Dear Margo: An Apartment or a Monastery?

When living with roommates, how do you find balance? Margo Howard’s advice

An Apartment or a Monastery?

Dear Margo: I met my girlfriend six years ago online when I was in college. I lived in the U.S. at the time, and she lived in Europe. After speaking regularly for two years, leading up to eight-page letters every other day, we decided to meet in person. When we did, we began an official romantic relationship. We visited each other twice a year for three to four weeks in our respective countries.

The problem came from my roommate’s reaction when I informed him she would be visiting (her first time) and staying in our apartment. We three roommates at the time were all Christians, but apparently with different views on what is acceptable behavior. One roommate, “Bob,” objected to my girlfriend’s visit on the grounds of moral impropriety. He was so adamant that he told me that if she stayed, even if I slept on the couch, he would have to leave our apartment during that time. Part of me felt that the apartment was his, too, and therefore he should have a say, but another part felt that as a grown man in a committed relationship, I should not be forced to divide my already minimal time with her by having her stay elsewhere. Ultimately, I allowed Bob to live elsewhere during her stay.

To this day, I wonder whether I made the wrong choice in choosing my desires (and my girlfriend’s) over Bob’s. We are still friends, but the friendship does seem to have been silently fractured by the incident. — Lingering Thoughts

Dear Ling: It is nice to have principles, but I find it onerously judgmental to lay them on other people. I’m glad Bob removed himself from the burgeoning Sodom and Gomorrah situation in the apartment. I mean, it’s not like you brought home three strippers. This man sounds like a prig to me, and I wouldn’t give the matter any more thought. — Margo, maturely

A Bishop Who’s a Lemmon

Dear Margo: I recently was baptized and joined the Mormon Church. I really enjoy my new “family” except for one person: the bishop. This feeling is taboo because people act like he walks on water. I say he is just a man appointed to a position. This man didn’t like me the minute he met me.

When I started at this church, I was in crisis, and I told a couple of people about it. They said go to the bishop. He turned me down flat-out and said, “We don’t help people financially.” That was a bald-faced lie, and I knew it. The excuses I got were that I was not a member yet, that he was stressed, blah, blah, blah. As time progressed, my problem became worse. Again, I was turned down, and he didn’t even call me by the right name. I corrected him twice about my name, and he still got it wrong, which was proof to me that he was doing it on purpose.

Do you think I am making something out of nothing? And to whom do I go to let someone know about this person? I think he treats me badly because I am disabled. (I think this because there are other disabled people who also dislike him.) — Disillusioned

Dear Dis: As in the Catholic Church, Mormon bishops are not at the top of the executive chart, and they are, indeed, appointed. Should you feel like voicing your displeasure with this man (which I don’t recommend, because I think it will prove fruitless), you can choose from among his superiors, as listed at this site:

While I don’t think you’re making something out of nothing, I also don’t think you should throw away the baby (the Mormon Church) with the bathwater (the bishop). Steer clear of him, and enjoy your “family” in the church you chose. I would look to public service agencies that are perhaps not church-connected. — Margo, evasively

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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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89 Responses so far.

  1. avatar JC Dill says:

    IMHO, LW2 should complain, but not expect any immediate results for LW2s situation. Instead, LW2 should complain so that there’s a record of this behavior. If the bishop makes a pattern of treating certain classes of people badly, and enough of them complain, eventually the PTB above him will take note. Odds are slim that enough people have already complained that *this* complaint will produce anything fruitful, but eventually the complaints will mount, and eventually something WILL happen, and LW2 will be able to take comfort (when it happens) that the complaint LW2 made was one of many that it took to get the problem addressed.

    Another reason for complaining is to get it out of one’s system. If you complain *knowing* that the complaint is likely not going to do anything, but you can still write down your thoughts and send it out, for many people this helps them put it behind them and move on with the next step, instead of constantly stewing and thinking “maybe I should complain after all”. Just make sure the complaint is professional – if you really need to dump EVERYTHING into the complaint then write it up, print it out, and burn it. Make a ceremony of it for yourself rather than dump it all on someone else.

    • avatar luna midden says:

      I am having a similiar situation here at my church(though, I am not Mormon, but of another Prot. demoniation. We have a pastor who has been here for a few years and people who have been members for DECADES are RESIGNING THEIR MEMBERSHIP. We are a small church. This Pastor seems to have a control issue and EVERYTHING has to be under the thumb of the PASTOR, even though our denomiation wants LAY PEOPLE to step up and volunteer. In the last year, THAT I KNOW OF, 3 families that I know-have been told by the minister that they are UNDER HANDEDLY THREATENING THE STRUCTURE OF THE CHURCH. These families were here for many many years, some born into our church. They all were on many committees, undergone training for layaty, and many other things. Of course, all were  HURT, SOME SEVERELY HURT. AND those who are the committee to renew the pastor’s contract are of course HER FRIENDS!

