Uncomfortable Conversation

By Margo Howard

March 10, 2012 4 min read

Dear Margo: I work at a place of higher education. At lunchtime, faculty members sit together in the staff room and shoot the breeze. The problem is that one person likes to take the conversation to inappropriate places. He is charismatic and well liked by the higher-ups at our small institution. But many of his comments are more than likely in violation of the sexual harassment policy: "tits" and strippers are not uncommon topics.

There is no system for reporting him anonymously. The lunchroom is so small that there's no way I could just move to the far side. My only options are to a) eat in my office every day, which would be a bit sad, as I enjoy the company of many of the other folks or b) eat later than everyone else, which on principle I don't think I should have to do. Is there a one-liner I could use with this 45-year-old teenage boy that would get my point across without making me seem prudish? I hope you have words where I have had none! — Speechless

Dear Speech: Are you the only woman to find this man gauche? If not, maybe you could all sign a (friendly) note to him. If you are the only one whose sensibilities are bruised, I am a big believer in humor to defuse touchy situations. I would say, "Oh, Jack, that kind of talk is for poker games with the guys." If the elderly teenage boy doesn't take the hint, you have two choices: ignore him, or go to his superior. — Margo, pragmatically

Dear Margo: My mother and stepfather (who married my mother when I was 7) are in a very messy divorce. I am writing because today he called me and said that in 2004, when I was 20 years old, he took out a parent loan in his name to help me continue to pay for college, as I was (unbeknownst to me) apparently not going to be able to continue without the help. My stepfather said this loan I didn't even know about would be maturing in May and I was going to have to pay it for him.

Margo, this man who walked me down the aisle at my wedding last year nearly drove my mother to suicide over his behavior during the divorce. I had to lend my mother money to move their furniture five hours north because he's going after it in the divorce. My mother supported him for years when he didn't have a job and paid this loan in his name because they had decided as a couple to maintain his credit at the expense of her own.

My question is: What do I do about this loan? Do I pay him some of it? All of it? I honestly didn't know anything about it. I didn't sign for it at all, and it's listed as a "parent PLUS loan" solely in his name. I want to do the right thing, even though he's been so cruel, because I want to be a responsible person, but I am so angry with him. — Surprise Student Loan Recipient

Dear Sur: If you didn't sign anything, you have no obligation, as the recipient, to repay the loan. (And considered from a moral point of view, you are excused because you were ignorant of the loan in the first place.) I'm assuming your mother didn't sign anything, because you say it was "solely in his name." Given your mother's financial history with this man, I would give this matter no further thought and him no money. — Margo, fairly

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.

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