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Margo Howard


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 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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The Power of Neurosis


Dear Margo: I am engaged to a wonderful guy who has multiple sclerosis and uses a wheelchair. He can no longer work due to his condition and is home all day. He helps take care of the house, the pets, etc., and I work full time. This arrangement is fine with me.

The only problem is: I have absolutely no time to myself. He expects me to be home and with him every second that I'm not working. If I go into another room to be alone for a while, he'll come in to see what I am doing. Occasionally, I make time to see my friends. He always wants to come along, which is fine most of the time, but sometimes I just want "girl time." This always leads to an argument, as he is absolutely miserable when I come home. He insists that I call him (on speakerphone) while I am driving to and from work, and he wants to talk to me for at least 15 minutes of my half-hour lunch break.

Unfortunately, most of his friends have disappeared since he's been in the wheelchair, so I do feel bad for him. But how can I make him understand that I need time to myself? My nerves are frayed, and I find myself getting snappy with him. I'd hate to break up over this issue, but I feel smothered. — Frazzled

Dear Fraz: Consciously or not, your fiance is using his illness to control you. You need to have a serious talk where you lay down new guidelines. While I understand where his demanding behavior comes from, it is not healthy, and you need not put up with it.

Tell your wonderful guy that you're sure he'd want to be treated as a normal boyfriend, and not as someone who's ill; therefore, you are no longer going to let him dictate to you. The demand for talking while driving is not only pushy; it's dangerous.

And setting a 15-minute talk at lunch is nuts. Tell him if he does not adjust (perhaps with therapy) to your having "girl time," as well as time for yourself at home, you will have to rethink the relationship. If you continue this way, it will eventually wear thin and fall apart. — Margo, normally

Marrying "Up"

Dear Margo: Our family is Midwestern and middle-class. We were raised with what we needed, but there was not money for luxuries. When I married, it was to a guy from a similar background. We are very happy and are raising our two sons as we were raised. My sister, however, got a scholarship and went east to school. She married a boy from a rich family, and now her husband is in the family business, and they are living high on the hog. Or should I say "high on the horse"? Their country place is a horse farm! She seems not to remember where she came from or understand that we can't do what they can. She asked if we wanted to go with them to England for a horse auction! How much of a discussion should I have with her? — Just Plain Old Me

Dear Just: Ah, yes, I know the type. She is trying her hardest to seem to the manure born. As for a discussion, I think a simple sentence will do it. "We really don't have money for that." If your sister is clueless now, it will probably only get worse. You'll know she is in full-blown dowager mode when she sees a pile of autumn leaves on your lawn and says, "How beautiful! Where do you get them?" (Old joke.)

Your sister's situation is not unheard of. Some people remember where they came from, and others would just as soon forget. I hope your understanding of what's going on takes away the agitation. — Margo, earthily

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.




17 Comments | Post Comment
LW1: I agree that therapy might help the fiance understand that what he's demanding isn't healthy and is actually putting distance between them. However, I also think he probably just needs a hobby. The LW didn't say if his hands are affected by his condition--if not, he could take on any number of crafting activities. Can he use the internet? Finding a group of people with common interests can be very easy now. Although people online can't always take the place of actual physical friends, it's something to fill the time and occupy his mind, so he isn't just sitting around waiting for you to come home. Perhaps he could think about online education or training, learning a foreign language, etc.

He may also be depressed, although I'm certainly not qualified to make such a diagnosis over the internet. Chalk it up to personal experience.
Comment: #1
Posted by: Laura
Fri Apr 27, 2012 2:51 AM
Re Margo's statement "manure born" - I'm wondering did she mean "manor born", or actually tongue in cheek "manure born"? Just wondering :)

@ Laura - Depression was a good call, as it's common with people who have MS. I've learned a lot about MS since my sister was diagnosed with it about 10 years ago.

