Dear Margo: Old Loves in a New House?

Margo-Howard_tall10Margo Howard’s advice

Old Loves in a New House?

Dear Margo: Would you be the referee, please? My fiance and I are moving into our new house soon, a few months before our wedding. He said he wanted to be totally above board, so he told me he has a box of memorabilia (pictures, letters) from old girlfriends that he plans to put in the back of a closet. I’m not sure how I feel about this. I don’t want to be unreasonable, but I’m not crazy about the idea. I long ago ditched all my similar stuff. I think I just don’t want to be confronted with those kinds of bits and pieces from his past. Really, what’s the point? We’ve agreed to let you decide. — Beth from Orlando

Dear Beth: OK, I have my striped shirt on. The decision goes to your fiance. Here is my thinking. Getting married does not mean plighting your troth and removing all evidence of the past. Some of us are inclined to keep sentimental things, and some aren’t. As for being “confronted” with this stuff, unless you plan to hang out in the back of a closet, this situation will not come to pass.

I, like your intended, have kept some things from other lives, and to tell you the truth, I never look at them. By making an issue of this, you will come across as petty, if not jealous. It seems to me you might want to develop your more generous and trusting instincts. Why nurture a small germ of resentment when there’s no need to? Here’s the thing: The girls, themselves, are not in the house … just some letters and photos. If you really want to make points, present him with a bow for the top of the box. — Margo, magnanimously

Common Sense Versus Extreme Caution  

Dear Margo: I was very concerned about your answer to the pregnant woman who wondered about drinking alcoholic beverages. Since 1981, the U.S. Surgeon General has been warning pregnant women to refrain from drinking alcohol during pregnancy. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is the No. 1 birth defect in this country, and it’s entirely preventable if pregnant women do not drink. Please correct your advice. You may save a child from FAS! — Sarah Ward, President, World Woman’s Christian Temperance Union

Dear Sarah: I’ll bet I’m not the only person who’s surprised that your organization still exists, but good for you. Temperance means moderation. FAS comes from abuse of alcohol — most often by an alcoholic or a binge drinker. While I’ll grant you the literature takes a cautious, conservative approach to the subject — saying no alcohol at all — and the CDC stipulates there is no safe amount of alcohol for pregnant women, my own experience, anecdotal information and two doctors have confirmed for me that a glass of wine will not cause problems unless there’s a systemic problem to begin with.

I certainly am not encouraging alcohol intake during pregnancy or saying getting schnockered is risk-free, but neither do I think a pregnant woman who has a modest amount of wine is looking for trouble. I say wine because 1) I have no personal or anecdotal experience with hard liquor and 2) wine is relatively low potency, whereas distilled spirits are high-potency alcoholic beverages. “CDC studies have shown that 0.2 to 1.5 cases of FAS occur for every 1,000 live births in certain areas of the country.” I know I am sticking my neck out on this one, but I am a pragmatic realist in all matters, and this is what I believe. — Margo, individually

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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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12 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Katharine Gray says:

    Letter #1:  I agree with Margo…this is not the hill you want to die on.  I have an old box with old love letters way back on the top shelf of a hall closet which I haven’t looked at in probably 40 years…but somehow I want to keep them…silly but true.  Maybe its a reminder of *who I used to be*.  I would let this go and I expect that at some point in your anticipated long and happy marriage…the mementos will either be tossed during a move or completely forgotten.  He chose you.  Revel in that. 
    Letter #2:  I really have no experience with this having never been pregnant and am just going to say what I did before.  Consult your doctor and follow her/his advice. 

  2. avatar Cindy M says:

    L #1: I’m married 20 years and husband still has photos of 1st wife/wedding day (they had a child together), and also a picture or two of a few former “interests” — which are modest photos (K-Mart type; handed out to other friends as well), and no indepth relationship between them.  He has maintained friendship with a family, in which a daughter was formerly a steady date.  I’ve since befriended these folks as well.  I’ll admit that initially I was NOT keen on any of it, especially as I didn’t bring photos or mementos into our marriage.  I’d ask him if it’d be okay with him if YOU had a boxful of this ‘n that.  Because if it’s okay when a man does it…that’s sexist and not okay.

