Dear Margo: An Old Love and a Mess

Margo Howard’s advice

An Old Love and a Mess

Dear Margo: Beware the “revenge dinner.” I’d like to warn other women against looking up old boyfriends as a possible resource for help with employment. I did this one night while sitting in front of my computer trying to figure out what stones I had left unturned. I Googled a guy I’d been involved with as an undergrad at Berkeley and a while thereafter. I found he’d been a top exec in Asia for the past 15 years. I contacted him to congratulate him on his great success and, by the way, to ask if he would help circulate my resume.

On a trip to San Francisco, he asked me to dinner only to tell me he had been deeply in love with me and never found anyone else. He’d basically been set up in an arranged marriage as his sister intended. (They are Chinese, and she was dead-set against a Caucasian sister-in-law.) Though on the surface he seemed to be grateful to have rediscovered an old friend, the dinner was just for emotional revenge, as he denigrated my resume, reduced my work experience to nothing and told me, “You’re on your own,” as he handed me $800 “to help me out” even though he’s a billionaire industrialist in Shanghai. I was depressed for months after the wrenching put-downs, especially knowing he could have given me $1 million, and it wouldn’t have been a great sum to him. — Still Steaming

Dear Still: I have to tell you, holding it against a guy because he didn’t give you $1 million after dinner blows my mind. I would have hoped you’d have rejected the $800, but I think that did not happen. I also have to tell you that while looking up old boyfriends doesn’t usually lead to a “revenge dinner,” it’s a bad idea. In his mind, he was punishing you for dropping him, whether his sister’s meddling was involved or not, and his behavior makes him quite awful in my view, as he should be in yours.

I am sorry you were depressed by this dreadful reunion, but you must reorganize your thinking about rich people. Just because you need it and they have it does not mean it is coming your way. I hope by now you have found a job and can stop thinking about this strange mess. — Margo, unusually

Troubles in a Book Club

Dear Margo: Our book club is falling apart because of an overly talkative member. Whenever someone makes a comment, this woman one-ups it with a personal story of her own. It’s not that her contributions are unworthy; it’s simply that they dominate things to the point where we’re all bored stiff. Members are dropping out right and left. What to do? Help! — Bookie in the Midwest

Dear Book: It is interesting that book clubs have proved to be Petri dishes for all kinds of interactional difficulties. I would think a number of members dropping out would have inclined someone to tell the teller of personal stories that her contributions are a little off topic and not what the club is for. It is not unheard of for a member of a book club to be asked to drop out. Someone needs to say something to her, and if the message doesn’t get through, I suggest you all re-form a new book club — without her. I am never in favor of being held hostage to anyone’s poor judgment. — Margo, assuredly

* * *

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

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47 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Kriss says:

    LW1:  wow…talk about entitled!  You had my sympathy until that last sentence.

    • avatar wittyrepartee says:

      I think the last sentence wasn’t reread for tone by the letter writer- I read it as: she was embarrassed by the offer of money. She felt angry that someone who treated her this badly was in such a good financial position that he painlessly offered this money and probably could have easily offered her a much larger sum… highlighting the stark difference between their fortunes.

  2. avatar voiceofreason says:

    LW1! $800, dinner and no sex? You got off lucky!

  3. avatar Karin Smith says:

    LW1- Let me see if I have this straight: after more than 15 of absolutely NO contact with an ex, you contact him because 1.) he is very successful and 2.) you wanted him to pass around your resume (although he has no knowledge of your abilities, work ethic, etc.). Then he takes you to dinner, dismisses your resume, tells you he’s not going to help you find a job, and gives you $800. And you’re upset because he didn’t give you what you wanted.

    Girl, you are so full of it, you are definitely “Still Steaming”. You basically used him solely for his business connections! And you have the nerve to say that his behavior toward you at dinner was “emotional revenge”? And THEN you’re upset that he didn’t give you MORE money… just because he has so much of it? If this is how you see the world, be assured you won’t be getting far in ANY job with an Entitlement Complex like that.

    • avatar Michelles11 says:

      LW1…Berkeley?  Huh.  I’m not even sure this letter makes any sense or is even true…it’s like a bad joke.
      LW2…Maybe when you gather for your book club you should only be allowed to talk if you are holding the “talking goblet” or something like that.   Maybe she’ll get the hint.  Most likely not.

      • avatar Michelles11 says:

        Sorry, I meant this as a new post, not a reply…oh well, it was early.

