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Choose colors that fit picture of your life

Dear Harlan: Why is it that as we get older, life becomes so much more complicated? In kindergarten, a hard decision was deciding what crayon to choose when coloring. It only seems to get more complicated. Why? — Anonymous Student

Dear Student: There's a song by Harry Chapin called "Flowers Are Red." The song tells the story of a boy at his first day in school. He's coloring pictures of flowers when the teacher sees his color choices and scolds him. She says, "Flowers are red, young man, green leaves are green. There's no need to see flowers any other way than the way they always have been seen."

Eventually, the boy succumbs and colors the flowers red and the green leaves green. And this is what happens in life. As we grow older, the world tells us how we should see the world. We are judged, reprimanded and rejected when we draw "outside the lines" or choose "other colors." As a result, a lot of us become too afraid to do and say what we feel is the right choice.

While it's important to be aware of the lines, only choose colors that fit the picture of your life. Should you find that you can no longer work within the lines, draw a new line or two. The world might resist, but our lives are our art. Passion is our paint, and desire is our brush. We are the artists. We define what a beautiful world is.

Hey Harlan: My girlfriend and I have been going out for about seven months. She's going to be a senior in high school, and I'm going into my freshman year in college. Things have been going a bit lackluster lately. She keeps talking about marriage — A LOT.

I have doubts about whether we should stay together, because we've been fighting a lot, and I don't really like her choice of friends (and I would never ask her to change her friends for me). I'm barely going into college, and she's the first serious relationship I've ever had. I don't want to be tied down to the only thing I've ever known.

I'm just at my wits' end trying to figure out the right thing to do. How can I let her down easily and not burn any bridges in case she is the one? — Tied Down

Dear Tied Down: It's called "panic proposal pressure." PPP manifests when distance is on the horizon; people will do whatever they can to hold on to what they have so that they don't lose it. It happens to high-school grads, college grads, Armed Forces recruits — it's as if without getting married, the love will be lost.

Assure her that she might be your perfect partner, but marriage isn't perfect for you two right now because the timing isn't perfect. The honorable and loving thing to do is to tell her how much she and the relationship mean to you. Tell her that you're afraid that you're making a mistake, but you need to take this time for yourself — you owe it to her, to yourself and to the relationship. Never cheat. Never lie. Just be honest, and then let her decide if she wants you to hold her when she cries or if she wants you to quietly leave.

Harlan is the author of "The Naked Roommate: And 107 Other Issues You Might Run Into in College" (Sourcebooks). Write Harlan at or visit online:© Harlan Cohen 2005; Dist. by King Features Syndicate Inc.