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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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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Grandma Roasts Chestnuts and Loved Ones

Dear Harlan: My grandmother always brings up my weight when we get together for holidays. She has no filter. She says whatever comes to mind. This happened again over Thanksgiving. I’ve struggled with my weight for my entire life. She knows how much it bothers me, but continues to keep hurting my feelings. I’ve respectfully asked her not to ask me about this, but she doesn’t listen. I will see her again during the holidays. What should I do? I’m already dreading the upcoming holidays.

— Grandma Problem

Dear Grandma Problem:  Grandma roasts a ham and the guests. No, it’s not nice. You can lose the weight, but you’ll never lose your grandma’s unsolicited advice. Even if she stops with the weight comments, she’ll find some other way to get under your skin. She wants a reaction. She will never stop giving you her opinion. Don’t try to manage her. Manage your reactions. Acknowledge her comments and move on. You can talk to her again about it, if you want, but that will just give her a bigger reaction. She likes the attention. The best approach is to love yourself even more. This can mean changing what you don’t love or loving what you can’t change. When you love yourself, stupid comments from family members roll off your back. When you are balanced, happy and healthy, you can enjoy the best qualities of flawed people. Instead of feeling attacked, you can look past this part of her personality and love what she can offer. Or you can scrap all this advice, avoid her and head to Vegas over the holidays!

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Not all relationships are meant to last forever

Upset Man And Woman Secretly Watching Each Other Because MistakeDear Harlan: I’ve been dating a man for five months. We moved in together a month ago. He is depressed, grew up being verbally abused, is extremely insecure and gets upset a lot. I’m strong, independent, outgoing and very confident in myself and my sexuality. Lately, I’ve been getting very stressed and frustrated with him. I’m feeling the need for space because he’s being so upset, needy and insecure about me and the opposite sex. I’m not promiscuous or outrageously flirty; I’m comfortable with myself and get along very well with the opposite sex. Along with our regular disagreements and his sadness, I’ve been having dreams about other guys, especially one of our friends. The friend recently told me, nonchalantly, that he might have upset my boyfriend by telling him that he would have slept with me had it not been for my boyfriend. Almost six months ago, I left the country to travel and teach kids around the world. I’ve been more confused since coming home. I’m starting to wonder if I’m subconsciously blaming my boyfriend for my missing out on life and causing my frustrations. I think I’m missing out on guys who have been hitting on me, because I have been with very few people. I’m now realizing I could get quite a few guys if I wanted. I can’t stop thinking about sleeping with our friend. Basically, I’ve been thinking I should move out to better our relationship and try to mend things between us. Do the constant fantasies about our friend mean anything? I’m confused. What do I do ? – Second Thoughts

Dear Second Thoughts: There are two types of relationships: crutches and complements. People in crutch relationships can’t stand on their own two feet and use a partner for balance. When one partner no longer needs a crutch, the relationship can get unsteady — especially if the other partner still needs a crutch. On the other hand, there are relationships that are complements. Complementary relationships are balanced, healthier and less complicated. No one needs the other to feel complete.  You need a complement. He might need a crutch. None of this is confusing from here — you might have outgrown this relationship. Sounds to me like you don’t need the crutch of a relationship. Time apart could be the best gift. But do not sleep with that “friend.” It was manipulative and wrong of him to tell you what he said. He’s a big creep. You can do better.

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Stinky Friend Needs More Than a Shower

Man smells something stinkyDear Harlan: I have a friend I have known for at least 12 years. He has a very bad problem: He refuses to bathe or take a shower. Over the years, it has been getting worse and worse. The smell is horrific. I have tried to help him with this matter. He will bathe for a couple of weeks, and then he stops again. He is a very good friend and we do everything together, but there is a point where enough is enough, and I am at that point right now. Is there any hope for this matter?

– Disgusted

Dear Disgusted:

It’s like when I diet for a few weeks and lose a few pounds, but gain it all back a few months later. It’s emotional for me. When I overeat, I obsess about overeating in order to  avoid focusing on the real issues bothering me.  The overeating is just a symptom of a bigger issue. Your friend might have a horrible stench due to a lack of bathing, but the lack of bathing is a symptom of another problem. People who don’t take care of their basic hygiene can be suffering from emotional issues. I’d suggest he visit a therapist or mental-health professional and his doctor. Your friend could be using his smell as a defense mechanism to avoid meaningful interactions.

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Roommate Can’t Handle FaceTime-ing Smothering Mothering

Psychotherapy Online ServiceDear Harlan, What if the problem isn’t with a roommate but with the roommate’s mother? She insists on FaceTime-ing with my daughter’s roommate for very long periods of time, leaving my daughter no privacy in her own room or quiet time to study because their FaceTime conversations are loud. She also stays in their room overnight when she visits. (Weird.) Lastly, she keeps bringing more and more stuff with her each time. The room now is only one-third my daughter’s. My daughter is pretty easygoing and can accept a lot, but it is getting to the point she can’t even move in the room.  – Mothering or Smothering

Dear Mothering, You can FaceTime your daughter while her roommate is FaceTime-ing her mom and have a face-to-face time with the mom. But that would be overparenting and just as wrong. Listen, I would love to carry on about this over-involved, privacy-invading, hoarding mom, but I know better. I have no idea what’s happening in this woman’s life. She could be dealing with a family crisis, a personal issue or mental-health challenges. Her daughter might have a history of struggling and is in need of mom’s help. All we know is that your daughter doesn’t like the constant FaceTime sessions, sleepovers and invasive stuff. When I hear “easygoing daughter,” I hear “keeps her feelings a secret and avoids conflict.” These issues all could be minor problems if your daughter addresses them in a kind, caring and direct manner. When your daughter is calm and comfortable, she should have an honest conversation with her roommate. She should start by mentioning that she should have discussed these problems a lot sooner, but felt it was time to be honest. She can politely ask her roommate to use headphones and position the screen in a way that doesn’t violate her privacy when using FaceTime. She can suggest an organization or storage system for all the stuff. And when the roommate’s mom visits, your daughter can stay with a friend. If none of this works, your daughter can live with it or live somewhere else. This roommate’s mom isn’t going anywhere.