Comment: #2
Posted by: j
Fri Apr 27, 2012 4:21 AM
J, I feel safe in saying that Margo was making a play on the phrase "to the manor born," and a very clever one at that.
Comment: #3
Posted by: Kimiko
Fri Apr 27, 2012 5:22 AM
LW1 -- A very dear friend of mine lived your life. Her husband was diagnosed with MS many years ago and just recently succumbed to it. As the disease progressed, he got more and more dependent on her, which is, of course, understandable. I could go into detail with lots of different strategies for different issues, as I was close with both of them, but the best advice I can offer is to check out the Jimmie Heuga Center. The website is If that didn't process correctly (I know links usually don't get by in creators), it's www . mscando . org -- just remove the spaces. They have some amazing programs for people with MS that can help them be more active and self-sufficient for as long as possible, and they also have programs for the spouses (or other primary caregivers), as well. This would be invaluable to you both.
Comment: #4
Posted by: Lisa
Fri Apr 27, 2012 7:46 AM
Good lord, LW1... get OUT of that relationship. (and take the pets with you) He's an abuser, plain and simple. He's using his condition to control you.

He'll probably cry and rage and get people to feel sorry for him if you do - do NOT let people talk you into staying with him out of pity or fear of looking like a Bad Woman.

Comment: #5
Posted by: JMM
Fri Apr 27, 2012 7:46 AM
LW1 -
I understand the condition he is in, but his illness is no excuse for this overly-controlling behaviour. Demanding that you be on the phone with him while you drive is ridiculous, demanding half of your already short eating time at work is ridiculous, demanding that you rush home like an errant child the minute you're off work is ridiculous, demanding that you spend every second in his company the minute you're home is ridiculous - are you allowed to close the door to the bathroom while you pee, or does he wanna watch that too?

I understand you feel bad for his predicament, but you're not the one who put him in a wheechair and you cannot be expected to replace all of his disappeared friends all on your own. That's grossly unfair to you, it's strangling you... and killing your relationship.

Start with having a conversation with him along the lines of what Margo said. What Laura and Lisa said. Suggest couples' counselling if you get nowhere with the conversation. If this gets nowhere either, then you WILL have to rethink the relationship. Because otherwise, it'll go to hell in a rowboat all on its own anmyway - not because he's wheelchair-bound, but because he's using his illness as a tool of control and selfishly ignoring any feeling or need you have, as if you were put on this Earth to serve only his, and provide him with a life 24/7. You were not.

You say you're engaged. Do NOT marry this man until you are certain this problem has been truly resolved, and not just with promises or with recent improvements. I'm not sure you should marry a man who is capable of being this manipulative anyway...

Comment: #6
Posted by: Lise Brouillette
Fri Apr 27, 2012 9:06 AM
LW2: My younger sister married a few months after graduating from college. As a newlywed that first Christmas, after only three months of marriage, she became a new person.

Prior to marriage, she lived on cigarettes, coffee and beer. She'd eat anything, sleep anywhere, wear whatever. She was fun, smart and slightly disheveled in a grunge stylish way. We lived in Seattle and she was hip without trying to be. Her car was a british import that was beyond ancient and worked sometimes. She liked people. All in all, she was real. Or so it seemed.

After her marriage, I spent two days with her and we spent loads of time going to various appointments for her. Her manicure was perfect and she held the steering wheel of her new luxury car carefully, so everyone could see her nails. She talked on her new cell phone constantly about purchases and how moronic some people were now. Funny, she liked them three months before?!

As we parked her new car in the garage and headed into the house, I said nicely, "you are so lucky to have a husband who buys you a new car!" While I wasn't jealous, I was feeling poor, alone and like chopped liver.

My sister stopped in her tracks, sighed and turned around, looking me right in the eye she said, "I feel so sorry for you. Money isn't everything, you know."

Six years later when she divorced, I held my tongue when she didn't get so much as a nickel in the settlement.
Comment: #7
Posted by: Chelle
Fri Apr 27, 2012 9:48 AM
LW1: Please put the brakes on the wedding ceremony until you two sort out this issue. Some kind of counseling, individual and/or couples, is clearly called for. He needs to adjust better to his illness, he needs to have some outside interests and outside friends, and he has to stop making you the center of his universe. And you need to stand up for yourself more. It's just not healthy for you to be so beholden to him even outside the house or at work.

