Dear Margo: Talk About Bad Luck

Margo Howard’s advice

Talk About Bad Luck

Dear Margo: I’ll keep this short. What does someone do when they find out they are responsible for fixing up someone with a child molester? I was best friends for years with both parties. They never met before I introduced them, which was four years before his arrest (in late 2010). The charge was molesting his two oldest nieces, and in the two years since, my friendship with the woman has been quite tense. We don’t talk as often as we used to, and when we do, it feels forced. Needless to say, I’ve apologized, and of course this was the last thing I ever saw coming.

My problem is that this girlfriend isn’t the only person I introduced him to. There were others, as well — though not in a “matchmaker” way. I was just trying to expand his social circle. How does someone trust their own judgment after this? — Disheartened

Dear Dis: Oh, my. Without meaning to, you have become a kind of Typhoid Mary in your social set. Although you had no inkling of this man’s perversions, the introductions did come through you, which makes it hard for people not to associate you with him. In your friends’ minds, you now have an unfortunate Pavlovian connection to this pedophile. I suggest you let the friendship with the unlucky woman wither on the vine, until she can get over it, if she ever does. I hope you recognize that in this situation, her changed feelings are understandable. What happened was just rotten luck. — Margo, acceptingly

Inappropriately Religious  

Dear Margo: My new in-laws, whom I admire and like, are seriously religious. Before a meal, they maintain an unwavering practice of joining hands to say grace aloud. Oftentimes these prayers are quite lengthy and specific, comprising a whole catalog of the family’s present issues and those of their friends and acquaintances. In the privacy of their home, or even in ours, this doesn’t bother me. I join hands, listen and am careful not to begin eating until I’m sure they are finished.

The problem for me is when the ritual carries over into public places. We are even expected to hold hands and pray at fast-food places, fancy restaurants, charity benefits, etc. No place or event is exempt, and what bothers me most is that they just assume everyone at the table — even if we don’t know them — will participate, if not by talking, then just by holding hands and bowing heads.

I’m not overly religious, though I was raised Catholic and sometimes attend church, but I am frankly embarrassed by these public displays of faith. I find myself looking around apologetically and hoping no one is listening. Being new to the family I haven’t mustered the nerve to tell them I don’t want to participate in the public prayers. I love my new family and would hate to have this issue create a rift. Can you help me think of an inoffensive way to opt out? Compounding the problem is that my parents are planning a visit, and they have already vowed to absolutely not participate, so I am dreading an uncomfortable scene. — In a Bind

Dear In: Good Lord, no pun intended. These people sound rather presumptuous. What they do at home is fine with me, but to be at Burger King or a charity event with strangers and expect them to participate in your religious observance is to be a quart low. I suggest that you or your spouse mention to them that not everyone believes as they do, and it is rude and audacious, when not in your own home, to expect participation in grace. (Not to mention that their version of grace sounds like a short novella.) I actually think your parents’ refusal will be “a teachable moment.” And whatever happened to “O Lord, we thank you for the gifts of your bounty which we enjoy at this table,” anyway? — Margo, appropriately

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Dear Margo is written by Margo Howard, Ann Landers’ daughter. All letters must be sent via the online form at Due to a high volume of e-mail, not all letters will be answered.


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38 Responses so far.

  1. avatar normadesmond says:

    will those boobs who pray everywhere listen to their son & daughter-in-law? i doubt it. isn’t that the problem with religious zealots? (i can’t help but categorize behavior like that as “zealoty”) they’ll be offended, mom will probably clutch her pearls.

    separate tables.

    • avatar Lila says:

      I agree. Talking to them about it probably won’t help, because if they really are so zealous, they would much rather offend people than offend God. They likely see it as doing others a “favor” by forcing them to act devout… the “right way”… even if only occasionally.

      • avatar htimsr40 says:

        But they DO offend God … assuming they are good believers in the Christian bible.

        Matthew 6:6 – But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

        Of course, Zealots like that care more about being seen as devout than about obeying the Bible.

