Dear Harlan: I am a male in my mid-20s and have been dating a wonderful girl for about a year and a half. We have been talking about marriage, and it is a real possibility within the next year. I love this girl with almost all of my heart and want to spend the rest of my life with her.

I say "almost" all of my heart because there is another girl who has always been in the picture to some degree. During my college years, beginning seven or eight years ago, I was very close with someone for the entire five years. We never actually dated but were always on the verge. There was some emotional commitment on both sides, but timing was never a strong point for both of us.

After college, we lived about six hours from each other and would hang out every couple of months for a weekend. I then moved about a 10-hour drive away, so the visits ceased — but not the regular telephone and e-mail communications. I feel as though any decision I make will be a mistake.

I love my girlfriend, but I am fearful that I will always be committing emotional adultery by thinking of my old friend. —Uncertain

Dear Uncertain: I'd never want to marry someone who loved me with almost all of her heart. I'd want it all. And your girlfriend deserves it all.

Clearly, you're not used to taking risks in your personal life. If you decide to take a risk and do what it takes to love someone with all of your heart, your worst-case scenario isn't as bleak as you think.

Should you lose your old friend and your current girlfriend, you'll gain the ability to take risks. And a guy in his mid-20s who can take risks and follow his heart is a guy who will find someone he can love with ALL of his heart.

Dear Harlan: My husband and I have been married for 18 years. We have two boys, 8 and 11 years old. My kids are afraid to ask their father anything because he goes from Mr. Happy to Mr. Grumpy.

He'll fly off the handle one minute and be cracking jokes the next. Last night, he went into a tirade because the boys stained the carpet. Everything halted. They had to go to bed early, and I was summoned to clean up the carpet. He was all snuggly while sleeping that night, and I thought, I don't want to be near you.

I've told him many times that he overreacts. He just says that I "underreact." I've asked him to go to counseling three times, but he won't go. I've seen three different therapists and all say I'm a good mother, but I can't help us as a couple if he won't go with me.

I'm ready to call it quits. My oldest is getting mouthy with me now and putting me down and criticizing me. I guess that's what he has learned. I don't know if I want to continue living this way. Help! —Fed Up

Dear Fed Up: Maybe seeing it in print and hearing everyone shout, "What are you waiting for?" will help you make a move this year. Perhaps it's time you overreact and make it clear that if things don't change, you will be changing addresses. Then your oldest will see that when you disrespect someone, there are consequences.


Harlan is the author of "The Naked Roommate: And 107 Other Issues You Might Run Into in College" (Sourcebooks). Write Harlan at [email protected] or visit online: www.helpmeharlan.com. All letters submitted become property of the author. Send paper to Help Me, Harlan! 2506 N. Clark St., Ste. 223, Chicago, IL 60614. © Harlan Cohen 2008 Distributed by King Features Syndicate Inc.