Dear Margo: A Girl Can’t Be Too Careful

Is it acceptable to run a background check on your date? Margo Howard’s advice

A Girl Can’t Be Too Careful

Dear Margo: I recently created a profile on and OkCupid after friends convinced me that they are great ways to meet new guys in my area. But part of me is scared to meet these strangers. I want to know whether I can trust my potential date, especially now with news reports from Aruba that Robyn Gardner’s disappearance was linked to a man she met on Match. As finding love online becomes increasingly socially acceptable, is it OK to run an affordable background check on sites such as to know that your date does not have a criminal record? — Anonymous, New York City

Dear An: I think it is perfectly fine to run a background check. Some women even go for the pricier PI’s. Forget disappearing in Aruba. More than one dude on these sites has turned out to be married, to more than one woman, at the same time. — Margo, cautiously

Grandparents Are Wonderful — and They Come Free!

Dear Margo: My daughter and son-in-law have three children and no babysitters except my husband and me. We are always being asked to babysit for them — usually two or more times a week. I adore my grandkids and know that I’m blessed to have them in town with us; so many grandparents are not as lucky. However, when I was working, it was difficult to accommodate all of the requests, and now that I’m laid off and looking for work, the requests are increasing. They seldom return when they say they will and usually extend any outing into a chance to do errands, etc.

We have asked our daughter to find someone else to use as a backup, but she says they can’t afford to pay anyone. They do seem to find money for expensive toys and clothes for themselves and the kids. My husband says I should consider us lucky that we have them near. I feel like we are being taken advantage of. Am I being selfish? I have requests for five babysitting times during the next two weeks, two of them for a full day. — 60-Year-Old Grandma

Dear 60: You are in no way being selfish to rebel at being an unpaid nanny-on-call. The fact that they have money for discretionary spending should relieve you of any guilt when you start declining some of these “requests.” Simply say that such-and-such a time doesn’t work for you because you have another appointment. And if Gramps considers you “lucky,” send him! — Margo, realistically

When Stepping In Is the Right Thing To Do

Dear Margo: I am a 15-year-old girl with a good group of friends. One of them went to visit her cousins over the summer. I have met them, and they’re really the “mean girls.” When she came home, I invited her over to go swimming. “Brittany” came over, and we did go swimming. Now I’m extremely concerned about her. She’s become very thin to the point where anyone can see her ribs sticking out. I’m afraid she has developed anorexia. She never wants to eat at my house and tells me a bunch of “nutrition facts” about the food I eat. Brittany seems to be very weak, and I’m scared she will die from what I think is anorexia nervosa. Are there any online support groups I might be able to interest her in? We’re extremely close, and she might listen to me, but what should I say? Should I even get involved? — Scared for Skinny

Dear Scare: You should, indeed, get involved. While there are online support and information groups, I doubt that you could interest her in them. I assume your friend has parents. You need, first, to tell her that it’s clear to you that she is in terrible trouble. I suspect there will be denial. Then you go to her parents. I’m pretty sure they already know, but if they have not done anything, the fact that an outsider is concerned might nudge them to take control. Should nothing happen, or if they are resistant, then go to the counselor at school and reveal your concerns. Because she’s a minor, the authorities might be able to step in. But I want you to know that if her mental and physical health do not improve, you will have tried your hardest, and the situation is ultimately out of your hands. — Margo, supportively

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


Every Thursday and Friday, you can find “Dear Margo” and her latest words of wisdom on wowOwow

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65 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Deeliteful says:

    LW 1 – Listen to Margo. Check those guys out as much as possible. And remember her comment about the married ones. If I had a nickel for every married guy that has hit on me online…I really could retire.

    LW 2 – I’m also 60 y/o, but do not have grands (I have one son, 26 and not married). No way you and hubby should be giving so much of your “free” time to baby-sit. I paid my mother and MIL to stay with my son just as I would any other sitter. i never wanted them to feel like I was taking advantage of them. If either one volunteered to keep my son, I gladly agreed but always returned according to their schedules.

    LW 3 – What a good friend you are. Take Margo’s advice. Try talking to your friend and then her parents. She is blessed to have you as a friend.

    • avatar snowwhite4577 says:

      LW#2 :  I don’t think you should feel guilty at all about putting your foot down.  Tell them that you are not available to sit for their children or explain that you have other appointments.  I don’t understand how people taken advantage of others so easily. And, not to sound callous, but if they could not afford day care; than why continue to have the children?

