Dear Margo: A Real-Life Soap Opera

Margo Howard’s advice

A Real-Life Soap Opera

Dear Margo: I have a friend we’ll call Bill. We don’t live in the same state, and we’re not all that close, but he always struck me as a decent guy. I learned that he’s getting married, and I was surprised, as he and “Sally” haven’t been together for even a year. But as time passes and the wedding gets closer, I’m worried about several things. Neither has a permanent job, they’ve been living at her family’s house with a lot of other people, and this economy stinks, but I don’t feel right saying, “Hey, maybe you shouldn’t get married yet.” Recently, though, a mutual friend, “Abigail,” confessed to me that she and Bill had an online emotional affair.

Abigail also lives in another state, and though the two have never actually met, the exchanges have been intense and explicit. It seems Bill has cooled off with his wedding coming up, and Abigail is going more and more off the rails. As the date gets closer, Abigail has told me she cries herself to sleep, and she has started to make cryptic comments about “not being available” after a particular date this year, which would be after the wedding. I keep trying to talk her out of confronting him in person, but it seems every day she’s losing it more and more, despite the fact that she’s seeing a counselor.

What can I do? Should I confront Bill about what he’s doing to Abigail? Am I obligated to get word to Sally about the affair? (I keep telling Abigail not to do that, but she does have damning proof.) And most of all, I’m terrified Abigail will do something to harm herself. She feels completely alone while the happy couple goes on with their lives. — Completely Lost Here

Dear Com: I know it is tempting to try to salvage the situation, but you really have no place in this mess, which truly sounds like it’s a cross between Pandora’s box and a box of snakes. Do not be the messenger. It is their business if they want to live in a basement with no jobs, and the “emotional affair” part clearly does not involve you. I suspect Abigail is not wrapped real tight, but if the suicide threats continue, I would recommend you call a mental health facility or a suicide hotline for guidance. — Margo, convolutedly

If There’s a Will, There’s a Way

Dear Margo: May I expand on an answer you previously gave? There are two likely explanations for a husband spending every night in his office until 4 or 5 a.m.: He is up looking at porn as up to 20 percent of American men are now doing, or he is on Internet sex or sex chat sites. In either case, these are signs he is a sex addict.

Any woman who is living with this situation should install web-tracking software on his computer to determine whether this is what is going on. If that is the case, she should try to get him to attend meetings of Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous, SLAA. More information can be found at And marital counseling with someone who understands sex addiction may also help. SLAA recovery has saved my life. It could save her marriage. — Recovering Sex and Love Addict in Boston

Dear Rec: Thank you for the cyber-gumshoe suggestion, as well as the link to the organization. It is wonderful that you were able to climb out of the deep well of dysfunction. Not everyone is willing to go anywhere for help, however, because they don’t view it as a problem. And therein lies the rub. — Margo, hopefully

* * *

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.


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

Click here to follow Margo on Twitter

32 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Constance Plank says:


    I agree. It will all be their mutual problem, but it’s not yours. And be grateful that it isn’t!

    I am SO happy when it’s not my problem, and if I inject anything it will only make it worse. Your sister, best friend, etc: Speak up. Otherwise, let them do as they will do. Respectfully decline the wedding invitation if you are invited. Send a nice card.

    And let them deal with their own issues.


    Constance in the Sierra Foothills of CA

  2. avatar Katharine Gray says:

    LW#1:  I fully agree you need to stay out of this hornet’s nest.  As Margo pointed out, the engaged couple’s financial prospects are not your business.  As for Abigail, I suppose you have told her that she needs to get a grip, end the emotional affair and move on.  She is seeing a counselor who is better prepared to deal wtih her issues than you are (even if you are a mental health professional you are not objective) and that is the person who should help her.   If she persists in going on and on about this…simply ask *have you spoken to your counselor about this?*  I am probably selfish but I would be tempted to steer her toward family members who live near her, if any, for additional support.  You can really do only so much at a long distance.  I agree with Constance that should you be invited to the wedding there is no need to attend and if I were you I would stay home but  send a nice card or letter or nominal gift.   Run…run…run far away from this drama!

