Dear Margo: When Things Don’t Look Quite Right

Margo_tall18Margo Howard’s advice

When Things Don’t Look Quite Right

Dear Margo: I’m 60, and my boyfriend is a few years younger. He recently moved in with me. His job requires him to meet with people after their workday. I know he really is doing this on some nights, because I have seen people enter his workplace. But I worry that he uses this as an excuse to meet with a woman with whom he works closely. She has a good girlfriend in the office who undoubtedly has her back.

Anyway, my guy nearly passed out when he learned they would be at the same gathering as me. For a while, he guarded his phone like a hawk. He says he’d like a relationship where the woman didn’t feel she needed to check his phone — but once when I did, he had erased a call he had gone outside to take. I confronted him, but he had no answer.

I don’t think he’s actually doing anything terrible, but what looks like him covering up things leads me to speculate and feel suspicious. He is very loving, and we get along in many ways, but there are an awful lot of excuses. What if I don’t “catch” him but still feel anxious? I just asked him to see a couples counselor, and he agreed. — Looking for Balance

Dear Look: There is no joy in being Miss Marple in a romantic relationship, and yet some of the things you mention do require explanations. The good news is that the two of you can hash all of this out in counseling, and it’s a positive development that he’s willing to go. I hope the outcome is successful. — Margo, optimistically

When It’s Time To Cut Off a Parent

Dear Margo: After 37 years of marriage to my father, my stepmother passed away. I’ve tried to be supportive to my dad, but it’s not easy. If one isn’t a born-again, anti-gay, anti-everything conservative, then that person is obviously “hell-bound.” And that describes me, his only child and probable captain of the Hell-Bound Express.

After doing my best to be patient, tolerant and aware of his loss, he calls one morning (at work!) to tell me what a miserable, stuck-up, elitist shrew I am. He railed about issues from years ago, blamed me for my ex’s cheating and ended the conversation with, “I wouldn’t tell you all of this if I didn’t love you so much.”

Here’s my dilemma: the scattering of my stepmother’s ashes. My kids and I are expected to be there. I would like to go to pay my respects, but I honestly do not want to deal with this vitriolic man. — Fed-Up Only Kid

Dear Fed: I see no reason for subjecting yourself to further abuse. Your dad sounds unbalanced — and mean.

To finesse your exit from this psychodrama, I suggest going to the service, because he’s unlikely to attack you there. (But you never know.) After that, I would make a break for it. Tell him you’re severing the relationship because you love him so much that you can’t bear to add any more rotten memories to the ones you already have. — Margo, self-protectively

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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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33 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Katharine Gray says:

    Letter #1: While I suppose it is good your bf will go to counseling, I’m pretty sure that your gut instincts are correct and that he has some sort of attachment to this other woman that he doesn’t want to share with you…which is not a good thing. I hope you haven’t commingled your financial assets with this guy.

    Letter #2: I’m wondering if grief has unhinged your father. If he has always been this way toward you, then I’m with Margo….go to the service and then cut your ties with him. You can always be passive aggressive and tell him that you do not want to lead him into hell because of his association with you but I think Margo’s direct approach is probably better. If this truly mean (as opposed to opinionated) behavior is something new, then just tell him he is not acting like himself and suggest he get some grief counseling…adding that until he straightens up and flies right you just don’t want to be around him.

    • avatar Katharine Gray says:

      I’m replying to my own reply to LW#1. You say you have seen people go in and out of his office after hours….have you actually been camping out at his work place to spy on him? Maybe you are overly suspicious and jealous, and that is causing him to overreact by hiding his phone etc. As another poster pointed out, if you are monitoring his every move, if he is not cheating now you just may drive him to do so. Whatever the dynamics, counseling is a good start.

  2. avatar beatrix_pierre says:

    Letter #1
    If your boyfriend didn’t agree to see a counselor, I would have told you to kick him out. Perhaps he is acting furtive for no reason… he doesn’t want you to know all his business.

    Letter #2
    I would say “Adios” to papa as I wouldn’t care to be subjected to vitriol even though it’s done in the name of love. Ugh.

  3. avatar Toni Jean says:

    Lw1 you definitely need counseling. I don’t agree w the posts saying your guy must be cheating. Checking his phone like he’s a bad teenager and accusing him will drive him to the very behavior about which you worry. Please get that help.
    Lw2 don’t go to the scattering – especially w your kids!
    Margo is so right – you do not have to subject yourself to your father’s sick behavior. You deserve better. Know that and do not settle for less.

