Dear Margo: Over and Out

Margo Howard’s advice

Over and Out

Dear Margo: My live-in boyfriend of five years recently dumped me. This is sad, but survivable.

What I can’t get past is that when he made the breakup speech (“I don’t make you happy, I’m not happy, so we should end this”), he said, “I always want to be friends, and there’s no one else.” Two weeks after that, we were still periodically talking because we wanted to stay friends, and once again, he volunteered, “We were just wrong for each other, and there’s no one else.”

Well, actually, there was someone else, someone he met at work about a month before he broke up with me, and someone he spent the weekend with four days after his second “there’s no one else” speech.

Obviously, I’m still reeling from the breakup, and even more so from the fact that he slept with someone else so soon afterward. But the fake “there’s no one else” declaration was like salt in the wound. Am I overreacting? I don’t get why he would lie. Should I just get over this and realize the real hurt is from getting dumped and the deception part is just a detail? — Hurting

Dear Hurt: I can see why his false declarations would, after the fact, seem like salt in the wound, but from what you say, I think he was just trying to cushion the blow. I believe his statements about there being no one else were meant to be considerate of your feelings. Who, after all, wants to hear that things have ended because Bubbles caught his eye? Underlying the fact that there was someone else must have been his stated feeling that he wasn’t happy — ergo, he knew the relationship was not working.

Try to interpret his letting you down gently as an attempt at kindness rather than his being duplicitous. And yes, I think your real hurt is about the romance being kaput. And maybe there is no need to “remain friends.” — Margo, inevitably

Just a Little Friendly Sniping

Dear Margo: There is not out-and-out warfare with my mother-in-law; it’s more like an armed truce. My husband and I laugh about it, and he told me early on: “It’s not you; it’s her.” I don’t even have a problem being with her at family affairs, but one little thing does get to me, and I wish I had a better way of responding, or at least a better way of thinking about the digs.

No matter what I show up in, she begins the conversation with, “Oh, you’re wearing… ” Fill in the blank: last year’s color, such a short skirt, an unflattering fit, etc. I don’t actually care what she thinks (and I doubt it’s even valid), but I would like either something to say in response, or at least some new way to interpret the criticisms when they start flying my way. Considering the problems a woman could have with her m-i-l, I know this is a 2 on a scale of 1-10, but still. — Lorene

Dear Lor: Here’s what to think — and understand. The woman is passive-aggressive. She’s not inclined to come at you with both barrels blazing, so she takes a subtler tack. It’s what we used to call “being nibbled to death by ducks.” Maybe it’s her personality, maybe she wouldn’t care for anyone her son married, whatever.

Now here’s what to say, if you think that will make you feel better and if you are disposed to neutralizing her. At the next evaluation of your outfit, you might say, “You could be right. Maybe we should go shopping together, and I could learn from you.” Bingo. (And I seriously doubt she will take you up on the offer.) — Margo, stylishly

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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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43 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Katharine Gray says:

    LW#1:  I don’t agree with Margo that you should overlook his lying about the reasons for breaking up with you.  I think it would be hard to remain *friends* even without the lie, but the lie would seal the complete removal of this man from my universe.  Perhaps I’m too skeptical but if I heard *there is no one else* (volunteered no less), I would assume that there is in fact someone else.  Assuming a woman is not abusive, addicted, or unfaithful, I beleive 9 times out of 10 men will stay in a less than happy relationship UNTIL they find someone else out of inertia, laziness, and their desire for regular sex.  In thinking back on all the long-term relationships and marriages that I have witnessed breaking up (and really this is on both sides) there is always *someone else*. 

    LW#2:  Not only would I follow Margo’s advice and ask her to go shopping with you…suggest she pay for it too!  *Lets go shopping together and you can buy me something that is better fitting, this years style, a longer length (fill in the blank)*  And when you leave say *I’ll be calling you about our shopping trip* (and of course never do). 


    • avatar BC says:

      LW#1, you don’t need to be friends with a man like that!

      LW#2, I’d respond with “Oh, you’re so funny?” and give her a quick pat on the arm.  That always puts the brake on passive-aggressive BS.  DON’T suggest you go shopping together unless you’re prepared to actually go shopping with her!  You never know what passive-aggressive people will do with an opportunity like that. 

      If you like her, you might instead say “Not everyone can be as stylish as you.”  Say it with a smile and a quick pat and walk away.

      • avatar Sandy B says:

        I agree. DON”T suggest shopping unless you really want to. And then be prepared for how she wants to dress you. Personally I wouldn’t risk that.

      • avatar phrugall says:

        Maybe it’s just me being passive-aggressive, but why not respond “I’m so glad you are here to keep me up on the latest fashion news.  I just don’t have the time” then laugh and walk away.

