Dear Margo: A More and More Frequent Dilemma

Margo Howard’s advice

A More and More Frequent Dilemma

Dear Margo: I’m not writing for advice; I am writing for validation. I think I know in my heart what is moral and ethical, but I need a neutral, mature person to tell me whether I’m right or wrong. This is something I have not yet discussed with friends.

The situation is this: My husband has had Alzheimer’s for, we think, 12 years. He was being cared for at home with an aide until a year ago, when it became too much for me and he went into a care residence. He had by then stopped speaking, and his response to anything was a blank stare. He no longer knew who I was. For several months, I saw a counselor to come to terms with the loss of my husband as I had known him and my marriage.

Here is what I would like your opinion about: Do you think it proper for me to be in a romantic relationship with a widower? We have become very attached to each other, and I in no way feel like I am cheating. My husband is not (and cannot be) aware of what, I guess, is technically an infidelity. Where do you weigh in on this question? — Living My Life

Dear Liv: Sadly, yours is becoming an increasingly frequent question. I’ve dealt with this before and, in fact, have come to think of the issue as “Alzheimer’s Dating.” My position is yours. You are hurting no one. Your husband is in no way functioning as a spouse, and while his body is here, his mind is gone, and that, to me, is the essence of a human being. I have never believed in people sacrificing themselves on the altar of hopeless causes, as it were. You are well, you are living a life, and I hope you find companionship and joy with your close friend. — Margo, forwardly

Chapter and Verse on E-Books Versus Book-Books

Dear Margo: This is out of sheer curiosity, no problem to be solved, but in this age of e-books, do you read bound books or use an electronic device? I am in a “mixed marriage.” My husband likes old-fashioned book-books, and I prefer the Kindle. I don’t know why he doesn’t want to get with the program, and he doesn’t know how I can enjoy a book that isn’t printed on paper and doesn’t have heft. — Ms. Modernity

Dear Ms.: I wonder whether we’re married to the same man. Or maybe the issue actually does break down into men and women. (The few studies I’ve seen say more women read on e-book devices such as Kindle and Nook, while more men read on a tablet. I could find no mention of “book-books.”)

I love my Kindle for all the reasons you probably do. You can throw it in your purse (most men don’t have purses) and never be without something to read should you wind up in a line, riding a bus or waiting for a friend. Taking a trip with 13 pounds of books does not interest me, and I can live without “heft.” I also find an e-reader encourages me to read more. (A good review and I’m there, in the instant gratification kind of way.) I did read a wonderful Letter to the Editor of The New York Times Book Review that I will share with you:

“Oliver Sachs does not want to read books on a Kindle, Nook or iPad, since he might drop the device in the bath. Instead, he wants a large-print book that is ‘a real book made of paper’ with, apparently, the magical ability to stay dry when submerged. — Martin Flicker, Irvine, Calif.” — Margo, electronically

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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.


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70 comments so far.

  1. avatar bobkat says:

    LW1: Your marriage is over, because the man you married is gone. Only the shell is still ‘living’, if you can call it that. I vote for that it’s okay to have a romantic relationship for the spouse of someone with advanced Alzheimer’s. LW2: I agree with your husband. There’s nothing like an actual book. Also, reading stuff on a computer screen hurts my eyes after a while.

  2. avatar Skyblonde says:

    My only complaint is that I have thousands (yes, literally) of books at my house and probably about 100 that I love and read over and over again. I’d love to get those on my Kindle so I can read them whenever I want. but I really don’t want to have to buy them all again, especially as someone mentioned, because they really aren’t that cheap! When I got an iPod, I was able to put all of my previously purchased music (CDs, cassettes, etc.) on my computer and take them with me. The eReaders should have the same option. (Don’t ask me how, I don’t know, but it would be nice…)

    • avatar L T says:

      I’m right there with you. My husband loves books, too, but I think he’s happy that they’ve stopped taken over since I started using an e-reader.

      I’d be happy if you could just get an e-copy when you bought a new book these days. It seems like something they could do pretty easily.

  3. avatar Ghostwheel says:

    I like my tablet or kindle for some things and books for others. I like the convenience of having the tablet/kindle/nook, but it doesn’t sit nice in my hands and causes wrist strain if I am sitting in a chair at the airport. Needs a squishy hand holder on the back :). The problem with e-books is that magazines cannot be saved, so those I have to get in physical form. Sometimes I will go to read my kindle and it’s dead. Then I have to wait for it to charge. Pain in the behind. I also like the look of print on paper and I like how a book fits in my hand. And you can’t get the kindle version signed by the author. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. Why can’t people just accept that not everyone likes what they like?

