Dear Margo: Student Loans Versus Love

Money can’t buy love, but some financial security helps, right? Margo Howard’s advice

Student Loans Versus Love

Dear Margo: I’m a female in my late 20s living in a big city. My boyfriend is in his mid-30s. We have a wonderful relationship with good sex and great communication. We’re planning to move in together and want to eventually start a family and all that jazz. The problem is he’s broke — like 150 grand in debt broke.

Almost $100,000 of that is student loans. He has a master’s degree, but doesn’t make enough money to even begin his payments. He’s told me all this before, but I guess I didn’t realize how real it was until last night. He was explaining his financial stress, and I saw the future I want falling away. If I stay with him, I’m afraid I’ll be choosing a life of ongoing economic problems. I went to a very expensive college, but I’ve worked hard to make my payments on time every month since graduation and have been slowly chipping away at my debt. I have no credit card debt and an almost perfect credit score. I have a good job, but not enough income to support a family by myself or to help offset my partner’s debt.

I’m embarrassed to feel this way, but I’ve worked hard to be financially responsible, and now it feels like it will all go to hell if I start building a life with this man. I want us to be together, but I also want financial security, a kid, a house and a picket fence. OK, maybe not the picket fence. — Am I Being Awful?

Dear Am: The relationship sounds nearly ideal, so maybe there are things to be done that will allow you to continue without feeling financially threatened. Why don’t you take charge of the family finances since you seem more competent in that department? It is entirely possible that, in time, he will better his position, just as you likely could wind up in a higher paying job. Then, too, there is much talk of the government doing something about these crippling student loans.

While I understand your wish for financial security, I know of too many romances where the couple started out very modestly and then fortune smiled upon them. Yours needs to be a decision of the heart, and if the concern about money outweighs that, then there is your answer. — Margo, thoughtfully

When Things Just Don’t Make Sense

Dear Margo: I have a friend (honest, it’s not me) who had a years-long affair with a married man. My friend had been divorced for a long time. These people lived in the same apartment building!

Well, here’s what happened — which neither my friend nor I understand. The man’s wife became ill, and after a year and a half, she died. You’d think that they could have become a couple openly, but that did not happen. He basically dumped her. After a few months, a woman moved in with him. It really makes no sense. My friend wound up in psychotherapy, and who could blame her? What is the dynamic here? Her shrink isn’t having much luck helping her put this behind her. — Helpless Friend

Dear Help: I have known of instances where this has happened, and everyone is always surprised. I can give you no answer to a certainty, but I can offer a few hypotheses. The man’s guilt may be putting the dead hand, forgive the infelicitous cliche, on conducting this particular romance in the open. The wife he was cheating on is now gone, ergo the girlfriend needs to be, too. Maybe this man needs the illicit aspect to have an affair work. (He would not be alone.) Maybe, in the course of things, he tired of her. Or maybe the guy was just a jerk. — Margo, conjecturally

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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.


Every Thursday and Friday, you can find “Dear Margo” and her latest words of wisdom on wowOwow

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81 Responses so far.

  1. avatar blue tooth says:

    I would go with the jerk explanation. Basically, this guy slept with her on the side because he could. He used her for sex, additional comfort, support, and security, and got used to the idea that she didn’t need much from him. And when his wife died, and he started looking around for a new wife, she didn’t qualify. All those promises he made her, if he made her any promises and not just excuses, didn’t mean a thing. They were all part of the pipe dream that he’d built with her. A fantasy that he enjoyed but that he could walk away from without worrying about it. I wouldn’t be surprised if, after his wife died, he started to think of the girlfriend as cheap. After all, she slept with him, didn’t she?