  2. avatar Lila says:

    Re: the pedophile thing. I’m not letting the friends off the hook so easily. If LW1 was so taken in, along with everyone else, and she has already apologized and confessed her deep embarrassment, the friends really should not be holding this against her. It’s bad enough that she feels so embarrassed and foolish – but she has to lose all her friends, too?

    Oh well. If that’s how her friends are, maybe they weren’t really friends to start with.

    • avatar mmht says:

      I have to agree. Everyone was taken in by this sicko. Its possible the LW is projecting her own feelings onto the situation. Its possible the friend is having a cooled, forced relationship with her b/c she’s feeling guilty and like the fool. I mean, she did date a child molester for quite sometime. If anything, she was the one that had the closest relationship with the guy. Maybe she’s feeling like out of everyone, she should have seen what was going on.

    • avatar K Coldiron says:

      I know, right? I feel sorry for everybody in this scenario. It seems doubly unfair to the LW, though, who didn’t do anything wrong.

    • avatar Anais P says:

      I completely agree. This molester reminds me of Jerry Sandusky, who by all accounts was charming to all, which pedophiles usually are, to convince people to think they could never do anything as horrible as molesting a child. This is how they perpetrate these crimes for years and convince even those who become slightly suspicious that nothing is really amiss. These friends were not real friends, who forgive and understand.

  3. avatar Adrienne St Claire says:

    We were friends with a couple whose idea of ‘grace’ was identical to LW2’s relatives’–loud, long-winded, overly detailed and very public, complete with hand-holding. My husband was more tolerant than I, but when were enduring some problems of a very personal nature, both of us were shocked to hear our dilemma being blabbed to everyone within earshot in one of the city’s best restaurants, as our friend asked the Almighty to intervene in our behalf. Out of a lifetime of really mortifying incidents, that one is right at the top. I think a workable solution might be if everyone observed a moment of silence before the meal; the believers can give thanks and the nonbelievers can inspect the centerpiece. Someone whose beliefs are somewhere in the middle should designate the end of the silence–long enough for a brief word of thanks, not long enough for the food to get cold.



    • avatar CatA says:

      Food getting cold is the least of it. My warning lights went off right away — about exactly what Adrienne experienced: violation of individual PRIVACY. Who do these numbskulls think they are, blabbing private information about others in public places??? Anyone who feels the same should shut these insensitive idiots down immediately, or better yet, let them know ahead of restaurant visits that the problems of others will NOT be prayed over loudly in a public area. Good grief. Being “religious” doesn’t give one authority to trod on the rights of others.

      • avatar JCF4612 says:

        Right on, CatA. Ooops, does anybody say that anymore? Well, then in keeping with the times, effinA, CatA.   

  4. avatar Toni Jean says:

    LW2 this isn’t your problem to communicate but the hubs. Where does he stand – or kneel – w all this? Everyone has the right to pray in their way – the issue is the religious blackmail your in laws appear to be using.
    LW1: this isn’t your fault. Pedophiles are expert at being ingratiating and charming in order to commit their crimes. You’re – in a MUCH smaller way — a victim too of his duplicity. Friends who can’t understand that really aren’t your friends.

  5. avatar Kathy Ackerman says:

    Margo is right in telling LW2 to knock it off, and if she gets guff, she can quote Matthew 6:5-8:

    “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”


  6. avatar Box509 says:

    Prayers in public that include prayers for private individuals includes a great deal of sharing of personal information that would bring harm; emotional, physical and financial to the person being raised up in prayers. Not exactly beneficial. This should be brought to the “devout” couples attention. God knows everything, so no names needed, S/He gets the information from the heart directly. The motivation for public praying seems more self-righteous than sincere.

  7. avatar Belinda Joy says:

    Letter #1 – This is just awful – Oh my Lord Jesus!

    Margo is spot on, this letter writer needs to be understanding of those that were introduced to this perv, albeit unknowingly. If they can’t forgive her, they have a legitimate reason. And as Margo said maybe with a little time perspective will kick in and forgiveness will replace their blame.

