Dear Margo: Time for Psychological Warfare

My room mate’s mother has an issue with my weight; how is this any of her business? Margo Howard’s advice

Time for Psychological Warfare

Dear Margo: My roommate’s mother commented about my weight — to the roommate, who is now giving me an ultimatum about Weight Watchers, or she will never do anything for me again. (I tried WW once, and it’s not an experience I wish to repeat.) That she is issuing an ultimatum really hurt, but to make it worse, she said she won’t hear any “excuses.” All I get is defense of Weight Watchers, comments on my eating habits and reiterations of the ultimatum. Did I mention she says, “I’m not saying this to be mean” every time? And that she’s called me fat, adding, “I’m sorry but you are.”

I have nowhere else to go. I have a cat and can’t afford my own place. I would also hate to lose a friendship over this. I’m not in the least proud of my weight, but the mother’s butting in and the roommate’s behavior as a result upset me greatly. I doubt either of them is concerned about my health, and in the mother’s case, what should she care anyway? What can I do? — Beleaguered

Dear Be: I would throw the discomfort back her way. Tell the pushy roommate you resent being browbeaten, the subject is none of her business or her mother’s, you’re tired of the insults, and maybe she should see a counselor about her insensitivity, if not meanness. I suspect her financial situation is similar to yours, so maybe drop into the conversation that if she doesn’t tone it down about your weight, one of you may have to consider alternative living arrangements. — Margo, tactically

“Female Trouble”

Dear Margo: I work for a small company on a team of four women in their late 20s. There’s a problem with one of my colleagues that might strike you as odd. “Mary” suffers from severe PMS. Several days before the onset of her menses, she turns into a nightmare. Moreover, she gets a leave of absence for a couple of days each month because she feels ill when she has her period. I’m not a freak who makes another lady’s cycle her business, but after working so closely for two years, you just notice such things.

In the first months of working together, I sympathized, but it’s getting to be too much now. She’s not the easiest person to begin with, but during the week prior to her period, she becomes intolerable. I am getting fed up covering her workload when she is out. I gently suggested she consult a doctor. Her answer boils down to “no use seeing a doctor, that’s the way I was born.”

I brought this up to our boss, who told me he is aware of the behavior but is reluctant to let her go because of her knowledge of our company, which is true. Also, he is reluctant to deal with the whole subject. Should I start looking for another job? Should I start nagging our boss? — Feeling Stuck

Dear Feel: “I was born this way,” ergo no need to see a doctor, is fallacious. Were that the case, there would be no need for orthodontists. While it is often true that PMS sufferers are stuck with this unfortunate periodic personality change (no pun intended) in addition to the pain, I would try to get your colleague to give her doctor a try. I asked a doc about this, and the first line of treatment for severe PMS is an SSRL, usually Prozac. Good luck with either fixing it or living with it. — Margo, hopefully

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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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98 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Katharine Gray says:

    LW#1:  Ah…the weight police.  They are insufferable.  They couch their inteference and meanness in terms of concern for your health when what really bothers them is that they just don’t like looking at anyone who doesn’t fit their view of perfection.   I realize you have limited options for moving away from these harridans but I would seriously start exploring alternatives and getting a new place as soon as your lease and finances allow you to do so.   I don’t know what your roommate meant by *not doing anything for you* if you don’t join Weight Watchers.  In a typical roommate situation I suppose both parties do little favors for each other now and then.  If she quits doing for you…you can quit doing for her.  And definitely have the conversation with her that Margo suggested.  She and her mother are bullies. 

    You can always use a version of Winston Churchills classic response when someone (Lady Astor or Margot Asquith) said to him at an evening affair:  Sir, You are Drunk.  His reply was: Yes, M’aam but you are ugly.  And I will be sober in the morning*.   You can be thin one day if you want to.  They will still be mean, busybody bullies until the day they die. 

    LW#2:  There is probably nothing your boss can do about your co-worker’s health issues as she is protected by the Americans With Disabiities Act/ Family Leave Act  and must be accommodated by law.   Probably at the most he can adjust work assignments so you do not have to be around her very much when she is having PMS.   Its a shame she won’t see a doctor as pehaps there are medications which will control her PMS moods.  As for her days of pain…there is really nothing to do about it short of a hysterectomy or other surgery for endometriosis or fibroids and pain medication.  And even pain medication  is not a complete answer.   By the time I finally had a hysterectomy (the best thing I ever did), I was taking 6 Advils every 3 or 4 hours for 4 days straight to dull the pain to the point where I could function.  My OB/Gyn was amazed I had a stomach lining left by the time I had surgery.   If I didn’t *catch*  the pain in time, I could be in bed for 5-6 hours waiting for the pain to subside to the point where I could walk.  Maybe morphine would have been effective but then that would have not allowed me to function either.  