    • avatar wendykh says:

      Yup. Basically, the woman a man has an affair with is not necessarily the woman he wishes to have as a partner. She’s essentially good enough to ______ behind his wife’s back, but not to be his real world partner. In fact, some are real pigs and precisely *because* she was willing to do him behind his wife’s back is why she is crossed off “why would I want a woman like that for a wife?!” Plus once he’s actually single, he can date far more openly and select from women who would have nothing to do with him as a married man. As a married man, he is simply limited to who is convenient for sneak sex and willing to sleep with a married man. Worse, many will tell their sneak sex partner she IS the kind of woman they’d like to be with permanently because what woman would continue to help a man cheat who said “ya know I like schtupping you but I wouldn’t actually date you publicly.” OUCH! 

      Does that sound rough? Probably. But I’m not “judging”, I’m sharing the insight of more than a few married men. And IMHO yeah that does qualify them as jeks to think they’re better than the woman helping them cheat! 

      Sleeping with a married person of either gender is pretty much almost always a loser’s game.

      Oh and cheating on your cancer stricken wife? EXTREMELY common. Just as some spouses cope (er, don’t cope rather?) by disappearing into a bottle, well, some disappear into some bedsheets. It’s an escape tactic. 

  2. avatar Kate Olsen says:

    lw1 – It is too bad that we are not counseled as young teen coeds about student loans. I have been paying off a $2,500 loan for 30 years – I have paid off over $30,000 at this point.  Several times there were points where I was disabled or not working but during those perods the interest piled up.  The IRS took my refund several times.  But because of the interest rate compounding even when i was disabled here i am at the age of 49 with over $9,000 in student loan debt and not even a degree – not even a semester finisshed due to my counselor.  I can document where i have paid the $30,000 – is that ridiculous or not – paid over $30,000 over 30 years for an original $2,500 loan which now stands at $9,000 – and all because the college “counselor” told me to withdraw and change my major – when I did I lost my state grant for money for books and had to leave college.  I was hospitalized for a week at end of term  and my professors would not allow me to take my finals.  But to pay $30,000 over 30- years and still have $8,000 to pay off for original $2,500 is ridiculous – and forget the promised loan rate – mine was a government guaranteed loan but once it was sold off -the interest rate went up to over 10% – thank you Sallie Mae – who currently has mine

    • avatar Lila says:

      Kate, your experience is a good demonstration of why the LW should not be lawfully joined in marriage with this guy, nor own anything jointly with him, nor entangle her finances with his in the least way.  This is one of those cases where, if she just must have this guy, she should just live with him noncommittally.  No marriage to a humongous debt like that.  Can you imagine his six-figure debt in the next 10 or 15 years?

      Marriages used to be much more about economics than about love, at least among the moneyed classes (still true in some countries).  I’m not saying that it is more important than love, but something like the LW is describing sure can sour love fast.  How loving or respectful is it to drag your intended into crushing debt upon marriage, and then condemn your children to a life of poverty and insecurity?  Protect your future family now… don’t marry this guy.

      • avatar Lila says:

        PS, the whole student loan business strikes me as really predatory.  No different from the practices that set the housing crash in motion, or the credit card billing practices that Congress finally forced to reform… Sorta.  Ugh.  

        • avatar David Bolton says:

          It starts with colleges offering degrees that have nothing but esoteric or theoretical value. IMHO, all degree programs should be rated with a factor that is based on the job market for that position, the average entry salary, and how many examples of that particular job are found in a 100-mile radius from the school. 

        • avatar wendykh says:

          It is. Why on earth are young people being counseled to take out SO much debt with NO promises of employment?! On the idea they MAY get a job? In what universe would this be acceptable for any other expense? And who makes money off of this? The banks. The loan companies. It’s a crap practice based on the idea of education as job training and nothing more. I don’t know what the right answer is but it shouldn’t cost more than a HOUSE to get an education. How are young people supposed to move out pair off buy homes etc and begin families with that kind of debt?!

