HELP ME, HARLAN!: Conversations with an old friend make married man feel guilty

By Harlan Cohen

Harlan Cohen

Dear Harlan,

I have a female friend from my past who recently got divorced. We got together about 20 years ago, but the timing never worked out. She met another man, and I got married a few years later. We stayed in touch on Facebook and would congratulate each other on important life moments. I’m married and have two children, and she has a child from her marriage. My issue is that she has been reaching out to me more frequently. She sends me messages, and we’ve had several long conversations on Facebook Messenger. A part of me knows it’s not right, but it feels natural to reconnect with her. I know I should stop this, but I’m finding it hard to cut her off. She is going through a difficult time and needs someone. She said she wishes we were both single again. I’m in a happy marriage, and I feel guilty when we are done talking. Any suggestions?

Secret Conversations

Dear Secret,

Stop lying to yourself. End your emotional affair now. Your online conversations will lead to longer phone calls after your wife goes to bed. The phone calls will lead to a secret lunch. The lunch will lead to a hotel room. The hotel room will lead to more lies, deeper guilt and the end of your marriage. Stop talking to her. Yes, she needs help — but not from you. She can find a counselor, spiritual leader or friend. The next time she reaches out to you, tell her you enjoyed reconnecting with her, but you want to stop talking out of respect to your wife and your family. She should respect that. After you disconnect from this woman, figure out why this happened and how you can get attention from people who will not ruin your marriage.


Dear Harlan,

My son is going to college next year. We understand that parents do not get automatic access to grades because of privacy laws. How can we insist on seeing his grades without causing a division in our relationship?

Concerned Parents

Dear Concerned Parents,

I know you might be paying for his college education, but you’re sending a bigger message to your son when you ask to see his grades: It tells him that you don’t trust him to take care of himself in college. You seem to be aware of this; otherwise, you wouldn’t be concerned about this causing a division in your relationship. Instead of demanding to have access to his grades, think about why this is so important to you and the message it sends. He needs to learn how to be intrinsically motivated. You need to learn to trust him. Instead of telling him what he has to do, ask him how he feels about you having access to his grades. Talk about his academic expectations. Share your expectations. By the way, the first semester in college usually is the most challenging. Remind him of any minimum GPAs that need to be met in order to keep financial aid (some grants require minimum grades). See how he responds to the tone of the conversation — he might want you to have access to his grades. Either way, be prepared to have a conversation. Changing how you approach the topic can make all the difference. And yes, there might be compelling reasons I don’t know about that would make this completely appropriate. Only you can fully know the relationship you have with your son.


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!: Conversations with an old friend make married man feel guilty–