  3. avatar temrice says:

    Please, let him keep them. In my first marriage (40 yrs ago), I had a scrapbook with a few mementos of  teenage ‘love’, nothing earth-shattering, by any means. It was packed away in a box, in a closet. Though my new husband didn’t say anything, he obviously felt threatened by it…he threw it away one day! I’m not sure which hurt the most…the fact that he didn’t think enough of me to discuss it with me or that in the same  scrapbook were the rest of my childhood keepsakes and mementos. Let him keep them…he chose you.

  4. avatar Purple Hartz says:

    LW#1, I agree with Margo on this one. My husband and I have been together for 15 years and we both have memorabilia from previous relationships. In fact, my husband had a jade cross that a former girlfriend gave him. I liked it so much we have it hanging in our house.  Focus on your wedding and your future together.

  5. avatar Kathy says:

    LW2- I didn’t see the original letter on this, but why would a pregnant woman ask an advice columnist about the risks of drinking alcohol?  And why would an advice columnist even answer – based on personal and anecdotal experience?  This is pretty serious stuff, and only a woman’s doctor should provide medical advice during pregnancy.  Someone looking for permission to drink while pregnant probably isn’t going to a good place.

    • avatar judgingamy says:

      She wasn’t. If I remember correctly, the LW had been given the all clear from her doctor to have a (very occasional) glass of wine. LW’s problem was a friend kept giving LW lectures about FAS and giving her the stink eye when she ordered a glass of wine at dinner. I believe her question was, how should I deal with my annoying friend, not, Hey Margo, is it cool if I drink while pregnant?

  6. avatar Ecchi says:

    I am a packrat by nature and kept all of the letters from ex-girlfriends. When I got married I packed them all up in a box. I kept them through several moves. 15 years later, after my divorce I was going through the my stuff and found the box. I was feeling ugly and unlovable, but going through the all of the letters from women who found me attractive and loved me did a lot to restore my self confidence.
    I am now dating a wonderful woman who knows about the letters. She knows that reading them helped me get through a rouch patch but she’s not threatened by them at all. Whatever happened in the past I am with her and not pining for any ex.

  7. avatar lebucher says:

    My fiance will probably be bothered by my little collection of mementos when he finds out about them.  They are simply ancient history, a snapshot of who I was back then, no different from childhood and relatives’ photos as far as I am concerned.  I have not been able to make myself discard them, no more than I discarded photos from my first wedding which is the only time I felt beautiful because I was thin, fit and all dolled up with that hair and makeup.  This is not something to fight about.  Accept that he wishes to keep this little memory collection and he likely won’t even ever look at it.  I don’t look at my stuff unless I am reorganizing things and run across them… then it’s “wow I looked so young back then”.

  8. avatar DeniseInAK says:

    I agree with Margo on LW#1. I kept love letters from my early 20s until several years after my marriage. I came across them one day while cleaning; read them one last time, then threw them out. I was glad to have them for as long as I did, but it was up to me to decide when/if to get rid of them. It was just time!

  9. avatar butterfly55 says:

    LW2, I never thought there was the  great need to be so exact in holding to rules while pregnant.  We made it for generations while mothers smoked and drank.  However I just became the great-grandmother of the most beatiful baby girl.  My granddaughter in law followed such an perfect diet, not even eating luncheon meats.  This baby was born so bright eyed!!  What ever she did – IT WORKED!

  10. avatar sdpooh says:

    Regarding the WCTU lady and her problems with Margo’s advice.  If wine was so bad for pregnant women how come there aren’t tons of FAS babies in Europe.  Wine is used with meals in many countries there.  It’s alcholol abuse that is the problem.  

  11. avatar JCF4612 says:

    1) I have a painting done by spouse’s former girlfriend, an art major. It hangs in my office because I like it better, and it’s perfect for my decor. Why not stick the box-o-stuff in the garage or attic rather than take up precious closet space?
    2) Pregnant women should confer with their doctors and use a little common sense.