    You can continue to encourage her to seek medical help…but some people are reluctant to take medications like Prozac and are not willing to have surgery for a host of reasons, including not wanting to end their child-bearing years or go into menopause prematurely.  And, perhaps she has discussed the options with her doctor and just does not want to share with you what she and her doctor have decided to do about her situation.

    In short, you may want to be looking for another job.  

    • avatar Lisa Cornell says:

      Sorry, disagree with the fact that there is nothing the employer can do because she is protected under Americans with Disabilities Act. The law requires the employer to make reasonable accommodation. I don’t think an employee who holds an entire office hostage to extreme mood swings one week out of four and who refuses to even consult a Dr on this issue is someone the business can reasonably accommodate. An employer does not have to wait indefinitely for an employee’s problem to be treated or corrected.

      I suspect if the employer sat her down, told her that her condition was worsening and disruptive to their business practices and that they were unable to accommodate her disability, she would hop skip to the Dr and get treatment ASAP. Ms Looney Tunes has been able to get away with this behavior far too long. If there is an HR department, talk to them. If not, and the office is small as you say, approach your boss and request he take action. Put in writing how her behavior is affecting your performance.

    • avatar Lisa Cornell says:

      Read hubby this letter and asked his opinion, he’s a board certified employment lawyer. He says PMS is not covered by the ADA and if the employee was fired and she brought suit under the ADA, she would lose. Also, the writer says the office is small. The employee wouldn’t be entitled to FMLA if there are less than 50 employees within a 75 mile radius. This means even if she worked for a larger firm and this was a satellite office with fewer than 50 people within the 75 mile radius, she wouldn’t be entitled to FMLA. Finally, an employee must provide medical certification in order to qualify for FMLA. It doesn’t sound as if this employer has requested it. It would require this employee to at least see the Dr and he/she could perhaps suggest a treatment plan.

      • avatar ostatekitty says:

        If there is an Human Resources office at LW’s job, I’d head straight there.  Most comapnies don’t offer unlimited sick leave, especially if she hasn’t even had her condition documented by a physician.

    • avatar impska says:

      While your case sounds extreme, it’s not true that most women would have to resort to a hysterectomy. The first line of defense for many women is as simple as a hormonal birth control pill.

      I too once took prescription pain killers for my cramps, and I would still find myself crying in bed with pain. They all but disappeared when I went on the pill. I was extremely disappointed that my doctor had prescribed potentially addictive pain killers for this pain when hormonal birth control is commonly helpful.

    • avatar Daniele says:

      Actually, the ADA does not force employers to maintain employees that harm the business in any significant way. Check out the various cases people with epilepsy lose regularly when fired from their jobs because they have seizures. The ADA is not a you’re-stuck-with-me-ha-ha-ha! policy that makes it acceptable for employees to not manage their health. The employer must accomodate a disabled person, but the employer does not have to accomodate a disabled person by turning the workplace into a hostile working environment. An employer does not have to maintain the employment of a person whose accomodation causes undue hardship. Undue hardship, according to the ADA is: “an accommodation would be unduly costly, extensive, substantial or disruptive, or would fundamentally alter the nature or operation of the business. Among the factors to be considered in determining whether an accommodation is an undue hardship are the cost of the accommodation, the employer’s size, financial resources and the nature and structure of its operation.” No, the employer cannot make health care a requirement of employment, but he does not have to tolerate what’s essentially two weeks absence of every four weeks. This is not reasonable accommodation.

      The employer should consult a lawyer to see what his options are and then promptly fire the woman.

  2. avatar toni says:

    LW1 I am heartbroken fir you that these bullies are having their way with you. I hope a situation becomes available where you can move! You can be Teflon and keep repeating Not your business… Or the mean side of me wants you to reply next time w Oh thank goodness we have the kind of friendship where we can help each other. I’ve been afraid to say anything about your horrible bad breath!

    Then you can start leaving mints for her everywhere, and every time she attacks you w weight watchers, you could smile and say, Tic tac?

    LW2: is there an HR dept for your co? Not sure when PMS became a disability but YOU have the right to a non-hostile work environment as much as the bi – I mean the disabled one does to be accommodated. It’s the boss’s job to make both those things happen not YOURS. Push back. If you get flak for it tell them you have your period.

