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Mom Purloins the Diary Dear Margo: I found out last week that our 17-year-old high school junior is having sex with her boyfriend! First of all, I found out the wrong way: I snooped in her room and read her diary. Second, she would never admit to it, so my husband …Read more. The Bad Seed Dear Margo: I never thought I would write to an advice columnist, but here goes. I've been dating someone for about a year now, and we talk of marriage occasionally. He's ready for commitment and very gung-ho about us getting married, which is …Read more. Oh, and, Uh, By the Way... Dear Margo: I am soon to be 27 years old, and my only serious relationship ended a few years ago. In hopes of avoiding the standard meat market of dating, I'm considering registration with eHarmony.com. I've also had my share of casual relationships.…Read more. It Is in the Bible, but Not in the Stars Dear Margo: I have been dating a wonderful man for four months now. He is very kind and sweet in every way. We are much in love and happy together. There is only one problem: We are different religions. I am a Christian; he is agnostic. I have …Read more.
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Tis the Season To Give Peace a Fighting Chance

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Dear Margo: I need some relationship calibration heading into the holidays. A year ago, my f-i-l ("Sam") left my m-i-l ("Abby") after 43 years. Things have always been tense around her. Sam frequently diffused the situation, and the kids learned to "just shut up and do what Mom says." As a newcomer to the family, I attempted my usual direct style of communication, but was told to knock it off. After 10 years, I assimilated and played along.

Although Sam had spent more than half of the past six years living on a different coast, Abby was completely shocked when he finally left her. She was devastated and went into what I can only describe as a psychotic depression: strange emails and phone calls to her children, threatening to hurt or kill herself, calling my husband by his father's name, accusing him of physically assaulting her at a family function, and destroying all the family portraits. Several days after a particularly hostile conversation with my husband, I confronted her about her recent outbursts and said I didn't feel comfortable with her around our daughter given the way she had been behaving. She said I should mind my own business and that I can't accept that she's getting better.

She has since informed my husband that she has no intention of interacting with me until I apologize for my "egregious and abusive" email. She wants to see only him and my daughter. Hubby says she can't pick and choose which parts of his family she wants to see. Now she's threatening to sue for visitation rights. He repeats the same message.

We have told my daughter that her grandmother is hurting badly because of the divorce, and that we're giving Grandma some space to heal. Our daughter hasn't seen her grandmother in almost a year. I know she misses her, but I fear that person no longer exists.

I am beginning to feel some pressure from my husband as the holidays near. "We should to invite her to..." What should I say to my husband? — Feeling Like a Holiday Pressure Cooker

Dear Feel: Agreed, your m-i-l is clearly not wrapped real tight. Because her son, your husband, wants to test the waters again, go along with it. But if she aggresses in your direction, do not respond. Just get your coat and exit stage left. If, however, she behaves, give peace a chance. If she goes after you, you will have powerful ammunition to lop off the relationship. Margo, carefully

A Delicate Subject and How To Respond

Dear Margo: My cousin recently came out to the family. This wasn't really a surprise, because we guessed as much. I have no problem with it, as I believe this is something that's not a choice. My question is: What is an appropriate response? "Congratulations!" doesn't seem right, but neither does "Oh, we've known for awhile" or "It's about time."

I muttered something awkwardly, but I wish I'd said something more eloquent that expressed how I love him, no matter what, and that I'm glad he wanted to share this with us. Can you help me with a good response to a friend or family member who comes out the next time? — Wanting To Say the Right Thing

Dear Want: You know, whatever you say that's supportive is fine. I have a girlfriend who, when her son came out, did say: "Ta-da! I've known for quite some time." With certain relationships, "Congratulations on coming out" would be fine.

If you want a do-over with this cousin, you might drop him a note saying what you wrote to me at the end of your letter. My all-purpose response when someone tells me s/he is gay is to say, "I hope there's someone wonderful in your life — or that there will be." — Margo, supportively

Dear Margo is written by Margo Howard, Ann Landers' daughter. All letters must be sent via the online form at www.creators.com/dearmargo. Due to a high volume of e-mail, not all letters will be answered.