  4. avatar Donna Sampson says:

    LW1….I’ve learned through experience in my life and watching others that if there’s smoke, there’s fire. If your gut tells you there’s something not right, then listen to it. It’s a good thing that he’s willing to go to counseling, but there’s no guarantee that the results will be what you want.

    LW 2 I understand how you feel. I was brought up in a home that was at church every time the door was open. When I grew up and left home, my hubby and I didn’t attend church until we had children of our own. I had had enough when I was growing up. Now that my children have grown and gone, hubby and I don’t attend anymore. My aging mother has taken it upon herself to inform my youngest about how I strayed and didn’t follow her path in life for me. She has told my youngest how she doesn’t want my youngest to make the same mistakes I made. I didn’t go to the school she wanted me to go to and didn’t marry the guy she wanted me to. (those were my “mistakes”) I was livid and have had minimal contact with her since then. My mother is the kind of person who is highly regarded in her community because she treats everyone BUT me with respect. Even though I am 48, I am still a child that needs “guidance” to her. My life is MY life. I am a respected professional as is my hubby. I feel I have had a good life and those “mistakes” were not mistakes, but what I wanted. I think that she feels she is getting older and has to speak her mind to make sure I know what she was pleased and displeased with in my life so not to make those “mistakes” again. Being elderly does NOT give someone the right to just say whatever comes to mind! My advice is to attend out of respect for your stepmother, but avoid him as much as possible. Once the ceremony over, you are not required to speak to him.

    • avatar nartweag says:

      “My aging mother has taken it upon herself to inform my youngest about how I strayed and didn’t follow her path in life for me. She has told my youngest how she doesn’t want my youngest to make the same mistakes I made. I didn’t go to the school she wanted me to go to and didn’t marry the guy she wanted me to. (those were my “mistakes”) ”

      I presume your grown child told you about this incident. I also assume you had a conversation with your child about needing to make ones own life choices and asked him/her how they would feel if you dictated all of their life choices. As well as owning up to ones own life choices (actual mistakes and all).
      Instead of being livid (although I can see that personally) why not make it a teaching moment even if your child is already grown?

      • avatar Donna Sampson says:

        I did use this as a teaching moment to explain about life choices and differences in how people perceive a success or failure, and my daughter understands. I brought my girls up to communicate and to have the ability to make their own choices without dictating them their every decision. I was very angry that my mother wouldn’t listen to me and that she judged me for my choices. If my choices had been self destructive ones, I would understand why she felt they were “mistakes”, but they were not. I wanted the letter writer to understand that I, too, have a parent that can make you feel like a failure in life even though you aren’t.

  5. avatar butterfly55 says:

    LW 1 & 2 – Just say NO
    1 – If you are that unsure with your “boy”friend you are not going to get any better. You are the one spying on him. You will find something to worry about no matter what he does. Either be happy as you are now (I don’t think he will put up with it for long) or break up.

    2- Go to the service but stay away from your father. Then leave and don’t look back. Don’t take phone calls. He will get the message eventually.

  6. avatar Michelles11 says:

    LW1…Like Donna said, where there’s smoke there’s fire. And if he’s not cheating, he’s trying to. No reason why he should be so secretive if he isn’t doing something you would be upset about.

  7. avatar Cindy M says:

    L #1: It seems to me he’s up to something (don’t most men want as many women as they can get, while whining all the while that we’re impossible and they don’t understand us – ?). And considering he’s living with you, I wouldn’t tolerate it. Hopefully counseling will work.

    L #2: I have a parent like your father; you totally have my sympathy. When he called you “a miserable, stuck-up, elitist shrew” he was PROJECTING. Those are HIS faults, which he’s accusing you of having. It’s a common human phenomenon (unfortunately).

    If you truly want to pay respects to your stepmother, then go. And if dad starts in, then it’s time to tell him off. Those sorts of people are endlessly self-justified and guilt-inducing.

  8. avatar JCF4612 says:

    LW) Are you his girlfiend, his landlady or his wardon? Have no idea what’s going on, but it doesn’t sound fun. Maybe your dead-on right that he’s stringing you along. Maybe you’re a paranoid nut checking his phone while he rightfully makes new housing arrangements. Either way, my guess is that he’s placating you for now and will be history before you ever make it to “couples” counseling. You don’t sound like a couple to me.

  9. avatar JCF4612 says:

    LW2) By all means, go to your stepmother’s scattering ceremony as per Margo. (Step-mom must have been a saint to put up your dad’s crappola.) He sounds unstable, and either he’s been unhinged all along, or has gone south since her death. You don’t mention whether your mom is deceased or available to provide insight. Don’t allow this jerk to call you at work, and do cut him off after the ceremony with Margo’s departure zinger as a finale.

