I love him incredibly, but I envision a life of hockey games, Super Bowl parties and chips and dip.

By Garrison Keillor
October 20, 1998 8:32PM (UTC)
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Dear Mr. Blue,

I turn 40 this week. I've always wanted children and the man who's
loved me for 10 years wants them too and wants us to get married and
the babies coming. He's a wonderful person and loves me beyond reason,
when I think about spending the rest of my life with him I
become so depressed I could weep. My family loves him, his family loves
we share the same values and interests and I just can't come up with any
good reason not to marry him except that I'm sort of bored and nothing's
happening between the sheets either. My question is: Given that I want
children more than anything else in life, and given that I've hit 40 and
my childbearing years will soon be over, and given that this perfectly nice
man is foolish enough to love me, should I just go ahead and marry him
hope that my yearnings for something more fade away?


Indecisive in Chicago

Dear Chicago,

I'm sorry you're in this fix. Boredom is not a good place
for a marriage to start. Evidently you found it comfortable to stick with
this depressing schlump for 10 years, but you can't stick with him any
longer if he depresses you. Take another look at your letter and if it really
expresses how you feel, not just on a bad day but on all days, then tell
him he's boring and you're done with him. See if it gets a rise out of him.
And let yourself see other men. Modern medicine, meanwhile, is
extending the childbearing years, so they may not be over as soon as you
think. And, dear Indecisive, you really must start living your life and not
wait for it to arrive. (OK, so I don't know exactly what that means
either, but make something happen here, girl.)


Dear Mr. Blue,

I am 25 and always shunned romance, and then I went to breakfast with
this wonderful,
well-read, attractive man. From the first, I knew he was married. And I
leapt anyway. We both did. He told me he was in love and wanted to
grow old and cantankerous reading the paper with me. We tried cooling
things off. That
didn't work. We tried being friends. I couldn't handle the pain. Sensing he
was not going to leave his wife -- as he said he would -- I packed his
things in a box and told him not to call. Yes, I know I courted my broken
heart. Yes, I know it was right to end it. But, Mr. Blue, do you have any
advice that will help it hurt less?


Lonely Again in Pennsylvania

Dear Lonely,

A lot of people in your position wouldn't have acted so
resolutely. They'd have packed and unpacked that box a couple dozen
times, weaseled, waffled, but you -- you marched right out the door.
And that shows that you're going to forge ahead and march through the
pain to something better. Who knows what purpose this boyo was meant
to serve, but take him as an experience, as a speed bump, as a commercial
against adultery, as a summer replacement, as a breakfast that went on too
long, as a catch-up course, whatever, and now you're ready for something
good to happen. Something less tortuous. Wake up every morning and
give thanks for the day, whether you feel grateful or not, and determine to
do a couple of good things for yourself, whatever brings a smile to your
face. It's such a clichi, but a true one: Let some time pass and you'll be
amazed at how much better you'll feel than you feel right now.


Dear Mr. Blue,

Here's the deal. I am an aspiring writer. I am in love with the most sane
and simple guy on the planet, a phys ed teacher, who doesn't understand
why I write, what I write or what it means to me. I love him incredibly,
but when I think of marrying him, I envision a life of hockey games,
Super Bowl parties and chips and dip. My heart and brain are in heavy
battle over this. Please help.


Stepford in South Jersey

Dear Stepford,

I'd tell you to say goodbye to the guy, except that you use
the word "incredibly," and so one has to pause there. My guess is that
your brain is going to tell your heart what to do, and your heart is going
to accede. It's hard to make the brain shut up in matters of the heart, and
when it speaks, it's usually persuasive. But plenty of writers have been
married happily to people who weren't literary people. You don't marry a
guy for his critical ability. You marry him because he's sexy, he makes
you laugh and you believe in him. The hockey games are optional.


Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm a young writer recovering from many years of unhealthy introversion.
I enjoy the art of conversation, but having so little practice,
I'm not a very interesting chatterer. More like a mumbling washcloth.
I want to transfer some of my written confidence and
eloquence to my speech. Can you help?