COPYRIGHT 2012 MARGO HOWARD

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Comments

21 Comments | Post Comment
Re LW1: If the MIL is threatening to hurt or kill herself, then the debate shouldn't be about whether to invite her to family functions; it should be about whether to have her committed. Of course divorce is traumatic, but her behavior is not a normal reaction.
Comment: #1
Posted by: Jeanne
Sat Dec 15, 2012 2:21 AM
Re, LW2 on being gay: "I have no problem with it, as I believe this is something that's not a choice." I hear this "not a choice" sentiment being stated all the time and I've never been able to figure out this stance. What difference does it make whether it's a choice or not? So if someone chose to be gay, that would be a problem? For the record, I think some people are born genetically gay, some become gay due to factors in their environment, and some choose to live a gay lifestyle, whether for a period of time or permanently. What difference does it make how they got there? If they're gay, they're gay, and that's perfectly fine just the way it is, at face value. HOW they got to be gay has always seemed so completely irrelevant to me, and the whole concept that we'll accept a person being gay because "it's a not a choice" seems downright insulting, because it implies there is something inherently "wrong" with being gay--that being gay is so awful that no one would choose to be gay.
Comment: #2
Posted by: Jane
Sat Dec 15, 2012 5:00 AM
LW1--"Our daughter hasn't seen her grandmother in almost a year. I know she misses her, but I fear that person no longer exists." You're right. Your MIL is bat-shit crazy and toxic. I'm only guessing but I'm pretty sure she's always been this way hence your FIL living on a different coast for nearly a decade before finally drop-kicking the old battle axe to the curb. If your husband can't see that his mother's cheese has completely slid off her cracker then he's either in deep denial or just plain stupid, take your pick. Inform your husband in no uncertain terms that his mother is on Santa's naughty list and she's not invited to Christmas. If he wants to visit her, then that's his prerogative.

LW2--Just be yourself. Gay people, contrary to (un)popular belief don't need a parade! We and our partners just want to be treated with the same respect as everyone else.
Comment: #3
Posted by: Chris
Sat Dec 15, 2012 7:55 AM
Coming out can be very hard for some people. I've found that a hug and 'I love you' (where appropriate) or 'I'm so happy for you' does the trick for most things, this included.
Comment: #4
Posted by: wyn667
Sat Dec 15, 2012 12:40 PM
Do not let your daughter spend any time with Grandma until she gets psychiatric help.As today's news demonstrates it is too late after she kills or maims your child.No excuse for hubby he needs to man up and take Mom to a shrink.
Comment: #5
Posted by: retired
Sat Dec 15, 2012 1:55 PM
Do not let your daughter spend any time with Grandma until she gets psychiatric help.As today's news demonstrates it is too late after she kills or maims your child.No excuse for hubby he needs to man up and take Mom to a shrink.
Comment: #6
Posted by: retired
Sat Dec 15, 2012 1:57 PM
LW1 -
Given the way she has been behaving, under no circumstances your MIL should be around your daughter. Any peace overture your husband wants to broker under the mistletoe ought not to involve the child, as anyone who has threatened to hurt and kill herself is PERFECTLY CAPABLE of hurting a child as well - better be safe than very, very sorry.

Oh yeah, and document every one of her crazy behaviours. Keep the e-mails, the texts and the voice messages. If your state is one recognising grandparental rights, you may need the amunition.

Comment: #7
Posted by: Lise Brouillette
Sat Dec 15, 2012 4:07 PM
LW1: Just say no. If she was batsh*t crazy before guess what she'll be like around the holidays.

LW2: Next time? LOL Shouldn't you being following up on your first crappy response?
Comment: #8
Posted by: Diana
Sat Dec 15, 2012 8:00 PM
LW1: What Chris said.

LW2: My cousin is gay, too, and he had a hard time coming out. But we in the family all knew, or should I say suspected. I'm proud that my family treats my cousin with the same love and respect as any other member of our family. I think you should just drop him a note saying that you love and support him and wish him the best.
Comment: #9
Posted by: PuaHone
Sun Dec 16, 2012 9:05 PM
LW1 -- Tell your husband that until Abby Normal has sought professional help and can demonstrate that she actually IS getting better (as opposed to her just claiming to be better), you are not comfortable inviting her to be anywhere near you or your daughter. Then encourage him to spend some time with her on his own. One of several things will happen:

1) She will act crazy and/or abusive, and your hubby will realize you were right to keep your daughter away from his mother, and he will agree that all of you need to keep your distance unless/until she gets professional help.