  4. avatar Diane Shaw says:

    Ltr. #1 – there was an article not too long ago (Reader’s Digest?), maybe someone is familiar with it and can remember the exactness of it, but a woman’s husband had a massive stroke (I believe) and he was never the same again. She, while ensuring his interests, eventually divorced him to remarry. He was still very much part of the family, accepted by her new husband as such, and well taken care of and provided for. The first husband’s parents were very supportive of the new marriage and happy for her. She still loved him but her husband was, in effect, gone. She, too, was concerned about honoring her wedding vows. She did managed to do that, and happily so, by staying loyal to him and providing for him. Her family, her friends, her pastor all assured her she could do that while moving forward with her own life. The unconditional love provided by all was very moving.

  5. avatar avast2006 says:

    LW2: “I don’t know why he doesn’t want to get with the program,”

    Why is it important that he do so?

  6. avatar Terry Edwards says:

    Re: reading with a kindle in a tub or at the beach. My kindle is 7inch fits perfectly in a quart sized Ziploc baggie. It stays dry, clean and I can easily turn the page or any other things I need to do. I’m sure I could buy special stay dry bags but you can get Ziploc baggie any where.

  7. avatar cincyreader says:

    I also agree with Belinda regarding letter writer one. When we make a vow it doesn’t mean we just keep it as long as it is convenient to. Really a vow is meaningless under those circumstances. Life shouldn’t just be about making ourselves happy. We can find satisfaction in doing the right thing.

    • avatar mmht says:

      Here’s where I think I differ from that line of thinking, I simply don’t see what she is doing as breaking a vow. She never states that she is going to divorce her husband, she is not going visit him anymore, or that she is not going to ensure that he is taken care of to the upmost of her financial ability. She simply states that she is dating again b/c her husband is mentally, just not physically gone. This wasn’t a sudden thing that happened over night, she had been caring for him and watching him go down hill for 10 years, and she didn’t just jump into a relationship with the first guy she met, she had been going through therapy to help her deal with the loss of her husband. He is in every single way except physically gone. For all extensive purposes, she is a widow.

      I also personalize it. For me, if I were to become in that state where I was dead except physically and my husband, who had been taking care of me for years, had a chance to find someone who made him feel the way I had made him feel, I would want him to jump at that chance. The idea that he would give up on some happiness b/c physically I’m still around not only breaks my heart but also makes me feel incredibly selfish.

  8. avatar Frau Quink says:

    To Living My Life:

    Life has dealt you a bad hand for 12 very long years.
    You are most certainly entitled to take the good hand, run with it and enjoy as much as you can………

  9. avatar A R says:

    LW1: I’m not sure how I feel about this. If you vowed to love and honor til “death do us part, in sickness and health, etc.” then I can see having an internal conflict about stepping out with a widower while your husband still lives.

    My grandma and grandpa just passed away. My grandma had dementia and didn’t know who he was (or anyone else for that matter), but he stayed faithful to their vows until the end. It was important to him to do so because of the kind of fellow he was.

    If the LW is having trouble reconciling either decision, I’d suggest that she might need to spend time by herself without a man on the horizon for a bit longer. Take classes, travel with friends, start a new job, whatever. There are plenty of ways to live life to the fullest as an unattached person. If she’s been married a long time, it might even feel good to just do that.

    Having not been in her position, I wouldn’t know how I’d feel. I do know that you can get through life quite well without a man, and I’d advise that she try some other adventures and experiences before deciding.

  10. avatar WillT says:

    I’m a long-time Margo fan, but just registered so I could weigh in the paper v. electronic book debate. I love to read regardless of the medium, although I do lean more towards the e-reader. There are pros and cons to both. With a paper book, you don’t have to worry about battery life, but with an e-reader, you don’t have to worry about having an external light source at night in most cases. Most have already mentioned the benefit of traveling light with an e-reader. I have the kindle app on both my iPhone and iPad, and if I put one down I can pick up right where I left off with the other. I can bookmark pages and highlight certain parts, then jump right to them without having to flip through the pages to find them. I don’t need to worry about a breeze blowing the pages and losing my place, and my thumbs don’t get sore from holding the pages open. On the other hand, I love browsing old books in a store, and for some strange reason I enjoy the smell of an old book. Yes, I realize that sound weird. Anyhoo, each person has their preference, so let the debate continue. :-)