Dear Margo: Autonomy Even in Relationships

Margo Howard’s advice

Autonomy Even in Relationships

Dear Margo: I’ve been seeing “Chip” off and on for a year and a half. We’ve had lots of problems lately and broke up for three weeks. During that time, I was depressed and reconnected with old friends to boost my morale. I ended up talking with an old friend who lives across the country. He mentioned he had an extra ticket to an event that was coming up and suggested I fly there to get out of town for a weekend. It sounded like a great time, so I said yes.

Fast-forward a couple of weeks. Chip and I are back together trying to work things out. As soon as we resumed, I told him about my plans. The event is coming up next weekend, and I still plan to go — except Chip is livid. (It doesn’t help that he’s always had trust issues, even though I’ve never cheated on him.) He says if I care about his feelings, I won’t go, and he assumes I am going to sleep with this friend. He also thinks it’s weird that I reconnected with an old friend he says I barely know.

I was very much looking forward to this trip and have no intention whatsoever of hooking up with this guy. I trust this old friend and don’t view him as the stranger Chip is making him out to be. I have money invested in a flight, plus I would feel horrible if I bailed on my friend, especially for a relationship that is off and on and has so many problems. What do you think? Should I still go on this trip, or abandon a fun time for a possibly sinking ship? — Undecided in Florida

Dear Un: I would go. You are a free agent, and capitulating would not send the right message. If he is so insecure that he thinks visiting a male friend indicates a fling, you need to establish that his lack of trust in you does not bode well. Jealousy, for no reason, is never a good sign. Let the chips fall where they may, no pun intended. — Margo, self-sufficiently

Interpreting Differing Opinions

Dear Margo: I was struck by the letter from the woman whose husband doesn’t care where they eat or what movies they see. I have the reverse problem. I like documentaries, and my significant other likes escapism. I like spicy food; she likes bland. We alternate each week on who does which household chores. I like cleared and clean kitchen counters; she likes to defer washing dishes until we run out of clean ones.

I’ve learned that the movies I express interest in seeing somehow conflict with our schedules, while hers don’t. The question becomes whether the situation is sufficiently good to justify sacrificing my values, or is it sufficiently demeaning to warrant abandoning ship? The problem isn’t not having an opinion; it is in having learned that it is the wrong one. — Jay

Dear Jay: Your problem is quite different from the good-natured guy with few preferences. What’s going on in your life is that you are made to feel insignificant — or demeaned, in your words. Only you can decide whether how your S.O. makes you feel is a deal breaker.

My own opinion is that no one should have to sacrifice their values or always be made to feel “wrong.” Looking down at your relationship from my satellite of neutrality, I would say you two are not compatible in ways that really count. This woman sounds bossy and not at all concerned with your feelings. Over to you. — Margo, interpretively

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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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35 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Constance Plank says:


    Certainly, go see your old friend. You’ve made a commitment, you want to go, you have tickets. All good reasons. If you and Chip break up over this for the final time, that’s just as well. Especially because he thinks you’re going to hook up with this friend. Even though you aren’t.

    In a healthy relationship, there is room for individual friends and activities. In a healthy relationship, there is trust until someone proves untrustworthy.


    You sound basically incompatible. Living with someone with with differing standards of cleanliness is really hard. (I was married to a hoarder. He thought I kept the house too clean. Let’s just say that while I respected his office as private space, I reserved the right to remove debris that tripped me when I walked to our mutual printer. This was back when laser printers were hideously expen$ive. I still vividly remember finding a used wet diaper in the trash near his desk. Our younger daughter had been potty-trained for almost a year.)

    Courtesy of the hoarder, I am perhaps a little sensitive on the subject of dirty dishes, etc. I did the dishes every night for many, many years because he’d promise to do them tomorrow morning. In our relationship, tomorrow morning was a moveable feast.

    As for movies, and activities, I’m a big fan on either taking turns, or if you really hate the activity, having the understanding that it’s okay to see the occasional movie alone. Or, have individual hobbies & friends, as long as there’s also couple time. We’re all individuals with our own wants and needs. She should respect your movie choices, as much as you respect hers.

