Dear Margo: Other Voices, Other Rooms

Should I marry my wonderful boyfriend? Margo Howard’s advice

Other Voices, Other Rooms

Dear Margo: I’m in my early 30s, with a wonderful, caring boyfriend of more than a year. The problem is he wants to marry me! Most women in my demographic would love to have this “problem,” but I grew up with an absentee father and a stepfather with a rage problem. In my early 20s, I almost married someone just like him, but came to my senses and called it off. After another long-term relationship ended badly, I decided marriage was not a priority and spent several years casually dating, until I met my boyfriend. He says a year is plenty of time to figure out if something is heading toward marriage, and staying in a relationship that is not altar-bound is unacceptable to him.

I cannot get the notion out of his head that my fears of marriage do not mean I am equating him with past abusive men. Before he brought all this up, I slowly began changing my mind about marriage because I could see how good things were with him. But it was a slow and private process, and all the fights about marriage are making me less inclined to discuss it — or consider it. I would like to go to couples counseling, but his job recently cut his insurance and neither of us can afford to pay out of pocket.  –Feel Like the Guy

Dear Feel: You are in somewhat of a role reversal, although people don’t usually fight about getting married — or whether or not even to discuss it. This man clearly thinks you are “the one,” and I understand his wanting to at least talk about it. Although it’s usually men who have commitment issues, I hope you can overcome the fears instilled by the unfortunate men in your life. I am further sympathetic to his feeling of wanting to move on if you’re a no-go. Let me be the couples counselor: I suggest you start talking with this man you describe as “a wonderful, caring boyfriend.”  –Margo, enthusiastically (ahem)

Welcome to the Good Schnook Club!

Dear Margo: I live overseas in a lovely place. The plane ticket to get here is pricey, but things are fairly cheap once you arrive. My husband and I have issued standing invitations to family members and longtime friends. On happy occasions, someone takes us up on the offer. Recently, though, I have ended up with a long-term guest who feels that my request for the equivalent of less than $5 a day to help with food is not doable. In the past, our overseas guests have always been happy to chip in, and therefore we are taken aback at this refusal. Then again, I wonder if maybe this behavior is normal and my expectations are off — since you recently answered another letter saying, “Are you a hostess or an innkeeper, and are your friends guests or paying customers?”  –Hostess’ed Out

Dear Host: The letter you refer to had to do with weekend company. And guess what? It’s your house. Anyone who rolls in for more than a week (and this sounds like a lot more than a week) and is asked — and refuses — a modest request is a moocher. I suggest, if you’re a wuss, that you say the next arrivals are due very soon, ergo the holiday must end. If you wish to be direct, just say you can no longer afford their guest status. For you to offer the equivalent of a free hotel and feel pinched makes no sense.

It may blow the friendship, but I’m guessing you’re not feeling very friendly to this person right now anyway.  –Margo, correctly

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Dear Margo is written by Margo Howard, Ann Landers’ daughter. All letters must be sent via e-mail to Due to a high volume of e-mail, not all letters will be answered.


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65 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Kate Olsen says:

    LW1 – there are community counseling centers that are really cheap or free – please avail your self of one immediately.  If not give your boyfriend my email.  I would love to find a man such as yours who knows your painful background and still wants a future with you.  Does he show signs of violence or aggressiveness that you do not speak of in your letter?  Why must you punish him for other’s screw ups.  Either there is something you are not telling us about him or you are are suffering from extreme displacement issues that only good counseling can get you through.  Hurry and do it before you lose this jewel. 

    LW2 – before issuing unlimited invitations, be sure you tell folks that an extended stay will mean they need to assist with expenses.  You are after all not a bed and breakfast and if they had to pay for a motel or hotel – it would be much more of an expense. 

    • avatar Carmen Clemons says:

      LW1, look for a domestic/relationship violence support services organization in your area. I know the one in my county has counseling available for adult survivors of childhood abuse.