      • avatar Lourdes says:

        Michelles11, what a great idea, the “talking goblet”!! I will have to promote this, as we have the same problem with one of my SILs in our book club, thanks… 😉

        • avatar Michelles11 says:

          Thank you Lourdes. 🙂  It’s an idea I used when I babysat toddlers back in the day…LOL…though it was usually a Teddy Bear or something like that.  I figure with the ladies a special wine glass or beer stein would be a better idea! 

          • avatar Eve Dallas says:

            “Talking goblet” is a cool idea, but it should potentially come with a time limit. You can hold the talking goblet and keep your comments to five minutes or fewer. You will be timed, and when the bell rings, you must pass the talking goblet on to someone else. If you ignore the bell and keep talking, or don’t adhere to the rules, you’re out of the club. Most people can get a point across in five minutes or less during a book club discussion.

          • avatar Michelles11 says:

            Eve, you’re absolutely right!  A time limit is essential in making this work…can you imagine someone holding court while holding the goblet for 20 minutes!

  4. avatar blueelm says:

    Wow. LW1 is a piece of work. You sound like a complete user, and if you are as entitled and narcissistic as you come across in your letter that “denigration” was probably good advice from some one who actually knows what a good resume would look like and where it would need to be for him to make any use of it. It seems to me this guy has been a bit too nice to you even to arrange dinner, and the $800 should have been a sign of how pathetic you came across.

  5. avatar CatA says:

    LW1: Maybe your former boyfriend’s sister saw your golddigger tendencies all those years ago, and chose to promote the rather common argument of cultural/racial disparity to her brother rather than emphasizing your avarice, of which he might not have been aware, or which might have chosen to overlook back then? And who dropped whom? Probably some important facts missing, it seems, as his reaction seems a bit over the top. At any rate, you are a prime example of why women still face equality issues in employment. Read Margo’s last paragraph, then reread it, than move on.

    LW2: Familiar with this scenario – only it involves lunches with the gals from work, which we have started having in smaller groups, or twosies, in order to avoid being beholden to the Discussion Dominating Diva.

  6. avatar Obediah Fults says:

    Interrupting and story-hijacking has become epidemic and it sounds like this is the problem with Bookie’s conversation hog. So often lately, it seems that whenever I preface a story with a statement, it’s taken as a signal for someone else to tell me his or her own story on a related topic. I find myself stunned by the rudeness of it all and usually clam up. For example, I might want to share a memory and introduce it by saying, “When I was a boy, I had a dog named Jill.” Before I can say more, the story is hijacked with something like, “Oh, my dog ran out into the road the other day and I thought, for sure, she was going to be hit by a car! I got her back though, and then my son put a rope between two trees so now we can clip her to that and she can run back and forth and still be safe.” So, even though my story about how Jill loved to ride in a car and go to the beach was inconsequential, it was my story to tell…and I didn’t get to tell it. I don’t know why this still astonishes me because it happens so often, but it does; and it still hurts my feelings. I wouldn’t blame Bookie for telling off the blabbermouth, if she can even get a word in to do it.

  7. avatar CatA says:

    Obediah, I agree with you and would have enjoyed hearing you tell your story. But today’s young people don’t develop or exercise their listening skills because there is always a camera rolling and they want to look good when THEIR important “news” gets posted — you never know when the next Reality Show will be scouting and lead to a lucrative contract – because Americans are still more concerned with Honey Boo Boo “news” than with how to become poltically, academically and ecologically astute and engaged. Getting off the soap box in 3…2…1

    • avatar BlueeyedSara says:

      Funny – I find it is usually the old people who won’t shut the heck up.

    • avatar Obediah Fults says:

      Thanks, CatA. She loved to ride in a car and go to the beach. The end. 🙂

      • avatar toni says:

        I bet she was special and wonderful and adored her mamma! Love your story. It was worth listening to.

    • avatar Lila says:

      CatA, young people have also lost conversational skills because they actually prefer to text. Saw an article the other day quoting an 18-yr-old saying that he didn’t like face-to-face conversation because he never knew what he might say, but texting gave him a chance to self-censor. Pretty sad – just an indication that he never developed any conversational skills (like think before you speak) while growing up. Ironic that older people can think fast enough to self-censor but a lot of younger folks no longer can.

      • avatar Eve Dallas says:

        Lila – I think there needs to be a little more qualification on that first sentence. I don’t think young people have “lost” conversational skills. I don’t think they’re being taught conversational skills. This is definitely something that should be taught in the home, and would be a good after-school activity as well for kids who are a little older. Just my two cents.