    Good luck,

    Constance in the soggy & foggy Sierra Foothills of California

  2. avatar Katharine Gray says:

    LW#1:  By all means go on your trip.   Off again, on again, jealousy, guilt trips and all that comes with Chip doesn’t seem worth it to me and I really wouldn’t think less of you if you decided to hook up with your old friend if you feel like it and are not doing it just to spite Chit (oh…excuse me.. Chip).

    LW#2:  I also think your girlfriend sounds bossy and that as long as you are together its going to be her way or the highway for you (or the  couch).   I don’t know that I would call movie preferences and housekeeping practices *values* but they are your preferencess and should be respected and deferred to from time to time just out of care and consideration.  I’m just curious…does leaving all the dishes dirty until you’ve used the last one often mean that the mess is left for *your* week to clean?  She sounds a bit lazy too.  

    And..if it makes you feel better, reading your letter made me feel guilty that I had some dishes in the sink and on the  counter and I actually got up, put them in the dishwasher and wiped down my counter before I continued my reply.        

  3. avatar avast2006 says:

    “plus I would feel horrible if I bailed on my friend, especially for a relationship that is off and on and has so many problems. What do you think? Should I still go on this trip, or abandon a fun time for a possibly sinking ship?”

    This kind of says it all, doesn’t it? You value “a fun time” more than you value your relationship with Chip, whom you regard as a “possibly sinking ship.” For god’s sake, rip the band-aid off, already.

  4. avatar emma manderson says:

    I appear to be reading LW2 differently than others. He seems dismissive of his partner’s choices- “escapism”, “bland food”. He seems to be of the opinion that her choices are inferior to his. No doubt there is more that he is not saying, but there isn’t enough here to convince me she is a harpy. Is it really demeaning to be with someone who has different tastes than you?

    • avatar Mary says:

      You missed the part where he says “I’ve learned that the movies I express interest in seeing somehow conflict with our schedules, while hers don’t.” It’s the kind of situation where the red flags aren’t brightly flashing and in your face, rather they’re so subtle he needs to ask for advice.

    • avatar A R says:

      I agree, emma. I don’t think she’s awful to him, just that they are poorly matched. He didn’t mention harping, scolding, cold-shouldering, etc. Just that they like opposing things and cannot agree on much. Demeaning? Really. Dramatic much?

  5. avatar Toni Jean says:

    It’s odd that people are saying LW2’s gal is bossy. It seems to be the one thing they have in common! He’s doing the EXACT same thing she is and she could be writing in next week w his same complaints! You’re both stubborn. Decide if it’s worth figuring better ways to accommodate each other or if your differences are too many. Btw there’s no law that says you have to go to the same movie.

    • avatar A R says:

      Well said! Sounds to me like he’s the pot calling the kettle black. Only he’s the one who wrote in to an advice columnist. Date someone else, man

  6. avatar htimsr40 says:

    LW1 – I agree she should go. Her relationship with Chip is over and they both need to accept that fact.

    However, I think Margo’s comment would be different if it were “Chip” flying across country for a date (and that’s what it is) with a female friend with whom he had “reconnected” while he and his girlfriend were arguing. I don’t think Margo would see this as clearly innocent.

    I am sure that some men and women could do this innocently … but I also believe that a anyone who makes a decision to fly across country to “reconnect” and “boost my morale” with an old friend of the opposite sex during a time of relationship trouble is vulnerable to things “just happening”. I have read enough Margo to know how she believes men use women to “boost my morale”. That is code for “hook up” in the Manual of How Men Act.

    The LW should be prepared for her long lost friend to be looking to “boost her morale” unless he is gay.

  7. avatar Belinda Joy says:

    Letter #2 – You need to end the relationship.

    So many people stay in relationships like this because they are “familiar” – they know their partner. They may not be completely happy but……at least they know what they are going to get. If they say this….she will say that. If they do this……she will do that. And I am not saying familiar in that warm and fuzzy way, because there is some comfort in knowing….really knowing your partner. But if you feel demeaned, no matter how that emotion was evoked, it is time to leave.

