Dear Margo: A Girl Can’t Be Too Careful

Is it acceptable to run a background check on your date? Margo Howard’s advice

A Girl Can’t Be Too Careful

Dear Margo: I recently created a profile on and OkCupid after friends convinced me that they are great ways to meet new guys in my area. But part of me is scared to meet these strangers. I want to know whether I can trust my potential date, especially now with news reports from Aruba that Robyn Gardner’s disappearance was linked to a man she met on Match. As finding love online becomes increasingly socially acceptable, is it OK to run an affordable background check on sites such as to know that your date does not have a criminal record? — Anonymous, New York City

Dear An: I think it is perfectly fine to run a background check. Some women even go for the pricier PI’s. Forget disappearing in Aruba. More than one dude on these sites has turned out to be married, to more than one woman, at the same time. — Margo, cautiously

Grandparents Are Wonderful — and They Come Free!

Dear Margo: My daughter and son-in-law have three children and no babysitters except my husband and me. We are always being asked to babysit for them — usually two or more times a week. I adore my grandkids and know that I’m blessed to have them in town with us; so many grandparents are not as lucky. However, when I was working, it was difficult to accommodate all of the requests, and now that I’m laid off and looking for work, the requests are increasing. They seldom return when they say they will and usually extend any outing into a chance to do errands, etc.

We have asked our daughter to find someone else to use as a backup, but she says they can’t afford to pay anyone. They do seem to find money for expensive toys and clothes for themselves and the kids. My husband says I should consider us lucky that we have them near. I feel like we are being taken advantage of. Am I being selfish? I have requests for five babysitting times during the next two weeks, two of them for a full day. — 60-Year-Old Grandma

Dear 60: You are in no way being selfish to rebel at being an unpaid nanny-on-call. The fact that they have money for discretionary spending should relieve you of any guilt when you start declining some of these “requests.” Simply say that such-and-such a time doesn’t work for you because you have another appointment. And if Gramps considers you “lucky,” send him! — Margo, realistically

When Stepping In Is the Right Thing To Do

Dear Margo: I am a 15-year-old girl with a good group of friends. One of them went to visit her cousins over the summer. I have met them, and they’re really the “mean girls.” When she came home, I invited her over to go swimming. “Brittany” came over, and we did go swimming. Now I’m extremely concerned about her. She’s become very thin to the point where anyone can see her ribs sticking out. I’m afraid she has developed anorexia. She never wants to eat at my house and tells me a bunch of “nutrition facts” about the food I eat. Brittany seems to be very weak, and I’m scared she will die from what I think is anorexia nervosa. Are there any online support groups I might be able to interest her in? We’re extremely close, and she might listen to me, but what should I say? Should I even get involved? — Scared for Skinny

Dear Scare: You should, indeed, get involved. While there are online support and information groups, I doubt that you could interest her in them. I assume your friend has parents. You need, first, to tell her that it’s clear to you that she is in terrible trouble. I suspect there will be denial. Then you go to her parents. I’m pretty sure they already know, but if they have not done anything, the fact that an outsider is concerned might nudge them to take control. Should nothing happen, or if they are resistant, then go to the counselor at school and reveal your concerns. Because she’s a minor, the authorities might be able to step in. But I want you to know that if her mental and physical health do not improve, you will have tried your hardest, and the situation is ultimately out of your hands. — Margo, supportively

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Dear Margo is written by Margo Howard, Ann Landers’ daughter. All letters must be sent via e-mail to 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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65 comments so far.

  1. avatar Amy says:

    #1: Nothing wrong with meeting men online, I met my fiancee online! Just be smart, google their names, and NEVER meet alone in a secluded place. Best to meet in a crowded area in broad daylight, like a casual coffee date. Or even better, bring a friend or two to help you feel safe.

    #2: Your daughter sounds like a piece of work. Tell her in no uncertain terms that she needs to start ponying up for babysitting fees or go elsewhere.

    #3: Please, don’t wait. Tell an adult about your friend NOW. Your letter doesn’t directly say it, but you suspect that her bully cousins teased her about her weight which has led to her becoming anorexic. In this case, her parents must be notified in order to open up a discussion with her aunts and uncles about allowing this behavior – as well as to watch for signs of anorexia among their own children.