Pen's Mightier Than Tongue


Dear Pen,

The art of conversation isn't so much eloquence as plain
etiquette: You don't invite your friend to have lunch and then sit like a
stone. You're not required to be wonderful, but you must make the
attempt, and that counts for as much as anything else. Nobody ever
masters this art. It depends on the occasion and your partners. Sometimes
you get stuck in a black hole. But everyone has that social impulse in his
heart, the kindness that wants to make a good time for other people, and
conversation is an exercise of kindness. You can coast on the kindness of
others, but if you don't pull an oar, you won't be asked out.


Dear Mr. Blue,

I own a restaurant and a home dealership, both challenging, but neither
brings me the intellectual joy I get when I sit at my computer and write. I
spend four hours at my novel several days a week, and my wife scoffs at
me. She says, "You could be fixing the washing machine," or "The house
needs painting." What would you do or say in my situation?


Dear Perplexed,


Writing, like staring out the window, is not a defensible
way to spend time, so you must do it in private if you hope to evade
questioning. Be somewhere else. Hide. It's better to apologize for not
painting the house than to ask your wife's permission to write your novel.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I have loved a man who is the father of a 5-year-old girl whose mother
he dated for three months and didn't marry. The mother has no interest in
him, and he has none in her, except for wanting to know his daughter.
And yet he holds onto the hope of reestablishing his relationship with the
mother. For a year, he and I have been friends at times and more than
friends at other times. We've been off and on, and continue to get back
together to "just be friends," but sex always follows. I see wonderful things
in him that I wish he could let triumph over his fear of commitment. But I
realize that he will never be able to give me the kind of relationship I
need, want and deserve. Should I try to just be friends? Or is he not
worth my time?

Sadder but Wiser

Dear Sadder,

You can be just friends with him eventually, but maybe not
until you start a relationship with someone else. And then, of course,
maybe he won't be worth your time. But first, if you don't like the idea of
casual sex, you should stop having it. And you stop having sex by simply
not seeing him.

Dear Mr. Blue,

On vacation this summer, I got involved with a woman who lives on the
opposite coast from me. We had such an incredible time, and found so
much in common, that we became aware of the danger of edging out of
"summer fling" territory. She returned to her life and I to the remains of
mine (which was already in shambles), and we still can't stop thinking
about each another. For my part, I know I'm on the rebound and dealing
with some painful issues, so I can't tell how foolish I'm being by actually
entertaining the possibility of being with this woman. She's begun therapy
to try to figure out why she can't just
settle back in and forget it. We would both have much to lose by
dropping everything and switching coasts, but we're not sure what else
to try. What should we do?

Pacific Rim

Dear Pacific, It sounds as if you're going to be spending some time on
airliners. Shop around on the Net for those last-minute bargains. You
know, $89 round-trip if you leave tomorrow morning. Take the romance
slowly. If you think about each other all the time, write letters. Take it
day by day and week by week. I doubt that a therapist is going to tell
either of you why you can't forget the other, but in time, you won't need
anyone to tell you. Maybe you're in love and you need to settle in the

Dear Mr. Blue,

I've been dating a man who's going through a divorce -- they've been
separated for a while -- and we decided to cool it while the divorce is
proceeding. We had a great thing (common interests and temperament,
strong physical attraction), but now I haven't heard from him in a few
weeks. Should I give him the benefit of the doubt and see what happens
or write him off as a schmuck? I just can't believe that a decent and
responsible man would not tell me directly if he wanted to end it.

Hurt and Confused

Dear Hurt, Perhaps you two meant two different things by "cool it." Call
him up and ask him what gives. He'll probably fall all over himself
apologizing, but you can tell from his voice if he's really hoping to end
this romance or if he's longing for you. Guys don't lie well. Don't be
confused. Get to the point.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am a way-too-old-to-be-a-sophomore journalism student who is having
second thoughts. I love to write, but I find writing news painful. I think I
might like to change my major to creative writing, but my advisor is
hellbent on my becoming editor of the school newspaper, and he's been so
encouraging and supportive that I feel obligated not to let him down.
(Besides, it sounds like it would be fun.) So, should I stick to what I know
I'm good at because it gets better and I'm just having a midlife crisis? Or
should I get out and try something ELSE again?