    Every second this letter writer wastes in this relationship is just that….wasted. Someone that is better yoked and better able to love and respect him is out there looking for him.

    Letter #1 -Undecided should definitely go on the trip! 🙂

    It would be completely different if the male friend had shown signs that he would be open to a possible relationship beyond friendship, but the letter writer says that is not the case. I won’t pile on and say her boyfriend is being unreasonable, because there are MILLIONS of women that could be in his place easily. Women that carry betrayal and trust issues from past relationships into their current one. Men aren’t immune from this, they too have emotional baggage.

    However, she shouldn’t allow his emotional baggage (when it clearly isn’t justified) to impede on what sounds like will be a fun event.

    And because I cant help myself…..why this letter writer is putting up with a on-again/off-again relationship is something she needs to take a long hard look at. Once and for all she needs to ask herself why she is choosing to settle in life for that.

  8. avatar JCF4612 says:

    1) Go, go, go … sounds like fun. It’s great to have friends, and who knows … this may lead to a valued important relationship. Let old Chipper crumble over this if he so chooses.  Doesn’t sound like you and he have much of a future anyway. If it’s not this trip, he’ll make an issue of something else.

    2) Seemingly there’s much joy going on here. What exactly do you two click on? Are you together just because you’re llike comfortable old (if ill-fitting worn out) shoes?   

  9. avatar Cindy Marek says:

    L #1: Your and Chip’s relationship isn’t a healthy one. Based on couples I’ve personally known with very similar issues/pattern, you’ll go on like this for years to come with continued misery, fighting, breakups and makeups … unless one of you ends it (likely that wouldn’t be Chip, and then he’d try and guilt induce you into staying). Unless you like ongoing drama (it’s easy to deal with/roll of your back when young, but trust me – *time takes its toll* and will hit you very hard eventually), I’d nix the relationship and get on with finding someone more compatible who’ll *make you happy.*

    L #2: I agree with Margo.

  10. avatar wlaccma says:

    In both these relationships I say “Run” the other way. These troubled relationships are not ready for the long haul.

  11. avatar Kathleen Hein says:

    LW1: By all means, go on the trip. However, I think you are incredibly naive to think this guy friend who invited you to fly across the country is thinking along completely platonic lines. I suppose that anything is possible, but let’s be honest about what the chances of that are! I think you know this too, deep down, but are trying to use his being “unreasonable” as an excuse to break up with him again- and leaving you free for whatever happens on the trip. So break up with Chip, change your phone number, and enjoy the weekend! The on again/off again game isn’t healthy for any of the parties involved!

    LW2: And you’re still with this person because….. ? Maybe you both are demeaning of one another’s preferences. That’s not the sign of a healthy relationship, no matter who is “right” or “wrong.”

    • avatar A R says:

      Well said on LW1, Kathleen. I totally agree! She’s only fooling herself if she believes that the invitation isn’t prelude to a hookup, and she’s silly if she continues to pretend that she isn’t okay with a possible hookup. She’d do herself and Chip a big favor by splitting up with him now so that whatever happens on her cross-country trip doesn’t create any internal conflicts in her.

  12. avatar mmht says:

    LW#1: The fact that you clearly see that this relationship is most likely going no where says everything. Go on your trip, have a great time, and dump this guy for good.

  13. avatar David Bolton says:

    The problems this week are secondary to the fact that Margo had an opportunity to use a ship metaphor for both in her headline—and completely missed it.

    I am very, very disappointed in you, Margo.

  14. avatar D says:

    The LW and the SO had problems and are trying to work things out. The LW tells the SO that he/she is flying to see a male friend across the country. How does the LW not understand how the SO would have a problem with this? He might believe that the LW will not try to sleep with the friend (I would not) but that does not mean that he believes that the friend will not try to sleep with the LW. I look at it this way – if the LW goes on this trip, he/she might as well break up with the SO first. Even if nothing happens, the SO might never believe that nothing happened.

    I would not call this woman bossy. She just has different tastes and a different way of doing things. There is nothing wrong with that. If the LW cannot live with that, then he can end the relationship. I do think the LW is being a bit petty.