      I do  not know what is really happening in the lw’s story-but if it is true, and the person is religious, it can shake you to a core.


      • avatar lisakitty says:

        I agree with you luna.  Many of the posters below seem to think the LW joined the church looking for a handout, and while that is a possibility, there are ways a truly professional and compassionate spiritual advisor would handle the situation and still maintain an aura of kindness, compassion and spirituality.

        My church is going through a similar change as yours is, and what we have found is that the behaviour of the pastor is turning people away from religion altogether.  New members are especially affected by a bad experience with a spiritual advisor, and in the LW’s case, it seems it has soured a conversion for her. 

        Like it or not, and regardless of the behavior of the LW, the bishop is the “face” of the church.  He is the most high profile member and someone that the congregation should trust and feel comfortable with.  If he is inconsiderate (won’t remember her name even though she’s said it several times?  That’s pretty rude!) or short (assuming the LW was asking for money and he’s tired of hearing that and feels, as one poster below says “like an ATM”) or dismissive, well that reflects poorly on the church.  If he’s overwhelmed, why doesn’t he delegate some of these requests out?    the bishop is the one who acted incorrectly, in my opinion, and as you point out, this type of behavior can have repercussions for the spiritual life of the church.



      • avatar Katrina says:

        Do you REALLY think it’s NECESSSARY to IMPLY that we are all too STUPID to UNDERSTAND where to read the EMPASIS words in your SENTENCES?

  2. avatar WCorvi says:

    The thing I find telling about the Mormon church is that they proselytize yet never accept a convert as one of them. To me, the attempt to convert, hence save, souls is really an attempt to make themselves feel superior.

  3. avatar lisakitty says:

    LW2:  I am not a Mormon, so I am curious to see what other posters with experience within the Mormon church will have to say about this.

    The purpose of church, no matter what your religion, is to gain spiritual guidance.  Do churches also provide emotional/financial support?  Yes, but the primary function of a church is to provide spiritual guidance.  That is the most important thing to remember here.  If the bishop lacks compassion to not only you, but several other disabled members of the church, he is probably less than compassionate of other people in need.   THIS is spiritual guidance?  THIS is a standard you want to aspire to?

    I don’t know your bishop and as I have said, I don’t know about the Mormon church.  But if a spiritual advisor of mine treated a disabled and obviously stressed person like the way you say he treated you, I’d be looking at changing churches.  There are good and bad religious advisors in every religion, but the fact that this person was so inconsiderate to you…. I would be researching other churches immediately.  When you find a spiritual advisor who treats you with respect and compassion, that’s where you stay.      

  4. avatar Katharine Gray says:

    Re LW#1:  The incident with Bob happened quite some time ago and you are still friends so I would let it go.  Part of me is empathetic to Bob, but not because I think it was his business to object on moral grounds.  I guess I wouldn’t want my house to be invaded by a roommate’s guest for weeks at a time and might object to the intrusion for that reason.  But, I learned long ago that unless its family or my husband….I don’t do well living with others.  I like my privacy too much.  I don’t like to share the kitchen or the bathrroom.  I have different ideas of what is necessary housekeeping than some people. So, I’m probably not very objective on what is or isn’t appropriate roommate etiquette in these situations.  

    Re LW#2:  I am not very familiar with the heirarchy of the Morman Church so I may be off base here, but I wonder if you are perhaps a little too sensitive.  How many people does a bishop regularly serve?  Is it one congregation or, as in the Catholic Church, dozens of congregations?  Is being a bishop his only occupation or does he have another job?  If he serves thousands of members, perhaps him getting your name wrong was not intentional but simply a matter of forgetfulness or distraction.  Is it common for the Church to give direct financial assistance to people who are not members?  I was going to say maybe he has a problem with converts, but I do know that an important part of the Morman doctrine is to reach out for new members, thus the 2 year ministry requirement for young men so its doubtful that would be an issue.  You may have left out from your letter other incidents of animosity towards you on his part but I’m not sure that forgetting your name twice and not giving you financial assistance means that he doesn’t like you or disabled people.  
    Whether he is a jerk or not, Margo is right.  I would not throw out your faith because of one man.  If he is only in charge of one congregation, perhaps there is another Mormon church in your town you can attend.  I live in a medium size city (not in Utah) and I know of at least 2 Morman churches here.  Complaining to his supervisors because he forgot your name and didn’t give you money when you asked for it will probably not result in a reprimand to him or his dismissal.  It will just make your relationship with him more difficult.  I would focus on the positive fellowship you have within your church, do what you can to volunteer within the church, and avoid him as much as possible.   


