When Porn Threatens

Dear Harlan: Please help me. My girlfriend caught me using online porn. She found some videos on my phone. We have talked about porn in the past, and I know she is against it. She believes it’s degrading to women and it is no different than cheating. We have a healthy sex life and an honest relationship, but she is talking about breaking up with me. I betrayed her trust and I feel awful about it, but I don’t understand why she can’t forgive me. I’m faithful and will do anything for her. She knows it, but the porn has made her doubt our three years of dating. Is there anything I can do to convince her that she can trust me? I don’t want to lose her over something so insignificant in my life.

— Messed Up Again

Dear Man:  STAY AWAY FROM PORN. When porn is costing you your relationship, it’s significant. If you want to stay together, you’ll have to figure out how to stay away from porn. You can start by apologizing and explaining to her how you view porn – not to change her mind, but to reassure her that you are loving, committed and working to fix this problem. One solution can be to install a program that will monitor your online activity. Covenant Eyes (www.covenanteyes.com) is a place to start. This program monitors the websites you visit, the search terms used and the YouTube videos watched, and lists them in a report. This monitoring tool is used by people who need another layer of accountability. In addition to Covenant Eyes, you can start going to Sex Addicts Anonymous (saa-recovery.org) meetings, and find a therapist to help guide you. When you are lying, sneaking around and hurting someone you love, it’s time to address the problem and get help. If you don’t think it’s a problem, find a partner who is more tolerant of porn.

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Loving Yourself First

Red carnation flower isolated on white background

Loving Yourself First

In high school, the student council had a fund-raiser where we could buy a flower for someone special and have it delivered to them on Valentine’s Day morning in their first-period class.

That year, I sent out three carnations to three unsuspecting girls. I figured there might be a chance to attract at least one of them. Besides, if any one of them had sent me a flower and I didn’t send them one in return, it would be over before it began. A carnation went out to Melanie, Susie and Jenny (Jenny was the long shot). The whole week, I anticipated who might send me some carnations. My friend Brian sent one to his girlfriend. Stephanie sent one to Jason, a guy she had a crush on all semester. My friend Lisa sent one to her good friend Tracy just for fun. That entire week a list of girls ran through my mind. I wondered who would be the one to try to win me over. I had two potentials in mind, but I was more than ready to be completely surprised by any random girl out there for me.

Finally, the morning of February 14 arrived. After thirty minutes of math class, I spotted the student council flower delivery person outside the classroom in the hallway. She entered the room carrying a massive bouquet of flowers for distribution in Mr. Aaron’s math class. Mr. Aaron reluctantly stopped his class and organized the flowers. As he shuffled through the thick stack of cards, the room filled with anticipation. At long last, Mr. Aaron finally had our undivided attention. He asked for a helper and started handing out the flowers. He announced the names on the cards as he delivered the goods. “Neil, Brian, Jennifer, Scott, Chad, Anne, Amy . . .” The list went on for a good ten minutes. Flowers began sprouting up on desktops all around me. Some guys were already on their second and third flowers. One guy even scored a good half-dozen. Even though it was public knowledge that he had a girlfriend, the reality was that he already had six times as many flowers as me.

The list was now coming to an end and there was still a good six or seven of us in the room left holding nothing but a pencil. We had no flowers, no cards, only a small bit of hope that one of the remaining flowers would be for us. Mr. Aaron read out the last couple names, “Two more for Neil and, oh good, one for Harlan.” Yes! There was one for me! Total relief.

I had a pretty good idea who had sent it to me. I looked down at the card and it confirmed exactly what I expected. It wasn’t from Melanie, it wasn’t from Susie, and it definitely wasn’t from Jenny. The card simply read,

“Happy Valentine’s Day



My friends asked me who sent it. I told them it was someone very special, and left it at that. They never knew. They didn’t need to know.

Harlan Cohen
Chicken Soup for The Teenage Soul III

Dream School Meets the Real World

Dear Harlan: I’m a senior in high school, graduating this fall. I finally decided that I want to go into animation rather than architecture. However, as the end of senior year draws near, I keep having doubts about whether I should attend community college or the university that I have chosen. I earned a scholarship that will allow me to go to this community college for free! All I would have to do is buy some books and go five minutes away to complete the required credits before transferring to my dream school two years later. It sounds obvious that I should take this opportunity, but the reason I am having doubts is because I am having family issues that cause me to feel stressed out and unproductive. I’m afraid I won’t be able to stand living at home for as long as I have to. It’s a great community college, but animation is most likely not a big part of their programs. I can still learn the essentials, but it probably won’t compare to going to an actual art school. Basically, I’m stuck. If I go to community college, I can get a job while finishing my credits and save my family (and myself) a ton of money. I also can go to an actual art school afterward by saving the money from what we should have been paying if it weren’t for the scholarship. On the other hand, if I go to the university, I can have a good college experience and have some space. This way I can make new friends and gain some independence, but it would take a lot of money. So, what advice do you have for me?