      • avatar Frau Quink says:

        BC: You are right on the money……in each case

    • avatar luna midden says:

      KG-I believe women too, at least ones with low self esteem (me) will stay in a relationship until they meet someone else. Both sexes also tend to stay in ‘it isn’t broke’ relationships….  and just mellow along until.. someone else WAKES THEM UP! and yes, there are those, not just men, who have to ‘TRY OUT’ the NEW ONE, BEFORE BREAKING UP with the OLD… you know, JUST TO MAKE SURE….. those, people, men or women, are scum….

      But… in the end… the lw… and her BF have LIVE TOGETHER FOR 5 YEARS!! Unless both NEVER EVER wanted marriage, children (I am one of those opposed to children outside of marriage, yes, old fashioned).. 5 YEARS is past the ‘we got to know if this is it’ FOR MARRIAGE!!! They were both in NEUTRAL!!  Very very few couples remain friends after the break up and she should realize he probably wanted out awhile ago, probably at least a year? but did not know how to do it-living together is hard to break up-moving out, etc.  

  2. avatar Ariana says:

    LW#1: I agree about the not having to be friends part. At your phone call, wish him all the best and say: Just let me give you one tip – the next time you break it off with someone, lose the line about there not being someone else when there actually is. Although you meant it kindly, the only thing it did was piss me off when I found out you actually were seeing someone else.
    If he starts rebutting, cut him off mid-sentence and hang up the phone.
    Then be unavailable as a friend until the breakup blues ease up.

    LW#2: Easy response: I know, isn’t it terrible? But it’s one of your son’s favorite outfits on me, so I wear it to please him.
    You can vary it with: Your son bought this outfit for me as a present. Isn’t he a dear?

    Repeat that every time she makes a snarky comment.

  3. avatar butterfly55 says:

    LW1 – Count on it, if he says “there’s no one else” there’s someone else.  Otherwise he would not even feel the need to mention it.

    • avatar jezoebel says:

      Bingo! If someone ends the relationship out of the blue after five years, you KNOW there’s someone else. They don’t just leave for no reason; they stick around until that “someone else” pops upo and then you’re kicked to the curb. Forget being friends with this nimrod, LW1. Mourn your loss and move on, but if he starts to ask why you can’t talk anymore, just say “there’s someone else”.

  4. avatar marywells says:

    LW1- Why keep seeing him? You need some time to heal, and listening to him won’t do you any good. You may or may not be friends after a while, but not now.
    LW2- I’m past the age when I used to cut breaks for nasty-mouthed older people. Some of them get confused, say harmful things without really meaning it, ok. Some of them just were mean, envious and/or bitter and got worse whit age. If it’s ok with your husband, giver her sarcastic answers, like “Yes, and I’m still pretty. You, on the other hand…” and stare critically to her figure. If she starts a row, open huge eyes and say “I was just kidding, dear MIL! Just like you do!”

  5. avatar Artemesia says:

    “Why MIL, it is so nice to see you too, and you are looking well.”

    “How kind of you to say so, and it is so nice to see you too.”

    “My that does sound just like something you would say, it is lovely to see you too.”

    and ignore it besides that.

  6. avatar Sita says:

    My MIL is a master manipulator and passive aggressor. She treated her other DIL terribly. I set my boundaries early on and the first time she tried to cross it she almost got kicked out on the curb. She is 80 now and can hardly do anything and wants to live with us with me as her primary caregiver. So she ingratiate herself to me but her passive aggressive way still comes out once in a while. I still don’t like her and she’s not my mother. So LW #2 just remember this day will come to you too when she needs you. The good thing is that your husband is in your corner just like mine.

  7. avatar JCF4612 says:

    1) I am sorry for your loss. None of us likes to be discarded, whether from a lover or whoever, and I know it hurts. If you live in the same town or region, by all means be civil. But I see no reason to be “friends” with this guy. Friends are people you can trust, and he no longer fits that mold. Turn the page toward the rest of your life and don’t look back.

    2) Yuk,  Margo. I can’t think of anything worse to say for a comeback. What if the old bat seizes the opportunity? Better to ignore her, or respond with a chipper “How kind of you to say that” … over and over and over, every time she let’s out a zinger. She may be too stupid to get, but other will be amused.          

  8. avatar blueelm says:

    Sorry but “friends” who won’t be honest to spare themselves having to be around you when you’re upset are called acquaintances.