  5. avatar Sandy B says:

    LW 2
    I wouldn’t report him- but I wouldn’t “protect” him either. If someone suggests you ask him for help- just say you have in the past and that he always says “no”, and that you have spoken to him several times and he never even remembers your name- so you are not that comfortable speaking with him. Don’t interpret it- just stick to the facts.

  6. avatar toni says:

    LW2: “The man didn’t like me the minute he met me” — it sounds like the minute he met you, you asked for a handout. And even your own letter depicts subsequent meetings were of the same ilk. I would not be so quick to assume a prejudice because of your disability rather than a legitimate reaction to your behavior. I hope the Mormon Church is a wonderful spiritual home for you, and apologize for intuiting from your letter that you were perhaps looking for an ATM as well. Perhaps requests for assistance that were non-monetary — how to approach your problems differently, rides to work, food to eat, an ear to hear, rather than a straight out request for $$ might open better communication with your new spiritual leader.

    Forgive a business metaphor, but when I met the COO I tried to learn from him and showed my respect, not request a raise before I was hired.

    • avatar CatA says:

      good metaphor, toni.

    • avatar cleanslate says:

      Agreed. That is how it appears to me. Maybe the LW didn’t join the church to find a new revenue source, but it kind of sounds that way. Lots of people have money problems, and lots of churches help out their most needed, but no church is able to help everyone who asks, especially if they don’t have a history of active participation in the church first.

      • avatar A R says:


        “especially if they don’t have a history of active participation in the church first”

        What cleanslate said! :)

    • avatar martina says:

      Exactly, for what is she looking for financial aid?  Our church has a fund to help out members who cannot pay for heat, electricity, has a foodbank and would never turn away someone truly in need of basic necessities and would refer them to an agency that could help them if the church could not.  I know of one person who wanted them to make a car payment on her expensive sportscar after she went and got a $100 cut and color – they turned her down.

      How much contact do they have with the bishop?  Is he the one giving the sermons?  If he isn’t, she should just try to avoid him, enjoy the church family and just accept that they aren’t going to find financial aid there. 

    • avatar cl1028 says:

      Sorry, but I’m not sure I agree. Christians are called to feed the hungry and clothe the naked, etc. etc. Yes, we have to be prudent with our gifts and resources, but we also need to give generously, without trying to judge who “deserves” our help or doesn’t. (As I understand it, “charity” is quite different from a “job,” although I appreciate the metaphor.) Perhaps I’m being a bit naive, but I’d like to think it’s better to give someone the benefit of the doubt and give them a hand (even if, as another poster mentioned, all you can offer is a basket of groceries or a ride to work, not cash), rather than risk not helping someone in genuine need and just prolonging their suffering unnecessarily.

      • avatar lisakitty says:

        EXACTLY!  In my church, we ran out of financial aid ($$$) last year because of the economic situation.  What happened; the members banded together to help.  In one instance, there was a young mother who’s husband left her alone with three babies under 3 (there is a set of twins).  She’d never worked before and was overwhelmed.  One church member donated a rental property for her to use rent free for a year, another member gave her a job in his shop.  The church  moms were AMAZING:  day care, food and clothes for all those kids were taken care of.  A lawyer in the church represented her in the divorce with no retainer.  There are ways of giving without giving cash.  A person truthfully in need will accept any help offered.  I was in a position of need with the church as well and I can tell you, it made my head swim how soon people were helping me.  It’s what keeps me with the church even through the times of crisis we are currently going through.

        PS:  and the important thing is.. when you do get the help, give BACK!  Even through the problems I had last year, I helped in any way I could: voluntered my time to help with the church office, helped people get jobs through connections I had…. the young mother mentioned above has started a Saturday Night Date Night babysitting club for the kids that is popular (and free for church members).  There is always a way to give.  The fact that the bishop lacks this type of insight and creativity is a huge red flag for me that he may be more interested in the wealthier members of the congregation and seems to have little patience for people who come to him in need.

        PS:  because many government social programs have been cut, churches are overloaded.  But it’s a part of our faith to provide for the infortunate.  great post, cl!!!!     