    • avatar Mandy says:

      I greatly enjoy the way you think on the jerk roommate. The Tic Tac comment is priceless!

      I’ll add that this roommate and her mom sound a LOT like a nurse practitioner at my gyno’s office. This woman is a complete Weight Watchers Nazi. Her answer to all weight issues is: Go to Weight Watchers! She harped on me so hard during my pap exam that I was literally in tears with my feet in the stirrups. She told me, “See? Now I bet if you’d lose some weight you wouldn’t cry so much.” No lie. Bear in mind she kept at this after I had already told her that I tried WW in the past and actually *GAINED* weight, but those pesky details weren’t important to her. I pointed out that I also have thyroid problems, again, WW would fix EVERYTHING! Oh, and my specialist who deals with my thyroid problems and diet plan? She doesn’t know what she’s talking about according to said nurse practitioner, my thyroid was probably fine (it’s not).
      Am I painting the picture vividly enough? Needless to say there was a note put into my file that whenever I schedule an appointment I am to have the actual doctor and “Shannon” is to keep far from me for her own good.

      Well, fast forward 2 years: I make my yearly appointment and the new girl screwed up and scheduled me with Shannon. I only discovered this when I got there and my doctor wasn’t there that day; I needed my birth control, so I just sucked it up. She started harping at me the minute she sat down. I wasn’t about to cry on the table again and told her that if she wants to keep talking about Weight Watchers she can just leave; I’m paying for a pap smear, not a consult for WW. I own a mirror, I know I’m overweight, I do not need her telling me repeatedly. She slacked off for a few, started the exam, and then all of a sudden started up again just as she was finishing the exam. I won’t lie, I started to cry and then I snapped. I told her to, “Get the F out of here, right now. LEAVE! GET AWAY FROM ME! GET OUT! GO AWAY! NURSE!” I screamed it at the top of my lungs so all the nurses heard me and came running. The best was when Tracy (one of the nurses) asked me if I wanted to call the police and Shannon turned 20 shades of white and ran from the room. None of the nurses liked her either because she picked at them the same way; all day, every day.

      My actual doctor called me a few weeks later to let me know that Shannon was fired for her behaviour and to apologize. The nurses (after my first complaint) had started to keep tabs and ask questions. They compiled a huge list of complaints. My screaming fit was just the icing on the cake that finally got her booted out the door. As my doctor said, “I put it to her in the simplest terms I could: You’re not here to hawk Weight Watchers. You were not hired to hawk Weight Watchers. Since all you seem able to do is verbally abuse our patients and hawk Weight Watchers, why don’t you go work for them? You’re fired.” I <3 my doctor.

      So, as you can see LW, sometimes those harpies get what's coming to them. Just stand your ground! If going at it the way Margo suggests doesn't do the trick, go with what toni suggested and give her a taste of her own medicine. Next time she wears a pair of jeans she loves tell her that her ass looks fat and she should donate them to charity (you're just being a good friend, so she's not embarrassed), next time she wears a shade of lipstick or eyeshadow that you *know* she loves tell her that she looks like a hooker and she should throw it out (you're just concerned, you wouldn't want anyone out there to think she's a prostitute!), or the next time she gets her hair done tell her that the cut/colour/whatever really doesn't suit her and suggest she get a wig (again, just a concerned friend…). Don't let her walk all over you. Inevitably she'll make a comment about how mean you're being. When that time comes you need only one line, "Now you understand how you make me feel with the Weight Watchers ultimatum."

      As for the mom? She deserves a good blast. Write her a letter or an email and point out to her that you're absolutely thrilled that she feels she's such a great mom that she has to parent everyone, but you are a grown woman who is capable of making her own choices and you would greatly appreciate if she would mind her business. You can also let her know that her comments have caused tension between yourself and your friend and that if your friend doesn't let up you're going to have to cut the toxicity from your life, sad as that will be. Give her the full guilt, round trip!

      • avatar Sadie BB says:

        Good for you Mandy, for making a fuss! It’s so hard to be the first one to bring the hammer down. But then you find out that you are not alone!

      • avatar phrugall says:

        I <3 your doctor too!

      • avatar toni says:

        Thanks for your post Mandy! I LOVED where you started yelling at the B! While I heart your dr too I do wish they had listened when you first complained.

        I lost 60 lbs and kept it off 3 yrs – and people STILL try to push WW on me! It’s a cult!