  2. avatar D says:

    The advice is good for LW3. If she does follow it, she should be prepared to lose a friend. But in this case trying to save someone’s life should outweigh any friendship lost.

    • avatar Dan Bingham says:

      To quote someone I knew who faced a similar situation: “At least you’ll be alive to hate me.”

      • avatar booie says:

        When I took a friend to the hospital after she ODed I asked her if she hated me and she said yes, and I said that to her…At least you are alive. She thanked me later, but it took months of recover for her to see that we were only doing the right thing.

    • avatar Anais P says:

      Dear LW3: You are indeed a wonderful person to be so concerned about your friend, who does indeed appear to have a problem. I want to tell you I agree with D: you may indeed lose her as your friend if you tell her parents and a counselor. But I also want you to know that telling, even if you lose her friendship, is the right thing to do. You sound like a strong young woman who will weather a loss of friendship. At least you will be able to hold your head high and know you saved the life of someone you care about. I wish you the very best. You sound like a young person WELL worth knowing!

  3. avatar Jody says:

    Letter #3: I have an understanding of the path your friend is on. I was 15 when a close friend became anorexic/bulimic. All those years ago, the medical community was still working on what it was, why it happened, and what its effects were. It’s wonderful to have so much information at your fingertips now, which can help you be a better friend for her. But, this road is arduous, and often frustrating. The behaviors of someone in the throws of this disease can seem appalling at times. But, if you have the ability to remind yourself that it’s the disease talking/behaving this way, and NOT your friend, it can help you get through the toughest times. It seems to me she is lucky to have you.

    I think the one thing my experience would want me to say to you is: Don’t get hard on yourself if you need a break. Go ahead and take the breaks and get away from it all once in a while. Give yourself permission to walk away sometimes. And, remember… No one needs to be fixed or saved. People are responsible for changing themselves and/or pulling themselves up by their boot-straps. We cannot save anyone. But, we can be helpful, supportive, loving, and open.

    Many blessings. All my best to you and your friend.

    • avatar Jody says:

      …. I should add that my friend is now 45, married for 23 years, has raised 6 girls (I know… crazy!), and runs her own business. She still has “thoughts” once in a while. But, through counseling she learned years ago how to tame the voices. She prioritized her life and put her family first… before the disease. She is an amazing woman and I am happy to call her friend since birth.

  4. avatar TheTexasMom says:

    Not only is it acceptable to run a background check on potential dates, I would deem it mandatory.  Also before you meet someone in a public place, tell several friends who you are meeting, where and what time. 
    Even after running a check and the potential date passes, if your gut feeling tells you to run do so.    

  5. avatar Katharine Gray says:

    LW#1:  I recommend you run as thorough a backround check as you can afford on anyone you meet online and are thinking of getting involved with…even if its only chatting…and certainly if you plan to meet up for a date.  Credit check, criminal backround check, you name it.  I’ve known people who met great people online but I also know that many people lie lie lie about all sorts of things…age, education, marriages (past and present), education, and what they do for a living.   And, don’t be offended if the backround check is reciprocated by the person you are interested in.  It is the smart thing to do for anyone considering internet dating (actually…any dating unless you happen to know this information already because you grew up next door to the guy and your mother has told you every little thing about his life since you last saw him). 

    LW#2:  You have to learn to say no.  I have no children or grandchildren but have a sister and friends who do have grandchildren and while they love them to death, the childcare issue is problematic.  Instead of considering how lucky you are to have your grandchildren nearby, perhaps your daughter should consider how lucky she is to have YOU nearby.  Occasional childcare is probably something most grandparents don’t mind and even look forward to but when you become the unpaid daycare center…you are being taken advantage of.  Perhaps your daughter rationalizes it to herself by thinking how much you adore your grandchildren but as my sister and her husband (who raised 4 kids all of whom were no more than 2 years apart in age)  recently discovered caring for 2 grandchildren under 2 for ONE overnight (the parents were in town for a wedding…my sister sees these grandkids maybe 4 times a year…and the parents pay out the wazoo for childcare in their hometown) childcare at 50 plus is a lot harder than childcare at 25-35.   I like Margo’s idea of sending grandpa if he is the one who is afraid to say no.  But you and your husband should really put up a united front on this.

