Dear Margo: An Apartment or a Monastery?

When living with roommates, how do you find balance? Margo Howard’s advice

An Apartment or a Monastery?

Dear Margo: I met my girlfriend six years ago online when I was in college. I lived in the U.S. at the time, and she lived in Europe. After speaking regularly for two years, leading up to eight-page letters every other day, we decided to meet in person. When we did, we began an official romantic relationship. We visited each other twice a year for three to four weeks in our respective countries.

The problem came from my roommate’s reaction when I informed him she would be visiting (her first time) and staying in our apartment. We three roommates at the time were all Christians, but apparently with different views on what is acceptable behavior. One roommate, “Bob,” objected to my girlfriend’s visit on the grounds of moral impropriety. He was so adamant that he told me that if she stayed, even if I slept on the couch, he would have to leave our apartment during that time. Part of me felt that the apartment was his, too, and therefore he should have a say, but another part felt that as a grown man in a committed relationship, I should not be forced to divide my already minimal time with her by having her stay elsewhere. Ultimately, I allowed Bob to live elsewhere during her stay.

To this day, I wonder whether I made the wrong choice in choosing my desires (and my girlfriend’s) over Bob’s. We are still friends, but the friendship does seem to have been silently fractured by the incident. — Lingering Thoughts

Dear Ling: It is nice to have principles, but I find it onerously judgmental to lay them on other people. I’m glad Bob removed himself from the burgeoning Sodom and Gomorrah situation in the apartment. I mean, it’s not like you brought home three strippers. This man sounds like a prig to me, and I wouldn’t give the matter any more thought. — Margo, maturely

A Bishop Who’s a Lemmon

Dear Margo: I recently was baptized and joined the Mormon Church. I really enjoy my new “family” except for one person: the bishop. This feeling is taboo because people act like he walks on water. I say he is just a man appointed to a position. This man didn’t like me the minute he met me.

When I started at this church, I was in crisis, and I told a couple of people about it. They said go to the bishop. He turned me down flat-out and said, “We don’t help people financially.” That was a bald-faced lie, and I knew it. The excuses I got were that I was not a member yet, that he was stressed, blah, blah, blah. As time progressed, my problem became worse. Again, I was turned down, and he didn’t even call me by the right name. I corrected him twice about my name, and he still got it wrong, which was proof to me that he was doing it on purpose.

Do you think I am making something out of nothing? And to whom do I go to let someone know about this person? I think he treats me badly because I am disabled. (I think this because there are other disabled people who also dislike him.) — Disillusioned

Dear Dis: As in the Catholic Church, Mormon bishops are not at the top of the executive chart, and they are, indeed, appointed. Should you feel like voicing your displeasure with this man (which I don’t recommend, because I think it will prove fruitless), you can choose from among his superiors, as listed at this site:

While I don’t think you’re making something out of nothing, I also don’t think you should throw away the baby (the Mormon Church) with the bathwater (the bishop). Steer clear of him, and enjoy your “family” in the church you chose. I would look to public service agencies that are perhaps not church-connected. — Margo, evasively

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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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89 comments so far.

  1. avatar Briana Baran says:

    Re: LW2: I am familiar with two different instances, in the pat, in which people specifically joined the LDS in order to gain financial assistance. Both were successful. In one case, it was a couple and their five children. They were living in California. The woman had attempted to get disability for herself based on a psychiatric diagnosis of schizophrenia (at the time, this was actually relatively simple in the state of California). She was tested FIVE times, and was conclusively determined each time to be entirely mentally sound. Psychiatrists can be extremely difficult to fool. Her husband was disinclined to work and tried to get disability based on an “injury”. Both narrowly avoided fraud charges. They had an enormous home in the San Francisco area, spent a lot, and then, shockingly, were seeing moths, not cash, in their wallets. Appeals to family were denied, as were welfare appeals.

    So, why not join the LDS? They did so, and successfully, I might add. Might I also add that they were dabblers in the occult who despised all forms of Christianity? Quite a come-to-Jesus moment, eh? Ended up with a $250,000 house, all debts paid, kiddos in excellent schools…within a year. This was about 20 years ago…so think about what kind of house $250,000 bought them then.

