HELP ME, HARLAN!: How do you know when you’re in love?

By Harlan Cohen

Harlan Cohen

Dear Harlan,

What is your definition of “love”? I’ve started a new relationship, and the feelings are stronger than anything I’ve ever felt before. I think it’s love, but I’m not sure. I want to call it “love.” How do I know?

Love or Not

Dear Love or Not,

You’re lucky you asked me this question. I know love. I know how to know if it’s love. It’s love when you feel that it’s love — that’s it. Of course, what “love” means can change as you change. I know it changed for me. The first time I fell in love, it happened fast. I loved that someone loved me. Being wanted made me fall in love. The second time I fell in love, it took a while. It started with “like,” then it turned into “love.” The third time I fell in love, it was less about being wanted and more about what I wanted in a partner. It started fast, but the love grew, and continues to grow. It has layers. It’s deeper. The best way to know you’re ready to share your feelings is when you can express them without requiring someone to feel the same way. Then you know it’s less about being wanted and more about wanting to share something you just can’t keep inside of you any longer.


Dear Harlan,

I royally screwed up during my final year of high school. I took too many classes, and ended up barely passing four. This led to taking a forced break at my flagship university and losing a promised four-year scholarship. I still have a decent high-school GPA of over 4.0 weighted, and I scored a 32 on my ACT. It looks like I’ll be at an open-enrollment school for a year or two, but where should I transfer afterward? I aim to be a lawyer or investment banker, and I want a degree in finance or economics. Also, my family is pretty poor, so I would get full financial aid. But I don’t know if I have the skills to make it. Any advice?

Messed Up

Dear Messed Up,

You are more than good enough. You deserve everything you want and more.  I can tell you don’t feel it, and I know you struggle believing it, but it’s true. It’s as true as anything I’ve ever written. The problem isn’t your GPA or ACT score, it’s that you don’t believe in yourself. Just when you get close to success, you start sabotaging yourself. There is something to be said for believing that you deserve everything you want. If you don’t get that feeling at home, then you need to surround yourself with adults who can remind you that you are more than good enough. Start with a teacher, coach or adult who has been in your corner. Look for a spiritual leader or someone who volunteers to mentor young people. Tell this person what you want. Share when you struggle. Reach out to the people who run your scholarship.  Explain what happened. Surround yourself with people living your dream. Want to work in law? Work in a law office. Want to work in finance? Get a job at a bank or a finance firm. Don’t know people who can hire you? Look for foundations or projects where people volunteer or support youth. Find adults who can help you, guide you and believe in you. Dream it, believe it and know that you can make it happen.


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!: How do you know when you’re in love?–