    Letter #2 – Here we go again….. People pretending to be Christians. People who misunderstood or skipped over certain teachings of the bible. In the privacy of their own home- if this ludicrously is something they want to do, have at it. But out in public? The Bible speaks very clearly about displays of praying in public and how that goes against God’s word. Without getting into a big diatribe on this, people that do this annoy me to no end!

    “Look how holy we are…..see everyone we’re praying…..look we’re Christians….” It’s disgusting. If I were this letter writer I would handle it in the most obvious way, her husband, THEIR SON, is the one that needs to speak with his parents in private and explain they would prefer to refrain from this act.

    I would also say I will bet all that I own their hearts are in the right place, but they learned somewhere along the lines an inappropriate way of praying. My advice would be to go back to the Bible and read again what constitutes a “prayer” People that aren’t Christians and don’t believe in prayers will never understand that God has spoken clearly on this. But someone that claims to be a Christian should know. My father was clergy and I grew up in a religious family so I understand more than most the love of prayer and how it should never be distorted.

    Matthews 6: 5-8

  8. avatar Ariana says:

    LW#1: Go read Emma by Jane Austen. The lesson there is “Never play matchmaker and then you’ll never have those kinds of problems.” You don’t have to worry about your judgement since as everyone says, those kinds of people are expert actors and know how to be ingratiating.

    You didn’t ask about how to get on better terms with your old friends, so I’m guessing you’re ready to write that relationship off. Perhaps it’s better to do so, because probably each of you always think of the child molester each time you meet.

    • avatar fallinginplace says:

      So one should never make casual introductions either?   Methinks thou dost judge overly much.  If the “friend” can’t see that the LW was equally taken in, even after all the apologies, she probably wasn’t that much of a friend to begin with.   Chalk it up to a bad situation but don’t take on the guilt.  Obviously  she wasn’t the only one fooled by this person.  Sadly, they usually don’t wear signs.

      • avatar Julp says:

        There is a difference between a casual introduction and matchmaking.  She really didn’t know so she’s definitely not at fault but setting two people up is a different level than a casual introduction.  My friends bring single men to events for me to casually meet (not nearly often enough saldy) but don’t “matchmake”.  No disclaimers needed and the only vouching for is that the guy is in my age range and single.  It works much better for all concerned. 

        • avatar wendykh says:

          Oh come ON! The friend was ostensibly sexually intimate with this guy and SHE didn’t know so why should LW have known?! Her friends are being hags and should be bonding with her not ostracizing her.

  9. avatar Ariana says:

    LW#2: There is an easy way to opt-out and that is to have your husband explain to his parents that the other side of the family was raised differently and feels differently about public prayer. He should be the one to let them know that any attempts to try to get the other parents to join in would be extremely unwelcome. That has to be clear from the get-go if you don’t want it to become an issue at the dinner table.

  10. avatar Cindy M says:

    L #1: Good intentions gone awry (through no fault of the letter writer’s). Sometimes life sends you a curveball; this one was a doozy. I can’t add to Margo’s good advice.

    L #2: Ah yes, I’ve known this sort. Frankly they’re *showing off.* And the food’s getting cold. As a kid, it wasn’t uncommon for folks in my parents’ church to dine out together. One evening a couple new to the church joined us. Our food arrived. The expectation of saying a quick/quiet grace was expected…and suddenly Mitch is on his feet, loudly praising God and giving thanks for the meal. The waiters halted in mid-stride, everyone (of course) was gawking over at us. I completely lost my appetite, wanted to hide under the table. *That* is akin to what your in-laws are doing in public.

    I would at least tell them (you’re an adult and this situation will go on) that their public displays of religiosity is uncomfortable to you (and likely to others). Your other options are to excuse yourself to the restroom once grace commences, or grin and bear it.