          And LW1 the top things that break up marriages are fights over sex and money. I don’t think it’s cold or foolish at ALL to not want to marry someone with that much debt. My husband and I have about $80K between the two of us. Looking back we would have done things very differently (we’d be together but would NOT have taken out those loans). Despite that he makes a very good six figure salary half our monthly income goes to these loans. Now luckily we can still make due living modestly and really we want for nothing (some would NOT be happy living as we do, however, still renting, in the poor section of the city, one very used car for the whole family, no new furniture clothes etc). But we also have a very sensible plan to have it all paid off within a couple more years. So it’s not the amount that would scare me as much as the inability to pay it. Where I live, marriage does NOT make his debt your debt. But in some places it does, and even if it doesn’t, it still effects your standard of living making it so basically you’ll tbe sole breadwinner because all his money will be going to the debt. This might be worth it for you. But it might not and being a sponge off you financially might cause serious issues between you two.

    • avatar toni says:

      You must have missed a awful lot of payments. Education can’t be repossessed like a car. Who else was supposed to pay your debt?

    • avatar bobkat says:

      OMG Kate! That’s ridiculous! This type of extortion, and that’s what it is, should be illegal. I hope that the student loan bubble will be the next one to burst. It needs to. I feel for you!

      • avatar David Bolton says:

        I’m not exactly sure how you managed to accomplish this, unless you have significant late fees involved, and didn’t pay on your loan for quite a few years—like 10-15 or so. I deferred an $13K loan for nearly 10 years myself, and managed to only raise it to just under $17K. 

    • avatar lexi reads says:

      Wow Kate – is anything your responsibility?  You didn’t pay your debts because you were disabled “or not working,” because the IRS took your refund.  You didn’t finish your education “due to my counselor,”  your professors “would not allow me to take my finals” …  10-13% is not a horrible interest rate, it isn’t loan shark territory.
      Try this:  You lost your state grant money because you took bad advice.  You didn’t make the proper arrangements for your finals.  You left college without a degree.  You didn’t work consistently, and the ADA has a lot of success stories about people who are disabled who manage to have successful careers.  I also can’t tell if your disability is permanent or not.
      Your story doesn’t add up if it is Sally Mae, you can prepay at any time, make arrangements so it isn’t more than 15% of your income, and get loan forgiveness after 25 years.

  3. avatar Kate Olsen says:

    LW2 – any woman who “dates” a married man knows what she is facing, That the man’s wife died is too sad but really what did your friend expect.  He kept her in the dark for how long – did she really expect anything different.  We reap what we sow  And what does this say about the type of person your friend is?  I would be watching my backyard if I were you.  Anyone who would knowingly date a married man might not care who’s married man she dates. 

    • avatar blue tooth says:

      Well yeah, since LW2 (‘friend’) lived in the same building as the married guy, I don’t think she can claim ignorance, but I don’t think it’s necessarily always the woman’s fault. I knew many guys who hit on lots of women while they were married, and they never started out with, “Hi. I’m married.”

      Granted there are sharks (like Rielle Hunter) who just love them a married man, especially a rich, married man. A lot of these women, though, start out dating, then they fall in love, and then they’re stuck. Then it’s the whole “stand by your man,” “but I love him,” “if only he were free,” thing, with all the screwed-up thoughts that come from Nora Ephron movies.

      I knew this one woman who met this guy, dated him and fell in love, the whole starry-eyed, we-we-we thing. He was a we-er. We’ll buy a house. We’ll have three kids. We’ll take a vacation in Aruba. We’ll pack up and go sailing. This guy went to her father and asked for her hand in marriage. Real traditional. What went wrong? Well, his current wife, who he was still living with and married to and had kids with, and who he was happily still boffing by the way, showed up at this woman’s doorstep.

      She was horrified, but by then she’d been branded as “the other woman.” She broke it off right away, although the guy disappeared right quick. I guess he had some fence-mending to do with his wife, after all. What kind of conversation did this girl have with her father, do you think?

      The kicker behind all this? About a year later, this guy saw her in a restaurant. He was with another girl. The next day he texted her, asking, “Whatever happened to us?”

       Like I said, it’s not always the girl’s fault.

