What’s religion got to do with it?

After having sex the other night, my girlfriend asked me if I'd like to say a prayer. What if she comes out to me as a born-again?

Topics: Writers and Writing, Books,

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am a man, 25, dating a woman, 23. Things are going very well between us, except for a religious undercurrent that jumps out once in a while. We enjoy a healthy sex life; we are both educated and work long hours. Once in a while, she says she wants to go to church. I was raised a Congregationalist, and I have no guilt about not attending church. About two weeks ago, when looking for Advil in the bedside table, I found a religious calendar and a pamphlet about resisting temptation.

After having sex last night, lying there in the nude, my girlfriend asked me if I would like to “say a prayer.” I quickly did what any man does after sex and fell asleep.

What do I do if she comes out to me as a born-again? I think if that happens, I must run. What is the best way to broach the subject?

Secular Sam

Dear Secular,

Put on your running shoes. And wait for her to broach the subject. But what’s wrong with saying a prayer in the nude?

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am a 23-year-old lesbian faced with a decision. I have been going out with Alice for over two years — manic years of tumult and anguish and sheer bliss. But things fizzled a few months ago amid her uncertainty of whether she was moving to New York, her refusal to continue to romanticize the relationship as an exercise of preservation and mounting Verizon debt, so I started dating Jane, a lawyer, and though there’s nothing electric about our relationship, being with her is easy, angst-free, fun. I was looking forward to spending the summer with her. But Alice just returned, and the still-in-love-with-me thing lingers. She’s changed, she reports, into a stable, happier person who will not take out inner strife on her girlfriend, and it seems possible that she has. I feel like I’ve gotten over her and should maybe run with that, but if she feels like she’s prepared to have a healthy relationship maybe I’d be missing out on something big — she still awes me, and if I weren’t with Jane, I’d give it a go out of curiosity. I eroticize challenges. And as unchallenging as Jane seems to be compared to Alice, perhaps I can convince myself that having a low-key relationship is a worthy challenge, which it really is, given the U-haul culture of my people. Perhaps I should do this. What do you think?

Must Decide Soon

Dear Must,



This is almost too exciting for me to deal with. It’s the sort of erotic life that we Midwesterners imagine you New Yorkers having, partners coming and going, a lot of romanticization going on, tumult, anguish, bliss, long-distance phone debt. You should run with whatever makes you feel like running, I think. It’s a challenge that you shouldn’t deeroticize by turning it over to an advice columnist. If you really want a low-key relationship, come out here to the flat place. We have relationships so low-key you don’t even notice them until you get right up close.

Dear Mr. Blue,

My boyfriend is from the country and wants to own several acres in an isolated area; I just want a nice little city lot with a porch and friendly neighbors. He thinks the country is a great place to raise children; I couldn’t think of a better place than the city with its cultural institutions and public transportation. We love each other dearly after more than four years together, but I am worried that once we are done with grad school in architecture and have the time to start forming a family, we won’t be able to agree on where to live. Can you think of some sort of middle ground that would allow us to raise a family in harmony?

Not a Country Girl

Dear Not,

The odds are solidly on your side, ma’am. The isolated areas are everywhere in economic decline. Unless he’s planning to design freeway overpasses or factory farm buildings or Indian casinos, his career future and yours are most likely in a city. So look for a good job and make your home nearby and when you have some stacks of money lying around, buy several isolated acres and build a cabin there and plant beans and keep a journal. The kids will grow up just fine wherever the two of you are: You’re the key to their upraising, not the landscape.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I’m a Midwestern guy, 24, living with the love of my life, who I’ve always known harbors dreams of being an actress but who is happy with me and our life and is earning good money as a third-grade teacher and has been talking about us getting married and starting a family. And then, the other day, out of the blue, she said that she wants to take a year and live in New York and see what happens vis-à-vis her and an acting career, and that she would love me to come with her but that she could well understand if I didn’t want to. I was floored. What is she trying to tell me? That she wants to break up? And second, I can’t imagine living in New York. You’ve lived in New York. Is it shortsighted of me to blanch at the prospect?