  3. avatar Briana Baran says:

    Re: L#2: Lots of people look at porn, and I would guess that the percentage of American men who indulge is much, much higher than 20 percent. In fact, I would hazard that more than 20 percent of American women look at porn. On the Internet, or in other forms.

    It is not intrinsically unhealthy, neither psychologically, nor for relationships, nor is it abnormal. Respectfully, LW2 might have meant that 20% of American men view Internet porn obsessively, but I couldn’t find anything to verify that. And before someone protests about women, please remember just how well that miserably badly written, silly bit of fluff “50 Shades…”, all three books, is selling. “o, please spank me. O, o.”

    According to some recent research, those who spend a lot of time watching romantic comedies and dramas, whether on TV or as films, or who are addicted to romantic novels, have as unrealistic a view of potential relationships as those who are addicted to porn have to sexuality. Both make the realities of relating to other humans impossible by completely skewing expectations.

    As for sexual addiction…please don’t give someone engaging in an Internet affair(s) or chat rooms an out like that. Everyone’s an “addict”, and that’s their excuse for rotten, irresponsible behavior toward the world. I have to wonder about bowling addicts, those with unnatural obsessions with their lawn mowers, goldfish hoarders and those with unnatural urges about parking meters. I suppose there will be support groups for all of them too.

    As a long time sober alcoholic and drug addict, I just don’t believe in all of the “poor addict” philosophies. Yes, you can change, if you want to do it, and you don’t have to make people miserable, and it is nobody else’s fault.

    • avatar butterfly55 says:

      Would love to find a cleaning addict to stop by my house once a week.  I agree that we are making everything a disease and giving people excuses for their behavior.  We are also giving them drugs to stop behaviors that are choices, not addictions.  Sorry if offend some of those out there.

      • avatar marykaye_s says:

        Don’t apologize for giving your opinion. There are real addictions and then there are excuses. Sex addiction is an excuse for refusing to control yourself – there is no such thing as a sex addicition

        • avatar bamabob says:

          that’s a pretty definitive statement. What credentials do you have to back it up? It’s one thing to question LW2’s diagnosis of what’s going on with the all-night computer guy, but to discount his/her own recovery from what was obviously a huge problem, without knowing anything about his/her history, background, etc. is just a little arrogant IMO. If a 12 step program is what it took to “cure” him/her, who are we to say he/she was never sick in the first place?

        • avatar David Bolton says:

          “…refusing to control yourself.”

          Isn’t that the basis for any addiction?

          • avatar butterfly55 says:

            “refusing to control yourself” sounds like most 5 year olds to me, or the adults who act like them….

          • avatar Nicole Thomas says:

            Not quite.  The basis for drug addiction is more than just an inability to control oneself.  There is a biochemical element that makes an addict desire the drug and to go through physical withdrawal symptoms when they don’t get it.  I don’t think the same can be said for sex addiction. 

  4. avatar angelmother3 says:

    “Should I confront Bill about what he’s doing to Abigail?”

    Excuse me? What exactly is Bill doing to Abigail? Looks to me like Abigail is doing it to herself. I think it was Margo’s mother who used the phrase “a few sandwiches short of a picnic”. Abigail is either a nut job or a drama queen. In either case, the LW can’t do anything about her. And is “confront” the new “in” word now? Everyone always wants to know if they should confront someone, or they’ve already confronted them. I picture all these people sticking their faces right into other people’s faces to let them have it.

  5. avatar blueelm says:

    Bill sounds like a class act. In fact all of them seem a mess. But Abigail was probably willing to get into this mess because she’s already having big problems with self esteem and depression. She will need to work on herself and getting comfortable being alone. She needs to focus on what she can control, and bringing Bill back into it will just re-enforce her helplessness. Please encourage her to get more support for her clear emotional problems. She may need further help, medication, and something to focus on besides her disappointment with love. Leading her on was wrong (I don’t know the other side of it, and it is quite possible Bill was telling her all along that she was the one. I have seen people get manipulated into much crazier situations.) But that’s not your problem. Neither, really, are her mental issues. Tell her you will do what you can up to the limit where it starts hurting you, and then stay out of the rest of it. If I had to guess Sally and Bill will have a short unhappy marriage, and Abigail will eventually realize she dodged a bullet.

