Dear Margo: Conquering a Phobia

Margo Howard’s advice

Conquering a Phobia

Dear Margo: I am a bicycle rider, or at least I used to be. A couple of months ago, I almost got run over in an intersection. It was a four-way stop, and I had stopped and was waiting for the oncoming car to stop before I proceeded. I didn’t realize the driver had not seen me, and just as I was crossing in front of her car, she started forward. For a second I thought, “They want to kill me.” I screamed like I was being attacked, and the driver stopped in time to just tap my bicycle. She did not knock me over. I was pretty shook up and had to get a ride home.

I recognized that I was a little fearful of getting back on my bike, but I did, thinking that my fear would decrease over time. It has not. My resistance to riding has become so great that I can no longer ride alone. If I’m riding with someone, I am fine, but I no longer ride to work or to do errands. I hate this. I just want to be like I was. I hate going to a therapist for what seems like such a small thing. Do you have any advice? — Terminally Spooked?

Dear Term: I do not consider your fear a small thing. It is interfering with your life and your routine, and it’s entirely understandable to me as someone who is afraid to even get on a bike.

I would suggest you see a cognitive therapist (often they are psychologists) to deal with your one issue. Look at it this way: The fright you are experiencing is clear-cut and fixable, so consider yourself lucky that this straightforward difficulty (let us call it “vehicular phobia relating to four wheels versus two”) is not a stew of dysfunctional relationships, abuse or depression requiring extensive therapy, medication, past lives regression or what have you. “Getting back on the horse” has many applications having nothing to do with actual horses. — Margo, therapeutically

Are There “Rights” With Gifts?

Dear Margo: Most of my family members, with the exception of myself, are well to do and have successful careers and lovely homes. They are in the habit of giving donations to charities rather than actual presents on gift-giving occasions, because if any of them needs anything, they can afford to go out and buy it.

The charitable contributions are a lovely and generous practice. However, recently a family member gave money, in my name, to a charity whose conservative (pro-life, anti-LGBT) values I do not agree with. I came unglued, the stuff of real family legend. I was told I cannot dictate what “gifts” I get. But I think that if my name is to be associated with it, I should at least get to request a favorite organization. Do I, or should I, have any right to request that donations in my name not go to such organizations? — Katy

Dear Kat: What an interesting question. I feel your pain and understand your pique. Having such different values from the conservative organization that received “your” contribution would make Jesus want to drink gin from a cat dish, to swipe a phrase from Anne Lamott.

When it’s an occasion — birthday, anniversary, etc. — you can’t really request where the donation will go. The only time such direction is proper is in an obituary. What you can do, however, when you hear from this organization (and you will, because now you are on their list) is to respond with a note asking that you be removed from their mailings because you are not in agreement with their goals. That, or send the postage-paid return envelope back empty. It will make you feel better. — Margo, decorously

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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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80 Responses so far.

  1. avatar mayma says:

    LW2, tell your family that they cannot dictate the definition of a gift.  These donations are in no way “gifts” to you, and I would tell them so.  I mean, you are not involved in the exchange in any way, shape or form; it is a transaction between the charity and the donor, period.  If someone gave me that, I would look puzzled, or feign confusion in some way, and then say, “Hm.  Not sure why you’re involving me in your tax plans.”  And then I would lay the card conspicuously aside. 

    • avatar stateoflove_N_Trust says:

      I would also tell the person that you do not want further gifts from them. They can feel free to put their name on the donation. Then stop giving that person gifts as well.

  2. avatar bamabob says:

    LW2, turnabout is fair play; give a donation in that relative’s name to Planned Parenthood or the Trevor Project. While you’re at, how about a gift subscription to the Out, or another gay related magazine?

    • avatar avast2006 says:

      Or maybe a gift basket with five dollars each to Westboro Baptist Church, the KKK, and NAMBLA. That ought to get the point across about not attaching other peoples names to causes without their permission.

  3. avatar Katharine Gray says:

    LW#1:  I think Margo’s advice is sound. 

    LW#2:  At the risk of sounding uncharitable, I think those who unilaterally give  gifts to charities instead of gifts to the person they are intending to gift are presumptuous clods no matter how well-off they or the intended recipient are.  Of course, if they have all agreed that this is the practice and have all given their *favorite charity* suggestions to each other and honor them that is another thing.    But…there is not really anything you can do or say about it other than tell them which charity you prefer without sounding greedy as no one is ever entitled to a gift for any reason.   I would follow Margo’s advice with respect to the charity concerned and mention it no more.  However, since this is the practice in your family and they all believe the recipient has no right to complain about the charity….there is no reason you cannot adopt their policy and send gifts in their names to charities of your choosing.   Even if you cannot afford to match their contributions monetarily you can match their charitable impulses.   

