Dear Margo: The Power of Neurosis

My disabled fiance needs my help all of the time, when do I get a moment for me? Margo Howard’s advice

The Power of Neurosis

Dear Margo: I am engaged to a wonderful guy who has multiple sclerosis and uses a wheelchair. He can no longer work due to his condition and is home all day. He helps take care of the house, the pets, etc., and I work full time. This arrangement is fine with me.

The only problem is: I have absolutely no time to myself. He expects me to be home and with him every second that I’m not working. If I go into another room to be alone for a while, he’ll come in to see what I am doing. Occasionally, I make time to see my friends. He always wants to come along, which is fine most of the time, but sometimes I just want “girl time.” This always leads to an argument, as he is absolutely miserable when I come home. He insists that I call him (on speakerphone) while I am driving to and from work, and he wants to talk to me for at least 15 minutes of my half-hour lunch break.

Unfortunately, most of his friends have disappeared since he’s been in the wheelchair, so I do feel bad for him. But how can I make him understand that I need time to myself? My nerves are frayed, and I find myself getting snappy with him. I’d hate to break up over this issue, but I feel smothered. — Frazzled

Dear Fraz: Consciously or not, your fiance is using his illness to control you. You need to have a serious talk where you lay down new guidelines. While I understand where his demanding behavior comes from, it is not healthy, and you need not put up with it.

Tell your wonderful guy that you’re sure he’d want to be treated as a normal boyfriend, and not as someone who’s ill; therefore, you are no longer going to let him dictate to you. The demand for talking while driving is not only pushy; it’s dangerous. And setting a 15-minute talk at lunch is nuts. Tell him if he does not adjust (perhaps with therapy) to your having “girl time,” as well as time for yourself at home, you will have to rethink the relationship. If you continue this way, it will eventually wear thin and fall apart. — Margo, normally

Marrying “Up”

Dear Margo: Our family is Midwestern and middle-class. We were raised with what we needed, but there was not money for luxuries. When I married, it was to a guy from a similar background. We are very happy and are raising our two sons as we were raised. My sister, however, got a scholarship and went east to school. She married a boy from a rich family, and now her husband is in the family business, and they are living high on the hog. Or should I say “high on the horse”? Their country place is a horse farm! She seems not to remember where she came from or understand that we can’t do what they can. She asked if we wanted to go with them to England for a horse auction! How much of a discussion should I have with her? — Just Plain Old Me

Dear Just: Ah, yes, I know the type. She is trying her hardest to seem to the manure born. As for a discussion, I think a simple sentence will do it. “We really don’t have money for that.” If your sister is clueless now, it will probably only get worse. You’ll know she is in full-blown dowager mode when she sees a pile of autumn leaves on your lawn and says, “How beautiful! Where do you get them?” (Old joke.)

Your sister’s situation is not unheard of. Some people remember where they came from, and others would just as soon forget. I hope your understanding of what’s going on takes away the agitation. — Margo, earthily

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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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64 comments so far.

  1. avatar Jennifer juniper says:

    Since when is the description of the middle-class one that includes ‘no money for luxuries’.  Sounds more like working class to me. 

    • avatar HelliePie says:

      Americans never describe themselves as working class, even though most of us are. Even those of us who think we are middle class are really working class.

  2. avatar dcarpend says:

    I grew up on the East Coast, not rich enough to have horses, but certainly well-to-do — summer camp, vacations, big house, that sort of thing.  My parents were both Ivy League grads, and saw to it we were well-educated.  And I am familiar with the idiotic attitude that somehow less wealthy people from the midwest have better values, more loving families, and a life that is more “real.”  (“I grew up in the *real* world!”  Because apparently it’s not the real world if you grow up with your own bedroom.)
    My family wasn’t perfect, but my parents were always concerned and involved, saw us as individuals, strove to give us what we needed emotionally and educationally even more than materially.  I was close to both my parents, and still am close to both my siblings and their families.  I can honestly say that I am one of the lucky ones who not only loves her family, but likes, enjoys, and *trusts* all of them. 
    I now live in the Midwest, have for decades.  I love where I live, but I haven’t noticed that it’s any more real than the Tri-State Metropolitan Area (NYC region.)  Nor have I noticed that the families here are any closer.  I also haven’t noticed that economic status has anything how close a family is.  Happy and unhappy families exist across the economic spectrum.
    BTW, as I said, I now live in the Midwest, outside a small city.  I am definitely not as wealthy as my parents were.  Does that mean I’ve “forgotten my roots?”

    • avatar Briana Baran says:

      Regional fallacies. If you live in the South, you must be a fundamentalist Christian, ignorant, inbred redneck. If you live Back East, you must be a Rich Snob. If you live in California or on the West Coast, you’re laid-back, hip, and swingin’. If you live Out West, you’re a cowboy or Hispanic. If you live in Texas, you’re lost forever as a redneck, Tea Partying moran. And if you live in the Midwest, why you’re just the simple, happy, salt-of-the-earth.
      Economic stereotypes: if you’re wealthy, you’re a selfish, useless, heartless, free-wheeling, money-grubbing, ivory-tower living bastard who never worked a day in your life. If you’re poor, you’re either deserving of better because The Establishment has Held You Down…or you’re a lazy, useless, defective chump. If you’re the middle class (which is also the working class…where do some people live?) you can be a suburban soccer mom spending too much for appearance’s sake, or a blue-collar working stiff with who bowls and rinks American beer and is undereducated but honest…come on people. Good grief.
      None of these hold true. I’ve known incredibly wealthy people who worked hard for every penny they have, enjoyed what they had, and were kind and generous to a fault…and others to-the-manor-born who were gentle, compassionate, considerate and also generous…and who raised their kids with better values than many salt-of-the-earth types. I’ve known poor people who worked hard too, and were purely victims of circumstance, and those who’d prefer to ride the purple wage forever, and felt entitled to the best in life. As for the middle, pick any point on the spectrum, and you’ll find someone occupying that place, for better or worse.
      And region doesn’t mean a thing either. Here in Houston, we have a Democratic, lesbian mayor (big deal…she’s a lousy mayor), and the third largest LGBT community in the nation…even though same-sex marriage isn’t legal. The majority of the Tea Partiers came here from other states…California, Illinois (me too), Idaho, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Indiana…you get my drift? I’ve met Southerners who were brilliant and racially unbiased, and Northerners who were pig-ignorant and racist…Easterners who had zero sophistication and didn’t know what the Ivy League was…Midwesterners who were snobs, social elitists and richer than Midas, and Californians who witnessed for Jesus on the beach at Spring Break, and thought drinkers and pot smokers were hell-bound. 
      Most people can’t think individually, they think tribally. Damn shame, isn’t it? In my family, I’ve forgotten my roots because I’m not a liar, I don’t care what anyone thinks, I don’t believe in “gun control” and I do believe in the death penalty, I’m not a misandrist and because…o, the humanity…I live in Texas and have a happy marriage.
      So it goes…
      Poo tee weet…

  3. avatar christineb says:

    I agree with the posters who think the fiancee in LW1 is probably lonely. He needs to get out. Is there somewhere he can volunteer or a group he can join? Depending on the impact of his MS he might try packing boxes for Give2TheTroops, crocheting or knitting for Project Linus, or exercising dogs with the Humane Society (he can get some fresh air while taking them for a “walk”). I’m guessing he is so afraid of losing his only contact to the outside world he’s holding on with all he’s got.

    On the other hand, someone made a good point. If he was not disabled and doing this would you put up with it? There is a possibility his controlling behavior could escalate into something worse. If he refuses to get help or is still controlling after getting out more RUN don’t walk away from this guy. Give him a chance but don’t put yourself in a bad position to do it.