        • avatar Briana Baran says:

          @Lisakitty: I am no defender of the church, or its leaders, but when you made this statement: “The fact that the bishop lacks this type of insight and creativity is a huge red flag for me that he may be more interested in the wealthier members of the congregation and seems to have little patience for people who come to him in need.” I was amused. Quite a leap of logic if based on the letter in question.

          How do you manage to come to the conclusion that the bishop offers no other programs or resources for help, and that he never offered said forms of aid to the LW? The only thing it seems that Disillusioned asked for was “financial help”, or money, and that this was the only thing that she was refused. She then sounds remarkably sullen, and comments that she is “disabled” and that other disabled people don’t like the bishop either. Odd that everyone else seems to like the man…there is no mention in her letter of social status or financial wealth having a bearing on his treatment of people, or their fondness for him…only her grumbling that he “never liked her” and this vague allusion to other “disabled people” who allegedly dislike him.

          Were other forms of help offered, accepted, and freely used in quantity? We just don’t know, do we, because the sum total of the letter involves a quest for ***money*** that was rejected. The request seems to have occurred immediately upon LW2’s joining the church. My best friends are Christian. We have six churches within 5 minutes’ walking distance of our house, and literally countless more in the immediate area…all denominations, from LDS, all varieties of Baptist, Roman Catholic, Adventist, Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Kingdom Halls, Lutheran, Methodist…and everything else you can just about possibly think of…including synagogues and mosques. All of them have offered shelter during hurricanes and to the homeless, clothing, blanket, essentials and food pantries regularly, help with finding employment, legal issues…but I have never heard of ***any*** of them just handing out money. Not one. And that sounds like all LW2 is interested in…cash. Nothing else. No charitable organization, secular or religious, is a lending or welfare agency.

          I have to wonder why, if LW2 is truly disabled, she is not getting disability in some form from the government (despite comments to the contrary, it is surprisingly easy to get IF you are actually disabled, not just inclined to ride the Purple Wage. I automatically qualify…and I don’t take it, because I won’t until I truly can’t work). Again…I am an iconoclast. I loathe organized religion. But I’m not going to condemn this bishop. My husband worked for a company that was originally based in Utah, and all of the upper level people were LDS members, and they talked about the entire system of giving aid to people regularly. They were incredibly generous…with food, shelter, education, clothing, medical needs…but they didn’t just hand out money. Something is dissonant here.

          • avatar lisakitty says:

            Apparently, Briana, you missed the word MAY.

            How can I possibly know if the bishop offered up any other types of assistance?  I can’t!

            BUT, going off the contents of the letter (LW refused help, bishop mispronounces her name twice, treats her with disrepect), it seems a POSSIBILITY (hence the word “may”) that it COULD be the bishop is focusing more on other people in the church.

            This would be nothing new.  Many churchs have ministers who treat the famous, the rich, differently than people who come to them asking for help.  One church in my area won’t marry people who have been divorced because “it’s adultery”.  Yet, this same church defended two of it’s members (high profile football players) when they were picked up for trying to hire hookers.    Why?  Because those football players were in the news, made sure the church got in the news.  Another church turned down a friend of mine in need for a car, then the next WEEK bought a Cadillac Escalade for the paster’s son.

            It’s not unheard of for a church of any denomination or religion to kow tow to the wealthy.  I am merely suggesting this as a possibility.       

          • avatar Briana Baran says:

            @lisakitty: Let me quote you again: “The FACT (my capitals) that the bishop lacks this type of insight and creativity is a huge red flag for me that he may be more interested in the wealthier members of the congregation and seems to have little patience for people who come to him in need.”

            Now let me remove a bit of text from this quote: Your statement is as follows: “…The fact that the bishop lacks this type of insight and creativity…”. You use the word “fact” in referring to the bishop’s lack of “insight and creativity” in providing aid in other ways, as in, again to quote you: “One church member donated a rental property for her to use rent free for a year, another member gave her a job in his shop. The church moms were AMAZING: day care, food and clothes for all those kids were taken care of. A lawyer in the church represented her in the divorce with no retainer. There are ways of giving without giving cash.” You are stating, by using the word “fact”, that the bishop did NOT provide any alternative means of help because he was lacking in “insight and creativity”.

            We do not know that alternative means of support, aid, shelter, clothing, advice, counseling…etc., were not provided, or that the bishop lacks “imagination and creativity”.