  4. avatar Mango1207 says:

    LW#2: I actually disagree with Margo on this one. I think b/c your relative is donating the money in YOUR name, you should have the right to decide what charity/organization it should go to. At the very least you should be able to say what charities/organizations CAN’T be donated to in your name.
    If the relative doesn’t want to donate to a charity that you prefer, you should tell that person to refrain from donating money to ANY charity in your name.

    • avatar Robert S says:

      I pretty much agree with you.  I don’t think it qualifies as a gift unless they are contributing to something the gift “recipient” favors.  Obviously they don’t want to give to something they don’t support, but they should find something they can both appreciate.

  5. avatar avast2006 says:

    It’s true that you don’t get to dictate what gifts you receive. That said, however, giving money to a third party hardly qualifies as a gift. The birthday boy gets no utility out of the transaction, while the giver is the one who pockets the tax deduction. It benefited everyone BUT the so-called “recipient” but he’s the one who is expected to act grateful?

    And donating to a third party that that you know the “recipient” would find offensive isn’t a gift, it’s a passive-aggressive slap.

  6. avatar WCorvi says:

    Glue the post-paid return envelope to a brick and drop it in a mailbox. The USPS must deliver it, and the recipient must pay the postage.

    • avatar Ariana says:

      And that will accomplish what exactly?

      • avatar The Wild Sow says:

        It will:
        A) Divert that bit of $$ from the organization’s repulsive actual goals, and
        B) Royally piss them off!
        Win-win :-)

        • avatar md2012 says:

          Actually the group receiving it can reject it and not owe a dime, in which case it will come back to the sender or sit in the dead letter office if there is no return address.

      • avatar mac13 says:

        It will hopefully negate the “gift” value from that relative. However all the charity has to do is refuse it, porblem solved.  But the idea stilll stands.  If the charity got a $100 donation, you could theoretically cancel out part of that in postage due.

  7. avatar Taye says:

    LW#2: I’m sorry but I don’t agree with Margo on this one either.  According to my beliefs giving money to a charity that is anti-LGBT is akin to giving money to a hate group and if a donation was made to a charity like that in my name I would be extremely offended.  I have never tried to get a donation back but I think that if any situation warranted it it would be this one.

    Obviously if my relative didn’t know my beliefs I would sit down and explain why the donation was so offensive without any hard feelings (we’re all entitled to our own beliefs) but if the relative ignored my feelings and continued making donations in my name to groups like that then, as harsh as it sounds, that would probably be the end of the relationship.  I will not tolerate having my name attached to anything that encourages discrimination against anyone.  Period.

  8. avatar G T says:

    I would agree that it is a passive aggressive slap, coupled with no doubt a very smug “well you can’t dictate anything because it was a gift”. I would respond in kind. If it was my name only given to the organization, I would make a donation to something that relative detests and informed them the same way they informed me, with the same smug declaration (along with a “you were right, so I decided to follow your example” dig). If they gave my address out and I started getting all those never ending solicitations, I would see that as a form of passive aggressive preaching and I would return it tenfold; $5-$10 to a dozen charitable organizations they would detest (and I wouldn’t wait until the next holiday) and dare them to complain about the mailers by throwing all their words back in their face.

  9. avatar Ariana says:

    The real problem started when: “I came unglued, the stuff of real family legend.”
    This caused a knee-jerk reaction: “I was told I cannot dictate what “gifts” I get.”

    I don’t know anyone who doesn’t get defensive and write someone off when someone has a screaming hissy-fit. The only way I could see this situation improving would be to either send a letter of apology to the person you came unglued on, or better yet, meet them in person and express a SINCERE apology for losing it.

    Then kindly explain that it rubbed you the wrong why because …. (using perhaps the analogies like giving to a hate group, whatever) and that in the future, in case they are so inclined to ever give anything to you or in your name ever again, to _request_ (not demand) either give to a more general charity or at least one that’s not so polarizing.