        • avatar Lila says:

          Eve, true. Rephrase – conversational skills are becoming a lost art because younger people are not acquiring them… though they do acquire mad texting skills.

          And it’s hard to teach your kids how to politely converse when everyone at the table has their phones out.

    • avatar chuck alien says:

      i do like hearing what the old folks like to tell themselves about the kids today.

      ah, “today’s youth” … never quite as good as yesterday’s youth.

      • avatar Lila says:

        chuck, yeah, they’re not so good at reading cursive either.

        But to be fair, my own generation gets on my nerves too, for other reasons. I think generations do become imprinted with a sort of “generational trait set” as a result of specific conditions, trends and technology that dominated their formative years. Speaking in very broad terms.

    • avatar Sdierdre says:

      Kids these days! Get off my lawn!! /sarcasm 🙂

      • avatar Maleney Thibeault says:

        I may not be a young adult anymore, I am 28 years old, but I think you’re all generalizing younger people. I have two children, 5 year old girl, and 3 year old son. And I make it a point that she must think before she speaks, she has a tendency to blurt things out that sometimes are rude, making certain comments. I am trying to teach my children manners, please, thank you, excuse me, bless you, etc. So maybe some young kids are rude and have no conversational skills, not all of them are that way, and I am making sure that my children do not become that way. As a small, little off topic, example: my daughter asked me, “Why does everyone say teef, but me? I say teeth.” why do some people say teef??? It is an incorrect pronunciation, it is TEETH. so I told her, “Teef is incorrect, the proper and correct way to say it is, teeth. your brother is still learning, and other people are just saying it wrong.” is it difficult to teach kids how to say things correctly? I think not, just as so many parents have tuned out of teaching their kids conversational skills. Just don’t lose hope, there are some parents out there who are trying, like me, to raise actual humans and not alcohol drinking robots who don’t know how to speak, or spell for that matter.

  8. avatar David Bolton says:

    LW1: This is equal parts “Fargo” and stupid.

    LW2: Is this “book club” actually a metaphor for a certain message board?

  9. avatar D C says:

    Letter writer #2:  Someone in the club who knows this over-sharing person the best should take her aside and tell her to give someone else a chance to speak now and then.  Nobody ever did that for me, but luckily I have been able to sense when I’ve overstepped and can reel it back in.  Conversational give and take doesn’t come easily to everyone, and those who are prone to never shut up don’t realize it while they are doing it.  Their stories are fascinating to them, and so must be fascinating to everyone, or so they think.  It’s not malicious — it’s just being socially awkward.  I have to admit, it took seeing it from my Asperger’s son to begin seeing it in myself.  It’s quite likely this person never has experienced being in your shoes (falling down bored while someone drones on and on), so she probably doesn’t recognize it.  Do her a favor that will make her uncomfortable for a moment, but a better group member for life.  Tell her in as nice but direct way as possible.  Example:   “Sarah, we think it’s great that you are so passionate about everything we discuss at book club, but some of the rest of us are just as passionate and you never give us a chance to put our 2 cents in.  Could you please try to cut back on your comments — limit yourself to 5 minutes, and then let someone else share.” 

  10. avatar Belinda Joy says:

    Both of these letters have something in common. Two women that need to do a lot of self exploration.

    Letter #1 – You had me until your parting salvo about how he could have given you more money. Even if it was said sarcastically, it is a revealing statement about how you think. If your true intention was a job and not a handout, when he gave you the $800 you should have given it back to him.  I see nothing wrong with looking up old friends or mates. I’ve done so myself and been rejected by come, reconnected with others. That’s life and it’s alway a gamble. However if he used this as a chance to get back at you, this says more about you than him.

    There is a reason you were hurt by this. If you had no feelings for him and were truly at dinner for possible employment help, his opinion of your resume and skills would fall into the “that’s your opinion pal” column. This letter writer needs to learn that people who we have no emotions for don’t usually result in our emotions being swayed so deeply. If they are swayed, it usually means we are thinking of that person far too much. Best to grow a thick skin, chalk it up to a life experience and move on. As I agree with Margo, just because someone is wealthy doesn’t mean they have to share their wealth with you. Again, who are you to him that he should even give you a penny? Be glad he tossed you hundreds.

