HELP ME, HARLAN!: Parents wait for kid to go to college to drop divorce bombshell

By Harlan Cohen

Harlan Cohen

Dear Harlan,

I left for college three weeks ago, and my parents just told me they are getting a divorce. They act like they have done me a favor by waiting to tell me until now. They’ve been thinking about this for years, but wanted to wait until I was out of the house. This has rocked my world and has not been an easy change for me. My grades are slipping.  I’m not sure how to deal with this dose of family truth when I’m trying to figure out where I fit in at school. What do you do when you go to college and your parents split up?


Dear Divorced,

There’s no good time to tell you. If they had dropped this on you when you were a kid, you also would have had your foundation rocked. For some reason, they felt like it was better to spare you the pain until now. I get it, but what they didn’t think about is that this is an incredibly unstable time in your life.  Starting college is a dramatic change.  You need stability; you don’t need the added emotional stress that comes with shifting family dynamics and all the questions that come with divorce. Seek stability. Since your parents can’t provide it, find people and places where you can find stability. Reach out to a therapist or counselor on campus. Reach out to your professors for academic support. If you have siblings, lean on them. Seek spiritual leaders (even if you’re not spiritual). Lean on old high-school friends who know you the best. In addition to finding people to provide support, anchor yourself in places on campus where you can create connection, community and routine. Look to spiritual groups, athletics, volunteer groups and other places where you can feel welcome. Of course, no child wants to deal with this. There never is a good time to announce a divorce. Feel it, process it and take care of yourself. Use all the resources available to find support and stability.


Hey Harlan,

I started dating someone new. I like her a lot, but there’s just one problem: Her breath is bad – really bad. I’ve offered mints and gum to help hide it, but the bad breath lingers. It makes it hard to kiss her. I don’t know how to talk to her about it; I don’t want to upset her.  This is a really embarrassing situation. Should I tell her the truth, or just move on? Telling the truth will hurt her feelings, and I don’t want to be a bad guy. Can you help?

Bad Breath

Hey Bad Breath,

Be a hero: Tell her the truth. Either she’ll break up with you, or she’ll see a doctor and find some fresher breath. You might be uncomfortable and she might be embarrassed, but this isn’t a vanity issue. Did you that know bad breath can be the sign of an infection, illness or other medical problem? I was surprised to learn that acid reflux can cause bad breath. She needs someone who cares enough about her to tell her the truth. Approach it as a health issue. Tell her how much you like her, and then tell her the truth: You’re concerned about her – concerned enough to do some research about the subject. Suggest that she see a doctor – not for you, but to make sure there isn’t a health issue. Whatever happens next, know that you did the right thing.  No matter what, she’ll know the truth.   In this situation, the truth will help her find answers and fresh, minty breath.


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!: Parents wait for kid to go to college to drop divorce bombshell–