Dear Harlan,

How do you feel about people learning to love and be happy with themselves first before getting in a serious relationship? Will the right person automatically be found if this is done? I’m taking a break from dating, and would love to hear your thoughts.

Time Out

Dear Time Out,

I feel it’s essential, but most people don’t take the time to love or be happy with themselves before finding love. Why? They don’t have to. We can hate ourselves, stink at sharing our feelings, feel defective and yet still find love.

If we are in a room long enough, we can hook up. If we’re in a room with alcohol, it’s faster (not a good thing). But in all fairness, no one tells us that we need to love ourselves first. That’s why so many people have problems. Not loving yourself and dating is like building a relationship on a foundation made of Jell-O. It’s doomed to topple over as life gets heavier over time.

When you start a relationship without loving yourself and don’t know how to be happy, you are always depending on someone else to give you something — happiness, affirmation, attention or compliments.

It’s easy to get jealous because you’re afraid your partner will find someone better. It’s easy to feel insecure because you’re scared someone is going to discover the truth about you. It’s easy to avoid saying what you think and doing what you feel because taking action might mean being single again (No! Not that!). Learning to love yourself and be happy is the secret to finding a lasting, enduring and nurturing relationship where each partner can grow. As for the right person automatically popping up once you’re happy and in love with yourself — nope, that doesn’t always happen. Even happy and balanced people need to work to find love. Happy people can be intimidating and harder to approach. They’re not as needy.

The secret to finding love is to surround yourself with people who love the same things you love to do, and talk to them while doing it. Make it easy for people to meet and date you by making it clear what you want. The happier and better you feel, the easier it will be to attract and find the right partners.

Dear Harlan,

I got married almost a year ago and my husband changed majorly after we said “I do.” He is not the same guy I wanted to marry. He is short with me and puts me down. None of this was evident when we married. Now what do I do?

Newlywed

Dear Newlywed,

Are you talking about your future ex-husband? I don’t know why he changed or what is different, but don’t make excuses for inexcusable behavior just because you are married. If anything, it’s worse — disrespecting you is breaking his vows. Make it clear that you’re not OK with this. Ask him if he’s all right. Suggest a couple’s counselor to help guide you. You also can find a spiritual leader to contribute. Bring in a third party to help him avoid getting on the defensive. Make it clear that you love him, but his behavior has to change. Have a plan in place of how you’ll get out if none of these things changes. If he can’t change, then plan on getting out of this relationship.

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 [email protected] or visit online: www.helpmeharlan.com. All letters submitted become property of the author. Send paper to Help Me, Harlan!, 3501 N. Southport Ave., Suite 226, Chicago, IL 60657.