    Letter #2 – Book clubs are fun, but they are also like high school in some ways. People that gather to gossip and talk books AND life ….let’s be real.  Just as with high school, the cool kids rarely bond well with the nerds. The cheerleaders are not going to bond well with the plain Janes.  The self absorbed are not going to bond well with the cerebral types. It is what it is. Best to be frank and direct and tell her that her personality style doesn’t mesh with the group. She will be hurt, maybe even a tad pissed, but she’ll be gone AND she will be left to do some much needed self exploration.

    If she truly is as bad as this letter writer claims, trust and believe this is not the first time a group of ladies have shunned her for her personality. But maybe this will be the first time she’ll be told directly why.  Your kicking her to the curb may be a learning moment for her, a gift in disguise.           

  11. avatar Cindy Marek says:

    L #1: Let’s face it: You wanted to use him, right? I do hope you’re soon steadily employed. Use your own resources, brains, etc. It’s sad he resorted to being vindictive. And I can’t help wondering if he enjoyed feeling superior to a Yankee. Probably it goes without saying it’s the last exchange you two will ever have; you’ll be leaving each other alone after this.

    L #2: It’s always got to be someone. And though it’s difficult, someone’s going to have to flat-out tell this woman. Trust me, she won’t ever “get it” by self-awareness.

  12. avatar Lisa Bonnice says:

    I’ve led groups, and the way I’ve handled the chatty members is to lay out the ground rules before each meeting, every single time, as a reminder for regulars and instruction for new people. We take turns talking, and are limited to a set amount of time. We use a “talking stick,” and only the person who has the stick is allowed to talk. Once the official group meeting is over, there is plenty of time for free chatter, so the folks who really like to talk will have their opportunity then, and those who don’t want to listen are free to beg off and leave the meeting. It works pretty well this way.

  13. avatar Chris Glass` says:

    The writer in Letter 1 needs to get over herself.

    Letter 2 all I can say is where is the moderator of this club? If there isn’t one maybe one stronger member should be voted to handle the discussions. so they can’t be hijacked. I belong to a discussion group that is not adverse to telling members they are out of line or dominating.

  14. avatar Ariana says:

    #2: Instead of confronting the person, which rarely turns out well especially if you’re also friends, why don’t you try some consensus making. Next meeting, call everyone together to re-establish some ground rules. Start by explaining that a few people have been dropping out due to the amount of off-topic stories that are being discussed.

    Have people offer solutions for moderating each other during the discussions. One poster mentioned reading the ground-rules at the start and using a talking stick. Those are good beginnings. Be sure to discuss how to let each other know when they step over the agreed rules for off-topic discussions.

    This way the entire group will be looking for a solution instead of sniping behind each other’s back. I’d even send out a re-invitation to the people who dropped out explaining the new rules and ask them to come check it out again.

    Asking people to drop out or re-forming a new book club should be the last resort, not the first option! If you don’t learn how to finding solutions instead of avoiding them, the pattern will just repeat itself the next time you have a club (e.g. perhaps the next group has people who don’t read the books who only show up to socialize — are you going to re-form then yet another group?)

    You’d be surprised how well this system works. It will also give you some good team leading/mediation skills.

    • avatar Pinky35 says:

      I love your advice! Pushing the offending person out would be harsh and maybe she doesn’t even realize what she’s doing. If there are rules to follow and a gentle way to let someone know they’re going a little off topic, that should keep things at bay.

  15. avatar chuck alien says:

    Anyone with the tiniest amount of self-respect would reject that $800 handout.

    So I’m assuming the letter writer took it.

    (the guy sounds pathetic as well… who gets arranged marriage by their sister? grow a pair, man.)

    • avatar Eve Dallas says:

      At the first negative comment, I would have said, “It’s been great catching up with you. I obviously hurt you when we broke up, but I don’t have to sit here and listen to you malign me. Good night, and good life.” LW1 sounds like she needs to take a serious look in the mirror and get some counseling on how to drop her entitlement malfunction. If the $800 were cash, I’d have either thrown it back in his face or start handing it out to random folks at the restaurant on my way out. If it were a check, tear it up, and throw the pieces back at him.

  16. avatar Gemgal2000 says:

    I think you’re being a little hard on LW1.  She didn’t ask this man for a handout; she didn’t even ask him for a job.  She asked him for help FINDING a job.  He responded by insulting her and then giving her a sum of money that was clearly insignificant to him.  I don’t blame her; I’d have been upset too.  It’s perfectly acceptable to call on old friends/acquaintances for assistance, especially if giving it would require little or no effort on their part – it’s what social networking used to mean before the internet.  As for the $800 – that would be like leaving a server in a restaurant a 25-cent tip after a $50 dinner.  It’s more than expressing dissatisfaction with your service; it’s a deliberate insult.  I thought that’s what she meant, rather than that he should have given her more.  In any case, she’s learned something about this man’s character.