    • avatar mac13 says:

      I do see Bill as a class act. He and Abigail doing the dirty talk, getting all whatever. Then as he establishes a physical relationship, he starts letting her down slow and easy. He probably recognized she was a little uncorked. Where did he do the wrong thing? LW says he has known his fiance a short time. A while back he started cooling his online affair. Yeah, he is a class act.

    • avatar Briana Baran says:

      Alternatively, Abigail’s self-esteem is just fine, there was never anything remotely serious between her and Bill, and she’s an attention seeker (I am trying to be polite) who would just love to turn up at the wedding, pointing a dramatic finger, rolling her eyes, tossing her hair (I dunno, with all the product most women use, is that even a possibility?), playing the scorned woman…and stealing the scene from Sally.

      It does sound like FB drama to me…which is why I have exactly 8 friends on FB, who are all funny, adult people who don’t engage in teenage melodrama. Not 800 friends I barely know so I can experience the thrills and chills of, no, forget it…I have a life, and a 15 year old and that’s enough Emo for me.

      I even un-friended (ergh) my own sister because her FB posts (at least 4 per hour) were so penny-dreadful, Sarah Bernhardt annoying. Feh. Bill sounds like an okay giy to me. Go to the library and get a book. That way you won’t be tempted to be Ms. Nosy Parker.

  6. avatar Belinda Joy says:

    Letter #1 – The primary reason why this letter writer needs to mind her own business and not butt into this drama is in the first sentence of her letter….

    “I have a friend we’ll call Bill. We don’t live in the same state, and we’re not all that close….”

    She freely admits she isn’t close to this man but is so concerned about every aspect of his life? This person represents the epitome of a busy body. IF she was really close to him and they were best friends, she would have a reason to “gently” offer up her concerns (maybe) but not with her definition of their relationship as stated.

    One of my motto’s in life is “I can do bad all by myself” I don’t ascribe to the “misery loves company” approach toward love. So I would not gravitate to a poor and struggling man for love. But I also recognize a majortiy of women don’t share in my shallow POV. So I say God Bless him and his lady love. And if he wan’t to commit emotional infidelity with a woman from another state, so be it. It will come out. Abigail does sound like a nut job and because she is knowingly going after a man she knows is taken, I have no sympathy for her. But as Margo said, if the suicide talk continues she should definitely seek additional therapy.

    Letter #2 – I am a firm believer in the term “Trust but verify” so a big part of me loves this advice. The problem is once you are pulled to do this, that immediately speaks to a fracture in the relationship.  I agree that if a husband is staying at the office every night, that means he doesn’t want to be with his wife. Period. He can make all the claims about how hard and difficult work is (I know many successful hard working men) but if he isn’t on the phone with her….emailing her constantly…..if his BODY is at the office but his MIND isn’t at home with his wife…..he is cheating. Maybe with a mistress or maybe in a cyber way.  Or maybe this woman will have the ugliest revelation of all….there was no other woman, there was no porn, he just doesn’t like being at home with her.

    • avatar luna midden says:

      AND…….. I do not think she knows as much about Bill as she thinks………….. I think, or assume, as some other posters have here………that this is a FACEBOOK ‘FRIENDSHIP’ I.E.-Meaning-there really is no friendship between these 3 people at all. 

      Look at the clues- A friend in another state and not close at all. Abigail is ‘another friend’ who lives in ANOTHER STATE and she has NEVER MET BILL. (the LW has not mentioned whether she/he met ‘Bill’ in person either, but I am willing to bet ‘NO!!!!” ) The LW feels so removed from ‘Bill’, he/she doesn’t feel she/he can say ‘you should not get married if you are living in your GF’s mother’s home’ with a bunch of other people (?????) (sounds like the LW does not have a full view of what is going on at all with Bill’s living conditions). 