  2. avatar Briana Baran says:

    A bit more concerning L#1: Not everyone using online dating services is using his or her real name. These services are remarkably easy to scam. It is also absolutely true, as others have pointed out, that internet sites offering background checks are not created equal…and that the quality of information you get depends on the quantity and accuracy of the information you have to give…such as accurate date of birth, social security number, driver’s license number, etc.. I have “test-driven”, trying to find a person I was very concerned about, and another whom I was trying to reach on an important matter…and I think the site is a worthless scam. Other sites are better…but the information they have can be out-dated, or inaccurate. A person who has lived with others, for instance, and not received a paycheck, paid taxes, rent or a mortgage, and is using a PO Box as his permanent address may be almost impossible to find. A person may have a mortgage, but the property may be a rented out to others, and the mortgage can be paid through an LLC, and the person’s actual physical place of residence unknown because it is leased or purchased through the same, or another, business. It is illegal for Post Offices to give out any information on box holders.

    Also, it is surprising how many people can share the same name…even if it is somewhat unusual. It is virtually impossible to know if a person met on the internet is, for instance, the Stephen Holder that lives in Maine, Texas, two places in California, or Florida…even with a middle initial. I know that currently my full name is unique, and that no one has used it for nefarious purposes. However, a little searching has revealed that I am a dead end on several websites due to old name and address changes, and that I still show up under my original maiden name, and first married name, and my mother’s address as my permanent address. My husband, however, has a duplicate living right here in the same city (even has the same insurance, but is much older)…plus his name is the same as that of a famous person (well, in certain ovals)…so in some ways he is almost anonymous.

    In the end, the best way to finally judge a person is through careful personal process. Phone calls, meetings in very public places (DH suggested that initial dates always have a set ending time, as in, “We can have lunch and see a movie, but I have to be finished by 5:00 pm because of prior obligations”. This prevents awkward, too-long endings, and sets a precedent for what will happen. And always provide your own transportation, to avoid that, “Please, let me take you home…”. Never be unwilling to bail if things are wrong.

  3. avatar joanne in jax says:

    LW#3 – Please find some adult help to intervene with your friend ASAP, but be prepared, Sweetheart, if she relapses in the future. I have watched, much to my sadness and horror, a dear friend struggle with this illness since college. I’m 60, so you do the math. She’s still alive, against all odds, but only weighs about 10-15 pounds more than our age (again, do the math).

    From my experience, I am convinced that anorexia is a mental illness, and the body dysmorphia (sp?) that ensues is terribly difficult to overcome. My friend also went on to struggle with substance abuse, sexual identity, and the legacy of childhood sexual abuse. She overcame the substance abuse after many visits to rehabs, but she has not been able to overcome her anorexia. I attribute much of that to the sexual abuse she endured at the hand of her step-father, and her mother’s ‘turning of the cheek’. Not to mention the fact that her mother remarried him after he had served time for molesting a neighborhood boy, which was the reason she divorced him in the first place, not the fact that her daughters had already told her he had done the same to them. After all, he was a deacon in the Baptist church!

    The thing that many young girls don’t realize when they been starving themselves: they are not only starving their bodies, but they are starving their brains! I can no longer spend time and have a lucid conversation with my friend without her becoming panicked, extremely paranoid (evidently, I’m always mad at her for something) or in a fugue state. It breaks my heart every time I see her and I feel guilty.

    She has a great support system available to her, a wonderful sister who I know, as well as other siblings who love her (though I know a couple of them were sexual abuse victims as well, by the same predator – one brother committed suicide by jumping out a window in college, another brother is a right-wing Christian deacon and wanna-be preacher).

    Just re-reading this makes me sad. I will reach out to her this weekend, but only by stealing myself to her rejection. Isolation is a major symptom of this illness.

    • avatar Briana Baran says:

      You spelled body dysmorphia correctly, it is a mental illness, and it is extremely important to note that it is not only anorexic girls who suffer from it. In fact, it is often the precursor to anorexia, a compulsive need for cosmetic surgery, other forms (sometimes permanently disfiguring…not that excessive surgery doesn’t have the same effect) of extreme body modification, compulsive over-eating to point of morbid obesity and cutting, burning and scarification through self-mutilation. Quite a few compulsive hoarders also suffer from body dysmorphia.

      It hasn’t been mentioned, but I think it is direly important to add that a there is a rapidly increasing problem with extreme anorexia among teenage boys in this country. The skinny look is the IT thing for them too. Boys are dying from it. If you have, or know a teenage or young adult male who is exercising obsessively, losing weight rapidly, and not eating properly (boys binge and purge too) don’t dismiss it as a growth spurt. Anorexia causes heart damage and organ failure in boys even faster than it does in girls.