2) She will act crazy and/or abusive, and your hubby will decide it's high time he took action and looks into the Baker Act (if she is threatening harm to herself or others) and/or other ways to get her under a professional's care.

3) She will act fine because it turns out that she actually IS getting better, and he will then lobby you to reconsider, at which point you have to decide if you trust your husband's judgment on this. If she has always (to one degree or another) been like this, he has grown up with this and therefore does consider this "normal" on some level -- so you are really going to have to watch out for this.

The only good news is that while Option 3 is a possibility, I would suggest it is the least likely -- or, at the very least, it is the least likely to happen in any sort of consistent manner. She may be able to pull it off for one visit with him, but you aren't telling your husband to go see her once for an hour or two -- you are telling him to spend some time with her, over the course of several visits. I think it's unlikely she can pull off being "normal" more than once or twice.
Comment: #10
Posted by: Lisa
Mon Dec 17, 2012 8:18 AM
LW2 -- two of my cousins (they are brothers) are gay -- one is out, and one is not. The one who is out, when he finally came out to me, I said, "well, duh. I've known for a while -- when did you finally figure it out?" He knew that I was both serious and kidding -- I was serious about having believed he was gay for a long time before he came out, I was kidding about the "when did you finally figure it out" part. Given our relationship, it was the appropriate response, but I wouldn't recommend it for everyone.

@Chris -- so well said!

@Jane -- I understand what you're saying, but a lesbian friend of mine would really beg to differ with you on a lot of this. As a confused teenager, she got pregnant, married the guy, had another kid with him and finally realized that "what was wrong with her" and the reason she was so confused and rebellious was that she was rebelling as much against her true self as her parents. That's when she came out and divorced her husband. She has a son and a daughter. She prays that neither of them is gay. Not because she thinks gay is such a horrible thing to be -- but because as practical person, she is well aware of the fact that her children will have a much tougher row to hoe than their straight counterparts. She has said many times, "trust me, no one would CHOOSE this -- life would be a hell of a lot easier if I were straight. Why do you think I was in denial all those years? Because it was fun?"
And since she is also a mother of two kids, she also understands some of the various reasons parents are sad to learn their kids are gay. When parents long to become grandparents, it's not just some selfish urge to have grandchildren to spoil (though there's that, too!), it's also a desire to see one's children become parents themselves -- it's such an amazing journey. When a child is gay, the odds of that child becoming a parent are much slimmer (it's not impossible, of course, but it's not all that easy). My friend doesn't just hope that her children aren't gay because it will make their lives less complicated -- she also would like to see them become parents one day and make her a grandmother. She knows that is not as likely to happen if they are gay.
So, I agree with you that it shouldn't matter whether someone CHOSE to be gay or not. But I also believe that:
1) It is easier for people to understand and accept homosexuality when they understand and accept that, generally speaking, people do NOT choose this path -- it's just the way they are.
2) No, there is nothing "wrong" with being gay -- but there's a reason people are closeted, and there's a reason it's a big deal (for many) when they finally come out, and there's a reason that a straight person never has to "come out" and say "I'm straight." Yes, we should be trying to work toward a time when this is "no big deal" -- but we are not even close to that time.
3) I have yet to meet a gay person who would say s/he "chose" to be gay. I can't say that I know TONS of gay people, but the ones I do know, NONE of them say they chose that -- and, on the contrary, several of them have said if they'd had a choice in the matter, they'd have chosen to be straight because it would have made their lives easier (or, at least, less complicated).
Rather than jump on LW2 for citing the fact that this wasn't her cousin's choice as the reason she has no problem with it, I'd rather support her effort to be accepting and supportive of her cousin and anyone else she encounters in her life who eventually comes out to her.
Comment: #11
Posted by: Lisa
Mon Dec 17, 2012 9:18 AM
LW2 - A great response is, "I appreciate you telling me, thank you and I love you."
Comment: #12
Posted by: Paul W
Mon Dec 17, 2012 11:11 AM
@Paul W -- amen -- that is a terrific and appropriate response.
Comment: #13
Posted by: Lisa
Mon Dec 17, 2012 2:08 PM
LW1- Sounds just like my mil. Sometimes I think that my step-fil stays with her just because she'd kill herself if he left. (She tried a few years ago and ended up in the psych ward. It wasn't the first time she'd tried, either, just the first time she ended up in the hospital.) Personally, after dealing with this sort of situation myself, I'd suggest telling hubby *sweetly* that if he wants to go visit with his mother, he is more than welcome to but that you aren't ready yet (who wants to deal with this during the holidays, seriously?) and he isn't taking your daughter. Then, don't give him any grief at all if he goes. Lisa's advice was pretty good in comment 10.
Comment: #14
Posted by: Eliza167
Tue Dec 18, 2012 2:12 PM
Re: Lisa--I had a friend who said if she could, she'd choose to be gay because women are nicer than men. But, she couldn't.