  2. avatar savena says:

    LW2: I think it is tacky to ask house guests to chip in, especially if they’ve shelled over airfare to visit you. Airfare within the US is not cheap and peak season international flights can be over $1k/person. If you’re really only out $5-10 a day hosting, don’t be so cheap! If both you and your guests agreed before their trip to the duration and this “room and board” money wasn’t discussed, you shouldn’t ask for any money. Even if they stay for 2-3 weeks, if you agreed to host, don’t penny pinch and charge them! If their trip was a month or longer, you should have discussed a contribution from them ahead of time. If their trip was short and then they unexpectedly extended their trip several weeks or months, then it is okay to discuss with them contributing to the household budget.

    • avatar bamabob says:

      this wasn’t an invitation expressly extended to this freeloader. a “standing invitation to friends and family” means “you should come visit us sometime.” As a resident of a beach town I know how *some* out of towners can interpret such standing invitations. short visits are one thing. long term guests/boarders/squatters are something else again.

      • avatar Susan Thomas says:

        This is an old saying that states that fish and guests both stink after 3 days. This is not a guest it is a full blown moocher who is settling in for the long haul. It’ s time to step in and say there is other company arriving soon and you hope he can find somewhere else to stay. They won’t be happy but tough, neither are you and it’s your home!!!!

    • avatar CanGal says:

      $5-$10 dollars may seem like nothing to you, but it may be a lot to them. They may have retired there because they can live cheaply. We don’t know their financial situation. Paying for food for constant guests may even put them on the street in their waning years. She also said long-term, so I’m guessing it’s probably been more than a month already (2-3 weeks is not long term in my book).

      LW in the future make sure the expectation of $10 a day is known in advance.

    • avatar chuck alien says:

      don’t be so cheap indeed!

      what kind of entitled jerkwad visits someone for a week in their own home and doesn’t offer to pay something?

      and why is it the homeowners responsibility to feed them? they are providing a place to stay… food is entirely separate.

      you have to realize… “i paid a lot for airfare, so you have to feed me while i’m here for free” is just not a responsible, rational, or adult attitude.

      just so we’re straight… when you come visit me, i’m not on the hook to feed you. you will pay for your own meals, and at least take turns buying the groceries that we eat. ok?

      but i won’t charge you for the room. because i’m a good host like that.

    • avatar Jody says:

      I strongly disagree with savena. I believe most people who have manners were taught by their parents to be gracious guests and offer some sort of “trade” for their visit. I’ve traded gifts, money, errands, meals, chores, etc. when staying with friends or family. But, that’s how I was taught to behave my parents. It’s how I teach my kids to behave as well. My guess is that the hostess isn’t even getting her dishwasher loaded by this squatter, or she probably wouldn’t be complaining. But, that’s just a guess. Either way, when you choose not to live your life from the perspective of gratitude, you miss out on a lot. It sounds like this person has worn out their welcome with the letter writer, and will lose out on continuing a friendship and any future invitations.
      I believe the letter writer needs to be honest and let her guest know they have worn out the welcome mat and it’s time to go. Good luck!

      • avatar A R says:

        I think you’ve hit on something. The true guest, invited and hosted in all the ways, reciprocates with a gesture such as a dinner out, gift, or other action during their limited stay.
        There are guests, (which you host and pay for), boarders (who have a paid arrangement with you that they solicited and you negotiated), and what appears to be a third category that people are addressing: short-term “timeshares” where you let the person know that your home is available as a hotel, but they are on their own for all expenses, chores, and fees.
        What I find in error is the discussion of the third group as “guests”. Guests don’t buy their own food, pay a daily stipend, and do your dishes. Those belong to the third group, which is a valid category, but to call them “guests” does a disservice to the name of host/ess.
        In the first case, you invite, they accept and you pay (host). In the second case, they request, you accept with terms they agree to (both parties offset the cost in some way). In the third case, you essentially advertise your space, they buy-in, and they pay.

    • avatar Chris Glass` says:

      We used to live in a coastal city with wonderful beaches nearby. We invited friends and family to visit with the understanding that we were not meeting all of their expenses so they could use us for a free vacation. We both worked and were saving to afford a home of our own.

      We felt that it was too much for someone to expect us to provide them with a place to stay then pick up the entire tab for their meals out entertainment, liquor etc. Our request was that they pick up after themselves, plan their own lunches while we were at work and buy the adult beverages of their choices. If they didn’t like the places we chose to take them or the food we prepared they were welcome to go elsewhere at their own expense. After one couple stayed two weeks we put a time limit on visits. Not because we didn’t want to see people but because we weren’t prepared to be unpaid innkeepers. We also made it clear they could not invite friends to stay with us or expect us to babysit while they hit the night spots.