    The second story was almost identical…fewer children, more debt. Why do I, ever cynical me, see the possibility that LW2 might have heard similar tales (because they were, and are, numerous) and decided, “Hey, I’ll be a Mormon! Free Lunch!”? Now, I will grant you that I am an iconoclast, and that the LDS is NOT my favorite dogmatic money-making-machine (converting Jewish Holocaust victims? WTF? Really? Paying out all of that cash to get Proposition 8 passed? Lots of Mormons with twisted undies and emptier pockets after that got revoked), along with the Roman Catholics and the whole Fundamentalist Protestant snake-handler groups…but I would think that being thought of as an ATM would begin to sting after a while, and that maybe, just maybe, they’re being a bit more circumspect about those approaching them with open…and empty…wallets, and a gleam in their eyes that’s got nothing to do with seeing the light of faith.

    Sort of like the sad person on the corner with the sign that says, “No job, Hungry, God Bless”, who won’t take the food voucher or sandwich you offer, and gets really peevish when you won’t offer cold, hard cash. O, my, yes.

  2. avatar impska says:

    Since when does someone have to earn Christian charity?

    What if she did join the church just for a handout – if she is truly in need, why wouldn’t the bishop see this as an opportunity to reach out to someone in need who is clearly ripe for conversion?

    What if she asked for money for inappropriate things? Shouldn’t the bishop have tried to help her in other ways, by offering her financial counseling (or linking her with someone in the congregation who could)?

    What if he really did forget her name innocently? Shouldn’t the bishop be making an effort to get to know new members of the congregation? Teachers with new classrooms of thirty students start learning names after a week – and this guy can’t handle one person?

    Yes, we’re only getting one side of the story, but it’s a bishop’s job to make all congregants and especially new congregants feel welcome. Maybe she has a horrible personality and she’s a greedy whiner: it’s still the bishop’s job to “handle” her in a way that makes her feel validated.

    • avatar Briana Baran says:

      @impska: we have no idea if the the bishop offered her help with finding financial aid, housing, food, clothing, education, medical/psychological/therapy sources, child care, employment or anything else, because the LW’s ONLY commentary is in regard to his refusal to give her direct financial help, which translates to me, and apparently to quite a few others, as a cash hand-out.

      She claims he couldn’t get her name right, but she also claims that he “didn’t like her right from the start” (to paraphrase). Based on what? She only goes on to say that he refused to give her money. How does “Christian Charity” equate to doling out cold cash to every recent “convert”? And mind you now…I’m no Christian, and am seriously suspicious of the concept of “Christian Charity”, especially given just how often it applies only to those who meet the myriad conventions, checks, dogmatic details and qualities, and rigorous standards of any given organization.

      I do so love this comment of yours: “What if she did join the church just for a handout – if she is truly in need, why wouldn’t the bishop see this as an opportunity to reach out to someone in need who is clearly ripe for conversion?”

      This seems to imply that it’s a really good thing for any church to find desperate people who are on the verge of ruin with no choices except those of the utterly wretched who will be willing to degrade themselves in almost any way…even by joining an organized dogmatic financial and power mongering religious institution…who will be at their weakest, and therefore willing to convert in the hope of material succor without much flinching at sacrificing their ethics and intellect. Oops…I’m projecting my own iconoclastic thoughts on just how religion works…but golly gee, you did sound just a whit cynical there yourself, whether you intended to do so or not.

      And I also happen to think that you’re absolutely right…so why DID the bishop, who even the LW admits is beloved of his people, turn her down twice, forget her name and “dislike” her? Why would he fail to validate her, as you (ugh) suggest he should? Could it be that there is something truly unsavory going on? Something…tacky? Something so noxious that even the heavily invested in conversion (even after you’re dead, you’re not safe) LDS doesn’t want any part of it? Could be…

      Much as I detest the LDS, and their Garments, and bicycle riding boichiks who bang on doors and proselytize, and converting Jewish Holocaust victims, and trying to intervene in human rights…I will admit to their history of generosity to those who honestly
      convert, and are in need. So, just maybe the LW is actually not deserving for some reason, of money or validation. Not everyone is, nor is everyone obligated to give till it hurts. Not even churches.

      If you think people are both obligated and deserving, I invite you to hang out in Houston, and donate cash to every “homeless” beggar you see. In a month, you’ll be living in worse conditions than they are…and they’ll be smoking…something, and laughing at you. I guarantee it. Of course, you could try food kitchen or shelter vouchers…but then you’ll be cursed and snarled at. Cash, baby, that’s where it’s at.

