Dear Margo: Dreams of "What If?"

Margo Howard’s advice

Dreams of “What If?”

Dear Margo: I’m a 20-something woman engaged to the best man I’ve ever known. I am beyond ecstatic to be getting married. My problem has nothing to do with him and everything to do with a guy who was one of my best friends in college. This guy and I were close all through school, and even though I had an instant attraction to him that never faded, we were always just friends. I sometimes, however, got the sense that there was something going on between us, and I certainly wouldn’t have minded if he had shown an interest.

I haven’t spoken to him recently, but we live somewhat near each other and are on friendly terms. There are only a few months before my wedding, but instead of dreaming of my fiance, I find myself dreaming of this college crush, mostly scenes involving him making moves on me, e.g., leaning in for a steamy kiss, but never anything more than that. This dream has occurred several times in the past two weeks. What does this mean, and what do I do?! — Dreaming Bride-To-Be

Dear Dream: Nothing, and nothing. The meaning of the dreams most likely has to do with “What if?” It is normal to be curious about situations that were never realized and quite common to wonder about the one who got away. Don’t faint, but married couples often fantasize about other people. The thing to remember is that you can think anything without being a bad person. I suggest you regard the dreams as your subconscious dealing with what you likely regard as unfinished business, and that you not be spooked or feel disloyal. What puts my mind at ease, on your behalf, is that you write that your intended is “the best man I’ve ever known.” If we are lucky, cupcake, those are the ones we marry. — Margo, normally

When Straight and Gay Behavior Should Be the Same

Dear Margo: Our 22-year-old son recently told us he is gay. We are supportive and told him we love him and are aware of the courage it took for him to tell us. We are concerned, however, because he has met someone online and has expressed a desire to visit him out of state. We feel he should talk to this person by phone or Skype and get some idea of what he’s like. He’s feeling very alone, as he has not ever been with anyone sexually. We believe he should be very careful. He is very relieved that he no longer has to keep this secret from his loved ones, so we are trying to be supportive of his wishes. — Concerned for His Safety

Dear Con: How wonderful that you could receive your son’s news with such equanimity. Your response to his “news” should make it all the easier — and more comfortable — to tell him this kind of introduction is not what he should be doing. And you might add that if he were your 22-year-old daughter, you would be saying the same thing. Even the dating sites suggest meeting in a public place, which would put the kibosh on traveling to another state to meet a stranger — even in a Starbucks, which I doubt would be the case, anyway. Suggest he invite the young man to visit him and relay the information that his parents would be more comfortable that way. — Margo, carefully

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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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32 Responses so far.

  1. avatar olivepoetry says:

    Oh, Margo, thank you so much for this bit of advice you gave to LW#1, “The thing to remember is that you can think anything without being a bad person.” I am tacking it to my wall. 

    • avatar Jennifer juniper says:

      Ahhh.. but is that really true?
      If we accept the premise that I am a fundamentally ‘good’ person, and if I sit here and bring to mind the act of nailing little kittens to my bedroom wall, this doesn’t mean necessarily mean that I’m a bad person.  But if I were someone that repeatedly had thoughts of nailing kittens to walls, doesn’t that indicate that I certainly could be a bad person?’  While any particular thought might not MAKE us bad or good, surely our thoughts are indicative of whether or not we are bad or good? 

      • avatar Vincent Camley says:

        Thoughts are thoughts and nothing more. You can dream about raping and then vivisecting your neighbor’s dog in front of the neighbor’s family (for grotesque example) every single night and it doesn’t make you a bad person. I have very “bad” thoughts about various things all the time, but the thing I have learned to keep in mind, and that everyone should learn to keep in mind, is that only you can hear your own thoughts. The human mind has a way of jumping haphazardly between thoughts, and if you’re uncomfortable about a particular thought, it only makes it more likely that it will be on your mind. If you let your thoughts bug you too much, it only leads to the development of negative mental complexes.
        A person’s character is not defined by his thoughts, but by his actions. If you have thoughts about doing bad things, and yet you consistently refuse to do those things because you know they are wrong, that’s only a testament to your STRENGTH of character and not to your weakness of character.