Not me--I like men.
Comment: #15
Posted by: Joannakathryn
Tue Dec 18, 2012 4:08 PM
Re: Lisa #11
"She has said many times, "trust me, no one would CHOOSE this -- life would be a hell of a lot easier if I were straight. Why do you think I was in denial all those years? Because it was fun?"
This is exactly why I can't understand what people who actually believe it's a choice can possibly be thinking. I remember a conversation with a friend of mine who admitted feeling so puzzled and actually repulsed by the mechanics of homosexuality as to be *almost* homophobic (this was a most tolerant, open-minded, live-and-let-live guy on everything else), and then he started on this "choice" thing.

I asked him, Mickey, let's say you were in a world where the vast majority of men are gay, and you being straight is something to be held against you, discriminated against and possibly persecuted and physically attacked for. Do you think you could "choose" to be physically attracted to men and to be able to fall in love with one of them?

He stopped dead in his tracks, and looked like a lightbulb had just turned on over his head like in the cartoons. I wish this was effective against all homophobes, but it would only be so if there were rational like my friend - they're not.

@Joannakathryn #15
Your friend either happens to know only nice women and only rotten men, or (more likely) she only looks at what she wants to see. As fas as I've seen so far, women are just as bad or nice as men, genders just express either differently. Rotten women can be pretty nasty, as we both know, being confronted with examples of them quite often! ;-D

Comment: #16
Posted by: Lise Brouillette
Tue Dec 18, 2012 5:50 PM
@Lisa (and Lise)
Lisa, I can empathize with your friend, but her feelings regarding being gay, heartfelt as they may be, aren't really on the same topic of what I was saying. My thrust was that there seems to be a pervasive promotional campaign to make society in general believe that people who are gay are born that way - and thus we should "accept" them, because...because...well I'm not really sure why the factors that caused them to be gay makes a difference, but you can see the attitude in the LW when they say "I have no problem with it, as I believe this is something that's not a choice."

I think this line of thinking is wrong-headed. First of all, because one doesn't have to look very far before the whole "all gay people were genetically born that way" arguement starts to fall apart. Certainly it seems likely that some people are geneticially born gay, but all of them? Then how does one explain the fact that children raised in same-sex households are five times more likely than children raised in hetro families to identify as gay (33% vs 6%), even when they're not the biological child of their parents? How does one explain the large number of homosexual relationships in prisons or other forced same-sex environments, unless a lot of these pairings are a choice? Are we realy prepared to say gay people are more likely to commit crimes? Of course not. Those are just two examples. And why is Cynthia Nixon, who says she is gay as a choice, being crucified by some people in the GLBQ community?

I think what's really behind the whole "it's not a choice" movement is that some people believe this will, in fact, convince more people to be tolerant og gays. But again, that makes no sense. There's no question whatsoever that blacks were "born that way", and it hasn't stopped racism, any more than the factor that genders were born that way hasn't stopped sexism. In fact, I would argue that knowing people are born with certain characteristics has historically made society more intolerant towards them, not less. So every time I hear someone say, "Oh, they can't help the way they are -- they were born that way" I just cringe. What a dumb thing to say! Can you imagine someone making the same remark about blacks or women?