      This whole thing sounds like what comes out of My Daughter’s mouth all the time-she is 19. hundreds, maybe thousands of ‘FRIENDS’ from all over the country, some all over the world. Yes, she has met some of them-having gone to camps when younger… but then it spread…. and spread… she went to Spacecamp at 13-so she has those FB ‘friends’ and friends of those friends and friends of those friends… and on and on and many complete strangers…. she has said some were BFs and it has FREAKED US OUT!!! She has gotten really upset when 2 died -2 diff. occaisions-and she never spoke, nor met these people… BUT, THIS IS THE WORLD OF FACEBOOK-IT IS ALMOST LIKE CREATING A WORLD THROUGH YOUR DAYDREAMS-but some of these people do exist-AND SOME DON’T!!!

      I wonder, 1st, how old is the LW??? If bill is getting married, then he is legal, but, the next question, HAS THE LW MET ABBYGAIL? OR IS SHE SOME 13YO possing as a 22yo? Probably…. or, some mentally unbalance person living their life through FB-which has made an amazing world for those whose brains are not functioning right. 

      I see Margo and others saying ‘DONT GO TO THE WEDDING’! Well -guess what peeps? It is extremely doubtful the LW would even be invited!!! FB PEOPLE!!!  and can we get a definition of an EMOTIONAL AFFAIR????????????? With every problem, argument-there are at least 3 sides to the story-here-we do not even have BILL’S STORY AND do we need it? States away and Abagail has ‘proof’ of an emotional affair. Uhm… they have NEVER MET.. PROBABLY NEVER HAVE TALKED… and maybe after he got serious with this whoever… stopped with Abbigail-IF THERE WAS ANYTHING TO BEGIN WITH!!!

      Yes, sorry , I go on and on…. but the LW NEEDS A LIFE!!! ABIGAIL……..NEEDS A LIFE -after either being locked up for awhile (if needed) or maybe turning her attention to acting or drama writing. In the end- LW has to realize-SHE IS NOT FRIENDS WITH BILL-so even if he does not have a permanent job-She does not know his plans, his fiance’s plans, what is going on-AND… it is NONE OF HER BUSINESS!!!! As for ABBIGAIL……. well…….. I would watch her posts for awhile….but not give into them……… if she does threaten her life-contact FB to see if they can contact her family…. if she is just being ‘the DRAMA BIATCH’ unfriend her in a few months and again get a life, learn to be a productive citizen IN THE REAL WORLD!!!            

      • avatar Belinda Joy says:

        Luna, don’t worry about being verbose on this one, I’m with you!

        Have you every seen the movie Catfish? It is a must see, please rent it. There are COUNTLESS mentally unstable people online pretending to be people they aren’t. Living out fantasy lives online because their lives are empty and unfullfiling.

        You are 100% correct about Facebook and all of these social networking sites causing havoc. I have vertual friendships like anyone else. But I recognize them for what they are. I don’t know these people intimately, they are nothing more than an avatar and typewritten words. I never put too much emotions in any words I exchange with people online.      

  7. avatar Cindy Marek says:

    L #1: Heed Margo’s advice! Frankly you shouldn’t have allowed yourself to get drug this far into “Abigail’s” dilemma/drama. Now you’ve sort of obligated yourself to being her sounding board. I’d tell her to get help and then separate yourself from the situation. Just what exactly does “Abigail” think YOU can do about any of it? She needs help and you need to tell her that, then step away from it all. Get on with YOUR life (if you have one?).

    L #2: I can’t imagine my husband up in the wee hours on the computer (he wouldn’t be, because I’d ask and nip any shenanigans in the bud). Total red flag. 

  8. avatar David Bolton says:

    LW1: My, what a long letter! Here’s the gist of it: “Dear Margo, I know these people [well, they’ve friended me on Facebook anyway], and they keep posting stuff about their personal lives. I’d really like to submit a comment myself—should I?”