    Please keep in mind that the explanation is not to be used as an excuse for your blowing up. There was absolutely no excuse for that kind of behavior, you’re an adult. If need be, please check out some communication seminars or anger management groups online.

    • avatar mayma says:

      No, the “real problem started” when the relatives behaved so rudely.  The anger was the result of cumulative rude behavior on their part.  A charitble donation is not a gift, and a charitable donation to an opposing organization is certainly not a gift.  Shaming the LW for not keeping perfect composure at all times, in every situation, is not helpful or germane to the “real problem.”  Saying that she is the one with the issue sounds like something her self-centered relatives would say.

      Even Jesus lost it, you know.

      • avatar Ariana says:

        Why are you assuming that the gift-givers were being deliberately rude? It never said anywhere that the relative knew in advance that the charity went against the beliefs of the recipient and did it anyway. If that had been the case, the LW would have mentioned the fact that the gift giver knew that in advance and did it to spite her.

        The LW also knew full well that charitable donations is the tradition of gift giving in that family, so it’s not like it was some sort of surprise. So I in this case, I believe her freaking out over something like that was a major problem in this situation. There is a big difference between being upset and having a meltdown of epic proportions in order to solve problems in a family.

        • avatar David Bolton says:

          Ariana, get a clue. It’s about as “unintentionally rude” as my aunt giving me anti-gay literature for my Christmas present. They know exactly what they’re doing.

  10. avatar Ariana says:

    LW#1: That brings back memories when I had an accident on my motorcycle. I took a right-hand turn too fast on a cold wet morning and my tires slipped. I ended up skidding sideways into the middle of the intersection trapped under my bike.

    It happened to be late in the year, so I winterized my bike for the year. The next summer I would almost have a panic attack anytime I had to lean into a right turn. My heartrate shot up and I had to slow down to the point where my bike would almost fall over from not enough momentum in order to make the turn. I then left off riding the rest of the summer season.

    The next year I signed up for a motorcycle riding skills course. This course gave me confidence again in my handling skills and basically ‘cured’ me of my right-turn phobia.

    Perhaps there are some similar bicycle safety courses that could help you. They might suggest things such as installing a loud horn on your bike, reflective best. You might also consider volunteering to lecture at some driver awareness programs at your local DMV or driving school.

    • avatar Ariana says:

      I meant reflective vest, not best :)

    • avatar Mary says:

      It made me think of the same thing too but in a different way. More like how close calls affect people differently. My motorcycle crash was on a really tight, positive to off camber right corner. After the adrenaline spike and the shock wore off I was able to ride home and do my normal commute to work and all that after. I think the only effect was over analyzing how I corner from there on.

      • avatar Ariana says:

        I wasn’t able to keep driving afterwards. The adrenaline made my hands shake so hard I had to leave my bike parked and take a taxi home. You’re lucky you didn’t have any lasting effects after the crash, although I don’t know what a off-camber right corner is :)

  11. avatar Artemesia says:

    a charitable donation is not a ‘gift’ and this is a classic example of why that is so. She needs to say ‘there is no need to give me gifts; feel free to give charitable donations instead of giving gifts, but please leave my name off of any of them. it is not a gift to me to give money in my name and get me on mailing lists of organizations I do not support.’

    a charitable donation is not a ‘gift’ — it is a smug assertion of superiority. the only example where that is not true is when donations are requested to memorialize someone and in that case it is the choice of the family not the giver where the money is to go.

    giving to an organization that the recipient disapproves of is a petty assault at worst and a passive aggressive slap in the face at best. the smug ‘you can’t dictate a gift’ really invites a pie in the face. these people are 24 caret jerks.

    • avatar Ariana says:

      I totally disagree with your last paragraph. At best, the gift was a misplaced notion, and passive-aggressive at worst.

      If you’d ever been assaulted, you wouldn’t classify someone donating money to a charity as an assault, petty or not. I find it very offensive when people misuse (and abuse) terms like assault to express their displeasure at some situation.

      In case this wasn’t clear, an except from Wikipedia:
      The specific meaning of assault… can refer to an act that causes another to apprehend immediate and personal violence, or in the more limited sense of a threat of violence caused by an immediate show of force.

      The only thing this does is dumbify the actual meaning of the word, and in the end it won’t be taken as seriously since people refer to anything that angers them as an assault.

