take toward improving your health.

I know one thing that many people do that works is to think about the future and what it means to you. If you have children, consider how much they will need you to be healthy in years to come. If you have elderly parents, how will you be able to support them if you are unwell? What goals do you have for your life? Write out a vision for your life and how you want to live it. Based on that vision, what do you need to do to get there? By defining goals, you may be able to increase your motivation to succeed. Good luck.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I have gotten to know a woman in my neighborhood who is fun, quirky and talkative. She is on the dating scene, whereas I have been married for a long time. Listening to her stories is interesting. She told me that she was celibate, and she tells guys up front that she is not interested in having sex early on in a relationship. She said a lot of guys are turned off by that, but this is her rule. I like that she stands by that.

Recently, she admitted that she has a "maintenance man" -- a go-to guy for sex! She has sex with him whenever she wants, no strings attached, but other men she's considering as marriage material get denied. This was confusing to me. I felt like a Neanderthal about dating and romance. Is she a hypocrite, or am I hearing something wrong here? -- Dating and Sex

DEAR DATING AND SEX: What may be most unusual about this story is that it is coming from a woman. This woman is attempting to navigate her dating life so she can find a partner while, at the same time, enjoying sex. That sounds like what many would call the stereotypical man. Often, men are not judged if they have casual sex with people and then later marry "the nice girl."

As someone who has not been on the dating scene for a long time, you should just listen and take it all in. Cut her a break, too. She is doing her best to figure out her life. Be grateful that you don't have to swim in those waters right now.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I have periodic calls with one of my clients right before we activate a project, and I dread the conversation every time. Like clockwork, she finds a way to berate me right before we start going over details of the project.

This last conversation, I was not able to turn the other cheek. She insinuated that I never follow up on the pointers she shares with me, so it seems like a waste of time for her to give them. That is patently untrue. I take copious notes and do my best to incorporate all the input she shares.

Her blanket comments make it seem like I don't pay attention and don't respect her. I stood up for myself this time and said, "I take offense to that statement. I do listen and incorporate your input." Her immediate response was to tell me I shouldn't take offense. We went back and forth a few more times until I said, "Let's just move on," because she wouldn't back down.

I'm not sure how to handle this. Constantly being put down and told I do a horrible job when it isn't true is hard for me. Standing up for myself doesn't seem to register to her as anything but annoyance. I hate this job, but I also need it. How can I survive? -- Constantly Put Down

DEAR CONSTANTLY PUT DOWN: Being browbeaten over and over again can wear on your spirit. On one hand, it is important to be able to work and earn money to put food on the table. On the other, you have to be careful not to destroy your spirit.

Occasionally standing up for yourself -- as you did -- making it known that you are a professional and that you do follow her guidelines is fine. But you also have to accept that if this is how this woman behaves, you are not going to be able to change it. At some point, you will either need to actively seek another job and leave or find a way to deflect her comments without fighting with her about them. For your spirit's sake, I suggest that you look for a new gig.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I recently bought a car. For years, I had been taking public transportation everywhere, which can be tough because I live in a suburban area. My car makes it possible for me to get to work and to other activities much faster than before. I am so grateful. My problem is that my neighbors and family members act like the car is theirs as well. They are constantly asking me to give them rides. A couple of them have asked to borrow my car. I don't feel comfortable with that. If someone has an accident, I have to pay for the insurance. Also, when I do give people a ride, they rarely offer to chip in for gas. They just act like I'm rich or something. I bought this used car with hard-earned money. I don't appreciate being taken advantage of. How can I handle this? -- Not Your Chauffeur

DEAR NOT YOUR CHAUFFEUR: Set ground rules for your car. Let your loved ones know that when you can, you will help them out, but you need them to chip in for gas. Make it clear that you will not always be available to drive them, and they need to respect that. Do not let others drive your car. Tell them it's an insurance issue -- which it is, by the way.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I take my daughter to ballet class every week, and I have noticed one of the other girls always has unruly hair. She is a black girl, and her mom is white. It is obvious that the mom loves her a lot, but I guess she hasn't figured out how to do her daughter's hair yet.