  11. avatar mayma says:

    I totally disagree with Margo on LW1. Why should this person feel like Typhoid Mary and why should the friend’s changed feelings be “understandable?” The LW was hoodwinked just as much as anyone else; why should LW feel ashamed or reject-able because of someone else’s lies? The LW can’t change the friend’s reaction, obviously, but I would never just accept such a Pavlovian response without speaking up: “I sense that you’re somehow associating me with that person’s criminal behavior, and of course I am just as shocked and disgusted as everyone. I would never knowingly befriend such a person.” Even if it falls on deaf ears, the LW needs to say it as reinforcement for him/herself.

    Absolutely no way should LW take on any guilt or shame about this.

    • avatar David Bolton says:

      LW1: “I was surprised, shocked and let down as much as everyone else about his behavior.”

      There you go.

      LW2: Saying that public prayer is unacceptable because the Bible says so is about as annoying as… well, public prayer. Maybe you should call out your prayer warrior friends (since everyone has some) on Facebook to send you some love and light on this problem. Or maybe you can decide to look at it as a cultural quirk that these particular people have, and not worry about it. For some, singing in public is embarrassing. Or holding hands or kissing. If the company is otherwise enjoyable, why focus on something minor like this that doesn’t really hurt anyone? I mean, it’s not like they’re trying to set you up on a date with a child molestor.

      • avatar martina says:

        Being married to my husband I have learned long ago that other people’s actions don’t embarrass you, they just embarrass themselves.

  12. avatar JCF4612 says:

    1) Draw the line. Refuse to join public displays of stupidity. And pass the gravy when things get out of hand in your own home.  Sounds like your parents are on to them and can hold their own, but you may be able to help by advising the in-laws in advance that your parents prefer silent prayer and contemplation to moronic babble. Not that you asked, why not dial back on all this meal sharing with your in-laws? 

    2) What a pickle. I fear your friendship with the former bestie is doomed. Let it go. As for others you introduced to this perv, they either understand you were as gobsmacked as they — or they don’t. Don’t belabor by constantly apologizing or even bringing it up.        


  13. avatar Artemesia says:

    next time join in “oh Lord spare us from people who ostentatiously announce the personal details of the struggles of friends and acquaintances in public places and please forgive them their trespasses and boundary crossings. “

  14. avatar sdpooh says:

    Next time the in-laws start their sermons instead of grace…tell them this from Matthew 6:7 “When you pray, don’t babble on and on as people of other religions do. They think their prayers are answered only by repeating their words again and again.”   If they will not stop, ALWAYS choose a different table when eating in public.  They will eventually get the point that “Bless us oh Lord, and these thy gifts which we are about to recieve, from they bounty, thru Christ our Lord” is enough to show thanks for the food.  You two will be done and ready to go, and they will still be praying over cold burgers.  Any other entreaties, especially in public, are grandstanding.   

  15. avatar BeanCounter says:

    RE: the pedophile lady…..let it go.   You were not at fault.   You had the best of intentions and unfortunately it turned out badly.   You apologized….there is nothing more you can do.  if they can’t handle it, then find new friends.   You are not responsible for other people’s actions.
     As for the praying in public…come on.  just go with it.   it’s not going to kill you and it is important to them.   I’m not terribly religious, but I have no problem being around my religious family when they pray.   Why are you embarassed?  Who cares?  If other people judge you for it, EFF ‘EM!   Again, as I said to the pedophile woman… are not responsible for others’ actions. 

  16. avatar Paula says:

    LW1: You ARE NOT RESPONSIBLE for this person’s behavior!!!! The fact that you introduced him to your friend and to others BEFORE this incident makes it even less so. Repeat to yourself as often as necessary “I AM NOT RESPONSIBLE for his behavior!!!” and do NOT allow others to treat you as if you are!

    LW2: Could you and/or your husband have someone who shares his parents’ beliefs speak privately with them about this issue? I think they would take it better if it came from someone who believes as they do. Bowing heads, holding hands, and saying a brief prayer before eating is fine – but keep it BRIEF, and leave personal info out of it, especially when done in a public place!