I think a better message would be that all intolerance is wrong, and that if two or more consenting adults want to do something or enter a reltionship and it harms no one else, then it's no one esle's business.

And for the record, I wasn't sad to find out my child was gay.
Comment: #17
Posted by: Jane
Tue Dec 18, 2012 6:35 PM
Re: Jane
"Certainly it seems likely that some people are geneticially born gay, but all of them?"
I fully agree with you on that one. I believe that some gays are born that way, whereas some others may have been pushed that way by trauma or role-modelling. I will not theorise about the proportion of either, as it's irrelevant anyway as long as all possibilities exist.

And I also don't believe any case is a choice - nobody chooses to be raped by a pedophile at age 8 and made to feel that the pleasure that was forced on him means he's gay. But... while it is true that therapy can get to the root of trauma (or subconscious motives), for openers, therapy is not accessible to all, and then, someone who's felt he was gay all of his adult life may not realise he could have been otherwise, and may not even want to be if he has found both self-acceptance AND happiness with the right partner. "Choice" may sometimes be elusive as much as irrelevant.

This being stated, I truly don't believe anybody consciously chooses to be in such a way as to attract misunderstanding, discrimination, stereotyping and possibly being the target of gay-bashing.

I feel the same about transgendering, btw... considering the sub-status women are subjected to in so many parts of the world, and even still here in many ways in America... NO man in his right mind would consciouly choose to want to be a woman if he didn't REALLY feel like he was born in the wrong body.

"how does one explain the fact that children raised in same-sex households are five times more likely than children raised in hetro families to identify as gay"
Perhaps role-modeling?

"How does one explain the large number of homosexual relationships in prisons or other forced same-sex environments, unless a lot of these pairings are a choice?"
Ha, forgive me, but this is different, and there are two very separate things going on at once here.

Men go for men in prisons, and women go for women in prisons and harems because there is nothing else, and because sexual release with the same gender is better than none at all. It does NOT mean they have the ability to fall in love with someone of their own gender. Some of them can (the ones who happent to be bi), and others never will. The sexual pairings are a choice, that yes, but not the capacity for emotional attachment.

"And why is Cynthia Nixon, who says she is gay as a choice, being crucified by some people in the GLBQ community?"
Cynthia Nixon may BELIEVE she is choosing, but that doesn't mean she really is. She may be in deep denial. But, by stating this, she is playing right into the hands of those who want to call all gays evil and counter-nature, and "consciously choosing" a life of "sin". I can hardly blame the GLBQ community for being up in arms, as she is doing them a LOT of harm.

"I think what's really behind the whole "it's not a choice" movement is that some people believe this will, in fact, convince more people to be tolerant og gays."
It IS a fact that you can hardly blame someone for being the way s/he was born - but that doens't make this a conspiracy. Indeed, it doesn't prevent racist people for holding it against those who were born black (Asian, Native, Latino, Jewish, whatever).

"I think a better message would be that all intolerance is wrong, and that if two or more consenting adults want to do something or enter a realationship and it harms no one else, then it's no one esle's business. "
Clap clap clap clap clap clap clap clap clap clap clap clap, standing ovation!