      • avatar LuckySeven says:

        If she keeps dating him after she finds out he’s married, it’s her fault as much as his, whether she’s in love with him or not. 
        I’m a woman.  I’ve been in love before with guys who didn’t love me on equal terms.  It hurts and it’s awful, but nobody dies from it except in fairy-tales.  Being in love needs to stop being an excuse to do moronic things and abdicate responsibility for one’s actions.  Yes, married people who hit on other people are creeps, but they can’t cheat if nobody will cheat with them.

  4. avatar Jennifer juniper says:

    LW1 – I say listen to your guy and get out now.  It’s not so much the student loan debt but 50K is a lot of other debt!  And he doesn’t seem to have had a plan to get a job that would pay it off.  And no bones about it – if you marry – that debt will become yours as well.  As he’s a bit older so you’d have thought he would have had a better handle on such things by now. 
    Prudie seemed to skip over a very important question – you say that you want to marry him and start a family.  Are you planning on staying home with that family?  Is one of you?  Because that’s going to put even more stress on this situation… tons more.  For some reason it’s become considered mercenary to weigh these things before marrying a man.  Women are called ‘gold-diggers’ because they actually might think about what their financial situation might be if the future if they have plans to start a family.  It’s not.  It’s entirely necessary.  The #1 thing that couples argue about is MONEY.  

    • avatar Lila says:

      Jennifer, spot on!  Kids are expensive, it takes money to just have the basics and even more money to really live, and this guy is starting life as a financial cripple.  If he were solidly paying down his debt and moving ahead aggressively in his career, I would see the debt as a “concern,” but since he is wallowing in it instead – well – I don’t think the LW should get into the business of burning herself out to rescue him, and herself, from this debt.

    • avatar julpfeif says:

      Er…Margo. Not Prudie.

      • avatar Kriss says:

        @ julpfeif:  LOL.  yeah, Margo hasn’t been Prudie for quite some time but she did give a bad Emily Yoffe answer for that first LW.  she might need to be lashed w/ one of her mother’s wet noodles for that one.

  5. avatar BC says:

    LW#1:  Run!  That $150,000 will keep piling up and will jeopardize your financial future.  The fact that he hasn’t made any effort to pay it down says a lot about his level of responsibility.

    LW#2:  It happens a lot.  An ex-friend of mine had an affair with her boss.  After a few years, his wife got cancer and died a few years after that.  My ex-friend was with him the whole time, but after his wife died, he started dating another woman and ended up marrying her!  He didn’t want my friend as his wife, he wanted her as his mistress.  The worst part is that she kept having the affair with him, even after he married the other woman.  He even went to see her the first night he got back from his honeymoon!  It wasn’t until she found someone else a few years later (another loser, but single) that she broke up with him.  

    • avatar stateoflove_N_Trust says:

      RE: LW 1- It might say something about him, but then again, with the economy over the past fiver years, there may be circumstances beyond his control in which he cannot get out of debt.   I see people everyday who are in debt quite significantly and in some cases, fault should not be attributed to them.  The information provided by the LW is not enough to determine whether he is irresponsible or not.

  6. avatar lincer says:

    Re: Ltr #2  I don’t believe there is any such thing as a faithful man.  I can honestly say that after my divorce at least 90% of the men who ask me out/made passes, etc. were married men.  Neighbors’ husbands, friends’ husbands, co-workers, bosses.  God,  I even had a therapist make advanced passes at me.  When I decided to stop seeing the shrink – he actually – believe this:  told me his wife had died and I was the only sunshine in his life.  Well a friend looking out for my best interests did a little research and discovered the wife was alive and kicking.  We joked about the MIRACLE for years.  I had one boss, who I refused to date, leave his wife and children, get an apt. hire attorneys and file for divorce.  This from a man I never even kissed.  What I finally discovered is the quickest way to get a married man (if that is your goal), is DON’T have an affair with him.  Men still love the hunt more than the catch. 
    Re: your friend, the line “he’s just not that into you” comes to mind. 

    • avatar stateoflove_N_Trust says:

      That’s interesting, because based upon your comment, I have come to the conclusion that there is no such thing as a rational woman.  I wonder which statement is more foolish.