  15. avatar jennaA says:

    #1: I would still go, too! Chip doesn’t sounds like a keeper considering the plans were made while they were broken up and he doesn’t encourage her to honor her committments. If they were married it would be a different story but I hope it doesn’t get to that point!

    #2: Making accommodations for our partners/spouses is the essence of a relationship. That’s love. However, if the giving is all one-sided, that’s not a relationship, it’s a dictatorship. It really bothers me that so many people are in situations like these. Too many people still believe the world revolves around them and it doesn’t bode well for the people who love them.

  16. avatar Ariana says:

    LW#2: Nothing you mentioned has to do with your values, so maybe we’re missing that part of the letter. However, since you guys can’t decide on food, chores or movies, the underlying problem is that your wife (i assume) is trying to always have her own way.

    That’s something you need to confront head on with a conversation. You need to let her know that it’s not okay for her always to be busy when your movies are on, or find a reason that she can’t go to a restaurant you pick.

    If you’re not having success with the trading off on chores each week, why not divide them up differently? You always do dishes, she always mops. Then both decide on what happens when one person doesn’t do their part.

    By standing up for yourself, you’re giving her a clear signal that that kind of immature behavior isn’t acceptable. With some people, this feedback will work, with others it won’t. How she reacts should be the guide on whether to continue with the relationship.

  17. avatar KL says:

    LW 2 — I’m actually surprised by how many people are saying terrible things about the gf or that he should chuck the relationship altogether. Frankly, the problems he states seem very, very workable and they both seem guilty of the same things — him wanting his way and she wanting hers and instead of either being more empathetic or accommodating, both deciding to characterize the others’ preferences in terms of right/wrong or better/worse. C’mon — “bland” and “escapism” — you don’t think those have negative connotations and a slighting holier than thou attitude?

    It really depends on whether these things are just surface issues — and if they are, they should be easily manuevered around with some basic communication skills and empathy — or whether they’re indicative of deeper problems like lack of empathy, lack of concern/consideration for the other person’s needs and desires, rigidity, etc. Though from my perspective, such “sins” are numerous on both sides.

    Preferences are only as important as people make them. People that value them highly (i.e. anal retentive types that need things to be certain way) are going to need to be with people that are highly compatible with these preferences because they’re so inflexible. Those that are more laidback have a lot more wiggle room because they can go with the flow more easily — and I think that’s oftentimes why you see a very laidback person with a very uptight person.

    But this isn’t an issue of right/wrong or better/worse, but whether LW2 can find a way to make it work with his wife/gf. If he can bend a little in her direction and if she can bend a little in his so they can meet in the middle. But, in this case, it sounds like both need to want to make that effort and only LW2 knows whether he’s willing to do his part and whether his wife/gf will/can reciprocate.

    Have a come-to-Jesus talk with her and see what she says. If she’s too rigid and you don’t want to do all the bending, then end the relationship. But if she’s willing to bend and compromise, then there is a possibility to start over. I find that good relationships are few and far between and I wouldn’t be so quick to throw one away over what appears to be very workable issues — after all we’re not talking dealbreaker issues like having kids, religion or something similar of that nature.

  18. avatar Kathy says:

    LW1 – I totally see where the boyfriend is coming from.  If I broke up with my guy FOR THREE WEEKS and during that time, he made plans to fly off and spend the weekend with a female friend and wasn’t about to change plans just because we got back together, I’d be totally hacked.  Don’t be so easy on LW1.  She was trolling for a new relationship and thinks she may have one.  (Thought I doubt it.  They’ll hook up, she’ll fly back home and pretty soon start sniffing around the boyfriend again.)

    • avatar KL says:

      I’d say that such a trip should be fine even if LW1 was in a relationship when plans are made. Sure, since it’s a newly connected old friend I can understand the bf being apprehensive about the other guy — but he shouldn’t be apprehensive about LW1. The fact that he is indicates some great trust issues — and that’s the problem. Dump this guy for your own sanity — you obviously don’t have the same values on trust and appropriateness of opposite sex relationships (the guy isn’t an old flame — just a friend).