      • avatar impska says:

        I am actually not a member of a church, but I know that many churches “adopt” families who are not members of the congregation and help them out at Christmas time. I also know that when our local social services run out of cash at the beginning of the month to help people with their utilities and such, they can do nothing but hand out a list of local resources which includes churches.

        Either this lady is so desperate that she’s willing to join a religion that she doesn’t believe in, or she’s not actually in true need and she had joined this church body and soul. If she’s truly desperate, then she “deserves” help, under any definition of supposed Christian charity. If she’s an actual convert, then she “deserves” help (maybe not the cold hard cash kind, but guidance, certainly) simply by being a member of the congregation.

        As far as I know, the ideal of Christian charity isn’t “We’ll help them if they deserve it.” or “We’ll help them if we like them.” or “We’ll help them if they EARN it.” The ideal is “We’ll help them because they need help.”

        And if the bishop can’t handle being kind to people he dislikes (for whatever reason – I don’t buy that he’s discriminating against her for being disabled – and I’m sure her totally illogical leap of “other disabled people dislike him, so he must hate disabled people” is part of what is making commentators suspicious of her) – then he’s not suited to the job of a bishop. I share your “ugh” sentiment – that’s why I’m not a bishop.

        And as a final comment: if there is something truly unsavory going on with this LW, then perhaps it is also the bishop’s job to sit down with her and tell her exactly why he thinks so.

      • avatar Briana Baran says:

        @impska: “As far as I know, the ideal of Christian charity isn’t “We’ll help them if they deserve it.” or “We’ll help them if we like them.” or “We’ll help them if they EARN it.” The ideal is “We’ll help them because they need help.””

        As far as I know, and I’ve read the unabridged version of the Bible three times (nope, not a Christian…I’ve read a lot of religious texts) for comprehension, that’s one of the ideas behind the teachings of Jesus Christ in the New Testament. Charity comes with no strings attached, no questions asked, etc. However, a lot of “Christians” seem to forget the “Christ” element in “Christian” and revert back to that good old time religion of the Old Testament and it proscribing against…well, you name it, there’s probably a taboo against it so pick your personal prejusices and ignore the others and you’ve got The Word to back you up, Say Hallelujah.

        In this case, and I base this on a high degree of familiarity with the LDS church and its very serious and generous charitable efforts, I don’t think that the LW was refused all help…just an offering of cash. I don’t think that people would have sent her to the highly regarded and obviously beloved bishop (she even admitted this about him) if he were an uncharitable and inhumane man) with the expectation that she’d be treated unfairly. One thing about the LDS, they work hard to get converts and treat them very well (and, to reiterate, the LDS’ charity is the ONLY thing good I will ever say about it…it’s second only to the Roman Catholic church in my personal Book of Loathsomeness). I think her beef is that she didn’t get money, and she’s furious about it…and all of the “he never liked me, he couldn’t remember my name, other disabled people don’t like him” are mostly fabrications and angry claims from a bitterly disappointed, and perhaps single-minded, person.

        As for him trying to talk to her about her situation…perhaps he did, but we’ll never know. That he did, and was honest with her may be the source of her anger. she may be that dysfunctional. We only have her side…and it’s a bitter, angry and very childish and unpleasant side at that.

      • avatar Briana Baran says:

        That would be “prejudices”, not whatever I wrote. I have insomnia, I am 53, I still have my monthly enemy and peri-menopause and cramps and an incipient migraine and I am in chainsawing dust-bunnies mode. And two of the felines just yarked hairballs on the floor. Please forgive all typos.

  3. avatar JaneG says:

    Morals notwithstanding, the only people with a RIGHT to live in an apartment for more than overnight are people who chip in on the rent. What we have here is a non-paying temporary tenant who is being supported by three rent-paying tenants. Do someone’s sexual “desires” really trump consideration for others who are paying cash money for rent, electricity, water, etc, which the non-paying tenant is also using freely? Putting roommates in this kind of predicament is extremely rude, not to mention selfish. If anyone needed to move out for a few weeks, it was the roommate whose desires overwhelmed his sense of duty to his paying roommates. His “guest” was living in THEIR space, too. Again: overnight? Feh. A month? Ante up, moochers.