    LW#3:  Bless your heart and bless your friend’s heart.  In addition to following Margo’s advice of talking to your friend and her parents, confide in your own parents if you have not already about your concerns.  They may be able to help you in communicating with your friend’s parents.  Many times family members are in denial about problems which are obvious to outsiders and it takes a concerned and loving outsider to wake them up to reality.  And while you may lose your friendship with this girl for the time being…or maybe even forever…you may be saving her life. I don’t know enough about anorexia nervosa to know if catching the symptoms early means more likelihood of recovery or not but you may be providing your friend and her parents with the wakeup call the need to nip this in the bud before it becomes a bigger problem than it already is.  


  6. avatar Kate Olsen says:

    LW1 – please know to check on everyone.  I use dating sites with the following rule.  If I decide to meet someone, I let them know that my BFF will be given all their info, user name, site we met on, phone number, etc.  and that if I do not contact her after an agreed upon time, she will call the police.  Guess what, I have talked to men who said that was not acceptable to them.  I wonder what they had in store for me – I will never know because I wisely chose not to meet them.  I will probably read about them in the news. 

    LW2  Be still my heart.  I so wish I were you.  I barely get to see my precious granddaughter once a month.  My son gets her every other weekend but he is an hour away from me.  He tries to get over here very other time he has her (Ihave no car) but life some times gets in the way – illness, school stuff, birthday parties for friends, etc.  I would never complain about watching grandchildren.  If it bothers you so much, you have the right to tell them no. You seem to be wishy washy and whiney to me,  Could it be you do not like your Grandkids and that is the reason for your angst

    LW 3 – contact an adult immediately. You are not equipped to handle this.  Talk to your parents, her parents or some one at school. Do not feel guilt,  You will be saving her life – hugs to you

    • avatar Michelles11 says:

      Regarding LW2…Harsh Kate.  You have a completely different circumstance from the letter writer.  She is NOT complaining about her grandkids, nor does “not like” them.  But I understand that she is feeling UNDERappreciated by her daughter and son-in-law.  I bet if they expressed some kind of appreciation instead of this sense of entitlement Grandma would not feel so put upon.  I have been babysitting for my sister and brother-in-law for the last 9 years FOR FREE and they have NEVER EVER once showed up late without calling or asking if it’s ok, and most times they were only 10 minutes late.  They have never taken advantage of my “Stay at home mom” status, respected my time and my resources…snacks, crafts, etc  And they say “Thank you”.  And let’s face it, kids can be exhausting, I know my own mother would always watch the kids for us, but could tell she was overwhelmed sometimes dealing with toddlers and diapers.  It’s not a matter of not liking the kids or complaining about the,, it’s a matter of feeling appreciated and respected.

      • avatar Brooke Schubert says:

        I agree, Michelle.  Kate’s situation is nothing like LW#2s and quite frankly, it’s Kate sounds like the whiny, bitter one who expects to be catered to.  Everyone is entitled to have time to themselves, and the LW needs to make herself less available.  The parents need to find a babysitter and re-prioritize their disposable income to pay for it.

    • avatar Lucy Henry says:

      Uh Kate, I very much doubt the guys who said no were planning to kill you and stuff you in the trunk of their car. It’s more likely they just didn’t want the police rolling up to the Starbucks where you were meeting with sirens blaring if you were 15 minutes late calling your friend. By all means, tell someone where you’re going and with whom, meet in public, and on the first meeting for coffee/drinks mention to your date that you have a time limit because you already had plans to meet your BFF for dinner/a movie etc.. This will also get you out of a bad date, which is a far more likely scenario than meeting a serial killer. But threatening to call the police before you’ve even met the guy is a bit much. As for background checks, I don’t think that’s necessary until at least several dates in- seems like overkill for a first casual meeting. I should also point out the woman who disappeared in Aruba knew her traveling companion for over a year, which regardless of where you met someone should be plenty of time to figure out if they’re psycho or not.

      • avatar snowwhite4577 says:

        I agree with L Henry. 
        Isn’t the whole point of dating to get to know someone?  And I have to agree about the Aruba thing…if she knew person for a year, than it wasn’t about them meeting online…but more about the fact that this person was a psycho  unfortunately. I am not sure a background check is going to pick up on that.