  9. avatar Cindy Marek says:

    L #1: She didn’t mean anything to him. You do (to some point it seems), but he’s flakey and unstable (and will no doubt cheat on you again, if you reunite/give him another chance). You can do better. He’s also putting it on YOU to end the relationship (not fair); do it – do yourself that favor. He’s not much of a friend either.

    L #2: Lol! Loved your reply, Margo. “Being nibbled to death by ducks” — never heard of that before. Thank goodness her husband knows mom’s the problem, not her. Maybe beat MIL to the punch and comment on what she’s wearing first. ;-p

    • avatar Cindy Marek says:

      I’d also be tempted to simply go “meow” in a slightly snide tone. That usually knocks the nonsense cold.

  10. avatar Jennifer juniper says:

    What a horrible response to LW2. I can’t imagine what on earth that sort of response accomplishes, other than the possible shopping outing with someone you can’t stand. I would just suggest you keep cultivating not caring. The fact that you are writing in does imply that this does in fact bug you, despite what you say. Just keep reminding yourself that there is no real threat here. Your husband knows she’s like this – he’s on your side, and this women has no power over you. I actually have a neighbor that is like this – and most of the time I can hardly keep from openly chuckling when these things come out of her mouth – because when you really truly don’t care- it does become rather comical that someone is just so cluelessly (or not so) rude.

  11. avatar Dame says:

    L#1:  Everyone has overlooked the obvious.  Guys generally don’t stay friends with an ex or make any effort too unless they, deep down, think they may want to sleep with them again or possibly reconcile.  If you have an ex that you are still friends with, on some level he is thinking that.  I was enlightened about this by my own son.  So his trying to stay friends is more like “It’s been kind of boring with us lately so I want to see if this is more exciting, but I will probably still want to sleep with you at some point later”.  LOSE HIM and no, you don’t need to be friends.

    L#2:  I have had a passive aggressive MIL for the past 30 years.  She actually does now live with my husband and me.  Yes, my husband is on my side.  She does the same things to him as she does to me.  Here’s the thing.  She is not fooling anyone.  EVERYONE knows it’s her.  Best response ever, “You might be right, MIL.  I will have to look into that!”   Shuts her up every time.    

  12. avatar R Scott says:

    LW1 – Don’t people get angry anymore? What’s wrong with a little righteous anger? Why all the hurt? The guy was/is a douche. He was seeing someone before he broke up. He lied about the reasons (yeah, he did) and continues to do so and then keeps up the charade of “let’s stay friends”. Get mad at him have a little hissy fit, take a deep breath, shake it out  and then move on…without him as a “friend”. It was gift.  Be grateful you dodged a bullet.
    LW2 – Or you could take her by the hand, lean in and whisper , “Knock it off you passive-aggressive b!tch”.  Then walk away and go about you business. Why join her in her little dance?

    • avatar Deeliteful says:

      Love, love, love your response for LW2!

    • avatar David Bolton says:

      Lw1: “Dear Margo: My live-in boyfriend of five years recently dumped me. This is sad, but survivable.”

      My favorite intro of all time. Your battle is already halfway won in your favor.

      Lw2: Try something like this…

      “Darn, I had planned to wear this every day once we put you in the nursing home.”

      (awkward pause, then forced laughter)

      “Oh, you know I’m just kidding… right?”

      (stop laughing suddenly, and then turn and walk away)

  13. avatar dcarpend says:

    LW2, I’m a fan of “How very kind of you to say so.” Say it with as much or as little smile in your voice as you deem appropriate.

    The other possibility is to say ‘Oh, and you’re wearing that baggy old kitty sweatshirt (old-lady appliqued Christmas sweater/those hilarious polyester elastic-waist slacks) again.” When she acts all miffed — and she will — say, “Oh, I’m sorry! I thought we were critiquing one another’s personal appearance.”

  14. avatar batmom says:

    My suggestion for LW2, if her family is game.  In the car on the way to your next encounter with your MIL, take bets on the theme of that night’s insult.  The winner can yell out Bingo! when the insult is delivered.  If you’re lucky it will be nebulous (wait, was the insult about how out of style the outfit is? Or that it’s too young for me?) and you and your family can have a friendly debate about the insult’s theme.  You will be endlessly amused, and your MIL, hopefully, somewhat abashed that she is so predictable that you were able to create a game out of her antics.

  15. avatar Calyx says:

    LW2: Try saying a sincere “thank you!” every time she makes an observation like that. Same exact response every single time. If asked for an explanation just smile vaguely or say charmingly, “It’s so kind of you to notice.” Pretend you’re an airhead who cannot perceive insult. She’s obviously trying to be mean and elicit a response from you. By responding as if she had said something pleasant and then declining to engage you are thwarting her in the most polite way possible. Done consistently and with absolutely no further engagement or discussion it should drive her crazy.