It's sweet when one spouse calls the other from work to say "I love you"; it's dysfunctional when such a phone call is *required* every day or else there will be fighting or tears.

LW2: If my rich sibling had asked about joining them for a trip to England, I would have responded: "You want to take me to England? What a wonderful, extravagant gift! You really shouldn't have, but how could I say no? You know I've always wanted to go and could never have afforded it on my own. You really are the best sister ever! When do we leave?"

That would give her two options: either pay for my trip because she's too embarrassed to try to correct me, or else have her try to explain how she meant for me to buy my own ticket (even though I *just* said "I never could have afforded it on my own").

Either way, that would likely stop that kind of talk, for a while, at least. And who knows, you might have gotten a free trip out of her!
Comment: #8
Posted by: Mike H
Fri Apr 27, 2012 12:31 PM
LW2 -- You asked: "How much of a discussion should I have with her?" Um, that would be none. There is no need to discuss this at any length whatsoever. You just say, "sorry, we can't afford that." Lather, rinse, repeat.

Though I do like Mike H's suggestion of pretending you believe she's offering to pay for your trip!
Comment: #9
Posted by: Lisa
Fri Apr 27, 2012 12:43 PM
LW1 - Maybe his friends "disappeared" not because of his wheelchair, but because he was showing the same attitude toward them that he is to you?
Comment: #10
Posted by: Paul W
Fri Apr 27, 2012 2:18 PM
Re: Mike H


I love your suggestion about the trip. Must tell you I also laughed out loud at your comment on another site about playing trivial pursuit with the Jersey Shore cast. You make me laugh.
Comment: #11
Posted by: Carly O
Fri Apr 27, 2012 3:17 PM
LW1--"he only problem is: I have absolutely no time to myself. He expects me to be home and with him every second that I'm not working." Whether your boyfriend wants to admit it or not, he's become clingy. Not surprising, you're feeling smothered. Your boyfriend probably doesn't understand this because from his perspective, his being in a wheelchair trumps any desires or needs that you might have. It's time for you to sit down and have a heart to heart with your boyfriend during which you explain to him that while you're committed to him and your relationship, sometimes you need to get out and let your hair down with your girlfriends. Explain that this doesn't make you an ogre or otherwise undermine your relationship. If your boyfriend gets it, fine; if he doesn't then I'd strongly suggest you do some soul searching to determine if spending the rest of your life as your partner's anchor and center of his universe is something that you can deal with. My guess is that it isn't.

LW2--Tell your sister that when you and your husband win the lottery, you'll be happy to accompany her at any horse show in the world. Until that happens, inform your sister that you and your husband need to be wary of your budget and ensure that your family has what it needs to survive. if your sister acts put off by your revelation that you're middle class with middle-class budget then she's obviously so disconnected from reality that you might want to consider limiting your time with her altogether.
Comment: #12
Posted by: Chris
Fri Apr 27, 2012 6:24 PM
LW1: Did you know him before the MS diagnosis, or at least before he was confined to a wheelchair? Do you know any of his old, now-vamoosed friends? If not, you have no way of knowing whether he was controlling and clingy before the wheelchair or whether it is entirely a side effect of his ailment. If it's the latter, then all the above advice about contacting the Jimmie Heuga Center and getting screened for depression, etc., is great.

But if you know nothing about his pre-MS past you have no way of knowing whether perhaps he had controlling tendencies even before the illness exacerbated and highlighted them. Where's his family? Is there even one old acquaintance you know well enough to phone and invite out for a coffee and some conversation? You must get somebody who knew him of old to talk to you candidly, because you have the right to make an informed decision.