My daughter and I are black with curly hair similar to the little girl's. I want to reach out to this mom to tell her what products I use for my daughter, but I don't want to offend her. I know how prickly moms can be. How should I approach her? -- Unruly Hair

DEAR UNRULY HAIR: I have been in this situation before, and it is tough. Often, there is a heightened sensitivity among mothers of children of different races who are trying to figure it all out.

It is likely that this mom has already gotten her fair share of advice from people, some delivered more lovingly than others. Tread lightly. You can ask her privately if she is open to talking about hair. If she is, tell her the truth about what you have learned about tending to curly hair, what products you use for your daughter and what you think might work for her. If she is open to the discussion, ask her if you can share some samples of product with her. You might make a care package to deliver at the next dance class. Be discreet. This may open the door to a larger conversation that can build trust.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I have a freelancer friend who has been struggling a lot in recent years. I feel bad for him -- he is trying as hard as he knows how, but it's not working. He can't pay his bills; his friends have chipped in as we can, but it is clear that he has to make a shift in how he earns money. Several of us have sent job postings his way, but so far, he hasn't seemed interested.

I suggested he get a part-time job with Uber or Lyft or some other taxi service. I see so many people -- including immigrants -- earning money in jobs like that. Why can't he? I have even seen a few guys in my neighborhood drive for a while and then open up their own small businesses. My friend seems to have a mental block around this, though. How can I help him? -- Needing New Vision

DEAR NEEDING NEW VISION: Your friend may need a bit of tough love. He is not facing reality if he hasn't figured out that what he is doing is not working. Because those who love him have helped out whenever they could, he has been able to get by. Perhaps it is time for you to stop with the financial aid.

Remind him that you know many people, including immigrants in your neighborhood, who have gotten creative and chosen to take jobs that pay the bills, even if they aren't first-choice jobs. Point out that we are not our work. He doesn't have to identify with the job. He may just need to do something like that in order to tide himself over as he searches for other work. Tell him that you love him and that you see how hard it is for him to come to terms with how tough things are for him right now.

You can also suggest that he go to the local unemployment office. While he may not qualify for unemployment insurance, he may learn about job opportunities in his community as well as job trainings that may help him transition into a paying gig.

DEAR HARRIETTE: My teenage daughter sleeps whenever she has the chance. On the weekends, she will sleep until 1 p.m. -- or later. I had allowed this because I know how hard she works at her studies, and she did very well on her midterms. But now I am a bit worried. When you sleep half the day away, it's hard to have enough time to get your chores done and be engaged in the world. I have been told that teens sometimes need more sleep because they are still growing. What do you think about this? -- Too Much Sleep

DEAR TOO MUCH SLEEP: A ton of research has been conducted on teens and sleep patterns. Growth may be a factor, but what resonates more is that the hormonal changes in their bodies affect their internal clocks, making it necessary for their bodies to rest more. At the same time, teens often struggle between social pressures of engaging their friends and social media, and doing homework and housework. Striking a balance can be tough even for adults. For teens, it's a new experience.

Encourage a daily routine for the week and a different one for weekends that you help your teen to follow. For more ideas, go to:

DEAR HARRIETTE: I have a single friend in her 40s who has a good job and is a solid person. She told me that she is researching adopting a child. She says she loves her job and her life, but she always wanted to have children and doesn't want to miss that chance. She wants me to support this idea.

I have two children and am a single mom, though I didn't start out that way. I love my kids, but it is hard to manage my life, work and children. I bet this woman will be a great mom, but she needs to build a network of support. We are not close, and I cannot sign up for childcare. What can I say to her that will be supportive? -- Adopting a Child

DEAR ADOPTING A CHILD: You can be a sounding board without becoming a backup caregiver. This woman has reached out to you probably because you have children and are a single mom. You have firsthand understanding of what it takes to rear children, work and attempt to have a life. Speak honestly with her about your experiences so that she has a clear picture of what she is facing. Encourage her to talk to other moms about theirs. As you know, many women and men succeed at being single parents, despite the challenges.

