Sense & Sensitivity by Harriette Cole

Woman's Erratic Behavior Worries Neighbor

DEAR HARRIETTE: We had a power outage in our building, so the electric company guy made the rounds to all of our apartments. One of my neighbors opened the door for him -- naked. I learned about this from him when he was working on my apartment. He was so taken aback he said he now avoids her. Other people in my building have said that she suffers from mental illness. I don’t know, but I am worried about her. We have had a lot of trouble with our power, and I don’t want our misfortune to leave her vulnerable. What can I say or do to help her? -- Neighbor in Crisis

DEAR NEIGHBOR IN CRISIS: It is very thoughtful of you to want to look out for your neighbor. If she truly does suffer from mental illness, you may not have the tools to fully support her, but reaching out to check on her is a good idea. Don’t bring up what happened with the electric company worker. Instead, ask how she is doing through all of this and if you can be of any support. If you know of other neighbors who know her better, ask them what you can do to be helpful during this stressful period. Being in good company could help to make her feel safer during this troubling period. Perhaps you can invite her and a small group of others over for a meal -- if you are able to cobble one together with no power.

Read more in: Sex & Gender | Friends & Neighbors | Etiquette & Ethics | Mental Health

Newly Sober Friend Becoming Judgmental

DEAR HARRIETTE: I have a friend who has been promiscuous for all the years I have known her. Suddenly, she is acting like she is a Christian and is saved. She says she has changed her life, which is great, but now she has opinions about all of us. As she is working on her sobriety, she is becoming extremely judgmental of her core friend group. We have been there for her throughout her life. I don’t appreciate being judged about everything I say or do, especially by her. How can I get her to stop talking about us and stay focused on herself? -- Friend in Sobriety

DEAR FRIEND IN SOBRIETY: People in early sobriety often seem obsessed with their own behavior and hypercritical of others. One thing they are often taught is to beware of “people, places and things” that remind them of their past and that might lead them back down a path toward self-destruction. If you and your core group participate in this behavior -- such as drinking alcohol, doing drugs or whatever else she used to do -- it might be best for you to keep your distance for a while. It may be impossible for her to separate her own issues from yours during the early days.

You can also be frank with her. Tell your friend how proud you are of her accomplishments. Wish her well, and then set boundaries. Tell her that it doesn’t work for you when she criticizes you on all that you say and do. Make it clear that you don’t want to sever ties with her right now, but if she is unable to keep her comments about your behavior to herself, you may need to keep your distance -- at least for now.

(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.)

Read more in: Sex & Gender | Friends & Neighbors | Addiction