      • avatar TheTexasMom says:

        Giving full disclosure, I have done the online dating thing off and on since 2001 and I have to be honest o say, yea you can do a background check but you will only find what is there and you really have to go with your gut feeling and common sense.  When meeting someone always, always tell a trusted friend where you are going (make it a public place), what time the meeting is to take place and the supposed name of the person you are meeting.  I really see no need to pay for a background check for the first meeting but I would Google the person to see if they are who they say they are.  Every potential date I could not find by Google search, when pressed I found to be a liar and probably a cheater.  You can find free listing on your county/state website for marriage and divorce records but of course if said person was married in a state unknown to you then it’s fruitless unless you search 50 times.  In an earlier post I said doing a background check was mandatory but only if you are going to get serious about someone and not limited to meeting online.  Unless you’ve known a person a long time, a background check is the modern day equivalent of “Where is your family from?”
        I found 3 people online which were not dating material for me but friends for life.  One great friend I met on my second coffee date I’ve known for almost 10 years and he was a pallbearer at my stepfather’s funeral a few years ago (who would turn over in his grave if he knew how we really met).   I just happened to find true love and my forever off line; someone I’ve known for 18 years, just reappeared.  Lucky me!!

  7. avatar Constance Plank says:


    My 16 year old daughter had a good friend who told her and a number of friends that she was cutting herself. My daughter first went to her counselor and then to me, because she loved her then friend. The friend went utterly hateful and ballistic- how dare anyone question her about her practices!

    Which is when my daughter told me about the cutting. So, I called the mom, and told her about my daughter’s concerns. “Nope, no problem! My girl was being a drama queen! And she should get over herself.”

    At this point, we’d both talked to the school counselor, and done what we could. Net, net, the former friend cut herself to the point of needing stitches, her parents got a grip, and she is now in counseling herself. She and my daughter will never be friends again. I haven’t heard a word from the former friend’s mother, but my daughter and I consider this a very happy ending.

    You *have* to speak up! It is seldom pleasant, and it can be very, very hard, but you might save a life. I am pretty sure my daughter and I did. Denial is a strong force, but when there are too many incidences for even Cleopatra to be Queen, sometimes people get a grip.

    Constance in the Sierra Foothills of CA

    • avatar P S says:

      What a sad situation :-( I’m so glad you spoke up and kept pushing for that young woman’s sake, and I hope she gets better.

      I also hope LW3 heeds your wisdom and is willing to do the same. You and your daughter are living proof that it’s worth risking a friendship by being a true friend to save someone’s life.

  8. avatar cbs721 says:

    Constance, you are right on target – as usual. The severity of these types of illnesses is frequently dismissed by the family.  As a teenager I was away for part of my summer when I was 16. On my return, my sister, then 15, had lost 30 pounds in 4 weeks.  She was ghastly thin and scary looking.  No one in my family acted like anything was wrong.  She would make excuses about why she couldn’t eat.  When forced, she would eat a few bites, move the food around on her plate, then hide more in her napkin to throw away. I later found out a friend of hers told her how to force herself to throw up as a dieting technique.  When she visited my house years later there would always be bites of food and Milk of Magnesia (laxative) missing.  One time there were doughnuts in my house and a bite had been taken out.  She denied to the point where I questioned my memory.  Had I actually taken just one bite and put it back??  I wanted to believe her because she was so convincing. Skip ahead 30 years and she is finally over it.  The weird food obsession, the constant looking at herself in the mirror, the denial of food, the screaming rages (hypoglycemia or caffiene overload?) and the frequent episodes of passing out (while driving) are gone.  Unfortunately she gave some of her weirdness to her daughter, who I helped raise.  The thing is once someone has a warped view of something, and they get obsessed with it, it has a way of rubbing off on the family.  Young girls have a habit of comparing themselves to others.  If they are better than others, then they get witchy.  If they come up short, they get depressed and self destructive.  So, please, do what you can.  What you do will help. And yes, be prepared to lose your friend.  That is sometimes the price you pay for the truth.  Good luck.

  9. avatar Barbara says:

    LW#2: Wasn’t it Margo’s mother who said you can only be taken advantage of if you let yourself be? You can be kind, loving and helpful while still setting boundaries. Decide when and how long works for you. On other occasions, the correct response is so sorry but I have other commitments. End of discussion.

