HELP ME, HARLAN! Loving yourself takes time, patience and a thong

Harlan Cohen

Dear Harlan,

Should you be happy with yourself before dating someone, or should that person help you feel OK about yourself? I’ve met someone whom I enjoy spending time with, but I don’t feel I’m in a strong place in my life. I’ve made the mistake of leaning on someone during difficult times. What do you think?

Working On Me

Dear Working On Me,

Loving yourself is a lifelong process. I’m still working on it. You can absolutely do it while single or in a relationship. The key is knowing that you are lovable with or without someone in your life, and having additional sources of happiness besides your significant other. This can happen only when you work on yourself. Working on yourself is something I call “training in your thong.” A thong exposes the undeniable truth; there’s no avoiding it. We can fight the truth or face it. Facing it means working through the stuff that’s uncomfortable to look at; fighting it means running and hiding from the uncomfortable. People are experts at fighting it. We use drugs, alcohol, food, relationships, work and other distractions to avoid the truth. Training consists of putting on three “thongs” – physical, emotional and spiritual. Training begins by looking in the mirror and identifying what you want to change. Then, you’ll commit to changing what you don’t love and tolerating what you can’t change. Start with the issues that cause you the most discomfort and interfere with your daily happiness and well-being. Then continue down the list. You absolutely can have someone in your life while you are training, as long as you have other people to help guide you. You need other people to offer you unconditional help and support. Friends, mental-health professionals and people who have been there and done it all are examples of people in your corner. Yes, you can be with someone – but you need space, time and more people in your life.


Dear Harlan,

I’m very uncomfortable with the idea of drinking, but I feel like I’m alone on this. Isn’t college when a lot of people let loose? I have no desire to pick up any bad habits, but I’d hate to isolate myself and not make any friends due to my dedication to remaining sober. Help!


Dear Sober,

The problem is more about perception of alcohol than its actual use. There’s this belief that everyone gets drunk and loses control once they go to college, which is simply not true: According to Fall 2016 NCHA-ACHA data, the perceived use of alcohol and the actual use are totally out of whack. Here are some facts:

—Students perceived that 93.8 percent of students drank within the past 30 days, but in reality, only 64.2 percent of students had consumed alcohol.

—Students perceived that only 4.4 percent of students have never used alcohol, but in reality, 21.4 percent of students have never used alcohol. This means you are just like one-third of students on campus. This should help you feel more comfortable. There will be a third of students who will NOT want to get drunk and party – and another third who will drink very little. All you have to do is find the sober people. The best way to find the sober people is to not drink. Get a job, play a sport, find a spiritual group or volunteer during daylight hours. Make it clear that you don’t drink, and change false perceptions.


Harlan is author of “Getting Naked: Five Steps to Finding the Love of Your Life (While Fully Clothed and Totally Sober)” (St. Martin’s Press). Write Harlan at or visit online: All letters submitted become property of the author. Send paper to Help Me, Harlan!, 2720 Dundee Road, Suite 226, Northbrook, IL 60062.

© Harlan Cohen 2017

Distributed by King Features Syndicate Inc.

–HELP ME, HARLAN! Loving yourself takes time, patience and a thong–