  4. avatar chuck alien says:

    “He insists that I…”

    seems like you’d hit that line in the letter you’re writing and realize…..  oh, right.  I should dump this idiot.

    insists?   people do that? 

    but then, that’s the thing about insistence… it takes people obeying the insister for it to work.

    so….. if you don’t do it, wouldn’t that automatically change it to “He requests that I…”   

    because if you’re not doing what he’s insisting on, then he’s not actually insisting, is he? 


  5. avatar wendykh says:

    Okay I’m just going to ask.

    You are not yet married to this man. Why are you marrying a man to whom you will be largely a caretaker? This is not a real marriage. It’s one thing to stay after a marriage, in sickness and in health and all… but there’s just no reason to do this! If he wants a nursemaid/caregiver he can hire one. I’m sorry but a man that confined to a wheelchair who can’t even work apparently is not capable of being a husband either. And again it’s one thing to deal with that *after* a marriage but why on earth would you *choose* this role? Perhaps that will lead you to figure out why you have yet to tell this control freak where to go.

    FTR I do agree with others who were compassionate and said he’s lonely/insecure. But that doesn’t change he’s acting out entirely inappropriately.  

  6. avatar Jennifer says:

    LW2 – Money doesn’t buy happiness, but it sure makes things easier. So, your sister made choices and you obviously disagree with them. If she’s repeatedly asking you to do things you can’t afford and being insensitive about it, that’s one thing, but even then it should simply be a simple conversation:
    LW2 to sister: I appreciate you inviting me to things, but expensive things are just not in my budget. It bothers me when you do this.
    Sister to LW2: I’m sorry, I will try to keep your fiances in mind before I invite you to things. 
    It’s really that easy. Alternately, your sister could offer to pay your way if it is that important to her. That’s what I do with my mother. I want her to experience things that she can’t afford and I can. She’s not presumptuous about it, so it works for us. I try to be sensitive to my friends and siblings fiances before I invite them to things, but I’m sure I occasionally misstep. I resent the family members that expect I will pay for every shared meal, every outing simply because I have more money than they do.

  7. avatar P. Cotton says:

    LW#1– The writer’s fiance’ does not have a life of his own now that he is disabled.  At this point, his life is the home, the pets, and whatever life his fiancee leads, so he tries very hard to be a part of that.  He should be encouraged to join support groups, engange in community service, and participate in activities outside the home as his health allows.  While he is busy having a life, she may have hers.

  8. avatar HelliePie says:

    Re LW#2; I think the privileged sister with the horse farm should be a bit more sensitive. It sounds like what the “middle class” sister feels bad about is not so much the money as the missing person–the one her sister used to be.
    In my own experience, it was a close childhood friend who took a different path. We had been as close as sisters, and I, being the weaker personality, followed her to a high school that was suitable for her but not for me, into a relationship that was a disaster, but twhich was influenced by her choice of partner (who “happened” to be my boyfriend’s best friend, etc.). I miss the girl I laughed until I cried with, but she made different decisions, and hers were more remunerative that mine. She became a suburban soccer mom whose kids went to those Ivy League schools; I became a writer. You know what word goes best with writer? Starving. My erstwhile friend seems to me to have morphed into a somewhat affected creature–I know she came from the same streets as I did, and it can be cringe-inducing to communicate with her now. I feel she has become “phony.” Maybe the poor sister objects to something similar in the well-to-do sister’s mannerisms and behaviors. I get it.
    I miss my friend of old, but we all have a right to follow our own paths.
    When we communicate now, which is seldom, I am sure my old friend is as disappointed n me as I am in her. So it goes. None of us is so poor that we can’t afford the consolations of memory.

  9. avatar GG1000 says:

    Sister – you don’t describe your sister doing anything awful – just inviting you along on something you can’t afford. So you say, “I’m sorry but our budget won’t stretch to that; thanks for inviting us though” just like you would to anyone else.