  16. avatar wendykh says:

    Maybe I’m naive (um usually not in these matters) but I’m not seeing where there WAS someone else?

    I see no proof that LW1’sguy was involved with WorkWench previous to the breakup. I think women are simply shocked and horrified how easy it is for many men to have sex after a breakup. Maybe he was hot for her before, maybe they were in a torrid affair before, but there’s no evidence of either.

    LW1 did not die, her guy dumped her and in my experience when a man initiates the breakup he is very, very, very done. He was probably ready to date a few days later. It happens.

    Now if you find emails from the time you two were together, sure but I see exactly NOTHING in LW1’s letter to show evidence he was on the DL. None. And I am normally majorly suspicious of such matters.

  17. avatar Deeliteful says:

    My 82 y/o Mom could be the MIL in letter 2 EXCEPT she is catty to her daughters and DIL is always just lovely. My sister and I are used to it after all these years, but nothing, absolutely nothing we have ever said ever gets her attention. My advice to DIL is say whatever makes you feel better to your MIL. Chances are it won’t make any difference. Mom now lives with me and is as cantankerous as she has ever been. Everybody just loves her and thinks she is sooooo sweet. My sis and I usually just smile and say nothing to these kind, well meaning folks. Privately, we talk to her just like she talks to us. When she takes offense and “punishes” us by pouting and not talking for a couple of days, well we see that as winning!

  18. avatar mjd4 says:

    Ultimately, does it really matter if there was someone else? If you want to stay friends with him, stay friends. If you do not enjoy his company, or do not like or respect him, then do not be friends. If you want to be friends you would forgive his lying. If you don’t, you do not need the excuse that he is a liar.

  19. avatar Claire Saenz says:

    Sometimes, “there’s no one else” really means “there is someone else, but that’s not the reason I’m leaving you”.

  20. avatar LucyB says:

    JCF4612’s suggestion to LW2 of saying “How kind of you to say that” reminds me of one of the lines of the dowager countess in Downton Abbey. That old lady (played by Maggie Smith) has the best lines. In one scene she gets in a dig at another woman.
    Other woman: I’ll take that as a compliment.
    Dowager countess: I must have said it wrong.

  21. avatar Susan JH says:

    LW2 — Margo is right on.  This woman is passive-aggressive and, in addition, outright silly.  My aunt always considered herself the most sophisticated and stylish of all of the five sisters, and the other four referred to her sarcastically as “the pretty one”, even though she wasn’t.  My mother was tiny, and yet every time my aunt saw her, she would say, “You’ve put on a little weight, haven’t you?”  We all laughed about it, because my aunt was easily twice the size of my mother.  Sad are the people who have to get their self-esteem by putting down others, but sadder still, my mother got her self-esteem by putting down others behind their backs instead of using my aunt’s indirect attack methods.  Who is to say which is worse?

  22. avatar Mango says:

    lw2- I would go with a loud, so everyone can hear, ‘Thank you! I’m glad you like it!’ , then ‘I’m sure we could find one to fit you.’ Try to have fun with it and mess with her head as much as possible.

  23. avatar A R says:

    LW1: I’m going to play devil’s advocate for just a second. Perhaps when he broke up with you, there really was “nobody” yet, as he had not actually talked with her, approached her, or acknowledged his own attraction. I guess what I mean is that even if he was attracted to her, as long as he didn’t acknowledge it, then technically there *wasn’t* anyone else–just the potential for someone else if he were single and if she were interested. I’d read this more as when he said there was no one else, he was saying, “I am not seeing anyone else at this moment” or “I have not got anyone on the side”. Really, you’d do better to let this go unless you have firsthand info from his buddy, sister, best friend, or coworker that the two of them started sparking, hanging out, or seeing each other prior to your split. Some folks move fast when they connect.

    LW2: With folks like this, I have learned to just stare at them until they either walk away, or ask if I heard them. Usually they walk away. If they are fool enough to ask if I heard them, I reply, “Yes, but what did you expect me to say?” That shuts them down because there is no answer for that.

  24. avatar redhead says:

    LW#1 – Just because he moved on quickly,is no reason to believe that he didn’t break up with her for the reasons he gave. She even seems to understand that he wanted to make the point that they weren’t “perfect” for each other. If two people are really trying to make it work, but after 5 years, see that they still have the same issues they walked in the door with, isn’t it better to end it? Too many people feel they HAVE to get married because they have been marking time for X number of years. And no, don’t try to stay friends with him, you won’t be able to.

    LW#2 – Say in a loud dramatic whisper ” Are you in the Fashion Police???” And tell her to stop!