      • avatar dcarpend says:

        It might mean there are issues you need to deal with, but it doesn’t make you bad.  I have gone through periods of my life when I was depressed and overwhelmed, when I had violent thoughts — pick up a kitchen knife to make a salad, and think “I could shove this into him before he could stop me,” or think about smashing the television set while I was watching.  I did none of these things, and I didn’t really want to — the thoughts came unbidden,  and were a sign of an underlying problem, not that I was a genuinely violent person.
        And I’ve had more than a few fantasies since meeting my husband, but none of them have led to my actually cheating on him, and it’s been 22 years now.

      • avatar Pinkie says:

        I’m just glad I’m not the only one who fantasizes about nailing kittens to walls. 😉

      • avatar medussa says:

        I would say that there is a distinct difference between random thoughts, or dreams, that come to mind…and dwelling on those same thoughts. If you randomly think about stabbing someone when they piss you off, that would be hugely different than say spending time visualizing it, thinking of ways to get away with it, making a rudimentary plan, etc.

        • avatar dcarpend says:

          During that period, it wasn’t so much that someone had pissed me off right then, or was someone I was chronically angry with.  I just had a *lot* of free-floating anger and depression right then, and those thoughts were a symptom.

  2. avatar David Bolton says:

    LW1: Your soon-to-be husband is almost certainly doing the same thing—fantasizing about lush, moist, perfect lips hanging mere inches from his that pout with anticipation and longing and desire for just… one… kiss. 

    Those lips aren’t yours. Goose, meet gander. 

    LW2: “Met someone online” does not necessarily equal “young man.” You might suggest to your son that he find out as much as possible about this new friend before spending time and money meeting up far away—or inviting him to your home. He might be in for a rude awakening, since the Internet has this miraculous way of taking years and pounds off people. 

  3. avatar Lila says:

    For LW2, if he were your 22-year-old daughter… or if he were your straight son thinking about going off to meet a woman he only knows from the Internet.  Years and pounds aside, Internet contact has other pitfalls:
    …it is full of things like Craigslist killers and scammers, and men answering job ads have been killed, too; it’s not just weak women who need to worry…
    …you don’t meet their circle of friends, relatives, or co-workers up front, as we often do in a face-to-face meeting…
    …the whole chemical-attraction pheromone thing is completely lacking; there may be no “zing” at all…
    His online friend may be legit, but if he is set on meeting up then he should take someone along and meet somewhere public at first, even though the distance makes this inconvenient.  Maybe they could meet up for a day at an amusement park or a beach or something, for their first visit.

    • avatar David Bolton says:

      You and your flawless logic. 

      • avatar Lunita says:

        Yeesh. Just this past week I watched a documentary on Albert Fish, one of America’s worst serial killers (or at least that’s how he sounded to me after hearing all about his perversions and cruel acts. They mentioned that he would scour the personal ads for potential victims.

  4. avatar cl1028 says:

    Re: LW 2:

    I completely agree about the dangers lurking here, but can’t understand why this young man should “relay the information that his parents would be more comfortable that way.” This guy is 22 – he’s an adult. At 22, I would have been pretty turned off if a prospective friend told me he couldn’t come out and play because his parents wouldn’t let him (even if he still lived at home). (Personally, the only time I’ve used such a line was when I was purposefully trying to get rid of unwanted advances at the bar: “Sorry, got to get home, curfew!” Not very sexy.)

    And, as we all know, young people do stupid things regardless of what their parents say. I think these folks would be better off to voice their opinions, but then just let the son make his own call. (If he decides to go after all, they could still politely request that he bring a friend and/or call them once or twice a day to make sure things are going well.)