      • avatar LovePacino says:

        Did you miss the part where he wrote: “I’ve learned that the movies I express interest in seeing somehow conflict with our schedules, while hers don’t.” AND also: “The problem isn’t not having an opinion; it is in having learned that it is the wrong one.” Sounds like he is routinely on the ‘”losing end” of things.

      • avatar LovePacino says:

        OOPS! My previous reply was meant for someone else.

  19. avatar R Scott says:

    I think the theme of today’s letters is “Relationships That Kind of Suck and Will Only Get Worse”.

  20. avatar BeanCounter says:

    Margo has been WAITING for a letter with a character named “Chip”, so she could use that pun.    oh Margo….

  21. avatar Barrudaki says:

    LW1 should go on the trip. I had the same thing happen to me, I had been dating Leslie off and on for awhile. I was having a rough time during one of our break ups and my friend Margaret suggested I come out to see her. She was temporarily relocated due to her job and wanted familar company for a bit. So, we made plans for me to go across country for a visit. Of course dear X came strolling back into the picture right before the trip. Of course  Leslie didn’t want me to go thought I would have too much fun without her. I went anyways the flight was paid for and booked, plus I had already scheduled vacation time. I had a wonderful time. Found out the reason Leslie was so insecure about me going on vacation without her was because she had been cheating on me with various girls.

    So, LW1 go on that trip! Don’t let Chip’s insecurity tie you down! Chances are he is worried about you cheating because he has already done it!

  22. avatar avast2006 says:

    I wouldn’t necessarily call LW2’s SO “bossy” but I would call her not at all accommodating. She does things her way, and displays no interest in what anyone else wants. If she’s not interested, then she makes no effort to accommodate the other person who is. She fills the calendar according to her own wishes, and makes no effort to include plans to fulfill any of her partner’s wishes.

    Part of the problem is that SO is getting away with running the calendar for both of them, but only for her own benefit. He needs to start working actively with his partner in creating their calendar, instead of finding out at the last minute that the date is already full. And in so doing he needs to stand up for his own plans. to make sure they get on the calendar. Maybe the schedule really is that full, but if there is time for movies at all, then there is time to alternate which _kind_ of movie. If she refuses to go with him to the documentary, then he is entirely justified in sending her off to her rom-com by herself next time movie night comes up, and go to the documentary by himself.

    It is a bit disturbing, however, that LW refers to SO’s interests as “escapism.” Could call it “fiction” or “adventure” or a whole lot of other, less condescending descriptions. One wonders whether the stranglehold on the calendar is a passive-aggressive response to having her interests disrespected.

  23. avatar Miss Lee says:

    Ltr # 1, I, like many others, have doubts about your trip remaining platonic but it doesn’t really matter.  I agree with the writer that said “rip the band aid off.”

    LTR # 2, there are no right choices for movies or food.  Depends emtirely upon the personal choice.  Sounds like you both have judgment issues.  I have tried to make relations work where the differences were numerous and the judgements were harsh.  It didn’t do either one of us any good and left us both with baggage we didn’t need.  End the relationship and take some time finding out what is really important to you.  And then find someone that is an easier fit.  Difficult relationships don’t last because they are difficult.  Who wants to live in difficult 24/7?

    • avatar avast2006 says:

      There may be no right choices for food and movies, but there are wrong choices. Only ever doing one partner’s preference, and ignoring the preference of the other partner, would qualify as a wrong choice.

      Two people don’t have to be a perfect match in order to be a successful one, they just have to be willing to accommodate each other a reasonable amount of the time. (Or find the ways in which they both get their preference at the same time. Honestly, is it that hard to find a restaurant that serves _both_ spicy and mild?)

      The issue with the dishes can also work this way. I think the person who wants the clean kitchen should back off when it isn’t his week to clean. However, the person who doesn’t mind the mess should be sure to clean up thoroughly on Sunday night before the clean freak takes over KP on Monday morning. This is to make sure the clean person doesn’t end up stuck with _all_ the work of cleaning up.