      It is not unreasonable to expect long term visitors to pitch in with housework, help prepare meals or pick up the kitchen or help with groceries. If they went anyplace else they would pay considerably more. It is obvious that you have never had “guests” demand that you change their sheets daily, prepare special diets or take over your home while in residence. Note the wording of the letter this is a long term guest not an overnight or short visit. When we hosted people that refused to help themselves they were never allowed back. We didn’t consider ourselves their unpaid servants.

  3. avatar Lym BO says:

    LW1: “I cannot get the notion out of his head that my fears of marriage do not mean I am equating him with past abusive men.”
    Because from where I stand, it sounds like you are.
    A year isn’t that long. And ultimatums suck. If you feel like he is the one, then talking about marriage (or long term, monogamous relationships) certainly is in the cards. As is a lonnnngggg engagement. I ended two 30 month relationships & broke off two engagements before I found Mr. Right. You might respond that you can really see you together forever, but aren’t quite ready for the walk down the aisle, but will be in time. Then change the subject. If things continue on a good note, it may be you begging for the ring-since he will be confused. LOL

    • avatar Amy says:

      So you’re telling her she should be as uncommunicative as possible, accept the ring even though she doesn’t want it, and assume she can break his heart after three years pf “engagement” guilt-free? No. No changing topic, no more hiding. She should be direct with her boy and explain why she is so afraid. It seems to me that she’s hidden these feelings from her boyfriend, in which case, the person he’s so eager to marry is a total lie.

      • avatar amw says:

        An abusive past really isn’t dinner conversation.

        Lym Bo isn’t suggesting the LW lie. She is suggesting that she be honest about her fears and be request more time to digest the information and get used to the idea.

        The LW made clear that this man had begun to soften her view of marriage and a lifetime commitment. It was a personal experience. After a year, she may have still had some reservations, especially about telling her beau what an effect he’d had on her.

        There isn’t anything wrong with a long engagement. There will always be guilt after a break-up…but it is a lot easier to break an engagement than get a divorce.

        • avatar Diagoras says:

          There is something wrong with a long engagement if you don’t intend to actually marry the person. You don’t say “yes” if the answer is still “maybe”. That’s completely dishonest. What she needs to do is be honest about her reluctance and the reasons for it and the fact that she needs more time. If he’s not willing to wait, I can’t really blame him, though because there is always the possibility that the person asking you to wait is just stringing you along. There are sources of free or low cost counseling available and pretty soon there will be mental parity in health care. This is her problem and if she’s not willing to take responsibility for it then she’s not ready to get married and she needs to let him go so he can find someone more suitable.

          • avatar amw says:

            I never suggested she say yes with the intention of saying no.

            BUT if she does change her mind (or anyone else in the world for that matter), it IS a lot simpler to say “this isn’t working” than file papers with the court because “oops” you made a mistake.

            If he’s not willing to wait AFTER she explains herself, he wasn’t the right one. If she were just stringing him along, she wouldn’t have written Margo in in the first place.

  4. avatar Carol David says:

    As someone who had terrible fears of intimacy, I can understand the pressure LW1 might feel. My husband of 20 years – who I married after 11 years of living together! – never put the slightest pressure on me, and that was the only reason I could overcome those fears. If he can’t be somewhat compassionate with her he might not be the one, regardless of how “wonderful and caring” he is.

    • avatar stateoflove_N_Trust says:

      Who says that he can’t be compassionate with her?  What obligation for compassion does she have for him?  Apparently none, because she cannot even discuss the situation with him.  She thinks it is perfectly fine because she has issues to keep him in limbo.

      She needs to take responsibility for herself, seek help and stop playing a victim

      • avatar amw says:

        I agree somewhat.

        I think there has to be an honest conversation so that they can come to some type of compromise. What’s important is for her to explain these reservations to her boyfriend. Sometimes a year isn’t enough for someone to open up.