  17. avatar Allaroundtheworld says:

    I always felt very uncomfortable around public pray before eating food. My father side of the family was exactly this way. They would pray for the family that was breaking up to the family having cancer. Which neither had told anyone and became mortaly offended. But on the other hand, move 15-20 years in the future and me and my husband were eating at an Indian restuarante when in came a large group of Indian Monks, all wearing their saffron robes and carring their wooden bowls. Before they ordered and receieved, they politly asked everyone in the restuarante if they could do their pray chant before they eat. Of course everyone said yes.  As on cue, eveyone layed down their forks and the most beautiful chanting came forth form this group of monks that lasted only 3-4 minutes but sounded like an entirnity. It was quit beautiful and it was very short. But what made it special was the respect of asking everyone if it would bother the other diners and if it would they would go outside “in the rain” and do their chant and then come back in and eat. This kind of respect to fellow diners was beautiful, the chant it self was very spiritual, and it made a special night a magical night. I can still remember that there was quite a few tears after these monks finished their simple bowls of rice and steam veggies and thanked everyone for the pleasure of being allowed to eat in our present. I found out these monks where from Myramar and political refugee. There stories were so sad but the happiness they tried to live brought a smile to my face.

  18. avatar animelily says:

    My father prays like this. I don’t believe he is ever ever ever going to change. What does help is taking turns for prayer. So we’ll hold hands and a new person prays every time. When it’s anyone else’s turn, then there’s a very very very short prayer. A whole lot more tolerable. Start it up for meals and home so it’s not so strange for meals abroad. Other than that, suck it up. =/

  19. avatar pigtailedgirl says:

    Many years ago I was in a similar situation as LW1. A friend in our circle was found to have been engaged in child pornography. After his arrest most of our group did not see each other for several years, and we are now finding our way back to each other. Perhaps that group of friends needs some time apart to process through their own feelings? Just a thought.

  20. avatar Kathy says:

    LW1 – It really isn’t about you.  Sounds like you only introduced him to her, and then she forged some type of relationship with him that may or may not have gone on for four years?  My guess is she knew him a heckuva lot better than you did by the time he was arrested, so why should she blame you?  LW2  –  Grace – or the blessing – is typically a quick, meaningful thank you for the blessings (i.e., food and friends) before you.  It’s takes maybe 10 seconds and is not distracting to others.  What this family is doing is intercessory prayer, which is very different. And, no, it is not appropriate to conduct group intercessory prayer in public.  I’d take mom in law aside  and say, “I appreciate the opportunity to say a blessing before meals, but I wasn’t brought up to do intercessory prayer in public.  It’s making me uncomfortable.”    If they don’t know what she’s talking about, they aren’t praying, they are showing off.

  21. avatar Susan Fried says:

    When I taught in an inner-city school in MO, there was a system-wide meeting at a convention center to kick off the school year. The meeting always began with a prayer from a cleric of a Christian church, who always “prayed to Jesus” in the name of all the employees, “beseeched Jesus,” etc. After many years of this, I contacted the Anti-Defamation League, regarding the prayers made in Jesus’ name. The following year, there was an inter-denominational group of clerics. I don’t know about anyone else, but at least other denominations were recognized. In a perfect world, there would have been the separation of church and state/city.

  22. avatar A R says:

    I’m not sure that many people understand to what level of seriousness folks who pray like that believe that it is important. In super evangelical religions (like my parents’ religion), praying publicly is very important. Trying to “talk” about it or “explain” why you don’t want to is seen as denying God—-yep, you heard me right. For folks in those extremely evangelical faiths, you might as well come out and make devil horns over your head as try to explain that you don’t pray like that in public.
    The best suggestion I’ve seen yet is the one above by Ariana. Have the husband explain that the other side of the family doesn’t do it that way, so don’t be surprised if they drop their hands in their lap and sit quietly. Still, even then, folks like the LW’s in-laws will pray loud and long regardless.