Dear Margo: An Interesting Ramification of a Bad Boyfriend

Why can’t I hold on to my best friend and my boyfriend? Margo Howard’s advice

An Interesting Ramification of a Bad Boyfriend

Dear Margo: I’m a 34-year-old woman who had a close personal friendship with my co-worker “Norma,” who is 46. After five years of friendship, Norma has become more than just a dear friend — she’s a mentor and an older sister/mother figure for me. I have grown to depend on Norma’s friendship perhaps more than I should, which brings me to my problem.

I have been in an unhealthy relationship for three years, and Norma has been my support and confidante through it all. She always urged me to leave the relationship. Finally, when I decided to do it, Norma was overjoyed. I tried with all my might to stick to my guns, but in the end, he begged me to reconcile, and I caved. Although I know the relationship is unhealthy, I am finding it difficult to walk away, and this has impacted my personal and working relationship with Norma.

At work she is cold and distant to me; even e-mails have a professional tone. All contact outside of work has stopped despite her assurance, when I ask, that everything is OK. I am working hard to get the courage to end my relationship, but I feel alone without my friend. –Flawed Friend

Dear Flaw: The “unhealthy relationship” you refer to, I believe, is also called “complicated.” He’s married. Your friend’s disappointment and disapproval have apparently colored her feelings for you, especially since you announced you were finally going to straighten up your life. Alas, yours is a do-it-yourself project, and right or wrong, you and Norma will not patch it up until Mr. Wrong is gone. I suspect she felt three years was all she could manage watching you self-destruct. Look at it this way: With her support, you couldn’t quite get it accomplished, so maybe now you can. And do it for yourself, not for Norma. –Margo, practically

You Can Lead a Horse to Water…

Dear Margo: My father, in his late 50s, recently had a heart attack. It was minor, and he not only survived it, but he did so without medical assistance — he called the pain a “3” on a scale of 10! While we’re all counting our lucky stars that he’s so tough, we are worried. I’m in my early 20s, and my brother is a young teenager. The idea of losing him terrifies us. He is overweight, diabetic and has arthritis in his hip. He won’t listen to anything anyone tells him about eating right or exercising. The heart attack should have been a wakeup call, but he hasn’t changed his ways at all. Logic, sentiment and nagging are all coolly deflected. I want him to walk me down the aisle at my wedding, meet his grandchildren and see them graduate high school. How can I get through to him that he needs to take care of himself, if only for me? –Nervous Daughter

Dear Nerv: I understand your frustrated feelings about your father’s seeming intransigence, but I will tell you this: If having a heart attack did not scare him into taking better care of himself (e.g., losing weight), nothing will. I wanted to ask a cardiac surgeon, the kind of doc who sees more of this than anyone, what he thought … so I asked the one who lives in my house. He said he has, indeed, seen these situations, and some people straighten up, and some don’t.

There can be many factors at work. Your dad may feel invincible, lucky once, lucky always or unwilling to make the effort. Alas, he will not do this “for you.” The situation is a little like being alcoholic: The person who needs to make a change must want to. I hope you will accept that everyone is a free agent, and there is really nothing another person can do. Try not to feel burdened by something that is out of your hands. –Margo, acceptingly

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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.


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87 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Jim Martin says:

    There are also people, like me, who simply do not trust the health industry and would rather not get caught up in its insanity. People die, and exercising and eating “right” may be statistically advantageous, but they are no guarantee of anything.

    People can eat right all their lives and still die at 40, and people can eat every meal at McDonald’s and live to 100. I know Margo is married to a doctor and would never agree with what I’m saying, but there are legitimate reasons to live a life free of the health Nazism that is sweeping this country besides a sense of invincibility, laziness, and luck.

    • avatar blue tooth says:

      While some people do live to a ripe old age while they scarf down burgers and fries, smoke like a chimney, and drink all day, many more people don’t.