I'm not argumenting what you're saying, I'm adding to it. I wouldn't have minded one bit if my daughter had been for women rather than for men - she can get her kicks with whoever she wants as far as I'm concerned, and I hope her climax is the size of a solar flare!
Comment: #18
Posted by: Lise Brouillette
Wed Dec 19, 2012 8:08 PM
@Jane -- I totally understand what you are saying, and I actually completely agree that the better message is intolerance is wrong and that if two or more consenting adults want to do something or enter a relationship and it harms no one else, then it's no one else's business. And it doesn't matter whether someone chooses to be gay or not. We should accept them regardless of how or why they came to be gay. I could not agree more!
It's just that I'm unwilling to slap the LW's hand for this. Clearly, she is not totally comfortable with homosexuality, and clearly she is really TRYING to do the right thing. So, sure, she's got the right idea for the "wrong" reason -- but I would rather just be glad that at least she's trying to do the right thing.
I realize that you were using this as an opportunity to educate and to get your message of acceptance (far better than "tolerance" -- I "tolerate" something I don't like, I "accept" things that I like or am neutral about/don't care about), and that your point wasn't necessarily to chastise the LW. And of course, in all likelihood, the LW isn't even going to read what any of us posted, so in the end, it doesn't matter whether your intent actually WAS to chastise her or not.
I was totally unaware of the statistics you pointed out and will take you at your word that they are accurate and from a reliable source. Like Lise, I think that even when it's "environmental factors" (ah, the old nature vs. nurture debate!), it's still not necessarily a choice. If the boy who is adopted by the gay couple winds up gay because he was adopted by the gay couple, that's still not really a choice, since he didn't CHOOSE to be adopted by the gay couple, particularly if the implication is that if he had been adopted by a straight couple, he would have wound up straight, and again, not by choice. But again, if someone believes that s/he has CHOSEN to be gay (or straight, or bi, for that matter), then far be it from me to suggest otherwise. I'm not saying that it can't EVER be a choice -- I have no way of knowing this or proving this one way or the other.
I was also totally unaware of the Cynthia Nixon thing. And again, far be it from me to tell Ms. Nixon she's wrong -- how would I know? And unless she is saying that being gay is ALWAYS a choice, then I think the GLBQ community should back off. But you know what? I can't really blame them for being upset about this. Whether the whole "it's not a choice" movement is right or wrong, the fact is that it HAS been very successful at turning the tide with a great number of people who otherwise would never have learned to at least tolerate (if not accept) gay people. The message you would prefer is, no doubt, the better, more purely right message -- because how or why a person is gay shouldn't matter. But I guess at this point, I'd rather see more people learn to shed their intolerance -- even if it's for the "wrong" reason -- than insist on the more "pure" message.
Comment: #19
Posted by: Lisa
Thu Dec 20, 2012 12:26 PM
@Jane -- as a P.S., I am glad that you were not sad to learn your child is gay. I'm sure there are other parents out there like you who also were not or would not be sad to learn their child is gay. I'm also sure you know that it is very common that parents ARE sad when they learn their child is gay -- it's one of the reasons it can be so hard for someone to come out -- they don't want to disappoint their parents. I didn't mean to suggest that EVERY parent is ALWAYS sad upon learning their child is gay. I merely wanted to note that it's pretty common -- and even (sometimes) when the parent in question is actually gay! And just as I am sure there are other gay parents out there who do not wish their children to be gay, I'm sure there are also gay parents out there who don't care one way or the other, and still other gay parents who actually hope that their child IS gay. But I'm still pretty sure that most straight parents hope their kids are straight and are disappointed when they are not. I'm not saying that's the right way to feel -- I'm saying it's the most common scenario.

And last but not least, I certainly do not mean to suggest that there is something "wrong" with being gay. I know that some people -- even people who really are tolerant of gay people -- think that the primary reason to have sex is to procreate, and since gay sex cannot result in procreation, that is proof positive that it is "wrong." Again, I do not subscribe to that school of thought, I am saying that some people do. Those people are far more likely to accept the "it's not a choice" argument and be tolerant of gays (note that I use "tolerant" here and not "accept" -- because to my mind, if you really "accept" then you don't think there's anything "wrong."). I would rather be able to reach those people with the "it's not a choice" message than try to force them to accept something they are never going to believe. At least if I can reach them with the "it's not a choice" message, they won't be attacking gays. Progress is not always pure or perfect.
Comment: #20
Posted by: Lisa
Thu Dec 20, 2012 12:38 PM
Re: Lisa
"And unless she is saying that being gay is ALWAYS a choice, then I think the GLBQ community should back off."
The problem is, whether or not she is deluding herself or is the exception to the rule, the one in a billion who can choose, she should keep her trap shut about it. Because it is people like her (and I know of no other) who are used as an example by the bigots to clamour, "You see, you see, YOU SEE!? It IS a choice, even one of these filthy, sinful (insert epiteth) admits it!"

Chances are she's convinced herself she's doing it by choice because it makes her feel more in control. But, because of her name, her stance becomes very public and therefore a firebrand for the wrong cause.

Comment: #21
Posted by: Lise Brouillette
Sat Dec 22, 2012 12:02 AM
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