            We DO know the following things:

            1) LW2 has seen the bishop twice, requested money twice, and been refused twice.
            2) LW2 was NOT a church member yet when she (?) first asked for money (read the letter).
            3) Everyone except LW2 (and, allegedly, other disabled persons) likes and respects the bishop.
            4) After meeting LW2 exactly twice, one time as a non-member asking specifically for money from the church, the bishop couldn’t remember her name.

            Things we have no knowledge of whatsoever:
            1): Whether or not other forms of aid, counseling, shelter, food, clothing or guidance were offered and used. This is never mentioned.
            2): The size of the bishop’s ward, and precisely how long LW2 has actually been a member of the ward.
            3): The nature of her reason for asking directly for money (and yes, this might well matter) rather than financial or employment counseling.
            4): The reason the bishop has refused her twice.
            5): The nature of her “disability”.

            My point to you, lisakitty (and yes, I noticed the word “may”…do you now understand why it was insignificant?), was that there is a dearth of information in this letter, a high whining quotient, and a lot of me-me-me-me-me….and that you, and a lot of other readers, are assuming an awful lot of terrible things about one man based on…nothing at all. Two refusals to hand out cash…and a somewhat childish sounding LW’s claims that she just ***knew*** he didn’t like her and he couldn’t get her ***name*** right after only two meetings.

            You might do well to remember that this defense of a religious leader is coming from the site’s resident cynic, iconoclast and black-hearted bitch who generally detests dogmatic pontiffs of any stripe. However, I dually loathe whiny, puling people in search of a hand-out who boo-hoo about their terrible misfortune.

          • avatar Carol David says:

            Briana Baran says: I have to wonder why, if LW2 is truly disabled, she is not getting disability in some form from the government (despite comments to the contrary, it is surprisingly easy to get IF you are actually disabled, not just inclined to ride the Purple Wage.

            Uh – this is certainly not the experience of people I know, at least for permanent Social Security disability. Most people get turned down the first time and have to appeal; this is well known. One friend of mine with *three* disabling conditions – serious back problems, severe depression, and recently diagnosed multiple sclerosis – was turned down.

          • avatar Briana Baran says:

            @Carol David: “One friend of mine with *three* disabling conditions – serious back problems, severe depression, and recently diagnosed multiple sclerosis – was turned down.”

            But was your friend completely unable to work? I have two blown knees, a permanent back injury…and am diagnosed with the following: bi-polar I, irregular cycling; schizophrenia, delusional; OCD; PTSD; non-specified anxiety disorder; body dysmorphic disorder…and I qualify for full, permanent disability. These diagnoses have been in place for 15 years…I’ve had the full range of symptoms my entire life. I also suffer from migraines. I will not “get better”.

            I have never applied for that disability…nor would I unless it were absolutely critical (and that means that I was in full-blown break-down, which has happened only twice in my life…and I am 53). I can and would work rather than that. I still have regular symptoms, and I manage and cope. I am returning to school. I have known a lot of people with extremely severe disabilities who work full time, and support themselves and even children and a family…without laying claim to any aid.

            My cousin has MS and depression, and worked for the Post Office for 40 years. I knew a man with advanced CP who would never park in a handicapped space because he could still walk, and he worked even when he was in terrible pain. Both were fully qualified, neither took advantage of that fact.

            What to some seem to be crippling disadvantages, to others, who have, and who have known others who have worked despite such disabilities, seem not so terrible, or needing of aid. I guess I’ve seen far too many people completely cheat the system…and it simply adds to my cynicism.

          • avatar David Bolton says:

            My mother tried to get it and was turned down three times before she was finally approved. She had COPD (thank you Philip Morris), lung cancer and debilitating depression.

            The friend who was able to get it (surprisingly on the first time) had AIDS and colorectal cancer from KS. I’m very surprised Uncle Sam didn’t reject him—thinking he would be dead first.

  7. avatar CatA says:

    (I started writing my reply before toni wrote, and so I have an ally in my perspective…)
    I am seeing LW2 differently from most posters and even Margo.  I see LW2 as someone who joined a church seeking a hand-out rather than for the comfort, insight and life guidance that a true convert would be seeking.  Not once does the writer mention any religious convictions that s/he had for joining the Mormon church, except to say that s/he “enjoy(s)” the new “family.”  Yet, the writer promptly makes several accusations against the bishop, the most glaring being about money.  What church leader wouldn’t be taken aback by a brand-new parishioner rushing up not once, but twice, looking for a solution to their own financial problems?  And if the writer really is disabled, there are plenty of secular agencies to apply for assistance