Dear Cob, This sounds like a passing crisis to me, a brief fainting spell,
not a reason to pull up stakes and move on. You can very well major in
journalism and write news for the school paper and then find your way
into more salubrious pursuits, writing fiction or telling lies in behalf of
large corporations or whatever presents itself. An old rule of Mr. Blue's
may apply here: Don't Get Off the Local in Hopes That the Express Is
Coming Soon. You're in training; training is slow and involves some pain;
stick with it.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am a 28-year-old American woman who has started dating a 23-year-old Frenchman. Our first date was terrific. But on the night of our second,
he called at the last minute to ask if we could get together later so he
could say goodbye to his ex-girlfriend who was leaving town for a few
months. A French woman I know says it's not unusual for the French to
remain friendly with their exes. Am I heading for a heartache with this
guy, or overly concerned about nothing?

Mademoiselle from Michigan

Dear Mademoiselle: At least he telephoned, he apparently told you the
truth and he was on a mission of kindness. It's his own business how he
treats his ex-girlfriends, but wouldn't you rather he were considerate and
friendly toward them, rather than cold and dismissive? Regardless of how
you feel, one date does not give you a license to be possessive. Set aside
your bad feelings about the phone call. If you enjoy his company, see him

Dear Mr. Blue,

I graduated from journalism school in December and can't find a job. I
have sent out some of my fiction to magazines and have been turned
down for publication. I'm also in a social slump. How can I get rejected
without feeling like a reject?

Passed Over in Phoenix

Dear Passed Over, One thing at a time. First, get a job. It may take some searching and
maneuvering to find one you want, and you may need to leave Phoenix,
but you will find one. Then work on your social life. Find friends, and
eventually, through friends and friendship, you find love. Meanwhile,
don't push the fiction too hard. It'll come when it's supposed to and not
before. The search for love is a prime theme of fiction, and you're in a
position to know about that.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I was once deeply in love with a woman, M., who left me for
another. That was five years ago. Since then, my capacity to love
feels restricted, and a portion of my heart is still occupied with her. I
don't want to reunite with her. Honestly. What I want is my heart back,
at full capacity. Any ideas?

Halfhearted in Hanover

Dear Halfhearted, Irving Berlin wrote a tune called "The Song Is Ended
but the Melody Lingers On," and it sure does, on and on, and you think
you've finally gotten beyond it and it comes back again. So you may as
well cherish the memory, since it won't go away. But your capacity to
love is extended, not restricted, by having loved her and gone through the
pain of losing her. The experience makes you a more loving person than if
you'd spent the time watching TV and eating cheese curls. This will be
abundantly clear when you meet someone new. It will be a different love,
but it will be deeper and kinder and more patient for what you learned
from M.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I was an editor for college textbooks at a publishing company. I got a new
boss who was a lunatic, and eventually, she fired me. That was a year
ago. I'm a single mother of two. I've been working as a freelance copy
editor and I'm hurting for money. Worst, I have lost my confidence to
apply for jobs and "sell" myself in an interview. I feel like a failure. I
enjoyed my previous job tremendously and it feels like such a loss. How
do I start believing in myself again?


Dear Lost, You're simply not cut out for the freelance life, and maybe it's
not cut out for you. You need a situation. I assume you have friends in the
business: Now is the time to call on them for help. Don't mince words,
don't be proud -- you need a job, so ask for one. You may also need to
borrow some money to tide you over while you devote time to your job
search: Is there a relative who can help? Draw on the people you know;
let them know you need them. They believe in you. And they can help
you out of this hole you've fallen in. As for "selling" yourself, it needn't
be an aggressive pitch: You're a capable person, you have a track record
and in the tempestuous publishing business, being fired once isn't so
uncommon. Just look them in the eye and tell them you're a good editor.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm a young man in college, with plenty of friends, male
and female. I like my studies, I have occasional flings -- all in all,
I'm enjoying myself indecently. However, no girl has sparked a romantic
interest in me in years. The fun ones are shallow, and the deep ones
aren't fun. Considering the dozens of attractive, intelligent
women I've consorted with, I find this inexplicable. Am I looking in the
wrong places, or am I just missing what's right under my nose?