Iowa Schoolteacher

Dear Iowa,

No, she doesn’t want to break up, she only wants to take a chance, with you and with New York. She wants to walk through that intersection of Broadway and 44th Street and Seventh Avenue, where you can see into six different canyons, each with sheer walls of glass and stone hundreds of feet tall and covered with brilliant flashing signs and news banners, and along the sidewalks rivers of people moving along, some on their way to shows, but most of us just there for the experience of being in a crowd. An amazing place in America. From there, you can go to the great reading room of the Public Library, two blocks east and two blocks south, and be among all those studious people bent over their books and legal pads.

The city offers great solitude and also a ticket to see the human race up close. It’s a place where something is always happening, most of which you wouldn’t want to be involved in personally. Nobody comes here to relax. It’s a city for people who’ve had enough relaxation and need to wake up. It’s where you see dogs running around with people chained to them scooping up their poop, like slaves. No question who’s in charge there. One of the few true pedestrian cities in America, where having a car is a detriment — no speed limit signs in New York, they figure that’ll work itself out — and where, for all the big corporate buildings around, there are still plenty of hole-in-the-wall shops where you can get passport photos or have something copied or send a fax or have your nails done. A lot of street-corner capitalism. If there’s a way you could arrange to live there for a year with your true love, I think you’d like it. At least you’d remember it. The odds against her, of course, are pretty awesome, but it’s a city that admires strivers and the young and hopeful, and who can say what might happen?

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am the cliché mother of many children and I also carry on a stressful, demanding and reasonably successful professional career. My husband, the father of the many, is a minimally functioning depressive personality. Our marriage has sustained repeated body blows. Awful pregnancies, chronic and congenital diseases among the children, deaths of significant family members, job loss and chronic depression on the part of my spouse. Through all of this I have tried very hard to keep it all together, but I find I have exhausted all my reservoirs of compassion, feeling, hope, etc. I want to move on. Of course, he does not. And he refuses to get a job, move out, take his medication, etc.

I don’t want this to be ugly. Notwithstanding all of the problems, he adores his children. They adore him. I don’t want to change that. I have stopped wearing my rings, have stopped making efforts at physical intimacy (not that there has been much in that arena for a long time) and have asked him repeatedly to move forward. I get no real action, just manipulative attempts to “rekindle” or act like a “family” so that he doesn’t have to work, etc. How many ways must I say, “It is time to go”?

Finished

Dear Finished,

It already is ugly, I’m afraid. Your husband has become your oldest child, and not a particularly bright or able one, and it’s simply not possible to say “Go” and expect him to go, any more than you could say “Fly,” or “Levitate.” If you’re exhausted, then you need to call for help. Exhaustion is not to be argued with. The end is the end. The kindest thing would be to find a relative or friend who is willing to take him in and supervise him for six months, while you recuperate. This may not be possible, and you may need to work out a separation under one roof while you start divorce proceedings. But I do think there should be an intermediary for you and your husband, whether a relative or friend or a professional person — not a lawyer, God help us, but a referee — who can negotiate the arrangements, short term, then long term. Part of this arrangement must be your husband accepting a degree of responsibility for his own life. It is best if he hears this from a neutral party.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I’m a 29-year-old man with a beautiful baby girl and a beautiful wife, and recently I attended a wedding that was also attended by my first true love from high school; it was pure cosmic coincidence that our paths should cross again a dozen years after she broke it off, but I returned from the wedding depressed and confused. To be honest I can’t say I remember all that much about our relationship; we were young, but in the years hence she embodied in my mind my romantic ideal, and that has unfortunately not changed even given my current marriage. How does one move on? The notion that we will likely never speak again pains me severely, and I can’t imagine our paths ever recrossing in the future. I feel the dark clouds of emotional loneliness and depression circling around me again.

Brooding in Boston

Dear Brooding,

You did move on. You left high school and became 29, rather than staying 17. So be 29 and then become 30. It wasn’t cosmic coincidence that brought you two together, it was the wedding of a mutual friend. Nothing so surprising about that. And you’ll meet her again, at your class reunion, and speak to her. She can embody your romantic ideal, if you want her to, but this is a little daydream for the occasional rainy day; it’s nothing that need cause you severe pain and depression. Enjoy your life.