      • avatar Joanna Snell says:

        If you had ever suffered abuse then you would not throw the term around so casually while discouraging the use of the word assault. The common law definition reads: “… an intentional act by one person that creates an apprehension in another of an imminent harmful or offensive contact.” In some jurisdictions the offensive contact can be verbal and still considered assault because of the nature of the virulence and offensiveness of the verbal attack. There may have been a little hyperbole in the post above, but to take offense at the word assault while throwing the word abuse around shows linguistic hypocrisy.

        • avatar Ariana says:

          No I put that in there in parantheses on purpose for you. You abused the word “assault’ in an attempt to ‘intentionally create apprehension in order to be offensive’ so that your point seem more extreme than it actually is.

        • avatar Ariana says:

          I hit enter too fast: Defintion of abuse includes:
          improper or excessive use or treatment

          Therefore, your use of the word assault was abuse. =P

        • avatar nancy7106 says:

          Then I guess under this looser definition, publicly and vigorously shaming a gift-giver (as LW#2 admits she did) might also be considered an “assault.”

      • avatar mac13 says:

        And to think just last week a woman near me wore so much perfume I said it was an assault on my senses. I didn’t mean to “dumbify” the word. Oh woe is me.

        • avatar Ariana says:

          Then let me make a simple contrast for you:

          It’s dumbifying if you say: Her wearing too much perfume should be treated as a petty assault (obviously meaning the legal definition of assault as in assault and battery).

          Saying something is an assault on your senses is the proper use since it is obviously not alluding to the legal definition of assault and battery.

          • avatar mac13 says:

            Well, when you disagreed with the last paragraph Artemesia’s post, it was where she had mentioned “petty assault” and “passive-aggressive slap”. You seemed to take umbrage at her metaphorical use of those phrases. I was merely pointing out that your umbrage over her use of those terms was somewhat unjustified.  In the professional world, they call that projecting.

          • avatar avast2006 says:

            Amusing that there is such wrangling from certain quarters over what does and doesn’t fit the definition of one word (“assault”) while largely allowing a free pass over what does and doesn’t fit the definition of a different word (“gift”).

  12. avatar Belinda Joy says:

    Letter #1 – Here is my take on letter #1.

    I happen to believe we are all made up of energy. I believe in Angels, spirits, that we are more than just skin and bones. It is why I can’t relate to Atheists, because I believe there is a higher power, there are aspects to life that are beyond our comprehension that can’t be quantified or dissected.

    With that said, little voices in our head are there for a reason. My sister has a real fear of driving over bridges. The lawyer I work for has a fear of bad weather. Both have had near death experiences associated with their fears. So this letter writer now has that fear of riding their bike because of a near death experience, but it “may” be a vision into what is yet to come….. Some people will say ignore that little voice and get out there and ride! I say, this is not a case of which came first, the chicken or the egg. “I had a near death experience on my bike so that must be why I am afraid now…” Is it? Or could it be that ethereal voice is warning you of what could be?

    Letter #2 – Could not disagree with Margo any more.

    The letter writer has EVERY RIGHT to say where her “financial gift” is given BECAUSE it is being given in her name. And as such, people will associate her name with the cause at issue.

    Let’s take this to the absurd degree for the sake of my argument. Let’s say a wealthy family member is a supporter of a neo Nazi group and donates $5,000 in this letter writer’s name. Would anyone really think they shouldn’t have a right to say they don’t want their name associated with this group? Of course they have a right.

    Well, what if this letter writer is liberal minded and a family member gives money to a rabid right organization that is known for discrimination and bias, as with the first example, this letter writer still has a right to say no toward having her name associated with the organization.

    This also brings up a very interesting part of the conversation about respect (or lack there of) for family members. As is the case with this letter writer, why would Katy’s family who we would assume knows her beliefs, disrespect her by doing this? IMO she had every right to come unglued and lay into them. It’s one thing when business associates or people that don’t know us “attempt” to disrespect us, but we should never expect this from our own family that supposedly know us best.

    • avatar Lym BO says:

      Furthermore, if someone donated money to an organization you don’t jive with, it could be cause for dismissal from a job, social standing, place in a religious organization, etc.
      One has every right to express what organizations are acceptable for others to donate to in their name. I’m not sure why the family wouldn’t exchange lists of favorite orgs. ???

      Has anyone thought maybe this letter is fake? Perhaps the LW donated to an organization & later found out their beliefs (or is hiding her own beliefs), she then got in trouble with someone over it & is now attempting to blame a family member for the donation.