If she is prepared to navigate this amazing experience, encourage her to identify and cultivate her network of support. Let her know that you do not believe you can be an active part of that network. You are stretched as far as you can go -- for now.

DEAR HARRIETTE: My son has started wearing nail polish. He has always been artistic, but this is a new practice. He is 16 years old and quite independent as he comes close to the end of high school. I know he wants to explore his personality and interests without our intervention, but I am curious about the polish. I know it doesn't necessarily mean that he is gay, but I do wonder about this choice and what is on his mind. I am open to whoever my son is becoming, and I want him to talk to me. How can I get him to open up? If he is gay or exploring it, I want to know that, too. -- What Nail Polish Means

DEAR WHAT NAIL POLISH MEANS: Stop making assumptions and talk to your son. Ask him why he started wearing nail polish. Listen to see what he says. While most straight men may not wear colored nail polish, polish itself is no clear sign of someone's sexual orientation. At my nail salon, for example, at least 30 percent of the men coming for manicures and pedicures appear to be straight men who care about their grooming.

If you are curious about your son's sexual orientation, ask him directly and without judgment. Tell him you want to be able to support him as he becomes a man, so you want to know what is going on in his life. Encourage him to open up to you. Know that nail polish may only be a sign of creative exploration of his personality.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I am dating a woman who is "one of the guys." It's a long-distance relationship for the two of us, which complicates things to start, but my issue is that she has this group of guys she hangs out with, and she gets all glammed up to hang out with them, drinking all night and laughing it up. Worse still, the guys she tends to hang with I consider to be thuggish. It worries me that this is how she spends her time -- especially since they often go out and get drunk. I am concerned about her safety and even about her choices. I don't want to sound like the overprotective boyfriend, but her behavior disturbs me. She says I should stop being so jealous and paranoid. How can I get her to see that she might be in danger? -- Not One of the Boys

DEAR NOT ONE OF THE BOYS: For a relationship to work, you need to foster shared values. This is always true, and it's glaringly important when your bond is long-distance. How each of you spends your free time matters. Yes, you should trust each other, but trust is earned. It is fair that you re concerned that your girlfriend is dressed up and drinking with a group of guys on a regular basis. Even the best-behaved people can loosen up under the influence of alcohol.

The thing is, you cannot control her behavior. You probably do sound jealous and paranoid. You believe it is for good reason, while she brushes it off. It is hard for you to make ultimatums from a distance. What you have to decide is what you are willing to accept. Stop badgering her. That never works. If you can't accept her extracurricular activities, you will have to determine if this is a deal breaker. Or is it time for the two of you to live in the same town? Talk values, and make up your mind.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I was married to a man almost 30 years ago. We have spoken only once, for legal purposes, since then, although once I did send him a note of apology about how I had behaved at the end of our marriage. I found a copy of that note recently, and I realize that even then I was blaming him for the demise of our marriage, when it wasn't that simple. I was wrong, too, and I treated him terribly. I know that now, and I feel like I owe him a true apology. I'm not interested in being friends with him. I just think I should own up to my horrible behavior way back then. Do you think he will appreciate receiving a note of apology from me so many years later? -- Delayed Regrets

DEAR DELAYED REGRETS: The notion of making amends is powerful when it is deeply considered and completely transparent. If you can find your ex's contact information, write him a letter of apology. Admit your role in the demise of your marriage. Be forthright about how you behaved and how sorry you are for however you hurt him. Tell him that even though many years have passed, you have not forgotten that you were unkind, and you are sincerely sorry for any pain you may have caused him. Express your hope that he has built a good life for himself. Wish him well. Do not ask to re-engage in any way with him.

DEAR HARRIETTE: My girlfriend and I have been going through it the past few months. We love each other, but we have not been getting along. I am a talker, and I want to work with her to talk things out. The other day, I was having an intense conversation with her about feelings, and in the middle of that conversation, she got a phone call from a friend. She excused herself and got off the phone with me to chitchat with her friend, then didn't call me back for an hour.