Boyfriend Without a Girlfriend

Dear B.W.G., You're enjoying yourself indecently and you need my
advice? I fail to see what's wrong in this picture. Keep on enjoying
yourself, I say. Eventually you'll fall in love with someone and she'll
break your heart and then you can write to me and ask how to get over
her. Meanwhile, dance on, sailor.

Dear Mr. Blue,

My teenage daughter has a friend, a young man of 16, a gifted musician
and artist, whose mother left his family a couple of years ago and does not
keep in touch and whose dad is not paying much attention and may be
alcoholic. The boy is lagging badly in school and has bouts of depression.

My husband and I have tried to help him by including him on a family
camping trip this summer, letting him hang around our house and stay for
meals, listening to his music and appreciating his talent. I sat down with
him and helped him make a plan to catch up on his school assignments.

Meanwhile, my daughter is concerned about him and some remarks he has
made about suicide. I talked to her about the extent of her responsibility
for this friend; I emphasized that depression can be treated and the most
you can do for someone sometimes is encourage them to get help for
themselves, and just hope they do it. This is complicated for her because
he has a crush on her, and she only wants to be friends.

Now I am wondering how much more, if anything, I should do, or say.
Any ideas?

St. Louis Mother

Dear Mother, You've done a great deal for the young man, and now you
have the burden of additional knowledge -- the remarks about suicide --
and this gives you an additional responsibility. It seems to me that you
probably have to bring this up with him directly and tell him that you're
concerned about it and you want him to find help. And you may have to
help him find it. This is surely more help than you expected to have to
give, but there you are. It can be so damn hard to be a teenager. God, it
can be hard. You and I can recall swampy periods in our own
adolescences, but kids today have it harder, I believe. And they
desperately need the kindness and understanding of caring adults in a
world that seems to them as hospitable as Antarctica. This young man
obviously has chosen your family for his life raft, and you may very well
have acquired an additional son. The help should come from you, though,
and not from your daughter: It's a bad idea to let help be mistaken for

Dear Mr. Blue,

I published a couple of novels a few years ago, something I'd dreamed of
all my life, and when it happened, I experienced deep joy, modest critical
success and no financial rewards whatsoever. Then my family fell upon
economic hard times, so I had to set aside fiction to do technical writing
and some hack nonfiction to pay the bills. I don't write fiction anymore,
except for a few pages now and then. I dream from time to time of a
dying baby, whom I recognize as the novels I haven't written. Here's the
question: When, someday, I can return to the work of my heart, will it still
be there? Can the creative muscle that makes fiction survive if it's not

Hurting Ex-novelist

Dear Hurting, A few years have passed since you set fiction aside, so no
harm is done, but don't let any more years pass before you return to the
work of your heart. Economize. Simplify. Work part of the day to pay the
bills and part on fiction. It's OK to do other writing to pay the grocery
bill and the rent, but it's not OK to pay for a new sofa and draperies and
Kobe beef and a 1988 Bordeaux and $125 shoes and an Armani suit. Draw
the line between paying the bills and ushering yourselves into the Good
Life. There's nothing you can buy that will satisfy you like that sickly
baby can. And one day -- who knows? -- the baby will bring home a
truckload of bacon.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I published my first children's book this year and it met with
considerable success, which I greatly enjoyed -- readings, signings, etc. --
but I feel awkward when family and friends introduce me at parties with
"She's an author," which forces me to talk about myself and my
book when all I want to do is blend in. My husband gets angry with me
for being too self-effacing. I appreciate the support, but I'm trying to
move on and work on other projects. Any suggestions? Or is this a
curse, albeit a pleasant one?