        Perhaps she needs counseling to sort out her past…then again, she may just need to be honest.

        Regardless, yes, they must both show compassion to each other. Two people truly in love wouldn’t blink at the thought.

        • avatar stateoflove_N_Trust says:

          If a year is not enough time to open up, then she needs to deal with that conversation first.  He may be willing to give her as much time that she needs if she is willing to give him something to hand onto that he can understand.  He may not be willing to give her the time that she needs either.  If that is the case, then they need to understand that they are not right for each other. 

  5. avatar A R says:

    LW2: If you host, you don’t ask for reparations. You set parameters for length of stay when the guests calls to say they are able to come. “Great! We’d like to have you stay 5 to 7 days. When will you arrive?”Don’t ask anyone to stay longer than you can afford. A standing invitation does not equate to an unlimited stay; it just means to let us know when you can come for a visit as there are no blackout dates in general. A good guest will probably treat the host to a dinner out, which is your equivalent of $5 per day. Sorry, but asking for a daily fee is the tackiest thing I’ve heard of in a bit.

    • avatar amw says:

      What’s tacky is if a guest overstays their welcome and continues to mooch off of the host.

      I agree, you shouldn’t ask a guest for money…but to prolong your stay without permission (as it appears this guest has done) doesn’t give you the right to contine to expect to be pampered.

      If I were in the guest’s shoes, I would apologize, explain the need to stay longer and offer to pick up groceries, clean the house, do a load of laundry…anything to take the burden off the hostess.

      To me, that’s fair. If the guest is unwilling to do that, then I see nothing tacky about asking for money to foot the bill.

      • avatar A R says:

        Or, just woman up and tell the guest how long they are able to stay. This is passive-aggressive (“Maybe if I charge, they’ll go ahead and leave.”) at best and spineless at worst.
        One doesn’t “end up” with a long-term guest. The letter writer has abdicated all responsibility for what happens in her own home.
        It’s either a guest or a boarder. She needs to decide which. The first you host, the second you charge.

        • avatar amw says:

          I agree, at some point you must put your foot down.

          BUT the guest has a duty to be polite and respectful to their host/hostess. The sense of entitlement this society has is simply appalling to say the least.

          I will tell you one thing. That “guest” would no longer be welcome to stay in my home. If they insisted on visiting, they could make their own hotel arrangements and stay as long as they pleased…just not on my dime.

          It is ridiculous to think that someone should be so accomodating regardless of the circumstances because their offer of a place to VISIT has been taken advantage of. I call that RUDE.

          The only circumstance under which I would call this host/hostess an enabler is if it were a constant problem.

  6. avatar CanGal says:

    I stay at a friend’s beach resort often, only ever for a couple of days at a time. Even though it is only a couple of days, I would never think of not pitching in for food. I bring food with me – they would never accept cash. Instead of asking for a certain amount of cash in hand, maybe word it as “Pitching in for the groceries” it sounds better.

    • avatar Miss Lee says:

      I also never visit, even for a few days,without expecting to pitch in for food or host a few meals out. I also never attend a dinner at someone’s house without at least a small bunch of flowers to give to the hostess.  This was a rule that I was taught by my mother.  It seems that some people were raised in the forest by wolves and haven’t been taught what it means to be a polite person. 

  7. avatar Katharine Gray says:

    LW#1:  Nothing really to add to what has already been said. 

    LW#2:  I am conflicted on this letter.  On the one hand, I think that requesting money from *guests* is not the proper thing to do.  On the other hand, I don’t know what *long-term* means.  And I also know that the proper thing for a guest to do is to pay for at least one meal out (or more if the stay is longer than 3 or 4 days), chip in at the grocery or liquor store and come with a hostess gift of some sort or send one after.  If the guest has not done so, or the visit is longer than 2 weeks, I  would be figuring out a way to tell the guest that visiting time is over.

    It sounds like this *long-term guest* may be using LW#2 as a free hotel, has not offered to pay for a single meal or drink, has not announced a departure date and that perhaps LW#1 is suggesting he/she chip in as a way of getting him/her  to chip out of  town.   A simple *I’m afraid we need to ask you to leave now* should do the trick.   If, however LW#2 knew in advance how long the stay would be, I think she/he should suck it up until the guest departs and the next time the guest wants to visit simply say *oh that will not work for us…sorry*.  Because while one shouldn’t expect a guest to pay a daily rate for the privilege of visiting you, one should expect guests to have some basic manners and LW#2 now knows this particular guest does not.   