How can I explain what's wrong with that in a way that she can hear? It's not about not talking to the friend but about prioritizing the discussion about our relationship. We were right in the middle of a heated conversation when she jumped off. I thought that was incredibly rude. -- Need to Talk

DEAR NEED TO TALK: I wonder how often you and your girlfriend have been having these "intense" conversations. It is odd that she would jump off of your call to "chitchat" with her friend. She knew that would upset you. Chances are, she does not want to talk, is worn out by talking or feels at a standstill about the success of your conversations. Her shifting to "chitchat" with her friend suggests that she did not want to continue to conversation. Your hurt feelings about how long it took for her to call you back further emphasize how unappealing the idea of continuing the conversation is for her.

You need to adopt a different approach. If talking to you about your relationship becomes something she dreads, I fear the talks will stop. You need to figure out what she wants in this relationship. Do your best to get her to tell you what her ideal relationship with you looks like. Then compare notes. If there is a meeting of the minds, you have a chance of success. I highly recommend that you get a professional therapist to help guide your discussions.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I am a freelance writer, and I have been doing a lot of work for a woman who is developing her social media presence. She is not a great writer, so she trusts me to get her ideas out in a captivating way. I am grateful for the work, but it has gotten a bit dicey. In order for her to get comfortable talking to me about the subjects she wants to address, she gets tipsy first. Just about every time we talk, she has clearly been drinking. Sometimes that means I can't understand all of her words. Sometimes she is too flirty. It gets awkward if she has had too much to drink. Should I say anything? -- Tipsy Client

DEAR TIPSY CLIENT: Schedule your meetings with this client earlier in the day, when it is likely that she may not have been drinking. During a lucid moment, admit that as much as you want to help her, it is difficult when she is tipsy. Call it what it is -- kindly. Tell her you know it can be daunting to reveal her thoughts to you. Remind her that you support her totally. Tell her, though, that it really is tough for you to do your work when she is not always speaking clearly.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I travel a lot for my work, but the schedule is so tight that it rarely works out for me to catch up with friends or family when I am in a particular city. Because of this, I rarely even let people know I am going to be in their town -- it just makes them mad if they know I'm there but I don't have time to call or see them.

On my last trip, I had a moment when I was eating and noticed how beautiful it looked outside, so I took a photo and posted it on social media. Well, that wasn't a good idea. Next thing you know, my friends and family who live in that area blew me up on Facebook and on my voicemail saying how hurt they were that I didn't call. I'm sorry that my schedule is so crazy, but I feel like I deserve to have a few moments when I can share highlights of my life. Otherwise, I will feel like a total recluse even though I am seeing the world. How can I handle these people's expectations? -- Out of Touch

DEAR OUT OF TOUCH: I'm sorry that your schedule is so tight that you have no time for loved ones, but I understand that some jobs are that taxing on their staffs.

One solution for this situation is the next time you post on social media, add a caption that acknowledges that you are in a place where people you love live, you are sorry you don't have time to see them, but you are thinking of them and wanted to share this moment that you captured as you were heading to your destination. If you can include them, even if it is through cyberspace, this may help ease their longing to connect with you.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I borrowed money from a friend years ago when I was down and out, and I wasn't able to pay it back. This caused a rift in our friendship; I knew he didn't have much, but he still shared what he had with me. Now I'm doing better in my life and have a stable job. I don't have much, but I do have the money to pay back my friend. It has been a long time. There's a chance he won't even remember, or worse, that me bringing it up with dredge up old feelings, but I feel like I should do my duty and pay him back. What do you think? -- Pay It Back

DEAR PAY IT BACK: By all means, you should give your friend the money you owe him, even though it's from years back. If you are still in the same town and still connected, arrange to see him and give it to him personally. Otherwise, write him a note and a check. Tell him how grateful you were way back then when he was able to help you and how sorry you are that it took so long for you to reimburse him.

Harriette Cole is a lifestylist and founder of DREAMLEAPERS, an initiative to help people access and activate their dreams. You can send questions to or c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106


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