      It’s been shown how certain processed foods actually clog up a person’s intestines. That person may or not show symptoms right away, but if you took a section of their intestines and put it under a microscope, you would see the goop layered right on top of it, clogging it up. Just like a longtime smoker may not feel any signs of artery disease, but if you sectioned off a piece of one of their arteries, you’d be able to squeeze the plaque out like a scoop of spoiled mayonnaise. The same thing with cigarette smoke. a Teenager may smoke a half-pack a day and go running or play football, but if you ran a scope into his lungs, you could find a small patch of alvioli where thousands of cells had been destroyed by the smoke.

      You may not feel any bad effects from the things you do, but that’s because our bodies miraculously have such an abundance of cells to do the work you need. our veins are much larger than they need to be, our lungs much richer than they need to be, our livers much more resilient than they need to be, until they aren’t. By the time that you feel anything wrong, it’ll be too late.

      You can look at the people with chronic lung disease, or type 2 diabetes, or heart disease, or memory problems, and think about if you want to wind up like them. If you want to, you can keep on doing what you’re doing. You’ll get there.

      • avatar Jim Martin says:

        I’m just not particularly interested in health, and the older I get (63 now) and the less healthy I become the less interested in it I am.

        The one certainty is that I will die. I could die of diabetes and heart failure at 63 while eating potato chips and reading Margo, or I could die at 93 while eating a salad and running around the block, or at any age doing anything. Frankly, I don’t care. What I do care about is enjoying my life as fully as I can for the very brief time that I have it. I do not like running (or any other form of exercise) or salads, but I love potato chips and Margo.

        For most people, evidently, living as long as possible is an important goal. For me, it’s not. So your threats of “chronic lung disease, or type 2 diabetes, or heart disease, or memory problems” don’t scare me, because I’m for sure going to die of SOMETHING, and it might just was well be one (or all) of them as anything else.

        We just have different values.

        • avatar blue tooth says:

          If you die quickly then you will have achieved your goal. But what if you have a sever heart attack that leaves you alive but unable to cross the street without gasping for breath? What if you have a stroke that leaves you paralyzed but lucid? What if you find yourself unable to care for yourself, but otherwise perfectly healthy? Is that the kind of dying process that you want? I’ve seen it happen to many of my friends, and I’m right up there with you.

          I might die in three years or thirty. But whatever time I do have, I want it to be healthy. I want to be able to walk to the park, or play with my grandkids, or remember the movie that I saw last night. I for sure don’t want to spend years laid up in a hospital bed, or in a nursing home, or gasping for breath every day and night.

          It’s not that this stuff kills you. It’s that it makes your life miserable for a long time, before it kills you.

          • avatar Anne Talvaz says:

            I’ve tended to view the whole health-morality issue with some scepticism ever since my slim, salad-loving, generally abstemious father, whose job required him to exercise, died of bowel cancer at 60. Meanwhile, my definitely overweight mother is still going strong at 77 and mentally sharp as a tack. Admittedly, like many people her age fat and thin, she now exercises to keep her limbs in working order.

            Life isn’t fair, Bluetooth, and a righteous life is no guarantee. Stop trying to stress other people out. Are you aware that that, too, is a public-health hazard? Or are you so addicted to bugging other people you can’t see it for yourself?

          • avatar sc72 says:

            everyone may have their own values and preferences with respect to diet and exercise, but blue tooth is right on the money saying that there’s a whole land of misery that lies between ‘living life fully’ and death. my (thankfully) ex-husband is a prime example of someone who didn’t take care of his health, didn’t die, and is living in a pretty diminished capacity with liver disease and various other ailments at the ripe old age of 40. and now his healthcare is on the state’s dime as he is unable to work. being stuck taking care of someone who refuses to take care of themselves is a lot more stressful than what blue tooth proposes. it’s an advice column, blue tooth is giving his/hers just as anyone is entitled to do so maybe you, Anne, could back off the hostility.