Dear Mr. Blue,

My girlfriend is very charming but also very chatty. Every Sunday morning we like to sit down and have a big breakfast and good coffee and read the New York Times, but she keeps going off on a diatribe and talks and talks, even though I put my head down in the paper and don’t listen. I’ve tried to get the message across by threatening to write an advice columnist with a letter titled “My Girlfriend Keeps Talking When I’m Reading the Paper.” That hasn’t worked, so here I am. Help me before I wind up on “Jenny Jones.”

Disturbed

Dear Disturbed,

Your silence isn’t heavy enough. No chattiness can stand up to really dense granitelike silence. It’s a manly art, the art of withstanding conversation, and I could teach it to you in 15 minutes. It’s a spiritual power similar to what yogis use to lie on beds of nails or walk across burning coals, the power of denial. You can develop this power to where you are no longer aware of her presence. It drives women mad. Later, when you’re done with the Times, you can glance at her and say, “So?” and this will excite her no end and you’ll make love for hours. A happy outcome for both of you. But the stoical silence is the foreplay that sets off the avalanche of love. Some of us do this every Sunday morning and it plays hob with church attendance, yes, but it does wonders for a marriage.

Dear Mr. Blue,

My wife and I are a churchgoing couple who are pretty good friends but have lost our love for each other. We both know this. My wife told her sister and her sister talked to me about it. However, neither of us has the courage to discuss it. I suppose we don’t want to be the one who “started a divorce” so we keep waiting for the other person to say something. This has been going on for several years and we’re cordial and friendly with each other so it’s almost like playing house, but we probably shouldn’t go through the rest of our lives becoming emotionally dimmer each day because no one will say IT. Any advice?

Trepidation in Tennessee

Dear Trepidation,

Yes, I believe in civilized divorce for just the reason you suggest: to free two people from having to live life in an emotional shadow. You find a moment when you’re cordial and friendly and you say to her, “Do you want to go on being married to me?” If she says no, then there’s your cue to discuss the mechanics of dissolution. If she says yes, ask her why. Maybe you’ll be surprised. Maybe you’ll be dismayed. But anyway, the thought will be out of the box and on the table.

Dear Mr. Blue,

In conversations I stumble and mumble as if my ideas are too big to fit through the tiny passageway of my mouth. I feel like a tangled ball of thought. I feel like I’m almost smart, like intelligence is almost within reach, but I just don’t know how to grab it. How do I get myself some brains?

Me Want Get Gooder Smart

Dear Me,

Either your mouth is too small or your frontal lobe is twisted or you are in the same boat as the rest of us. The purpose of conversation isn’t to demonstrate one’s glib intelligence; it’s how we stumble and grope our way through the mists and arrive at something like intelligence. You’re heading in the right direction. Good luck.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I have been married for one year. I recently sold my motorcycle, which pleased my wife a great deal. She has never liked motorcycles and never will. They are dangerous, and we don’t have the money to buy another one, she tells me. I’m trying to meet her halfway. I’m taking a safety course and I’m willing to get a bike with a smaller engine. Unfortunately, she hasn’t even acknowledged there is a middle ground on this issue, so I’m at my wits’ end. Do I bite the bullet and dream of motorcycling from my La-Z-Boy? Or should I buy it and see if she will eventually come around?

Wannabe Rider

Dear Wannabe,

I don’t think you should need your wife’s permission to own a motorcycle, any more than you need ask her permission to hunt deer or drink a martini. Realistically, however, you put yourself in the hole when you sold the old bike. Bad mistake. And now she’s put you on notice. So put her on notice. Bring home some bike brochures and leave them lying around. Keep your helmet on the fridge. Get some bike-insignia magnets and put them on the fridge, too, and some pictures of bikes. Books on bike trips. Gauge the climate of opinion and make your move.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I’ve worked for the same company for (gulp) 20-some years now and find myself in a low-level supervisory position, which I enjoy. I’m close enough to the actual work, the heart blood of the company (agri products), but with the pleasure of doing things my way. Now, however, a new management team has come in, and suddenly the culture has changed. Everyone is working their asses off and going home with bulging briefcases. I don’t mind working hard, but these sharks are cutting costs by decimating the workforce. And now they’re insulting us by requiring us managers to attend three-day seminars to learn about leadership. We go to a seminar center and sit in a circle and listen to a facilitator named Terri explain how important it is to look the other person in the eye when you speak to him and smile and always say his name. This is idiocy. There is a lot of jargon about empowerment and commitment to the quality process and value structure and I am fed up with it. I have 10 years to go until retirement, and I am sorely tempted to quit this bullshit and find something else, at whatever cost. My wife is aghast at the idea. But she doesn’t have to deal with these gibbering idiots. What do you think?