      • avatar Brooke Schubert says:

        joanne-excellent points.  I’m 33 and a former anorexic, and you’re right, the mental stuff sticks with you.  I’m nearly 15 years post-diagnosis and mostly very healthy, but I still do intense workouts every day-it’s really the only way I can give myself permission to eat.  I try hard, but I know I’ll probably never have a normal relationship with food.

        Briana-also an excellent point about being aware of boys and anorexia.  There were a few in treatment with me, and I’m sure their numbers have increased with the current fashions of ultra-thin men’s styles as well.

  4. avatar Lila says:

    For LW1, just a word of caution: a clean background check does not necessarily mean the guy really is clean.

  5. avatar Sadie BB says:

    LW1 – if the guy is a native to your area, a visit to the county courthouse is free & quite informative. it does nt just have criminal records – also marriage divorce & property records. You can even check up on your neighbors. Not that anyone here would do that!
    Although a friend of mine did & discovered there was a pedophile living right across the street. She moved.

  6. avatar impska says:

    LW3: Be very careful about suggesting she go online to look for support. It is very common these days for anorexics to use “support sites” to find tips and encouragement for continuing with their disorder. I’ve read that many parents don’t realize that their daughters are frequenting pro-anorexia sites rather than the anti-anorexia sites they hoped. There’s even a lot of “code” language online among anorexics so that they can discuss their progress (with losing weight) in a way that does not alarm any parents who might be supervising.

  7. avatar benlittle says:

    So I agree with everything but being scammed out of money for a background check. Unless you have there SSN these services will not find anything you can’t already find out.

    Look them up on Google, search by name + location, search with email, search by phone number.

    Look them up on Facebook

    Look them up on the sex offender registry’s in the area they are from and area you are meeting.

    Exchange phone calls and emails.

    Use your common sense, unless you also do worthless or basically worthless background checks on people you meet everywhere. Nothing is full proof.

    Have fun and be safe

    Meet for coffee, if you can at lunch time (or a shop you know is busy most of the time.)

    If you hit it off, great. Time for a real date.

    If things don’t feel right, your out the cost of some coffee and cake.

    These rules apply to men too, there be some crazy ladies out there 😛

  8. avatar French Heart says:

    Ltr #1 My opinion is to meet people through interests that you are sincerely keen on. There are classes, organizations, clubs/volunteer opportunities for everything related to the arts, investing, sports, politics, and civic/social activities. Then be engaging and listen carefully for a person’s VALUES and make sure they align with your own. The key to lasting relations, I think, is finding affirmative people with like values.

    It’s a sad day when people don’t know/trust their own selves/judgement/instincts to have to spy on people. I’m not for being an innocent babe-in-the-woods & jumping into anyone’s arms–but if live in suspicion/fear…doesn’t tend to build up your own sharp internal observations/resources. And no amount of checking will let you skate through life pain-free.

    I’d say investigate how to be a smart/confident cookie, define your values, what you want from a life partner and life, and then make a list of where’d you’d likely meet someone like that and go there. Reading ‘The Millionaire Next Door’ might be a good start as it really is a description of people with like-minded values, looking in the same direction, that make a success out of life. IMHO

  9. avatar A R says:

    LW2: I think these grandparents should not automatically become default babysitters multiple times per week. Once a week is plenty! Mom and dad need to learn how to schedule themselves better.

    Just because their adult daughter decided to have a bunch of kids doesn’t mean that they owe her all the time they are giving her. A favor is a favor, no matter who does it, and favors shouldn’t be abused; being expected to help too much takes the joy out of helping. When you have kids, although you hope for some occasional help from family, you are not automatically entitled to it.

    Not to mention, the daughter and her husband need to learn to manage their own family. The only way you learn to handle grocery shopping, a bank stop, and a toddler is to just DO it. You don’t get any better at managing it by pawning the kiddos off every time you have something to do. Too, part of how children learn about being out and about is to go with their parents. If parents don’t take their children along with them, how will they expect the kids to learn to behave in a restaurant, bank, supermarket, tire place, or drugstore?

  10. avatar Mush says:

    I’m supprised so many people are still worried about online dating when they never gave a second thought to taking home a guy at the bar. Also, just because they don’t have a record doesn’t mean they are safe. Most of the really really bad guys are in jail or havn’t been caught yet. 
    I would have an issue with a date doing background checks on me. Would make me feel very unconfortable, and worried that if they have such a strong sense of mistrust then there would always be trust problems in the relationship.
    If anyone has every had a store clerk openly watch you, waiting for you to steal something then you know the feeling.  

  11. avatar Rain says:

    Some of the services that provide background check are really not very good – they take your money and do not give you accurate or complete information.  I ran a check on myself to see what information was provided and it not accurate or complete.