          • avatar CanGal says:

            As someone who is morbidly obese and is finally doing something about it, I could not agree with you more about living life fully. To date I have lost 55 lbs and I cannot believe how even losing that small amount of weight(comparatively) has changed my life. I find I am enjoying my life more now than ever. Nothing tastes as good as being healthy feels.

          • avatar D C says:

            You GO Girl!  80 and counting here

          • avatar Anne Talvaz says:

            Nice work CanGirl – and enjoy the results for all you’re worth!

          • avatar Dorisan says:

            Thumbs up, CanGal

            What I haven’t seen mention is genetics. Some people live longer despite their bad habits just because it’s in their programming. Despite being a 3-pack-a-day smoker, an unhealthy eater, and mean to boot (I think some people are just too nasty to die. meanness keeps them going) she is now 75 and is just at this time starting to develop health issues. When I think that she’ll probably be like her *own* mother, who put in 85 of the most hate-filled years on this earth, I can’t help but think how unfair it is that many good people die at a younger age, but there you are.

            Me – I’ll just hedge my bets. I could repeat history and count on having those long life genes to keep me going, but eating right and exercising just makes me feel better – more energized, sleep better, have a better over-all appearance and attitude.

          • avatar Anne Talvaz says:

            I’m sorry to hear of your troubles as I understand them only too well. My mother was stuck taking care of my father for 5 years. Neither of them “deserved” what was happening to them. You should have heard some of the questions they were asked, though. “What did you do to get yourself into this?” “What have you been feeding him?” “Shouldn’t you have had a more positive attitude?”

            No one is “entitled” to give health advice except qualified health providers. in my experience, laypersons who bang on about health issues are either grossly insensitive or motivated by darker, if unacknowledged, emotions. Either way, it doesn’t do to be too nice to them.

          • avatar Briana Baran says:

            What is “righteous” about attempting to live a reasonably healthy life, and what does “morality” have to do with it? Are you somehow equating religious fervor with being healthy? As an iconoclastic, highly cynical, fat agnostic, I resent that allegation.

            I exercise. I like to cook, and I prepare healthy meals for my family. That doesn’t mean wheat germ, shriveled chicken breasts, and flavorless brown rice. I love Mediterranean food…olive oil, fresh vegetables, fish, garlic, wonderful spices, lovely choices in whole grains,lean meats…excellent, exotic fare. I use meat that comes from animals that are raised truly free-range and cruelty-free, and slaughtered either halal or kosher.

            Why? I have a genetic problem with high cholesterol (my mother, who weighs about 100 pounds, and eats no fat, has high cholesterol, as does my marathon-running, nearly vegetarian cousin), and I am losing fat because I still have a fourteen year old son at home. I don’t want to burden him with a drooling vegetable ***too*** soon. Yes, we all die at some point…but it’s the quality of life we lead in between now and the Big Sewer that makes a difference…not just for ourselves, o selfish ones, but for those who might just get stuck caring for us when we are dribbling rutabagas.

            And, hostile people, that’s not morality or righteousness…that’s love, and compassion…practicality and thinking ahead. Assisted suicide, and the right to terminate one’s own life when it isn’t a life anymore are illegal in this country…so those who love you will probably be caring for your animated corpse if you aren’t actually on ***life support*** when your nicotine and tar encrusted lungs, cholesterol and plaque clogged arteries, alcohol rotted livers, and diabetes decayed kidneys fail and turn you into a root vegetable.

            Unless you just hate everyone in your lives, or want to be a burden on the taxpayers’ for a while before becoming an actual deader, which might be why you’re so resistant to even taking care of yourselves a little bit. Or maybe you’re the sorts who are simply too lazy, or are convinced it wouldn’t be any fun. Some people think that all fun is self-destructive. Okay, then. It is reminiscent of the people who think that those who don’t drink at a party aren’t having fun. Or people who don’t get high aren’t having fun. Sure.