    My advice is to go outside and play, since it’s a lovely day. If you’re lucky, you’ll find some kid at a lemonade stand to whom you can give hours of unwanted financial advice.

    LW2: 20 percent? You mean, 20 percent who will admit it or got caught with one hand on the keyboard.

    • avatar mac13 says:

      “unwanted” is the key here. Can you imagine the conversation she would have with Bill? Out of state not that close friend calls and tells you all about your personal online business that you are trying to stop so you can devote yourself to someone in person. AWKWARD!

      • avatar David Bolton says:

        I imagine it would go something like this: “Why are you getting involved in my business? I hardly even know you.”

  9. avatar JCF4612 says:

    LW1: Hang on Margo’s every word, in fact every syllable.

    LW2: Something’s amiss, the porn possibility could well be it.   

  10. avatar lebucher says:

    LW #1:  Normally, as a hands-off type of person, I would think she needs to butt out of Bill’s personal life.  But since Abigail is so unstable, and has apparently mentioned that she might spill the beans to Bill’s fiancee, if I was a friend to Bill I might be tempted to simply, unjudgmentally, let him know this gal is unhinged and thinking about notifying his fiancee.  If nothing else so as to help him know that his little cyber-fun could really blow up in his face so he can do whatever he feels necessary to protect himself.

    But beyond that I would say butt out of Bill’s affairs.

    With Abigail, I would suggest maybe contacting her family members to let them know she’s having emotional trouble and has hinted at doing something drastic, and could use some support.    Mainly because of the guilt she might feel if she did nothing and Abigail did indeed do harm to herself.  The other poster’s idea to redirect Abigail’s talk to “what does your therapist think of this?” sounds great… because rather than vent to a distant friend, Abigail should be discussing these things with her therapist, who is best able to help her.

  11. avatar Hellster says:

    Dear Friend of Bill: Again, as we say in New York, “What is it your business?” (and also: “What is it with these people?)

    LW #2: Cyber sex brought in more money than the three major networks combined last year, and that doesn’t even account for all the FREE porn available on the web. Disregard those who say sex addiction isn’t real; it might not be included in the DSM yet, but give it time. Many mental health professionals recognize it as a real manifestation of addiction. That said, your husband might not be a sex addict, but he might be, in which case you need support and assistance to heal from your own trauma (that of being married to one), and he needs (but may not accept that he does) assistance to recover from his addiction, too. Help is available. I am going to sound like a broken record, but Claudia Black has a wonderful new book, “Intimate Treason,” that can help get you started on the road to healing.

  12. avatar Jean B says:

    LW #1: If you know who Abigail’s counselor is, call him/her directly. Although her counselor can’t discuss Abigail with you, you can let the counselor know what Abigail has said to you. If you don’t know the counselor but can get a hold of another friend or family member who might know, please call him/her and stress the importance of Abigail’s counselor being told this information.

  13. avatar tiredone says:

    So um, you might not believe this, but I am LW1. And I have been taking Margo’s advice, I’m sure as hell not gonna tell Bill anything.

    But to clear somethings up – none of this is on Facebook, we all play an online game together – think World of Warcraft – except it’s not. We spend a LOT of time using voice chat and all probably play way more than we should.

    And yeah, Bill isn’t my friend. But that has nothing to do with the online thing, and more that Bill has recently decided he can’t stand me and goes out of his way to piss me off. I know some people who you would call Bill’s friends – they’ve known him since childhood. Ended up talking to them (NOT ABOUT ABIGAIL) – they don’t get why Bill is rushing to get married, at least one flat out told me it’s a terrible mistake and they think Bill has changed recently, he’s starting to cut them out as well.

    (Oh and I learned Sally wants kids and Bill doesn’t.)