  10. avatar Robert S says:

    LW2: Go to the scattering and make the quick exit Margo suggests, but also engage someone in the family who understands the situation and can run interference if necessay.

  11. avatar luna midden says:

    PLEASE! It really bothers me when ‘conservative’ is added to these HATERS like lw2 ‘father’ . While his views might lean to the ‘right’, he is like many UNBALANCED people as Margo rightfully describes him-using the BIBLE, God, etc for HIS HATE! Most large Christian Churches do not preach against Gays (many that did have changed their views.. some smaller ones might still, not including the Westboro ‘baptist’ group which is a family group, not a recognized baptist church, but a HATE group.).. He is using the BIBLE (if he even READS IT!) JUST LIKE Radical Muslim Groups use the Koran.. There are people who are Liberals who are just as Hateful (okay, they do not say you will go to H*ll)but they are just are poisonous, bitter as these ‘conservative’ HATERS!!!

  12. avatar mmht says:

    LW#1: Whether he’s cheating or not, here’s the real question: Do you like the person you have become in this relationship? The suspicious, overly sensitive, looking into everything to see if there is a double meaning person? If the answer is no, then get out of the relationship. What’s the point of being with someone if they don’t bring out the best qualities in you?

    LW#2: Trust me when I tell you to cut him off. You will be happier and healthier to do so.

  13. avatar L T says:

    LW#2 — Margo is exactly right. You owe no one your presence in the face of such toxic behavior, no matter the blood relation. You owe them your children’s presence even less.

    I say go honor your stepmom’s memory, but arrive just on time and leave like your rear end is on fire when it’s over. And don’t look back. Just remember: you may well end up running the Hell-Bound Express — and I might well be serving under your command — but considering your dad missed all the parts of the Bible about loving others, I think his chances are much better than yours of getting there.

  14. avatar Eventergirl says:

    LW1 – “His job requires him to meet with people after their workday. I know he really is doing this on some nights, because I have seen people enter his workplace.” Seriously? Are you following him to work and then sitting outside the building? You need to hide your crazy, lady. Sheesh. No wonder he’s secretive – he’s in a relationship with a controlling, paranoid woman who reads into things (did you ever think maybe he “almost passed out” because he was afraid you were going to grill his co-workers like a psycho?). Am I the only one who thinks that if this was role reversed (he was doing this crazy behavior) that people would be screaming “abusive relationship!”? I feel sorry for the guy – HE needs to dump HER.

    • avatar lebucher says:

      Agreed, Eventergirl. He really needs to dump HER and move on to find someone more secure in herself, that doesn’t need to engage in spying behavior.

    • avatar JCF4612 says:


  15. avatar lebucher says:

    LW#1: If all the guy was doing was acting secretive about phone calls and trying to keep her away from anyone he knows, then I’d say he was up to something. But her furtive assessment of his clients’ comings and goings at his workplace souds creepy to me. Why is she spying on him? What came first, her spying or his furtive behavior?

    I can tell you that after being on the receiving end of a illogically jealous boyfriend, I would be driven to covert behavior just to avoid the grilling I’d get over my innocent doings. A jealous person can fabricate wrongdoings out of just about anything you do if they have enough imagination.

    What I find most bizarre is that she is 60 years old and still acting like this. If I had those kinds of doubts about my boyfriend I’d be dumping him.

    • avatar Deeliteful says:

      Thank you for mentioning LW1’s age. Had she not stated her age in the 1st sentence I would have guessed an insecure, immature, jealous 20 something who shouldn’t be living with this or any guy until she grew up. Knowing she is 60 and in this situation saddens me.

      As many have stated, listen to your gut feelings. Forget couple’s counseling and end this miserable relationship before you lose 1 more day of life…not worth it.

  16. avatar QuietGitl says:

    LW#1: Why were you outside his office after hours? Why do you feel the need to check his phone? Why do you believe that the one female would support the other? Why do you feel so unsecure in this relationship? I am glad that he has agreed to couples counseling, but I would also recommend that you seek out individual counseling. I once worked for a boss that treated everyone as if they were stealing from the company – it was a fast food franchise with multiple locations and this was the third location at which I was assigned to work. Thus I knew that her procedures were not company policy. She made me feel like a thief and untrustworthy. I rejoiced when transfer time came back because I was starting to consider how I could do something back at her – you know the good old treat me like X and I will become X viewpoint.

