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 unusual and refreshing. He makes me happy, and we're a good fit.
I didn't meet his 8-year-old son until a few months into the relationship. He had warned me that his son was a bad kid, but it still came as a shock. The child borders on demonic.
His mother doesn't want to be a part of his life, so he completely lacks empathy. He has the emotional capability of a 4-year-old. The child isn't necessarily mean to me, but he is constantly grumpy and complains incessantly.
He doesn't want to hug me or spend time with me alone, but has expressed interest in his dad and me getting married. He has the most horrible tantrums. I actually dread spending time with the child.
I've helped raise my niece for the past several years, so even though I'm 27, I have a bit of mothering under my belt ... but nothing could prepare anyone for this. This child is on his way to becoming a textbook sociopath.
My boyfriend assures me that this behavior will change, but he doesn't want me to enter a situation I can't handle. I agree with him when he says it's not fair to take the easy way out and leave because he has a bad child, but I'm not really sure what to do.
I will not marry him the way the child is now because I know I wouldn't be able to deal with him as a mother — but neither do I want to leave my boyfriend because of him. Am I in over my head? — Dreading Stepmotherhood
Dear Dread: The good news is that this man is realistic about his son and knows there is something wrong.
The only hope for your relationship, and for the kid, for that matter, is if he gets into the hands of a competent kiddy shrink.
You cannot marry a man whose child you dread dealing with. Until the little boy is in treatment and making some progress, your only real choice is to continue "keeping company" without living together.
Time will tell whether the situation is viable or if the youngster is too much of a hurdle. This is a sad situation, but you're wise to deal with it now. — Margo, incrementally
Dear Margo: What do you make of a husband who opens his wife's packages and letters and reads her mail, including personal e-mail, even after she has repeatedly requested he not do so?
"Why should you care?" he says. "It's no big deal. You don't have anything to hide." True enough, I have nothing to hide — except my annoyance. Am I overreacting? — Privacy, Please
Dear Pri: Unless requested to do so, I think anyone — even a spouse — who opens another person's mail or packages is stepping over a line and displaying a lack of respect for that person's privacy.
The marriage vows say, "To love, honor and cherish," not "To nose around and make everything my business." What this man is doing, consciously or not, is infantilizing you and saying, in effect, "Your wishes do not matter." One need not have anything to hide and still wish to open one's own mail.
You might try a little experiment. Get to the mail before he does, open everything of his, leave it on a table for him, and then you probably won't have to bring up the subject again! — Margo, respectfully
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.