  7. avatar toni says:

    Lw1: run. Not JUST because of the date but because of his attitude towards it. As you’ve said, you’ve worked hard to pay your debt off. He is not that kind of person. And maybe he is waiting for the govt to do something. Which makes him a mooch.
    Lw2: your friend chose to have an affair. As someone else posted, he’s just not that into her. It doesn’t make him a jerk. She didn’t think enough of herself to ask for more from life. If she keeps blaming men for her choices she will have a lonely life ahead.

    • avatar brent finley says:

      Toni –
      You have nailed both answers!
      I suspect that the “man” is really not owning up to his responsibilities with regard to the debt.  I doubt anyone put a gun to his head; he voluntarily borrowed the money, and it needs to be paid back.  If she marries him it becomes her debt as well.  This may foreshadow a future where he throws up his arms and runs from his responsibilities.
      As far as the lady goes, I feel sorry for her, but she must accept that there is not future with the man.  And none was promised.  Both men and women have “people you sleep with and people you marry”, and this guy considered her a sleeper not a marry-er.  She needs to find a partner that will love her rather than sleep with her, and I humbly suggest she try a single one next time.

  8. avatar wlaccma says:

    My husband and I worked 3 jobs to keep our kids out of college debt.   My son then married a women with a lot of college debt, which has been a drag on them.  When you go to other countries and tell them what our kids have to pay for an education, they can’t believe it.  Anyway, we love our daughter-in-law and think she is the best investment our son ever made.

    • avatar Stampy says:

      It IS pretty “alarming”, for lack of a better term, when you see how expensive education is in America and other countries as an outsider. I live in Mexico, attend one of the best public universities in the world, according to several rankings, and my tuition per semester is the equivalent to US$ .02 (two cents). My particular major only requires me to pay once, so all in all my major (along with a language class) will cost me -since I’m paying for the bulk of my education on my own- less than $1000 dollars, considering textbooks, transportation and food -no lodgings, as I thankfully live not too far from campus. Some Masters and PhD programmes actually PAY you to study -I don’t know how this work in private universities, but at least that’s the way it does in mine.
      I’ve always wanted to study abroad, mostly for the experience, and have always been floored by the costs. Student loan or not, culturally, it doesn’t seem right t saddle a young person, or their families, with such a debt for education. If I didn’t have the chance I’ve been granted, I wouldn’t be able to attend university, simple as that.

  9. avatar Janice Haines says:

    LW1 Run for the hills, and save yourself.     This man is just a Peter Pan who’ll never grow up financially.    He increased his debt load from 100k to 150k, and will just keep going, and never even try to pay the loans back.    People who live in a financial la-la land never change, and you need to move on and find someone who’s a financial adult or you’ll always be waiting for the debt collectors to call, and for the next purchase he makes that puts you further in debt.

    LW2-Your friend (and I believe it’s not you) was just a piece on the side, who lived in the right location, and was willing to have an affair with a married man.     Your friend is now viewed by him as good enough for easy sex, and not a good enough person to commit too.    Now that he’s free the guy has moved to what he views as a ‘nice’ woman who is acceptable to him, and he’s making a commitment.    Your friend needs to move on, and maybe move too, so she won’t have to have the new relationship thrown in her face all of the time.  

  10. avatar Messy ONE says:

    LW#1 – Go ahead and tell your guy you’ll marry him – AFTER he pays off at least half that debt. Like one of the other posters, I find his attitude towards money disturbing. He might just be hoping that marrying you will ease his burden. If he truly wants to marry you, then he should be willing to take some real steps to make you feel secure. 

    LW#2 – I do wish that little girls who choose to mess with married men would get a grip and realize that to him, they are the bit on the side and nothing more. They are the warm bodies that exist to be used for one purpose only. The guy is a pig. 

    As to marrying one of these idiots…why would ANYONE want to do that? If he’s willing to cheat WITH you, he’s willing to cheat ON you. The very fact that he’s willing to crawl into someone else’s bed when he’s married to someone else is proof of what he thinks of women – disposable toys.