        I still struggle w self esteem – our society has idolized thinness over health. And the BMI should be thrown out the window! I had my body fat measured w body calipers for work – 24.7%! But the ‘scale’ calculation would have put me close to obese.

        We’re fabulous right now Mandy and LW! Anyone who doesn’t like it can join that nurse in the unemployment line!

    • avatar A R says:

      Yeah… I don’t think chronic PMS is a disability either. At least not by the ADA….

  3. avatar Carol David says:

    That’s SSRI (Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitor), not SSRL.

  4. avatar Jim P says:

    LW1: I agree the best idea is to get out. But you may want to google “Gary Taubes” at some point.

    LW2: The response to “Her answer boils down to ‘no use seeing a doctor, that’s the way I was born.’” is then “You need to find a better doctor. Do you think it’s fair to dump your workload on us?” If she says “Yes” then she thinks she’s entitled. Go look for another job. If she says “No.” then she has never thought of it before. Encourage her to find a new doctoer.

  5. avatar TimIn808 says:

    My suspicion is that LR1’s roommate desires her to leave for some reason or another and believes that being mean is the easiest way to accomplish that goal. It’s cowardly but not unheard of. I witnessed a similar circumstance many years ago, although the goal was to get a friend to quit his job – not move out of his apartment.

    My other comment is in reference to LR1’s “I would also hate to lose a friendship over this” comment. Honey, that girl is NOT your friend. Friends do not shame one another. Friends offer encouragement and support. Friendships, by definition, must not be toxic.

    As for LR2, I would only suggest that you not act upon Margo’s advice “during the week prior to her period” – if you get my drift!


  6. avatar Patti Spencer says:

    LW#1 – Have you ever thought about saying – I will try WW again, if you pay for it AND the special food AND GO WITH ME SINCE YOU CAN LOOSE A FEW POUND’S AS WELL?? Toss it right back in their face! Since it sounds like money is an issue for you both, this might be a way for you to fight back.
    Also, there is the old turning the tables on them route: Let them know that you will not try WW again, and that if they don’t like it, they can move out! Sounds like mom is close enough for the rm to do just that.
    Also, as others have said, find something about the rm and rm’s mom that bugs you and each time they bring up your weight, toss this back at them. You can also go with the: Sorry, it is a medical condition that cannot be corrected by diet – got to live with it. (I am on a medication that causes weight gain – no matter what I do, unless I go off of said med’s I don’t loose weight easily)
    Depending on the way the lease is written, it could be that you are stuck with each other for a while – remember, if you are on the lease and leave early, you could be held responsible for your share until another rm is found. This is the first thing I would check into, it could also become your biggest piece of leverage around.
    Hope these work for you.

  7. avatar Carmen Clemons says:

    I hope LW2’s coworker reconsiders talking to a doctor. I’ve had bad PMS and periods since middle school, but I thought that what I experienced was “normal” and couldn’t be helped, so I never did anything about them. After 25 years of symptoms that you don’t want to hear about, I ended up with problems severe enough to land me in an OB-GYN’s office. Finding birth control pills I could take safely took care of the problem. I could kick myself for not dealing with it sooner.

    • avatar impska says:

      I second this. The strange thing is that my doctor was happy to prescribe heavy duty pain killers for my PMS-related pain and I had to request hormonal birth control pills after doing my own research. Bewildering.

    • avatar Lym BO says:

      I was prescribed bcp my first semester of college for the same reason. Worked like a charm; however, my boyfriend’s mother found out and accused me of being a harlot. That wasn’t pleasant. After a few years, I decided the bcp was making me psycho (depression) so I stopped it. Psycho behavior left & the horrible periods did not return. I started back on them for birth control & stayed on them for the next ten years then couldn’t get pregnant. Did the infertility route for years. Fast forward thru two adopted kids & two biological kids & went back on hormones for birth control (Mirena). That also made me psycho (depression and anger) and killed my milk supply while nursing. Every thing has its pros and cons.

  8. avatar Cindy Marek says:

    L #1: Further proof the apple usually doesn’t fall far from the tree (mother/daughter). You’d better start speaking up for yourself. You *PAY* to live there (and hopefully you are paying fully what you do owe per month; if not, her mother using this bullying tactic to try and drive you out, so someone who can consistently pay what’s owed per month move in?). Regardless, you don’t owe them an explanation as to your weight. A husband you might; that’s it. Take Margo’s advice and start speaking up for yourself; tell them you resent their bullying, your weight is none of their business; and you might also tell roommate dear it’s time she grew up and cut the apron strings.