— Stuck

Dear Stuck:  Graduate with $120,000 in debt, and you’ll really be stuck at home. Here are my suggestions: (1) Celebrate that you have a scholarship and a plan to attend your dream school in two years or sooner. (2) Call the university that accepted you and speak to a financial-aid counselor. Let this adviser know you have a scholarship at your local community college, and share any award letters you’ve received. See if they have more money for you (it can happen). (3) Talk to career services at the community college and at your dream school. Explain your interest in animation and identify part-time jobs. Work as an undergrad doing work you love. You can work on campus and in the community. Start working NOW. (3) Plan on going to the community college, and have an alternative living plan if your home life gets bad again. You can stay with a friend, other family members or rent a room. (5) While in community college, identify other colleges where you can pursue animation. Once you identify more schools, use financial-aid services to explore scholarships, grants and work-study programs. To sum it up: Plan to work in animation NOW. Plan on going to community college (if you can’t get more money). Plan to move out if things get rough. Plan to identify at least three other dream schools. Plan to talk to people at the schools you want to attend and find out how they paid for it. Find your people. Find your places. Create a plan. This is how you get wherever you want to go.

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Committed Relationship Doesn’t Mean Rejection Stops

Dear Harlan: How do I handle rejection in a committed relationship? I’ve been with my partner for the past two years, and I still struggle when she isn’t interested in being intimate. What does normal rejection in a committed relationship typically look like, and how do you handle it?

— Struggling

Dear Struggling:  My wife rejects me all the time. It hurts, but I don’t resent her. People think that once they fall in love, commit and get married the rejection doesn’t stop. Nope. It never stops. You can’t hide from it. The only way to handle it is to accept The Universal Rejection Truth of Relationships. The URT states that your partner will not always say or do what you want. And you won’t always say or do what your partner wants. It’s the undeniable truth. When we accept the truth, we don’t spend all of our time hating, hiding or attacking. Instead we can look inward and outward, and move forward. Looking inward means getting comfortable enough in your own skin to listen, even if the words aren’t what you want to hear. Looking outward means working to understand how someone feels, even if it hurts, without trying to change them. Moving forward means expressing how you feel, being heard and giving someone permission to respond freely. It takes people who are willing to embrace the truth and to grow together.

People who fight the URT grow apart. Intimacy is getting comfortable with the uncomfortable, finding comfort when being heard and listening – even if it’s not what we want to hear or be told.

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You Need Love – With or Without a Significant Other



Dear Harlan: I’m in my first relationship. I’ve wanted a boyfriend for a while, and now that I have one, I’m anxious and scared. I’m feeling all these emotions that I’ve never felt before. I’m afraid that it all will end, and life will be back to how it was. It’s as if I’m waiting for the bottom to drop. How can I be in a relationship and relax without obsessing about it ending?

— Obsessing

Dear Obsessing:  Have a life you love inside and outside of your new relationship. Make sure you have friends in your life in addition to your significant other. Spend time with family members who fill you up with happiness. Do things that make you happy independent of your significant other. Make sure you have a life that isn’t dependent on someone else for all of your happiness. When you have balance, interests and love in your life, you’ll know that you will always be OK. Be grateful for the new relationship, and at the same time, know that you will always be OK, no matter what. This is how you ensure that you always have love in your life. This is how you can enjoy the moment and how you can demand and command respect inside the relationship. Yes, it’s scary to be happy, but it’s not as scary when you know you’ll always have love in your life – with or without a boyfriend.

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How to Investigate Your College Choices

Dear Harlan: I currently live in Texas and I’m having difficulty choosing a university for my bachelor’s degree in criminology. Would you please tell me what factors should I be looking for when choosing between three universities? Here are my options: University of California-Irvine, University of Florida and Florida State University. How can I find answers?

— Searching

Dear Searching:  You need to find the schools where you can be your best socially, emotionally, physically, financially and academically. Pick the two areas that matter most to you. Find at least three students on each of the campuses you’re looking to attend. Ask them the following five questions:

(1) Why did you choose this school, and what other schools did you consider? This will tell you about the person’s decision-making process and help you explore more options.

(2) Where are three places at your current university that make campus feel like home? This will help you identify places that can make campus feel like home for you, too. It also can help identify more people to contact.

(3) Who are your five closest friends on campus, and how did you meet them? This will help you get a sense of how activities and organizations can help you find your people on campus.

(4) What has been the hardest part of your college experience, and how did you get through it? This will help you define realistic expectations and help identify resources on campus (should you need them).

(5) What advice do you have for someone who is going through this process? This will help you gain some instant wisdom and give you someone in your corner.

BONUS: Ask specific social, emotional, physical, financial or academic questions.

If you’re uncomfortable asking questions, imagine that someone is asking you these same questions in the future. The people you’re asking LOVE helping. It’s why they volunteer and work on campus.

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Comfortable with the Uncomfortable ≠ Suffering

Dear Harlan: My daughter loves overnight camp, but it’s exclusive and there are a lot of mean girls. However, some are very nice. She can’t give it a year to adjust because overnight camp is only two months. She has a choice next year: She can go back to overnight camp and face the uncomfortable, or stay home and hang out with her school friends. She is struggling with the decision. She doesn’t seem to want to get comfortable with the uncomfortable. What should she do?