  10. avatar Cindy Marek says:

    I agree with all of Margo’s responses. As for the 3rd…the Skinny Nazis strike again, huh? I *loathed* girls who tried to make others feel inferior regarding their weight. It’s *those* girls who don’t feel good about themselves, and so constantly harrass and badger others. I was a bit chubby as a teen, and HELD MY HEAD HIGH. I was not going to give into poor eating habits and excessive anxiety; how is THAT healthy? It’s not. My motto was: You either accept/like me as I am, or you don’t (get lost!). I did have friends — *true* friends. For your friend’s sake, say something! Encourage her to accept and love herself as is.

    • avatar A R says:

      I disagree with your belief that *those* girls are the ones who don’t feel good about themselves. In actuality, practical experiences and new research have begun to show that folks who act like those girls feel *quite* good about themselves. It’s the same myth as those who bully, that bullies feel bad and take it out on others. Actually, bullies and mean girls generally like themselves way more than they ought to and have an inflated idea of their own greatness.

      • avatar A R says:

        Yep, it is Mina. Google OLWEUS for more info based in research. I think most of our moms and dad’s told us that bullies and mean girls just were jealous, felt bad about themselves, etc. It is easy enough to believe because it makes the problems nobody’s fault (which our American society likes a lot).

  11. avatar amw says:

    LW2, I can certainly sympathize with your dilemna. My older sister and her fiance have three kids and no concern whatsoever asking our parents or a sister to sit for them. They’ll ask multiple times a week and are never home when they say they will be. She takes advantage of my younger sister’s visits (she’s in college) and will invite her to come stay only to announce she’s going out soon after my sister arrives. A promise of “home by ten” turns into midnight or later. My parents have reported this same behavior. I used to get sucked into her requests excited at getting to spend time with my niece and nephews but after a while it became evident that I was being used for my services.

    I would suggest making yourself less available. I know you love your grandchildren, but you’re only enabling your daughter and son-in-law’s behavior and it will continue unless you put a stop to it. You can still help out…just not as often. You have a life to live to. Not to mention, you’ve already raised at least one child…this should be your time to relax and enjoy life.

    Stories like this make me appreciate single mother’s even more…I just don’t know how they do it…:)

    • avatar bright eyes says:

      amw – as a single parent I thank you :-) Some of us do have Great help! Although I am a single parent – I have lived around my parents for my son’s entire life. Right now the arrangement is he stays over every Saturday night – but I’m not quite sure if that was Grandpa’s idea or my sons… but it works out well.
      And I think it’s been a good long while since I actually went and did anything while they were babysitting – quiet time at the house is great!

      I’ve tried to not take advantage of Grandma babysitting, although she does often. She’s great – she jokes about us using her as an errand boy since she’s not working anymore. And we do ask her (Grandpa and I) to do a few things for us – as today she’s waiting on the plumber for me. (which allows me to be at work) However, tonight a nice dinner will be cooked or something that she needs will be bought, etc. I learned early on to trade for goods and services.

      It’s a good thing you learned early… so that when you do want to spend time with your niece and nephews you know what to expect. I’d plan an outting with them with the understanding that you’d be back at a specific time – but be sure to get a house key just in case. :-) and be prepared to cook dinner just in case. That way it should work out for both of you.

  12. avatar Lym BO says:

    LW1: Wow! They should take a lesson from my parents. We moved within an hour from them from across the country so they could be near their potential grandkids. They whined that they had no grandchildren for years. After years of extensive infertility treatments, we adopted twins then , of course, got pregnant shortly after so I have four who are now ages 8,8,7 & 3. We see my parents maybe once a month. They only come upon invitation (and usually for an event) & I’ve asked them numerous times to give me a hand. They just laugh & deny. I’ve suggested maybe they could take one or two home for a couple days. They have come to “babysit” four times in 8 years-only when we couldn’t get a sitter. They are quite healthy & are having a good time in retirement. They drive all over so it’s not the hour drive. My mother has told me that I made my bed so I can lie in it. WTF? We are fairly well off so it’s not about money as much as it is fulfilling their grandparent role. To boot, my children are well-behaved, respectful & helpful. The kicker is if we had stayed near hubby’s parents they would have been thrilled, interactive & quite helpful. My husband is less than thrilled we got the crappy grandparents. (Our relationship with them is otherwise healthy).

    • avatar David Bolton says:

      As someone who had really, really crappy grandparents—I’d move to be closer to the ones who value the title.

      • avatar French Heart says:

        If it’s possible to make a move to be near engaged, affirmative, loving grandparents–that’s a gift that will last your children for eternity. Even if have to ‘downsize’ life…nothing is better.