    • avatar duranimal says:

      I actually don’t find the meeting online part odd or dangerous so much as the fact that they haven’t even spoken on the phone or Skyped. I don’t think the kid will necessarily end up as body parts in the guy’s freezer, but he may arrive to find that his friend is considerably older/heavier/more married than he thought. I actually also met someone online back in 1997 when I was 26 and my mother was horrified when I wanted to go visit him (back then the internet was relatively new and it was automatically assumed that anyone you met online must be an axe murderer). She asked me-get this- if she could call his parents and speak to them (he was 28). I said “F— no, but I’ll let you talk to him if it’ll make you feel better”. It did, and needless to say I survived the trip- he actually is one of the nicest people I know and we’re still good friends.

      • avatar Jennifer juniper says:

        Yeah – my husband is someone I met online in 1998.  For the longest time we didn’t even tell people that’s how we met because we were always met with somewhat horrified stares. 
        I agree with you – I don’t understand at all how it is that they haven’t talked or had a video chat.  He needs to do this first.  No excuses not to really.  And then follow normal ‘blind dates’ rules, i.e., someone knows where you are going, knows when you’re supposed to be back, the ‘date’ knows this information as well. etc…

      • avatar David Bolton says:

        I think the parents are writing because they are suspicious—and rightly so—about a “young man” (or whatever he’s portraying himself as) in this tech-heavy day and age who hasn’t leaped at the opportunity to Skype or talk on the phone with a potential new BF. 

        I guess it all depends on how long they’ve been talking and what has been said up to this point—but I would try to dissuade my son from driving to first meet someone when there are plenty of opportunities to establish or strengthen the reasons why the two of them should indeed meet up and start socializing in person. 


  5. avatar Cindy Marek says:

    I can’t add to Margo’s good advice/replies to both letters. Bride-to-be shouldn’t fret too much about her personal unconscious playing tricks on her, and shouldn’t allow those dreams to distract (nor seduce) her too much. You’re going to marry a wonderful man; that is all that matters. 🙂

  6. avatar harmer says:

    Personally, I found LW #1’s letter a little more alarming than Margo did. I think it’s okay if in waking life, she doesn’t really think about the old friend, but I don’t think she should be as focused on him as she sounds. I was in this exact situation myself when I was married 6 years ago. I knew it was normal to think about other people, but eventually I realized it kept happening because my husband and I weren’t right for each other. I hope for LW #1’s sake that this is not the case.

  7. avatar Pinky35 says:

    For LW#1, In my opinion, these thoughts represent what you missed out on and will never have once you are married. Because once you are married, that’s it. Can’t go kissing other men. And so a part of you wants to experience this before you tie the knot. Not saying you should, but it’s obvious that’s what your deepest desires are. So, what you need to decide is if you will ever really act on these desires. If not, then go ahead an have your fantasy and then realize that the man you are marrying is really everything you desire. If you think you might act on this, then you need to think carefully about getting married. 

    When I was about to get married to my husband, I had to come to terms with an ex who I always though I would reunite with and get married to. But, it just wasn’t in the cards for us. I did a lot of thinking about my fiance and realized that my ex just wasn’t the man for me. And I felt much better about getting married without regrets or wondering what-if. Something you may need to think about with this guy you are dreaming out. I say, put this guy in the past and move on. 

    For LW#2, Definitely try and convince your son to talk to this guy on the phone or better yet, Skype first. If this other guy or your son won’t do it, then there IS something to be concerned about. If all goes well by Skype, still ask he take a friend along with him when he meets this guy. Better to be safe than sorry.

  8. avatar Lilibet says:

    I have two quotes that may be helpful for LW1:

    The first is from Bob Dylan: “If my thought-dreams could be seen, they’d prob’ly put my head in a guillotine.” (“It’s all right Ma”)

    The second is anonymous: “A bird might land on your head, but you don’t have to let it build a nest there.”