    As for Abigail, she isn’t 13, and is a bit dramatic, but she’s someone I’ve known personally and professionally for years (we just don’t live close to each other anymore). She gotten herself through lots of bad stuff, childhood illness, abusive ex, cancer, being unemployed for well over a year. She’s always been a survior, even when depression got her down. This is, well different. It’s like she’s lost her fight. And unfortunately she had to stop seeing the therapist because her insurance wouldn’t pay for more visits. Thankfully she did agree to start anti-depressants.

    Last bit, when you ask “what did Bill do to her?” Abigail and Bill are married to each other in our game. It was his idea, he picked the location, the time and date, wrote vows with her, and made it an event for all of us to attend. He publicly showered her with attention and affection, even if it didn’t make a lick of sense to the rest of us. And now he treats her like dirt. Openly derides her and refuses to pitch in to help her in game, especially with a particularly difficult task she’s attempting – a task she helped him with twice.

    • avatar Katharine Gray says:

      As ashamed as I am to admit it, at one point in a very dark period of my life, I too played online games with *friends*.  And saw all sorts of romances and people *marrying* each other blah blah blah which always ended in drama and hearbreak and sometimes real broken  marriages.  Here is the deal…the virtual reality has become reality for you and Abigail and maybe even Bill.  So…lets pretend its real life.  Bill has dumped Abigail for another woman.  It happens everyday and to everyone at least once (if they are lucky its only once).  Of course, its easier for Bill to dump Abigail on the game because after all *we are only playing a game*.  That does not mean her heart isn’t broken but broken hearts are part of virtual and real life.   And virtual reality can become addicting to people whose real lives seem dull or hopeless or unfulfilling to them.  I suppose it hasn’t occurred to either you or Abigail that Bill is actually NOT getting married at all but has made up Sally in order to get rid of Abigail.  Who knows?  Abigail needs to move on and you need to start gradually getting back to friends who you can relate to face to face.   If Abigail is your friend in real life…suggest that the two of you stop playing this game for awhile to try to come to grips with living outside of virtual reality and in reality.  If you can afford it, go visit her and go to get mani/pedis together or go to an art museum or to a concert or movie or something to get you away from the online games for awhile.  Encourage her to look around her real world for people to know who share her interests.   Of course, this is all assuming that you know her in real life.  If you only know her in the game for all you know she never had cancer, or was abused but she is probably unemployed or she wouldn’t have the time to spend in virtual world. 



  14. avatar Diagoras says:

    I think Sally should be told. If they were already married and had kids that would be one thing. But Sally has a chance to dodge a bullet here, so why not give her that opportunity? If she doesn’t take it, that’s her business but she has a right to know what’s going on before she commits her life to this guy.

  15. avatar Miss Lee says:

    First let me say that I am not on Facebook and I don’t play on-line games.  I communicate by text with people I don’t want to get trapped into a conversation with or who are younger than I and only communicate by text.  I email funny cartoons to friends who could use a laugh.  For communication, I talk on the phone or meet for brunch.  I am not young but not old.  I had a hard time understanding the on-line communication obsession until I saw a TV documentary on a group of on-line gamers who basically live their lives in the virtual world because they were severly, physically handicapped.  In their on-line world, they appeared to have normal to superhuman capabilities and were not subject to the judgements that people make when viewing them in the physical.  They were known and valued because they could not be seen in their physical bodies.  This concept helped me to understand what drew people into the virtual world and I recognized that if I had this outlet when I was a very unhappy teen and young adult, I would have certainly explored it.  I also know that it would have trapped me in a spilt existance and I would have remained that unhappy person.   I am sure that this is not true for all people but would have been true for me.  The online life would have certainly have become as real as my real existance because, as it was, my fantisy life was very real to me at that age without having other people actively engaging me there.   I wonder where this will lead our view of humanity and reality and what the consequences will be for our society in the future. 

  16. avatar chuck alien says:

    Interesting how someone with a sex problem tends to see all problems as sex problems.

    That his late-night office time is porn-related is no more likely than any number of non-porn-related things.

    but hey, when you’ve got a hammer… every problem looks like a nail.