Dear Harriette: I have a love-hate relationship with my cousin. We have become close in recent years, but he also gets on my nerves.
He recently moved back to our hometown because he lost his job, and he couldn’t afford to stay where he was living. Both of his parents are dead, so he really is alone. That said, he constantly calls me. Sometimes he calls twice a day to talk about nothing. I get that friends do that, but he goes overboard.
I don’t want to walk away from my cousin, but I do not know how to keep some boundaries in my life and, at the same time, get to know him better. I don’t want to shut the door on him. — How to Connect
Dear How to Connect: You have to create boundaries with your cousin, just as you would with anybody else. You can continue to get to know him without having to agree to connect with him whenever he chooses. Figure out what healthy engagement with him looks like. Is it once a week? Once a month? A couple of days a week? Now think about how often you actually do communicate with him. If you speak far more frequently than you’d like, pull back. You can even tell your cousin that your schedule is full, and you will not be able to speak to him as frequently as you have up to now. If he continues to call too often, let the calls go to voicemail when you are unavailable.
You will have to train him to recognize that when you are unavailable, you really will not connect with him. If you do that successfully for a few months, he should get the message.
It is essential to understand that by limiting your engagement with him, you are not loving him less. Instead, you are respecting yourself and your time and also creating a healthy space to engage with him in a positive manner.
Dear Harriette: I have been dating my boyfriend for three months. A month ago, he asked me to be his “girlfriend,” which was very sweet, and I accepted. We are in community college together.
Since we have been dating for this long and are now committed, should I get him a Christmas gift? If so, what is appropriate? I really don’t want to overplay my hand. In the past, I have gone all out for boyfriends — only to get burned. I want to be appropriate, but I also want to show him that I like him. What should I do? — Gifting for New Beau
Dear Gifting for New Beau: Why not use this as an opportunity to get to know your boyfriend better? Ask him about his family’s holiday rituals. Find out what he did as a child for the holidays, including gift-giving.
You can also be direct about gifting between the two of you. Ask him if he would like to exchange gifts with you for the holidays. If so, talk about what you both would like as gifts. A friend of mine used to make rules around gift-giving with her partner. They would set low price limits and see how creative they could be in coming up with the perfect gift. You can make the gifting experience fun if you do it together.
Harriette Cole is a lifestylist and founder of DREAMLEAPERS, an initiative to help people access and activate their dreams. You can send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.