Flattered & Frustrated

Dear F&F, You are an author, an unusual occupation in your circle, hence
the fuss. Smile, and change the subject. Don't make a big production out
of being self-effacing. If you don't wish to talk about yourself and your
book, that's fine: Other people are anxious to talk about themselves, so
lead the conversation toward them and they will grab hold of it. This is
easily accomplished.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I've just met "the one" but am strangely reluctant. I'm 28 and have
felt that if a life-partner-type love came along, I would seize it, so
this soul mate Irish poet comes along, just as I was making plans to go on
a trip alone for several months. I am certain we will pursue each other's
passions, yet I am still enamored with my independence. Or am I just
emotionally immature?

Muddled in Manhattan

Dear Muddled, Go on the trip. Let him wait. If you go on the trip and
give yourself a wonderful time and yet you can't wait to get home and see
him, then that tells you something, and if, on the trip, you fall in love
with an Algerian waiter in a bistro in Marseilles, then you've learned even

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm 45, married for almost 10 years to a long-suffering, wonderful
woman, with whom I have two beautiful little boys. After years of
growing distance between her and me, I fell deeply in love with a woman
who lives halfway across the country, with whom I experienced an
immediate level of connection that went well
beyond anything I had ever hoped for. Now, after a year and a half,
she's ended the relationship because I could not bring myself in good
conscience to move out on my children, whom I love. But life with my
wife never seemed so empty as it does today. Is it OK even for schmucks
to require affection in their lives, or does there come a point when our
hopes for the world demand that we all play out a little Uncle Vanya?


Dear Tired, You can bridge this distance and fill this emptiness, but it can't be done in
one big swoop, with a blast of trumpets, like falling in love with a
mysterious woman in a strange city. It's accomplished on a daily basis, in
dozens of small acts of thoughtful kindness and through conversation and
through sexual intimacy. Start dancing and see if you don't hear the
music. Go through the motions of love and you may find the feelings.
Your wife is a familiar continent that has become foreign to you and you
have to walk the terrain again and fall in love again but on a different
basis. Try this for a year and a half, or two years for good measure. That
immediate level of connection that you experienced was a beautiful
illusion, common to love affairs. With your wife, you have a 10-year
common history, which, while not so startling to you, is nonetheless a
powerful connection. Surely you can afford to spend two years trying to
rescue this far-from-hopeless situation.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I used to write very good poetry in college. Then I graduated, took a job,
loved it, moved up quickly, got a high-powered job and a great
boyfriend -- but I miss
writing, and it doesn't come as naturally as it used to. How can I get
to the poet's way of thinking?

Too Corporate in Seattle

Dear T.C., You're probably much busier than you were in college, and
the whir of the corporate engines, the pressures of having a guy around
who's crazy about you, the jingle-jangle of the good life, tend to
squeeze out the spiritual contemplative life that might lead to poetry. So
set aside time. Not necessarily to write, but to be alone, to walk, to be
without any pressure at all, to smell the frogs and listen to the roses. This
is essential for your well-being anyway, whether it results in poetry or

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm a 19-year-old college student who is trying to become a
The problem is I'm still growing and my perceptions about life keep
changing, so after I start a story, when I look at it a few weeks later I
don't believe in it anymore. Will this change as I grow older, or am I
doomed to flakiness?

Aggravated in Atlanta

Dear Aggravated, A story is a portrait of a moment in time, it's not a
final statement: If it were, then nobody would write one until they were in
their early 80s. And the story isn't about your perceptions of life but
about your characters' perceptions. You need to believe in your characters
in order to bring them to life. Probably your most believable character
will be a 19-year-old person whose perceptions keep changing, but
you the author are separate from that person. Keep your distance. Write
that guy's story, not your own.

Dear Mr. Blue,

How did you become so wise?

A Reader in France

Dear Reader: Wisdom is gained by making mistakes. I don't know of
another way. There's a lot of secondhand wisdom around, of course, and
one should avail himself of it, since life is not long enough to make all the
mistakes yourself, though I have come close.

Garrison Keillor

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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