Sense & Sensitivity by Harriette Cole

Reader Questions Why Couples Take Breaks

DEAR HARRIETTE: I am not currently in a relationship, but I was wondering about them. My best friend and her boyfriend are currently “on a break.” When I asked her what that meant, she summed it up as she and her boyfriend are allowed to see other people, but they are still in communication. As soon as I heard this, I was confused. Why would you want to continue talking to your partner, yet see other people? Doesn’t that mean your feelings for that person aren’t there or strong anymore, so you want to see other people? I don't understand this relationship status, and I wanted to hear what your perspective on this is. -- They Are on a Break, New Orleans

DEAR THEY ARE ON A BREAK: You should be confused. This type of "taking a break" usually leads to the end of a relationship. At the very least, it typically leads to hurt feelings and lack of intimacy. While your friend may feel that this is what she needs or wants to do, I do not recommend it. It’s best to create a clean break when you decide to end a relationship, or work together through your problems to see if you have a future.

DEAR HARRIETTE: My friend "Mia’s" dad called me today telling me she dropped out of school and that he believes she is anorexic. He shared that he was worried about her because in the past few weeks she hasn’t been eating and has lost a lot of weight. He asked if I could watch her and make sure she’s OK, and I agreed.

Mia and I hung out at the park, and I could see how thin she looked and how depressed she’s been. I tried to make her happy by talking about our good times and constantly complimenting her. I’m not exactly sure how I can help her realize that there is nothing wrong with her. She’s beautiful just the way she is. How do I deal with this new responsibility her father has given me? -- Helping a Friend, Syracuse, New York

DEAR HELPING A FRIEND: You cannot accept the responsibility of ensuring that your friend is OK. If Mia is depressed or has anorexia, these are medical conditions that require specialized care. It is not possible for you to keep her safe. You can, however, stay close to her and let her know that she has a friend. What you need to know is that Mia does have something wrong with her if she is not eating and seeming depressed. That is not normal. Don’t tell her it is. Instead, tell her the truth: You are worried about her, that it looks like she hasn’t been eating and that she seems sad. Ask her if she wants to talk about what’s going on.

Just be clear within yourself that you cannot heal her. You can listen. You can also let her father know what you learn. But also tell him that you can only be her friend. You cannot take care of her.

(Harriette Cole is a lifestylist and founder of DREAMLEAPERS, an initiative to help people access and activate their dreams. You can send questions to or c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)