    LW#2: In my experience, unlike the church service, where family is expected to sit together, at the scattering of the ashes people can spread apart and be at some distance. Perhaps, if a minister is conducting a service, you can give him a heads-up that there are some issues between your father and yourself and you want the ceremony to be conflict free in respect for your stepmom. That way he won’t encourage you to be near to one another. If any of your stepmom’s friends will be present then be near them and after thanking them for coming, leave as soon as possible. Alternatively, if possible, stand at a distance (or stay in your car if you can see) and after everyone leaves go closer and give your final good-by.
    Finally I must echo the protest about calling him conservative. He is just a hater. As a conservative, I believe that before taking action, one must first look to all of the consequences. While I am pro-choice, I believe that women MUST be sexually responsible. Children are not currency or a possession. Diseases transmit. A guy doesn’t attach the same value to sex that women do. I do believe that abortion destabilizes society as it is a step on the slippery slope of devaluing human life. So therefore for my support I only ask that women be responsible.
    Marriage is a status to be encouraged, regardless of gender. It provides a stability to society and we are a couples based species. We need to be valued for ourselves and this is part of what a good marriage entails. Value/respect for your partner.
    No, I am not religious. I believe that religion, which tells us why others are wrong and “no good” is evil in itself, for even though Christianity tells us to love our neighbors as ourselves, it permits religious wars, encourages hatred, and demands that all share the same beliefs. Since we are not bees or ants, that is impossible for humans to do. There is no hive mentality for humans.

  17. avatar martina says:

    LW1 – I’m going to throw a thought out there. Unless your father has been this way towards you your entire life, it could be he is lashing out in grief and fear. As I read the letter, it reminded me of my husband who spewed out hateful things about our daughter shortly after he had a heart attack and was sitting in ICU after the doctor’s told him there was a good chance he was not going to survive. She was a loser, had a loser boyfriend, loser job, was going to a loser school and was going to have a loser life. What he was really saying that he was afraid that he wasn’t going to be there to make sure that she had a good life. He has backed off on her being a loser, her job, and her school (which was our choice) and she is going to do well. He hasn’t backed off on the boyfriend because he has gauges in his ears. So, unless he has always been this way to you, he may need time to grieve before you approach him again. If he has always been this way to you, you need to attend the service and then cut ties.

    • avatar JCF4612 says:

      What does he have in his ears?

      • avatar Deeliteful says:

        Yes, please explain!

      • avatar martina says:

        Gauges, they are those earrings that stretch the holes really big and then they either where rings inside the hole so you can see through them or as her boyfriend did the one time I saw him, they wear earrings the size of poker chips. I think it would be a great marketing tool for the casinos. He of course also has tattoos and is a drummer for a screamo band. Nice guy when you can get past the appearance. Unfortunately, the husband can’t get past the appearance.

        • avatar JCF4612 says:

          Is that what they’re called? I’ve seen them … one (competent, nice) guy my daughter works with (in a corporate setting, no less) looks like he’s got Coke bottle caps where normal piercings on lobes would be. Yuck. Well, at least now I’ve got a name for it. Many thanx, Martina.

        • avatar Deeliteful says:

          Yes, thank you for the explanation. I don’t understand why people do that to themselves. I’m afraid I’m one of those people who cannot not stare at those huge holes. Saw a young man recently with holes at least 3″ in diameter and all I couldd think about was how his ears would look when he’s 80.

        • avatar chuck alien says:

          To be fair, he was right about the boyfriend with the gauges.

  18. avatar A R says:

    Ma’am, you either trust him or you don’t. Meanwhile, you many not know this, but you need to hear it: in healthy relationships, people don’t spy on or stalk their partners. They don’t check their partner’s phones, email, or texts.

    LW2: Having parents whose conservative Southern Baptist beliefs run very deep, I can bet you that he’s not going to change. Beliefs like his are so inherent that he cannot easily abandon them. All you can do is set parameters that you can live with when it comes to your interactions with him.

  19. avatar Lym BO says:

    LW2: As someone else pointed out above, this may be a grief thing. He is dealing with all sorts of mortality issues & one may be wondering if step mom or himself is hell bound as well. He is obviously in the Anger stage of grief. Like many have suggested, give him some space & time to grieve & perhaps he will come around to the way he acted before.

  20. avatar Diane Shaw says:

    Ltr. #1 – I will never understand why people get themselves entangled with someone they can’t trust. If unjustified, what makes the other person do it? Is it self-esteem, loneliness, trying too hard to fit an ideal? What?