    We all have thoughts: good, bad and ugly. It’s what we do with them that counts. If we let the unproductive ones hang around and get comfortable (even when we are married), we may end up acting on them. I know someone married 50 years, who tossed her marriage away for a one-night stand with an old high school sweetheart. Yes, they had marriage problems, but fantasizing doesn’t get them solved. So even if LW1 decides to get married, she would be wise to send the thought-dreams packing whenever they land on/in her head and focus on her marriage. 

  9. avatar TimIn808 says:

    If a 22 y/o informed me he was disinclined to do something, as it “made his parents uncomfortable”, that would be the end before anything even began.

    If, however, he informed me he would prefer to meet in public or with a group of friends or anything sane for that matter, I would have respect for his maturity level and – of course – agree. 

  10. avatar wendykh says:

    You know… I may be weird but no I do NOT think it is normal to be fantasizing about other people when you’re just about to get hitched. You should still be chasing each other around the dining room table and grabbing one another in the bathroom for shower quickies. If she’d been married 10 years, I could see it, but right before the wedding? Hrm. Sorry that sounds weird to me. She should be scrawling out her name with his in perfect script and imagining their babies and how many different positions on their wedding night. Instead she’s thinking about Not Ex Boyfriend so much she’s writing Margo? Yeah I think her subconscious is trying to tell her this is not the right path for her, sorry.

    • avatar Vincent Camley says:

      I think that’s ridiculous. I’m not exactly getting MARRIED for financial reasons, but we are in a committed relationship and looking forward to the day when I can move in with her. We’ve only been together for five an a half years, and from about a year and have into it and beyond, we’ve been fantasizing about other people.
      In fact, I’d say if you’re still that obsessed with each other that you can think of nothing else but your wedding, you’re probably still in the infatuation phase, and THAT’S why shouldn’t be getting married. My SO’s and my infatuation period ended at about that year and a half mark, and our relationship has only gotten better since then. If your marriage is going to putter out after only ten years, then THAT’S what’s cause for concern as to whether you should be marrying this person.

      In a healthy relationship, you need to allow each other to be human, and be comfortable with everything that entails. If you’re not ready to do that, you probably need to seriously consider waiting a while before getting married.

    • avatar A R says:

      I guess you are being facetious because the behavior you describe as being what she “should be doing” sounds very juvenile. It doesn’t sound at all like the behavior of a mature person about to be married.

      • avatar wendykh says:

        No it doesn’t sound immature at all. It sounds like someone in love and happy and infatuated with their soon to be spouse, which is what one SHOULD be when embarking on a marriage. You know what happens to people who get married all stodgily because it is appropriate, a good match on paper, and the right time? They end up writing Margo asking how to tell their husband they are no longer interested in sex now that they’ve had two perfect children, Or they end up writing Margo and saying they met an ex lover they’ve been tearing up the bedsheets with or writing Margo and saying they’re completely bored with their wife who refuses all but duty sex if that. Young couples about to be married should be absolutely giddy to be starting off. If she’s this ambivalent to be filling her daytime waking thought with exes, yes, that is not a good sign!

        • avatar Vincent Camley says:

          Infatuation is NOT love. Infatuation is a combination of hormones, the excitement of getting to know a new person, the euphoria of finding someone you think you can really get along with and be happy with.
          Infatuation is TEMPORARY. The true test of the strength of a relationship is whether one can outlast the giddy, butterflies-in-the-stomach, sweetie-pie-can-do-no-wrong infatuation period, and STILL BE IN LOVE.
          If you reach that stage (as my SO and I have) and still find you adore each other, and you find that you actually CAN argue and disagree but can still get along and be happy together, and you feel you can allow your partner to do things they enjoy without you sometimes and vice versa without getting jealous, and yes,  even where you can be allowed to have your own sexual thoughts and maybe even be allowed to express them to your partner (and they theirs to you) and yet you can still TRUST them not to act on these thoughts and TRUST them when they say they’re still attracted to you, then you’re golden. Many people who reach this stage, such as my SO and myself, find that this kind of POST-INFATUATION LOVE is much deeper, much more secure, and much more dedicated than any infatuation could ever be.
          Well yes, of course you should be giddy about your upcoming wedding. That’s a special day for you and your partner. But that doesn’t mean you’re not still allowed to be human. If you’re getting married BEFORE you’ve finished your infatuation period, then GOOD LUCK, because if you can’t navigate the inevitable transition later on, you’ve got a nasty divorce or an unhappy life ahead of you. If you’ve already navigated that transition, then you can feel secure that you’re both in it for the long haul.