— Too Uncomfortable

Dear Too Uncomfortable:  She doesn’t need to spend eight more weeks and thousands of dollars to be tormented by mean girls. She should find girls she wants to be around. Have her identify three other camps that look interesting. Suggest she talk to people at these camps who can answer her questions (the director, counselors, CITs or campers). If she absolutely loves the camp from last year, but not the mean girls, suggest she talk to the professionals who run the camp and see if there are other cabins or options. The reality is that mean girls go to lots of camps. She needs a plan and people in her corner. Changing camps isn’t quitting; it’s using her past experiences to help her find the right people and places next summer. Facing the truth and getting comfortable with the uncomfortable takes strength. She should feel nothing but pride. Tell her I said so.

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Never Regret Telling the Truth About Sex

Dear Harlan: I’m having relationship regrets. I told my boyfriend that I wanted to wait to have sex. That is what you suggested. He said he was OK with this and would go at my pace. The next week, he broke up with me. He’s already dating someone else. I asked him if it was about not having sex with him. He said it had nothing to do with it. I’m having regrets. Did I make a mistake?

— Regrets

Dear Regrets:  He’s a loser. You are lucky he’s not your boyfriend. The only regret you should have is wasting time thinking about him. He gave you the greatest gift in the world. He removed himself from your life. Your boyfriend wasn’t interested in dating you. He was only interested in having sex with you. And let me tell you one more thing that makes me feel disgusted: If breaking up with you had NOTHING to do with sex (and I don’t believe it for one second), clearly he was having doubts. Be grateful you didn’t sleep with someone who was already planning to end the relationship. Clearly, there were problems. You must have sensed it. The best way to avoid getting used by a jerk is time. Be proud of yourself. You did everything right. You set a clear boundary and discovered the truth. Yes, it’s painful to break up, but it’s more painful to have someone break up with you after using you. You have nothing to regret – be grateful

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First Year A Rough Start; Stick It Out or Move On?

sad depressed lonely adolescent teen boy

Dear Harlan: My son is a freshman in college. He has had a rough semester. His roommate was a nightmare. The roommate drank at all hours and brought home overnight guests. He had no regard for my son or his early-A.M. classes. My son’s grades have suffered; he used to be in the top of his class. He has made some friends, but not close friends. He wants to transfer to an out-of-state school that is far less competitive but closer to his friends and girlfriend. We want him to stick it out at his current school for at least a year. How hard should we push for him to stick it out? He is so unsure of himself. We want him to be strong, but we don’t want him to give up. He worked so hard to get into his current school. What should we do to support him?

— Another Mom

Dear Another Mom:  Listen. Parents forget to listen. Some students need a break. It can be mentally, physically and emotionally grueling to go from being a straight-A high school student to being average at a highly competitive college. It’s even harder without a support system in place. Sure, I like experiencing a full year to work through the uncomfortable, but sometimes that’s too much. Have him talk to a counselor at school, and a therapist. Encourage him to speak to upperclassmen, too. Suggest that he put together a plan of what will be different at the next school. The transfer plan should include places where he’ll find connections, people he will connect with, and a timeline. His girlfriend can be one of his people, but he needs to have at least four other people. Once he has a transition plan in place, he can start to practice some of the steps at his current school. Maybe he can finish out the year. There’s nothing to gain from being miserable and alone at an ultra-competitive school versus thriving at a school where he has passion and a plan. Let him know that whatever he decides, you will always support him.

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Parent Doesn’t Want Child’s Grades Tied to Self-worth

Dear Harlan: How can you help students realize that their success isn’t completely wrapped up in their GPA? College counselors say that high-school students can’t get into a top state school without a 4.3 GPA? There is so much pressure to be accepted that students are having emotional breakdowns. There is widespread peer pressure. I try to avoid letting it affect my parenting, but it’s hard to avoid when it’s woven into the culture. What can we do to change this?

— Parent of a Senior

Dear Parent:  It starts with you – the parent. Make it about your kid, not about the college. I was a 3.0 student in high school (barely), struggled on my SATs, went to a state college and didn’t choose a major until my junior year. I figured it out. My parents didn’t care about the college. They didn’t tell me what I should want. They didn’t let other people dictate what I should want. They let me choose what I wanted. “What do YOU want?” is the only question they asked. They trusted that I would be successful. There’s an epidemic of students who don’t know the answer. It’s easier, safer and more comfortable for students and parents to focus on being wanted. They take classes to be wanted. They choose clubs and organizations to feel wanted. As a result, more college students than ever are feeling overwhelmed, stressed and depressed. Make college less about a school and more about your child. Make it a mantra. The best school is NOT always the best place for your child. Check out Frank Bruni’s book “Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be.” The book shares data and anecdotes from students who have gone to a wide range of schools and won big. Getting accepted to a top-tier school doesn’t guarantee happiness, fulfillment or a top-tier life.

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