    Expectations should be set before the visit.  I spend summer in a modest house on a nice island.  I recently invited 2 of my long time *girlfriends* to visit me here to catch up on 40 years of out lives and pretend we are 17 again.  However…in extending the invitation I said *I think a stay of about 5 days  would be good*.  That way they know how long they are welcome and they also know when they can *escape* my presence politely. 

  8. avatar Barbara says:

    For LW#2 – I do not agree with the writers who think anyone you issued a “standing invitation” to are entitled to free food from you. I talk with each person who plans a visit and we agree on the right arrangement. I would never charge my mother-in-law and she can stay as long as she likes. My sister would never think of expecting me to pay for their meals — even though I would do that in a heartbeat. She usually stays in a hotel if the visit is going to be longer than a couple of nights. And she not only brings food, etc., she pitches in with cleaning and anything else that needs to be done. For friends it depends. There are a couple of them who I have no problem with either length of time or providing food. Others I’ll say that I’m delighted they can visit, we can accommodate them for a couple of days and recommend some very nice inexpensive hotels either in the area or in other travel destinations nearby. Frankly, no one I’ve ever had visit has ever come with the expectation that we would just feed them. They have ALWAYS offered to chip in somehow. That is what Miss Manners taught all of us as proper young ladies.

    I would not have a problem being direct with the current visitors. “We’ve been delighted to see you but we have other plans after Wednesday. Do you want us to help you find a nice hotel?”

  9. avatar sandra b says:

    LW2 – The guest has more responsibility than the host. While the host provides clean towels, bed & bath and a comfortable stay, it is the guest who MUST make it a pleasant memorable experience. In reply to Margo’s previous remark of “are you a hostess or an inn keeper” that goes both ways. No – I’m not an inn keeper so don’t show up thinking and acting like I run a hotel catering to your every need. If you are just coming for a freeloader stay at my home, don’t bother. If you’re coming to be with me and enjoy the wonderful things about the place I live – cool. While Margo advocates not showing up to an invitation empty handed – like a dinner – bring flowers, wine, chocolates – why on earth is it not good manners to bring a hostess gift or contribute otherwise when staying for an extended visit. As a guest, your first responsibility is to make your host sad that you are leaving.

  10. avatar sandra b says:

    LW1 – All I keep hearing is the song…”if you don’t know me by now… you will never, never know me at all…” This is clearly all YOUR problem, fix it or release the guy. You have serious trust issues and no relationship is going to surmount them. The man sounds like the kind of person who would be willing to work through that. Take the marriage classes at your church and if you don’t have one, get one. That way you have no excuse about not being able to pay for counseling. One more thing – if this was that important to you, you would find the money. You would give up the cable TV, the $4 Starbucks every day, bring your lunch to work instead of popping off $10 bucks, and so on. I get so sick of people whining that they can’t afford something life changing or life critical but continue to blow $ on the “I deserve” stuff. If you have been out of work for the past 5 years and can barely feed your self & keep the utilities on that’s different, but I doubt this is the case. How much were those Jimmy Choos? I have heard dozens of ” I can’t afford counseling” as the BIGGEST excuse in the world for I don’t want to admit it’s my problem and change it. My reply is always, “then I guess you’ll just have to live your life the way it is. Good luck with that”

    • avatar Dani Smith says:

      Man, how obnoxious are you?  “How much were those Jimmy Choos?”   What, are you in her flippin’ clothes closet are something?  You can’t just go around assuming people chug $4 Starbucks every day, pop off $10 for lunch every day, and have a closet full of Jimmy Choos.  The average American doesn’t even know what the frack a “Jimmy Choo” even is.  And most people that I’m surrounded by at my workplace, which is a fairly decent sized employer encompassing a wide range of people from all backgrounds, *bring their own lunch,* of which includes leftovers from dinner the night before.  So, get over yourself before making obnoxious assasine assumptions about who people are and where they̵