  17. avatar Diane Shaw says:

    Ltr. #2 – Maybe some of you can institute “new rules” of the book club. I saw this work beautifully the other day. I’m involved in assisting with Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) classes. At the first class when announcements were being made, our fearless leader, a witty, wickedly sarcastic Aussie, made the announcement that we did not want to hear any war stories. Even if it’s the mother of all stories – keep it to yourself! No sharing, we don’t want to hear it! He was very blunt and firm, yet endearing at the same time and it worked. Generally, there’s always been that one or two in class, but didn’t happen this time. It was great.

    • avatar Diane Shaw says:

      I even had a thought you could implement the equivalent of a “swear jar”. Anyone who starts a war story and is called on it has to put a $1 into a jar. You could, as a group, have a couple of ringers to start it all off so that it all seems very light-hearted and not directed at any one person.

  18. avatar Annie H says:

    LW #1-Have you ever stopped to think how many people have “looked” the man up for whatever reason?  You just happened to have dated him and it sounds like hurt him.  That gave him additional ammo for, as you call it, a revenge dinner.  You probably received additonal “revenge” from him being bothered from every Tom, Dick and Harry that has ever looked him up for their own good.  Did he go overboard? Yes.  Did you ask for it?  Probably.  I’d be really upset myself if you basically looked me up after x amount of years for help finding a job.  If this guy behaves like this with women in general, you sure dogged a bullet and so did he.

    LW #2-You are going to have to publicly set rules for your group and then enforce them.  I like the talking goblet myself.  People will go overboard and in a group you have to be prepared to deal with it.  I have the same problem with people.  You have to re-drect them and say “Thanks Maryjo for that story.  Moving on to Sue, you had something to input?”  Once you have everything in order, you can let the members who have left know about the changes.  If the problem child won’t comply, you will have to ask her to join a different group.

  19. avatar JCF4612 says:

    LW1: Can’t imagine many of us would be vulnerable to such a revenge dinner. I’m surprised your ex-guy bothered to waste an hour on dinner with you. If you accepted the $800, that bit of tackiness was all he needed to know to confirm breaking up with you was a brilliant stroke.    

    LW2: Margo nailed it: Disband, reform, and leave the convo hijacker roadside.  

  20. avatar okapi says:

    Yes, LW1 is truly a warning for the masses. Angry Chinese billionaires everywhere are plotting revenge as we speak, stuffing money into their socks to wave before those who earlier rejected their obvious potential, red pen newly capped, resumes besmirched, dinner reservations made, manical laughs laughed. Beware, ladies. They’re waiting. For you.

  21. avatar deejay says:

    You know, I really wonder if people here understand how the business world works. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with making contact with someone more established as a means to getting a leg up in your career, regardless of whether you maintained the relationship in the meantime. It’s called “networking.” It’s not like asking why you weren’t invited to someone’s wedding after five years of silence.

    Whether or not help is forthcoming has nothing to do with personal affection – it has to do with whether the more established party sees an advantage in doing so. For instance, will the more junior party be a good employee that the established party’s peers will be thankful for? Are you only one or two steps down the ladder and therefore of possible assistance despite your more junior status? And so on.

    It seems to me, in this case, that the industrialist did not see any great advantage in helping her, and explained why, and she took it personally. But he was willing to spend time on what needed to be done to her CV, and she took that personally, too. The $800 might have been in recognition of her costs if she travelled to another city to see him. To me, it looks like she opened a business meeting, but then was dismayed when he treated it as one, and he saw it, and that closed the door on any willingness he might have had to help her further.

    I might be wrong and the LW really did see the personal hostility that she thought she saw. But a lot of more junior people in the business world see senior executive behaviour as personal and intentionally hurtful when it honestly isn’t – when it’s honestly meant to be constructive and intended for an emotional equal.

    • avatar jadez says:

      or maybe the billionaire did possess some skills that made him so successful.

      maybe one of his skills is identifying a complete loser who uses people to further her own ambitions and she views that as her entitlement.

      or maybe

  22. avatar Lym BO says:

    LW1; Entertaining. HE must’ve had great fun putting you in your place. Was the $800 before or after sex? It would make the story must more interesting. ANd tell more what he truly thought of you.