            O, and yes, anyone can end up with a stroke, or in a vegetative state…even the healthiest person. There are always genetics, and peculiar physiological defects that go symptomless and undetected for years…and then there are drunk drivers, terrorists, rabid bats, various lurking viruses and falling buses. But why dramatically increase the odds of ending up drooling in your shoes and being unable to…dare I say it…have ***fun*** for a decade or two while adding the distinction of being a source of unhappiness and pain (and even guilt) to those who care about your selfish self by being a stubborn, reactionary “I’m gonna die anyway so I might as well have fun doing it…unless, of course, I end up unable to even ***care*** about taking care of myself, and lying about in diapers and occasionally cluing to the misery, helplessness, and joylessness of my situation”. Cool. Have fun.

          • avatar Jim Martin says:

            blue tooth,

            That is exactly why I have no intention of even dipping my little toe into the health care industry. It is that industry that forces lingering, torturous deaths on people. That kind of death is extremely hard to find anywhere else.

            If I DID have a severe heart attack or a debilitating stroke, what would happen in the natural course of things is that I would die fairly quickly – as long as I stayed where I was and did not go to a hospital. I might be in pain for a few days, but if I were unable to care for myself as you suggest, I would not be able to drink, and I would die of dehydration, or something else equivalent. That is how disabled animals die in the wild, and they are my model for death. However death comes, as long as it comes naturally, is how I want it.

            I’d rather die of dehydration lying for two weeks alone and helpless at the bottom of my basement steps than lying helpless for ten years in a nursing home with tubes stuck in my arms. It’s hospitals and doctors – the greedy, intrusive, invasive health care Nazi regime – that make dying a long torment. Nature does not do that to any creature.

          • avatar stateoflove_N_Trust says:

            That would happen if no one finds you, but if someone finds you then you are going to end up in the hospital and your condition will be stabilized.  I hope you have a living will to express your wishes.

            I doubt dying of dehydration for two weeks is an easy way to go.

          • avatar Jim Martin says:

            I do have everything in place to insure that even if I am found I will not be taken to a hospital to be “stabilized.” Anyway, the odds that anyone WOULD find me lying in my basement or anywhere else in my house are about as good as my winning the NYC marathon while sitting here at my computer. I live a very quiet, private life because it is the kind of life I love, and no one is ever in my house but me.

            I do not insist that death be pleasant. How could I do that anyway, unless I were willing to take a drug overdose, and I’m not. The deaths I have seen in hospitals and nursing homes were not fun either. I just want it to be natural. That’s all.

          • avatar Lym BO says:

            I understand your wishes, Jim. My hub & I are both in medicine. Most of us go into it to help others increasing their quality of life. That being said, it doesn’t mean we subscribe to the treatments offered. We offer all of them & explain the risks & benefits so each person can weigh what they want to do. It is each person’s decision to be make those choices. (Frankly, I rarely take tylenol. And I take no other medications. I agree there is overuse of healthcare–at the insistence of patients, not doctors). You are correct that medicines can make one worse or to have other issues. The beauty is you can refuse any treatment, if you are considered sane. I just sincerely hope you don’t regret your decisions at the nth hour. You contend you won’t be found, but please be aware that your “living will” or any other documents will not prevent your admission to the hospital if you are incapacitated and unable to convey these things. I hope you have someone who checks on you & is able to stick to your exact wishes. Most people can’t.
            Most people do not want to take medicine, but find that their quality of life improves. If it doesn’t, they can discontinue it. Many people turn to the Nazi health care system for pain control. It is easy to proclaim one can tolerate any & all pain, but when that day comes, the majority realize they cannot. Most often, people do not die from an initial heart attack or stroke (they lucky ones do). Most commonly, people become somewhat debilitated over time (live in a terrible mess) & continue to have more attacks. I think we can all agree that nursing home placement or long term hospital stays are not desirable. Hopefully, your end of life is swift and painless.

          • avatar Jim Martin says:

            blue tooth,

            I appreciate your taking the time and care to write this. It is thoughtful and generous, a big improvement on your earlier hostility. It’s good to find a lot in common with someone who looked at first like just another mindless adversary.


            I recognize that there are many individuals working in the health care industry who are decent, dedicated and compassionate. My problem is not with them at all. My problem is that a vocation that used to be dedicated to relieving suffering has been transformed by capitalistic greed into a soulless machine wholly committed to fighting death, to prolonging life at ANY cost (and cost is the perfect word to use here). Relieving suffering has become a secondary consideration: extending life comes first.

            It may seem that extending life is a form of relieving suffering and therefore an appropriate concern of health care, but it is not. As anyone with open eyes can see, extending life very often INCREASES suffering, and much of the suffering now being treated is caused by the medical treatment whose aim is to extend life.

            The root of the problem stared in the 1960s when a doctor in Tennessee (my home state, from which I gratefully escaped decades ago), whose son later became a US Senator, had the uncanny idea that hospitals – which until then had been run almost exclusively by religious organizations and the federal and local governments as charities – could be turned into extremely profitable businesses. The result was Hospital Corporation of America, and the outcome is today’s demonic, profit-driven health care industry, from which you cannot divorce the insurance and drug companies, however much you might want to.

            I could go on for many, many more pages, but I’m tired of this.

            Thanks again for taking the trouble to reach out to me as a human being.

        • avatar momis says:

          While you may have little to no interest in your health, you might want to reconsider your destructive habits because they may have an impact on your loved ones. Like someone else mentioned, you may not suffer a quick and painless death but be left behind with a body that is unable to perform the simplest of tasks to take care of yourself. At that point, it would be your loved ones decision to take care of you or put you in a nursing home.

          My mom works in a nursing home and she has plenty of stories of patients who are mostly depressed for not being able to take care of themselves and being forced to depend on someone to bathe them and change their underwear. It is a humbling experience to have to wait for someone to help you do something you did for yourself most of your life. Some of the patient are not even that old in age but are there because they suffered a stroke or other debilitating health problems that could had been prevented if they had a healthier lifestyle.

          • avatar Jim Martin says:


            My reply to blue tooth above pretty much addresses your comment as well, but I will reiterate it here.

            I would become a burden to other people only if I became dependent on them. If I died in my own house because I had become unable to care for myself, my death would affect other people only to the extent that they missed me after I was gone; but that would happen regardless of when or how I died.

            If I choose to live my life free of the health care Nazis – by which I mean both the trillion-dollar health care industry AND the billions of lay people who effectively worship it by mindlessly believing everything it tells them and doing everything it tells them to do – and attacking anyone like me who refuses to go along – if I do live my life free of all that, refusing to LET it keep me alive once I can no longer care for myself, then the process of my dying will be a burden to no one but me.

          • avatar sc72 says:

            information is so prevalent these days about healthy and non-healthy foods, moderation, benefits of exercise and sleeping well, it’s just common sense to be responsible about it and take care of your body as much as you are able. as Dorisan says, sometimes genetics trumps the best of efforts, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.

            you make it sound like doctors and hospitals cram life-prolonging treatments down people’s throats, which is hardly the case. you go to a hospital, they treat you. if you refuse treatment, that’s your choice. the real tragedy in health care is the overwhelming costs that force less fortunate people to receive substandard care and to suffer needlessly in the way you describe you actually want, or that there is no system for people with terminal conditions to be allowed to die with dignity and painlessly of their own choosing assisted by qualified professionals. it sounds to me, using words like ‘health care Nazis’ and accusing people who ‘bang on’ health care issues as grossly insensitive, those of you with the anti-health care attitude are the ones on the attack rather than those who advocate a healthy lifestyle. take it or leave it, your choice.

