Have you noticed: there’s a whole slew of agony aunts out there doling out all kinds of crazy advice to anyone who’ll write in. No longer the sacred province of Miss Manners and Ann Landers’, everyone seems to be giving advice to the lovelorn these days. So much so, it’s hard to know who to trust sometimes!
…No one wants to follow it.
I’m always on the look-out for good advice, so when aimlessly perusing the Globe’s “G” (pronounced “guh”) section today at lunch, I discovered “Ask Margo,” by Margo Howard, Ann Landers’ very own daughter, I dropped my turkey cobb sandwich, suddenly hungrier for wisdom.
Does good advice run in the family? I figured I’d give Margo a read and find out.
Today Margo responded to two letters. I read the short one first, even though it came last, so as not to waste too much time should the whole affair feel a little too much like eavesdropping on a conversation on the subway or the supermarket checkout. (I prefer eavesdropping — in this order — in public restrooms, cinemas just before the movie starts, and for some reason, fast food joints, but only if it’s via cellphone.)
Anyway. The first (or last, actually) letter went like this:
Dear Margo: My younger sister died after a long illness. Her husband was a total menacing control freak before, during and after the illness. There is a bit of a family dispute going on about what to do about him. Is there anything wrong with cutting him out of the family completely at this point? — Hesitantly
Nice. It’s a good sign when those seeking advice from you get straight to the douchebaggery, no beating around the bush.
Would Margo slyly suggest a little soul-searching empathy on the part of the Letter Writer, who, for all we know, is a control freak herself — takes one to know one, right? The Emily Post approach (“Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others,” &c.)? Maybe something high-minded and moral, referring to herself in the third person, Miss Manners-style? Would she throw in a little dtmfa like Savage? Maybe toss out a tidbit from beyond the grave like Ask Grace? What, I wondered, would be her schtick?
Dear Hes: No. If the guy was an irritant while your sister was alive, I assume you all put up with him for her sake. Now there is no reason to do that. I would just ease on down the road and reject any overtures — which may, in fact, not be forthcoming. — Margo, sensibly
Sensibly, indeed. And succinctly. Breezily oblivious to the complexities of human emotions and relations. Always useful when giving advice about grieving in-laws on the fly. As unquestioningly dismissive of inconvenient truths like there’s two sides to every story as a toadying subordinate in search of a promotion.
She could be The One.
Read on, gentle reader. Read on.
Dear Margo: How can you tell whether someone is bipolar or just plain angry?
Ooh, this oughta be good.
I’ve been with my husband for nine years, married for five. I currently work full time, go to school part time and am away from home 13 to 15 hours a day Monday through Thursday. On weekends, I spend time with our kids, do homework and light housework. The issue is my husband.
During the week, he is the housecleaner, which he claims not to mind because I am the main moneymaker. Because I only have a year left in school, I shouldn’t have this schedule much longer. He, too, is in school and works part time.
One of our issues: When friends invite us out during the week to celebrate a birthday or a new job and I’m able to get a sitter, he gets upset and lectures me about not doing housework, not working harder at our relationship and just wanting to party with friends. Another issue is that he thinks I don’t find him attractive anymore because we don’t have sex like we did when we met. (I was 19, without a care in the world, and we’d get physical about five times a day.) Over the years, it’s dwindled to once or twice a week.
Without going to a counselor — which he doesn’t believe in — I am wondering whether this is a mental issue or an abusive one that can be dealt with on a rational level. Am I naive for staying and thinking that once our money and schedule stresses go away he will be better about not saying hurtful things? — Dealing with Who Knows What?
OK, so lets recap:
By her own admission, her husband, who works and attends school, as does she, does not mind keeping house, and there doesn’t seem to be any conflict on that count.
She’s home less than he is and when she wants to go out during what little time she has for family, he “gets upset” and “lectures” her “about not doing housework, not working harder at our relationship and just wanting to party with friends” — all of which seem like standard gripes in a situation like this. None of which she denies.
He also voices concern about their sex-life, which after nine years together is surely long overdue. But he doesn’t call her fat and complain that she has become unattractive to him. On the contrary, by her admission he worries that he has become unattractive to her, which obviously he has. It’s what the whole frakin letter’s about.
Because he really hasn’t done anything out of the ordinary or unjustified given the circumstances (I mean aside from saying super mean shit like “I’m worried you don’t find me attractive anymore”) and she knows she’s not justified in telling him go screw, she obviously wants Margo’s blessing to have him committed.
She’s not asking for advice. She’s asking for an accomplice.
And Margo does not disappoint.
Dear Deal: I am no diagnostician, but this does not sound like bipolarity to me. It sounds like anger mixed with insecurity, resentment and immaturity. In addition, your being the major breadwinner is probably interfering with his machismo. Show me one woman with kids, a full-time job and part-time school attendance who is getting it on five times a day, and I’ll give you a nickel.
Your reluctant househusband needs to shape up and grow up. I suspect you are assigning magical properties to having more money and easier schedules. Those things don’t make people nicer; they just provide more money and easier schedules. I would have it out with him and tell him that his treatment of you is causing second thoughts about the future. If there’s an improvement, fine. If not, decide whether this is how you want to live. — Margo, decisively
Now, that’s advice you can use.
Which is how you know it’s bad advice.
As I was about to mull it all over, something on the page just below the advice column caught my eye. The “Reflection of the Day”, which today was a quote from Charles Darwin:
A man who dares to waste one hour of life has not discovered the value of life.
Now that’s advice.
I threw down the paper straight away and took up my sandwich again.