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Going limp is soft excuse to avoid condoms

bigstock-Prevention-With-Condom-30663404Dear Harlan, I’m in my early 20s and have had an issue wearing condoms. For some reason, I physically can’t have sex with a condom without going limp from it. How do I bring that up to a girl without sounding like I’m just trying to avoid using a condom? – Limp or Bareback

Dear Limp,  You’re way more worried about telling a girl you can’t wear a condom than telling a doctor you go limp when wearing one. Wear a condom. It’s not just about birth control. Sexually transmitted infections are running wild among college-age people. According to the CDC, roughly one in five people have herpes or genital warts. Then you’ve got 50,000 new cases of HIV each year – a quarter of these infections are among youth ages 13-24. If you don’t have a doctor, get one. Your condom collapse might be medical, emotional or psychological. The condom might be a trigger that causes you to go limp, but the solution could be simple. You need a doctor to talk to about this. The answer might be as easy as finding new erotic, exciting and titillating ways to incorporate condoms into sex.

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Comfy relationship without spark will fizzle

Bored woman sitting next to her boyfriend playing video games atDear Harlan: I’ve started dating a really good guy. He’s got a good job and he treats me better than any man I’ve dated, but I’m still unsure. There isn’t that spark. I’d like to be in a long-term relationship with someone. Can the spark come later? Am I wasting my time in a relationship if I don’t plan on marrying the guy? – Passing Time

Dear Passing Time: Happy blah, boring New Year! It’s like dating an old pair of sweatpants. Before you know it, half of your life will be spent wearing blah sweats. He’s a big bore. You know it. You shouldn’t have to do this much convincing. Do you honestly believe that in 10 years, 20 pounds heavier (not you, him) and two kids later things will get hotter? Think the spark will turn into a blazing inferno of love? If it’s cold and comfortable now, don’t expect a  fire of passion in the future.

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Get real, nice guys don’t exist

StopDear Harlan: I can’t tell you how tired I am of hearing that women don’t want a nice guy. That was the line my current husband used on me. I was honest with him from the beginning that I was looking for a permanent relationship, would work hard to make it last and that porn was a deal-breaker because it ruined my two previous relationships. He swore we were in total agreement and were looking for the same thing. Three years later, it was like a switch was turned off: He refused to stay overnight at my house, but I was a welcome “guest” at his house, and sex was nonexistent. I tried to discuss things with him and was told that I worry too much. We married last August, and two weeks ago he told me that we should go our separate ways. When I asked what happened, he told me he had never intended to be in a permanent relationship and that he was desperate when he met me, so he would say anything to get sex. Apparently the line about women not wanting a nice guy works very well. He figured I would just get tired of his in excusable behavior and leave him like all the other women he has dated, and then he could keep the “nice guy” image with his friends and family. The nice-guy line also was used on me by my first husband, as well as my long-term boyfriend between husbands. My first husband was verbally abusive to me while he was secretly cheating on me with his ex-girlfriend. My long-term boyfriend admitted that he only dated me because he thought I had money, so he wouldn’t have to work. When I got tired of the excuses for not being employed and called him a deadbeat, he physically assaulted me, so I ended the relationship. As far as I’m concerned, there is no such thing as a nice guy. Been there, done that. – Not Nice

Dear Not Nice: I’m so sorry these men have been so awful to you. They were NOT nice. But please, don’t let them ruin my entire gender for you. Once you’re in a place that you can look back and reflect on the past, figure out what went wrong (talk to a therapist). Were there warning signs? What could you have done differently? What was your role in each relationship? Figure out what you have the power to change. The answer will change how you meet, date and set boundaries inside a new relationship.

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Widower’s new gal can’t tolerate hearing deceased wife’s name

Mature couple riding tandemDear Harlan: I’m a recent widower – my wife of 30 years passed away five months ago.  I’m now dating a woman who’s insisting I not mention my wife by name, or even refer to her as “my wife.” Yet, she wants to know all about me, my experiences and “where I’ve been” her whole life. For instance, she forbids me to say “My wife and I once lived in Texas,” but it’s OK if I say, “I once lived in Texas.” How can I forcefully ignore the one woman I spent a great portion of my life with while talking about that life? What can I say to convince my date that I must talk about experiencing life with my wife, whom I lived with for 30 years? – Single Again

Dear Single: How about you refer to your wife as “the woman I can’t talk about because I’m dating a woman who is too insecure and forces me to avoid saying my deceased wife’s name because she’s too afraid of competing against someone who is no longer alive.” That might be a little wordy, but it says it all. For someone to expect you to wipe out all reference, memory and mention of someone who is a central part of your identity isn’t equipped to date a man who has loved another woman for 30 years. This isn’t about your wife – rather, it’s about this woman’s fears and insecurities. Remind her that you’re a loving, loyal, committed, monogamous man who spent 30 years with one woman. Your wife is part of you and will always be part of you. If she can’t handle this part of you, she can’t date you. Then, find a hot widow and enjoy life without censorship.

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