    L #2: She has to endure it and so should you? I guess I’d either continue trying to *politely* convince her to see a doctor (while reminding her that her situation isn’t your fault AND the burden of her absences falls onto YOU which also is NOT FAIR). Since your wimp of a boss doesn’t want to deal with it, can he at least be persuaded to delegate her work to others in her absences so it doesn’t fall squarely on you? It is unfair to you.

  9. avatar David Bolton says:

    LW1: There’s a lot left unsaid in this letter about motive and situation, but I get the feeling that we’re seeing the other side of an intervention (or perhaps, a half-assed attempt at one), with a healthy dose of past attempts to lose weight, and some edited-out behaviors on the LW’s part. I seriously doubt a roommate and her mother would suddenly pronounce final fat judgment on the LW out of the blue—so I’m wondering what else has been going on behind the scenes.

    Anyway—here’s the deal: you’re fat. You know you’re fat, and you admit you’re fat. Of the weight loss regimens, WW is supposed to be one of the easier, healthier and longer-lasting. Why not give it a shot again and lose 5 or 10 pounds? Almost EVERY SINGLE PERSON in American can stand to lose 5 pounds. If it makes you feel better about yourself, appeases the weight loss police and keeps a roof over your head and your cat’s for the time being—then everyone wins.

    LW2: Barring Ms. PMS falling down an elevator shaft—situations like these almost never work out in anyone’s favor except for people like Ms. PMS. Start looking.

    • avatar Barbara says:

      Speak for yourself. I’ve weighed the same for 50 years and am not in need of losing a pound. LW#1 needs to assess her situation. I understand she cannot afford a place by herself but surely there are other roommate options available. Has she looked online? Finding a place with someone you don’t know may be far preferable than living with someone who is making you miserable. Having a cat is not necessarily a deal breaker but I hope it is well trained.

      In the short term, I hope every time the situation comes up that she just says Thank you for your concern. End of discussion. Leave the room. Plug in your ipod. Make a phone call. Go for a walk. Just don’t get into it.

      LW#2 – I would suggest you take a more positive action. If your colleague is so valuable because of her knowledge of the business, study up. Become the expert yourself. Show your results. Make yourself invaluable to your manager. She will become much less valuable and then give your manager the opening to rectify the situation by either making her perform or removing her. Unless you change the game, you won’t win on this.

      • avatar David Bolton says:

        “LW#1 needs to assess her situation.”

        Apparently she did, when she said “I’m not in the least proud of my weight.” And I stand by my statement that ALMOST everyone is America could stand to lose weight. It is a fact—period.

        • avatar Jessica J says:

          Agreed! Myself included, and I’m tired of having people butt in about what I’m eating and when they find out I’m working on losing my last ten pounds they cry out, “Why? You look great!”. Looking ‘great’ is not what is supposed to matter, right? I just want to be fit and healthy, so leave me alone.

        • avatar jezoebel says:

          I hope you’re including yourself in that statement because you’re already digging yourself in a pretty big hole.

        • avatar wendykh says:

          Yes but how does that mean she’s interested in any help on it? I too am overweight, I gained a large amount back after losing a lot several years ago. I do NOT want ANYTHING to do with WW because it turned to a very unhealthy constant number obsession for me. I know precisely what I need to do and how to lose weight WITHOUT getting all obsessive on numbers and points. I will do it when I have the time and am ready, and neither of those are anyone else’s business, just like it is NOT the LW’s roomie and mother’s business! MANNERS! These people need to get some and SHUT UP.

          • avatar David Bolton says:

            Actually you are quite in the right, Wendy. The effort to lose weight has to come from the LW (or the dieter in general), and not the people surrounding him or her. I quit believing in interventions after the twelfth or so didn’t work on my mother and her drinking—I also quit believing in listening to people who whine about needing to make changes in their life, but don’t actually do anything. Again—I don’t know why LW’s roommate and her mother have decided to make LW’s weight loss their common goal. None of us do. But I still doubt they just woke up one morning and thought they would browbeat her about her size until she gave in—I have a feeling there’s more to it than that.

          • avatar Lym BO says:

            I agree about there being more to the story.
            I fall into your “almost” everyone. Weight concerns whether the person be thin or fat need to stay in one’s brain. I get tired of people assessing my food intake and making snide remarks because I am thin & fit. Maybe LW is making comments to said roommate about how thin she is, commentin