  11. avatar marykay11 says:

    It is not entirely outside the realm of possibility that the someone the son is talking to on line will turn out to be another young, inexperienced, and rather naive young man.

    Why does Margo suggest that the other person should be the one to travel in order to meet their son?  Other than the fact the parents believe their naive 22 year-old son poses no threat to the safety of this other person, there is no difference at all in who travels to meet whom in terms of the potential for winding up in a dangerous situation.  Until more can be verified about the identity and circumstances of the other person, no one should be asking anyone to travel anywhere.

    Aside from suggesting Skype or phone calls before doing anything else, the parents can suggest to their son that he raise the general topic of safety when meeting someone from on line in person for the first time with this person and that he also take careful note of the other person’s reactions.  The son doesn’t have to say “I’m asking because my parents are worried.”  Just something like “all the on line dating sites mention precautions that people ought to take when meeting each other in person for the first time, so how do you think this stuff applies to you and me?” 

    If the other person thinks those precautions are silly and unecessary or begins to make one excuse after another why such precautions cannot be taken (in either of their locales), the son should not go anywhere to meet this person, not even to a Starbuck’s or a church social in his own home town.  And even if everything seems on the up-and-up following such conversations and the son decides to go to meet this other person, he should remain wary and alert for at-the-very-last-minute excuses for not bothering with the safety precautions that were agreed on earlier, no matter which one of them has travelled to meet the other.




    • avatar A R says:

      MaryKay, your advice reminded me of something that happened in college. Once when I was a very naive 20 year old living away from home for the first time, a guy in one of my college classes asked me to go with him to a party. The party was in another town, with folks I didn’t know, and he was going to drive. (Red flags to us grown folk, no so much when you are twenty.)
      The day of the party, I mentioned the plan to a friend who was a cop because I was having second thoughts about going. He cautioned me to reconsider the plan as I didn’t know the guy well. My cop friend told me to call the guy up and tell him that I was sorry, but I didn’t think I’d make it because my car wouldn’t start, and I needed to take care of it. He told me that the way the guy responded would tell me a whole lot about the guy’s character and intent. I thought it was an odd measure, but I agreed to try it. 
      I did as my cop buddy suggested. College guy’s reaction was startling. Instead of expressing concern over my car issues, or saying “No sweat, we’ll try again another time”, the guy got angry. Angry—go figure. He said that the car could wait, and couldn’t I get a ride to his place? He wanted to know where I was so he could come pick me up for the party. He even demanded to know what exactly was wrong with the car, and hinted that I was  being bitchy. he commented that if I didn’t work it out, I could forget future invites. Wow. Point taken, cop friend. This guy is not nice, has his own agenda, and isn’t interested in me for me.
      I learned a lesson that day: not to put myself in situations that I could not control. I realized that it’s best to hang out with a potential person publicly for quite a bit before taking chances in private.

      • avatar David Bolton says:

        I will never forget this. And as someone who has been in situations that could have been avoided with such a tactic—thank you for posting it. 

      • avatar wendykh says:

        never ignore your gut. read Gavin deBecker. That fear is there for a reason.

  12. avatar marywells says:

    Very good advice indeed, AR! Thanks for sharing it.
    But if college guy were a smart one, he would have expressed concern for your troubles, offered to come and help AND steered you into another situation where he would be in control, instead of dropping the “nice guy” mask. Sad world, one can’t be too cautious!