Drowning in Jargon

Dear Drowning,

In every system, there are people who try hard to do good and people who try hard to look good, and it’s the least productive people who get all enthused about jargon of the sort you mention, and believe me, they don’t last long. In the end, it’s the work itself that’s interesting, and not the decision-making process. Simple declarative sentences will win out over gibberish. In the end, reality is what we crave. Resist jargon; keep asking for translations. Sit through the Monkey Island of corporate psychobabble and then go do your job. As long as you still enjoy the work, then you can endure the gentle rain of rabbit pellets. But do explore the alternatives and get your parachute ready, your plain brown parachute.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I’m overpaid and overworked and about to lose my dot-com job, and as my father keeps pointing out, now would be a great time for me to figure out “what I really want to DO.” I’m 27, and I’ve sort of flitted through life so far. I have things I’m good at, but none of them drive me or really seem to please me. I like to write and sew and take pictures and travel and drink good coffee and read good books, but nothing really beckons to me yet, and says, “Here is your life’s work!” I enjoy things for a little while, then I get bored and frustrated and want something new. Everything else in my life is good, but this longing to find work that fulfills me leaves me so sad. I’ve taken career counseling tests and aptitude tests and the results are all over the place. What to do?

Precocious Child, Adequate Adult

Dear Precocious,

Not everyone has a Life’s Work. Some people simply have a Life. It may be peaceful and domestic, or it may be restless and searching, but their fulfillment is in life itself, not in a large mission or career. Perhaps the precocious child was burdened with large expectations that she’d become Athena the goddess of wisdom and light, but don’t take it too seriously. Travel and write and read and drink your coffee and keep on flitting. Maybe your life work will come tiptoeing up behind you in Starbucks and tap you on the shoulder. Maybe an owl will give you some direction. In the meantime, don’t work too hard at untying the great knot all at once. Don’t take no more tests. No way should you take aptitude tests at your age. Fire your career counselor. Enjoy the summer.

Dear Mr. Blue,

Three and a half years ago, my dreams came true and my husband and I had twin girls. They are the light of my life. I left my corporate job and started my own business from home so I could be with them 24/7. Now that they are old enough for me to start thinking about preschool, I am scared. Look at what is out there today — school shootings, kids killing other kids and any number of horrible things.

I live in one of the safest states in the country, but I am still nervous. Part of me wants to move to several acres of land to homestead and home-school. We have good friends who have done just that since their children were small, and the children, now teenagers, are the most polite, well-adjusted, interesting people you would ever want to meet.

How does one get over this fear and let their children live in the real world? Or have things just gotten so bad that this is an impossibility?

Afraid

Dear Afraid,

The home-schooled kids I know are just as you describe, wonderful and interesting and mature people, so there’s definitely something to be said for the idea. I faint at the thought of home-schooling my child (I also shrink from the verb), but you’re young and smart and no doubt could do the work. Don’t embark on this out of fear of violence, though. That’s like moving to Canada to get away from rattlesnakes. Before you start the Little Home School in the Big Woods, make sure that Pa shares your commitment and be sure that you’re moving toward something, not fleeing from something. I also know public school kids who are polite, well-adjusted and interesting, by the way.

Garrison Keillor is the author of the Lake Wobegon novel "Liberty" (Viking) and the creator and host of the nationally syndicated radio show "A Prairie Home Companion," broadcast on more than 500 public radio stations nationwide. For more columns by Keillor, visit his column archive.

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