            my 90 y/o grandmother, who has been relatively health her whole life, has been in a nursing home for a year and a half. she has dementia, which won’t kill her. she’s not hooked to tubes and wires, but she is also no longer ambulatory (legs wear out after 90 years, also not lethal) so she can’t care for herself. she’s being fed, cleaned, and cared for until she does pass ‘naturally’ – when her body shuts down on its own. are you really suggesting it’s better that someone in that situation should knock around their own house with no assistance until they fall down the stairs or slip in the tub and suffer for days waiting to die? that’s not natural, that’s barbaric. I hope you don’t really have to spend those two weeks lying at the bottom of your stairs starving and dehydrating to death as they will probably seem like an eternity.

            congrats to CanGal and DC – your achievements are inspiring. :)

          • avatar Jim Martin says:


            I am only speaking for myself. I do not mean to be attacking anyone. I refer to health Nazis only because that to me is a very clear, useful, and relevant image of the behavior and mindset I see all around me.

            What other people do may horrify me, but it is their business and their responsibility, not mine. If your grandmother enjoys the life she has now, then that is wonderful, and if you are happy for her to be living as she is, then that is wonderful too.

            I don’t see how you get the idea that dying naturally from a fall or some other treatable event is barbaric, but if that is how you see it, that is your business. To me, it is far more barbaric to lie helpless for years in a bed while other people feed, clean, and care for me. I would hate that.

            However long the days or weeks spent at the bottom of the stairs might seem, they would, eventually, come to an end. If I happened to have a lethal dose of morphine in my pocket at the time, I might take it, or I might not.

            Life is full of wonderful experiences, and I have learned that the most productive and transformative of those experiences are almost always the most painful. So I really do not think I would take the morphine even if I did have it. Why not savor dying, in whatever form it takes, with whatever pain and discomfort it brings, since it will my last opportunity to get from this life the riches it has to offer?

            As I said to another commenter, you and I just have different values.

          • avatar sc72 says:

            no, she doesn’t enjoy her life, she has dementia. she has no idea what goes on around her. but she’s not being kept alive by artificial means either. I’m not saying it’s ideal (far from it), but the alternative to let her flounder on her own in pain and waste would be needlessly cruel.

            if you fell, bashed your head open and died quickly, that would be one thing. if you fell and broke your legs, couldn’t move, and waited for days to starve to death, that’s not natural. your legs could heal with proper treatment and you could go on to live many fine more years. there’s nothing noble about giving up on life because you’re too stubborn to accept help. I’m single and self-sufficient and I don’t like to depend on other people either, but that wouldn’t stop me from seeking help if I needed it. I wouldn’t wish that kind of death on an animal in the wild and i wouldn’t wish it on you either. needless suffering is barbaric.

            I haven’t seen the movie 127 hours because I’m squeamish, but take that as an example. a guy has his arm caught between a rock and a hard place. he could have just sat there and waited to slowly die, but he fought like hell and even cut off his own arm to survive. and he did survive and has a life today. Christopher Reeve – paralyzed, needed lots of care, did incredible things for advancement of spinal cord injury research before he died. living life to the fullest isn’t just about enjoying hamburgers, it’s about making your life mean something no matter how small and not giving up.

          • avatar Lym BO says:

            Well said.

            On the other hand, if your cat was suffering the same way, you might have it put out of its’ misery. Religious beliefs offer rules that most follow when it comes to end of life for humans.

            I would have to guess Jim has never experienced horrific pain or he wouldn’t speak so casually of it. I haven’t either, but I have witnessed many who have. I have also witnessed the cruelty/naivete of family members who won’t let a loved one pass naturally because of monetary or personal reasons.

          • avatar Lym BO says:

            I am certainly not implying you are doing this with your grandma. I was referring to Jim’s fear of being kept alive unnaturally in an institution.

        • avatar chuck alien says:

          ah, using statistical outliers to justify bad behavior… how clever.

          “some people eat well and die young, so i should just do whatever i want because it doesn’t matter.”

          yup, that’s rational.

          i’m guessing you also hate seatbelts. and probably smoke.

      • avatar Lucy Henry says:

        Blue Tooth, that stuff on the informercials that sell R