If the behavior is wholly a by-product of being confined to a wheelchair, then some good counseling and support upon the lines suggested by others may well snap him out of it. But as Lise warned, the mere fact that he has this in him at all could be a major red flag, never mind the wheelchair. Has he no interior resource, no capacity for enduring his own company, whatsoever? One never knows for sure how one will respond to a situation until the situation comes upon one; but I *hope* that if I were to find myself confined to a wheelchair, I would be fighting to demonstrate my INdependence however and whenever I could. I think LW1 needs to hear from people who (a) have multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, myasthenia gravis, or something similar or who (b) are permanently wheeled for whatever reason. Hello out there in lurker-land...?

If he is someone who simply lacks interior resource, run. You can't fix that. He will suck you dry.

He is not making you the center of his universe. He is trying to force you to make him the center of yours.

Service is freely volunteered in joyful goodwill. Servitude is coerced. The correct way, the only way, to distinguish the two is by inquiring into the feelings of the server, not the served. Yours accurately identify what you are experiencing as servitude. And if he says or implies or thinks, “Well, you *should* want to serve me in joyful goodwill, and you would if you loved me,” then that's two big red flags right there: “You should” is always a red flag all by itself, and “If you loved me” is another one.

LW2: Absolutely what Mike H. said. Of course, it has to gush forth instantly in order to work, and one never thinks of these great ripostes in the moment, but only at 3:00 A.M. the following night. “Dang, what I shoulda said was....” However, memorize that speech in the bathroom mirror every morning, and the next time your sister makes some such ridiculous and unaffordable suggestion, you will have it ready to whip out, substituting the latest outrageous nonsense for the England trip.

Comment: #13
Posted by: Khlovia
Sat Apr 28, 2012 12:47 AM
LW1: Get out of this faux relationship NOW. The unfortunate part is, that above and beyond his controlling nature, there is the obvious backlash against you, that people will assume you left because he has MS. That should NOT stop you though, as this level o fcontrol is not healthy, and totally inappropriate for the year 2012. Sounds like he just wants a companion 24/7/ Perhaps he's had other girlfriends leave before, due to his controlling nature. You need to have a discussion with him and say that you are an independent person and will not let him dominate your every more any more, and will eh agree to adjusting a little? If he does not, then leave. This has nothing to do with his MS actually, and everything to do with just being a control freak. These types don't change.
Comment: #14
Posted by: Salty
Sat Apr 28, 2012 11:31 AM
LW1 it sounds like if he wasn't that way before that he very likely has developed anxiety which would be completely understandable for someone who's health is out of their control and face a life of uncertainty. However, he needs to get help, everyone has made good suggestions, try them and insist he get some help if none of them work. I see no need to immediately end it like others have suggested. You want to know you tried your best before calling it quits right? or you wouldn't have written. I hope this all works out for your both.
Comment: #15
Posted by: Laurie
Sat Apr 28, 2012 10:12 PM
LW1: I hope you haven't set a date. In fact, you should return the ring until he's gotten some serious therapy and worked out his issues. His behavior is sick.

LW2: Isn't your real question, "How can I be honest with my sister without feeling bad about myself and her feeling bad for me?" If you were really fine with the difference in lifestyles than it would never occur to you to have a problem telling her you can't afford it.
Comment: #16
Posted by: Diana
Sat Apr 28, 2012 10:32 PM
Re: Paul W
Good call!

@Carly O
You're confusing - it was the other MIke who said that, not Mike H.
"He is not making you the center of his universe. He is trying to force you to make him the center of yours.

Service is freely volunteered in joyful goodwill. Servitude is coerced. The correct way, the only way, to distinguish the two is by inquiring into the feelings of the server, not the served. Yours accurately identify what you are experiencing as servitude. And if he says or implies or thinks, “Well, you *should* want to serve me in joyful goodwill, and you would if you loved me,” then that's two big red flags right there: “You should” is always a red flag all by itself, and “If you loved me” is another one."

Right on!

Comment: #17
Posted by: Lise Brouillette
Mon Apr 30, 2012 5:40 AM
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