  4. avatar JCF4612 says:

    LW1: Your friend may well be a prig … prig or not, he apparently likes a modicum of privacy in the square footage of his own domain, without a girlfriend (or any third party) gumming up the works. 

    LW2: I wasn’t aware that joining a church was immediate grounds for accessing it as if it were a credit union.

  5. avatar Briana Baran says:

    Re: L#1: I’ve never imposed a male “boyfriend” on anyone. I also have never lived with room-mates. I think that it would have been impossible. I have OCD. I can barely stand when my very beloved MIL, or my much loved son or husband move things in my kitchen, get in my space while I’m cleaning, leave certain sorts of things lying around. I have extremely low noise tolerance as well (this is not always something I can control, it has to do with my bad wiring) and insomnia.

    I do understand the LW’s position, based on L#1, and his follow-up comments. It cost his girlfriend over one thousand dollars just for travel. It was the only time she visited that year. She contributed to groceries. She only spent two weeks (he clarified this in his comments, it really helps if you read ALL of the previous posts before making your own, you know) at the apartment. It was her first time in the US.

    Okay, fine. Bob had moral objections based on his Christian views. You knew this. Bob maintained these moral objections even in the face of your offer to sleep on the couch while your girlfriend slept in your room. I think that the latter goes a bit beyond dogmatic objections. I will not say that Bob was being a “prig”. Personally, and this is my opinion, and based also in the fact that he had no issue with a platonic friend crashing on the couch, I think Bob was jealous (and not in a homosexual sense) when you brought an actual female partner into the apartment, and used his religious moralizing to try to talk you out of your decision. Men will do this. You brought a female of interest into the man cave, and he resented the intrusion. It was a man’s place, and there was no room, or need for, the opposite sex and its attractions and distractions. A lot of Christian (Old Testament, at no time does Jesus Christ rail against any sexual activity between man and woman) dogma that demands celibacy, proscribes against premarital sex…or sex of any kind other than for procreation is based in the fact that women are a distraction, dangerous, and a temptation. A lot of men who are insecure, dislike women, or are afraid of them gravitate to this kind of dogmatic morality AND to all-male room-mate situations…and they do NOT want the status quo disrupted by those tempting, corrupting females. The fact that he said he’d leave, and did so, because she stayed does not make him a prig. His distancing himself from you is a mark of his immaturity and inability to cope with change and women in his life.

    All that said…my ex, right after our divorce, became room-mates with a woman. Completely platonic (I know this because on occasion he tried to change the status quo and was firmly rejected). She had a nice house, large and spacious, with a few simple rules. Such as meeting any potential over-night guests before they stayed the night. Well, my ex met a woman who was the antithesis of anyone that the female room-mate would have said, “Sure, why not” to…very into the drug scene, wanted to live in a commune, poor-little-trust-fund-baby who never had to work, just call daddy for cash. One weekend, he invites her over, they smoke a lid or two, she stays a few nights while the roomie is out-of-town…and one morning the roomie, who has come back during the night and has no idea that doofus is entertaining, goes into her kitchen and finds a scrawny, red-eyed, reeking, staggering stranger there, wearing one of HER bathrobes and eating HER food (my ex never shopped). She tried to kick her out, which started Ms.L ovely screaming, and woke up ex, who tried to explain. It didn’t work out too well, as it happened. There were not supposed to ever be over-night guests when one or the other was away. Two months later, she abruptly canceled their plans to buy a house together, and kicked him out.

    I know that this is an extreme instance…but consider this. Some people are very torqued by strangers in their home. I am. My husband, who is very easy going, my polar opposite, is also this way. It’s weird when people are in your space, when your natural patterns and actions are curtailed, when you aren’t sure where to sit, how to act, what to say. When the bathroom isn’t as accessible. When your comfort zone is altered. When your waking and bedtime may bother the guest…or theirs seriously disturb you. It could be even worse when it’s a single sex household…and you introduce an opposite sex partner of one of the “family”. That could be exceedingly awkward. No one wants to offend. Tempers fray. And everyone is a little, or a lot relieved when it’s over.

    In the end, you probably were selfish, though much younger and somewhat understandably, and probably should have tried very hard to make other arrangements. I would have even if it broke the bank. I’d want the privacy. As for your friend, I’d let well enough completely alone. His reasons may be a lot more than dogmatic objections…and he will never be able to explain them to you for very male reasons. Drop it, and let it roll.

  6. avatar John Lee says: