Should I wait for my lovable Silicon Valley engineer who's so afraid of the M-word?

By Garrison Keillor
January 6, 1999 12:22AM (UTC)
main article image

Dear Mr. Blue,

I unexpectedly fell in love with a married man. Years of working together on
community projects led to the most wonderful relationship I've ever
known. He is sensibly married, his wife has been good to him, they have a
lovely family (our relationship has remained completely discreet) and I know I need to move on, but I know I will be searching the earth for a man just like him. I admit I came on to him after years of being smitten. I think the only evil thing he has ever done is return my affection. How can I find the strength to break up what I consider a quintessential love? Or should I indulge in this affair because I have finally found true love?


Keeper of Stolen Kisses

Dear Keeper,

It is time to move on, with gratitude for the generosity of the
affair, but move on, even though it's like death to say goodbye to someone you love. An affair like this is a sort of artificial construction, like a play, and perhaps all the more alluring for its artificiality, but you really should find a lover whom you wake up with in the morning and walk around town with and don't worry who you might run into. That is a love that can last and change and bear up under the weight of years and become something finer and lovelier
than you can find in romantic fiction. Be grateful to your old lover, and go
gracefully into the night and find the person you're meant to be with. This man is not him.


Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm a graphic designer dating a lovable Silicon Valley engineer, and we've
developed a brilliant relationship over the past two and a half years. I love him dearly and I'd like to begin discussing marriage. He, however, is incredibly frightened of the M-word. We're both young, 28 years of age, so I don't want to pressure him. I also don't want to waste my time. Should I wait?


Struggling in Silicon Valley

Dear Struggling,

You've reached a point in this relationship, brilliant though it be, where you and your partner diverge on the crucial question -- whether to drift along holding hands or tie up to shore and get the mortgage. His fear of marriage is your cue to say goodbye. You can still love him dearly, but he doesn't want to marry you; if he did, he'd leap at the chance. Twenty-eight is old enough for him to know his own mind. The problem
is a male tendency to express feelings in slanted or devious ways: Afraid of
hurting your feelings, the lovable engineer expresses a fear of marriage in general. But it's not general, it's about you. Take the guy out to dinner and tell him you think it's best to let go of each other so that each of you can find your true love. This is a kind thing to do, though painful. If he changes his mind, he knows where to find you, but he won't. Each of you
will go on to other people, and if you part now, while you still like each other, you can keep your friendship. He could, over time, turn into a sweet pal, all the sweeter for having been your lover, and a woman could always use more old pals.


Dear Mr. Blue,

I met my husband at college; I was 30, he was 22 and he charmed me with
his energy, enthusiasm and emotional openness. I loved being with him and felt we complemented each other beautifully. We've been married five years, and his luster has long since worn off. He still has all those qualities I saw in him, but I can't appreciate them for the other things, like his lack of introspection, his impatience, his disdain for things I love, like
art museums, household order and vegetables. We have a 2-year-old daughter whose life I would not disrupt for anything. How can her father and I regain the mutual respect and sense of shared adventure we had when we were just beginning our lives together?


Opposites Attack

Dear Opposites,

This is a classic case for a marriage counselor. You find an
intimate moment to tell your husband that you feel the marriage could benefit from arbitrated discussion with a professional, and you ask him what sort of counselor he'd be comfortable
with, and you take up the issue of counseling as a separate question --
don't bring in all of
these other issues along with it. Tell him you love him and you want this
marriage to work.
Admit to yourself -- and tell him -- that you may be the problem and you'd
simply like to
talk about the marriage in a neutral atmosphere. And then do it and put your
issues on the
table in the most accurate and loving way you can. And try to work these
things out. (I'd
happily try to defend your husband on all counts, by the way, but it's better
for you to deal
with him directly.) If he makes the effort and engages in the discussion and
is honest with
you, you ought to respect him for that.


Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm 25 and have been involved with a 37-year-old former teacher for over
three years. I'm in love, and there are times when I believe we have a real future. But the relationship has been conditional, at best. We have an
open dating policy. I don't want to date, but I've
accepted the arrangement, figuring something is better than nothing.
He is now dating a girl who sat right behind me in his class. He betrayed
this secret by accidentally showing me a photo of them with tongues locked.
I'm angry and resentful but still in love and loath to let go. I think he's
something special and don't want to give it up. But should I?



Dear Jealous,

You and your teacher are not playing the game on a level field: Your heart is in it and his isn't. He is seeing other people, with your permission, while you sit by the phone waiting for him to call. This is a lousy deal, the illusion of a relationship, the pain of betrayal. You need to look after yourself, my dear, and put a little distance between you and
Free-Wheeling Frank. You're loath to let go, but what are you holding onto?
The hope that he is in love with you? If he is, he must be a very confused man. Pull away. Be by yourself for a while, get with your friends and find satisfaction elsewhere. If he's in love with you, it's up to him to come find you and persuade you. You can't fall in love on his behalf.


Dear Mr. Blue,

A year ago, I made the mistake of falling in love with my best friend. We're
both insomniacs, so we spent a lot of late nights together. We had always been
affectionate, but after I told her my feelings, things intensified. I made advances; she rebuffed me, gently, and always forgave me. After Christmas break, she came back to school with an engagement ring. It didn't faze me. Eventually her beau found out about our closeness and now she won't
talk to me. She won't even answer my e-mails. I'm having a hard time dealing with the loss of such a close confidante. I want
to be able to talk to her again. I want to go to her wedding. What should I do?


Dear B.F.,


You've done nothing wrong so don't blame yourself or agonize over this. Simply make sure your friend knows how dear she is to you. There are hundreds of ways
you can convey that, and you should try a few. Send her a small, perfect gift.
Invite her to
lunch. Run into her accidentally in the halls and cheerfully invite her to
lunch. But if her
beau is so jealous that he won't hear of having you around, then you're
out of luck, at
least for the time being.

Dear Mr. Blue,

Am I right in thinking that men don't make passes at girls who wear glasses
and who have advanced degrees? I've noticed strange looks from male friends when I talk about getting my doctorate. Should I just forget about love?

Worried Ph.D. Candidate

Dear Worried,

No, you're not right about that. It's a myth left over from your
grandmother's time, a fog bank that some people take for a mountain. There's
no conflict whatsoever between academic achievement and having a big love life. Some academics, men as well as women, are arrogant, full of themselves and boring to be with, but it has less to do with their brilliance and more to do with their lack of character. They feel compelled to perform, to elucidate and explain, to lecture, and pedantry and romance don't sit comfortably
together. Romance is about giving and receiving love in various ways and
forms, as suggested by the situation; it isn't necessarily about clarity or definition. Get your Ph.D. and pursue your love life at the same time, with confidence. Just remember to shut up when it's time to and let your beloved talk.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I recently left my job because I was unhappy and stressed out. Now that I have time off, I
would like to write a short story. The problem is that I can only motivate
myself when I
have a deadline and now I have all the time in the world. What to do?

Loose Ends

Dear Loose,

Why in the world do you want to write a short story? There's no
money in it
and very little prestige. Nobody cares if you write one, so there's never
going to be a
deadline. The only reason to write a story is because one feels compelled to,
like answering
the door when the bell rings, and you apparently are not compelled, since you
motivation. Find something better to do with your time, something that you
don't need to
flog yourself into doing.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am 32 and have been with my husband since we were 17. Recently, I was
accepted into an MFA writing program, and now my husband says he feels he'd
like to have a child. I never had any desire to have children until this year, when I started softening toward it, but I don't know if this has more to do with fear of losing him than actually wanting a child. I am anxious about going into debt to attend this MFA program, especially since, as my mother pointed out, "People write books all the time without going to
school to learn how." I only began submitting my stories in earnest this past
May. Should I give myself more time to see if I can make it on my own? I'm flailing around for some purpose, but I don't feel it's fair to keep my husband "on hold" about having a baby. I really don't know what to do.


Dear Torn,

It's taken 15 years for you and your husband to come to this
point of considering parenthood, and surely you can take two more years before you go ahead and get a baby. Use the two years to push your writing forward, either in an MFA program or on your own, as you think best. Your mother is right, but that doesn't make MFA programs worthless. Just remember that no program can supply you with the motivation that's crucial
to a writer. Programs can lend some structure to your life and give you a
sense of
collegiality, which is a comfort, but that's about all. Take two years -- one
year, at least --
and devote yourself to your work, going to it every single day as one would
keep any important appointment, and let your work lead you. You'll be a better mother if you give yourself this chance.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm a 27-year-old man who is emerging from a debilitating depression. I fancy
myself a
writer, and the idea of being paid for my writing appeals to me. However, one
effect of
depression has been a loss of my creative impulse. I find myself inert and
unable to write.
I'm sure there's a way to kick-start my life and craft again, but I'm still so
mentally and
emotionally muddled, I can't see it. Should I work on healing myself first or
would writing aid the healing?

Treading Water

Dear Treading,

As you know, depression is a serious illness and not
susceptible to games,
even the game of writing. Get the depression under control first; it's a
danger to you, and
the feeling of inertia will pass and your creative impulse will return. The
terrible isolation
that is part of the illness may be causing that feeling of inertia. Don't
force the writing,
even if you find this block painful. Drift over the shallows and through the
rapids and
eventually you'll come to where you can put your paddle down and push forward.

Dear Mr. Blue,

The man I love and have been living with for two years says he wants to spend
his life with
me, but he isn't ready to get married. He says he gets scared when he tries to
commit. He
has been seeing a therapist, hoping to overcome his fear of
marriage. He promised me he would propose before the holidays but now has
(tearfully) that he is overcome with fear. I told him I couldn't go on like
this, at which he gallantly announced, "I'm not giving up." Which is exactly
what he said eight months ago.

I'm about to turn 34 and I want to have children. I became so frustrated
eight months ago
that I asked him to move out. He was distraught, cried extensively and
said he didn't want to lose me. Am I being had? I'd hate to lose him because
of pushiness.

Sad and Confused

Dear Sad,

I'll tell you what I told Jealous. You've come to a point where it's
best to make a
change, and the responsibility falls on you because you're the stronger one in
relationship. The man you love is overcome with anxiety, and you can
sympathize with his
problem but you can't let his anxieties steer your life. You don't need to
lose him, but you
can't go on living with him, as you yourself told him; you have an idea what
you want and
he's in no shape to provide it. Break this off gently and let him deal with
his fears of
commitment on his own. Having a fear of commitment is universal, like having
toenails, and
the reason we overcome this sensible fear is the presence of someone wonderful
to commit to.

Dear Mr. Blue,

About a year and a half ago I lost my job and simultaneously found out that my
boyfriend of
four years had been seeing another woman through most of the four years. This
of events, especially the betrayal by someone I had trusted, left me
devastated. Since then, I
have moved and found new work. But I remain too insecure to date men, despite
and a deep desire at 37 to find a partner. I am afraid of being duped again,
and I worry that
my ex was unfaithful because I am not attractive or successful enough.
Another rejection is
the last thing I need. Suggestions?

Miss Lonely Heart

Dear Miss,

Your old boyfriend's problem with honesty doesn't mean you're
unattractive or
unsuccessful. It means that he couldn't bring himself to tell the truth,
that's all. So put him
aside and find new people you like to be with, including men. You don't have
to trust your
heart to them, but at least have dinner with them, go to a movie, talk, hike,
listen to
Mozart's Symphony No. 29, the Chopin etudes, whatever moves you. Don't call it
a "date,"
call it "spending the evening together." Eventually you'll find someone worth
Meanwhile, enjoy some company.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm in my late 20s, looking forward to moving in together with my
boyfriend, whom I
adore, and getting on with our lives. We are committed to each other. My
parents are
working very hard to convince me that if I want to have kids with him (I do),
we need to get
married and he needs to convert to my religion. My sweetie is an atheist
anarchist who has
thought about his beliefs and is a very principled fellow. I don't know what
to do, but my
parents are putting on the full-court press and it's very upsetting. I don't
want to shun my family but I adore this man and I just want everyone to get
along. Can you suggest some reading material?

N.Y. Woman

Dear N.Y.,

Yes, I'd suggest the sacred texts of your religion, and I'd suggest
that your
sweetie read them. He can be an atheist anarchist on his own time, but if he
wants to marry
you, he's got to marry your family, and he should know the religion and be
around it and able to hear it talked about. If you were farmers, he should
know corn from
dandelions, right? So get him on the ball. Atheistic anarchism is a refuge for
the immature
and indolent. Smoke him out.

Dear Mr. Blue,

My husband and I have been married for two years and are very happy except for
restlessness. He wants to move and explore and see new things. I am very
close to my
family and like my job and enjoy where we live. He feels trapped because he
says that as
long as my parents are alive, we won't move anywhere. I want to move, but I enjoy all that I have here: Moving and starting from scratch are very scary.

Any wisdom?

Scared to Move

Dear Scared,

These differences can be worked out. I had an aunt who couldn't
bear the thought of not sleeping in her own bed every night, who was married to a man who loved to get behind the wheel of a car and motor toward the horizon; any destination was fine with him. Their compromise was that the uncle stayed home. But it strikes me that your husband's problem isn't "restlessness," so much as a need to get away from your parents,
which is a reasonable urge if he feels trapped by your family. If you don't address this problem, it may get worse and you won't be happy.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am a writer who has published some stories and articles in small magazines and dreams of having the time to write a book. Six months ago, I fell in
love with and moved in with a wonderful man, who is (coincidentally!) very
financially secure. Last week he told me that if I wanted to quit my job and write a
book, he would
be happy to support me. It is like a dream come true, and yet I worry that if
I accept his
offer, it will change the dynamic between us and I won't feel equal in the
relationship. What
should I do?

Anxious in Manhattan

Dear Anxious,

If you're worried about it, then it's a problem. Keep your job
and write your
book in your spare time and let the romance bloom a little longer before you
put it under an
additional strain.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am a 54-year-old woman in love with a man several years younger than my kids. I find most men my age are either dead between the ears or like those
sinewy, gaunt guys whose personal ads say, "Likes to cuddle," which is code
for impotence. Anyway, this Young Guy is bright, funny and maybe a little troubled,
but who isn't
who is interesting? Do you think it is inherently nuts for a woman to be
involved with
someone 21 and a half years younger than herself? He's good-looking and
warmest darn company I ever had, and he loves me.

Happy Old Lady

Dear Happy,

And if I did think it's nuts, what then? What's the problem?
Sounds to me as
if you're happy and in love and, at 54, you don't need my permission.
Age difference
in a romance doesn't matter so much once you pass 30. As my friend Russ
says, what
matters isn't how long you've lived but how many years you have left, and
nobody knows

Dear Mr. Blue,

My brother and sister-in-law are going through a marital crisis caused by
an affair he had over a year ago. They have a delightful 6-year-old son. It
looks as if their marriage may end in divorce. My sister-in-law and I used
to get along quite well, but she has cut off all communication with our
family. I've e-mailed
her to ask why she won't speak to me and to let her know I care about her and
sympathetic about what she is going through, but I've received no reply. I
don't want to
lose my relationship with her or my nephew. What should I do?


Dear Wondering,

Your sister-in-law won't speak to you because she's livid at your brother,
and, as Scripture
says, "A soft answer turneth away wrath." Send her a soft-spoken letter in
which you don't
argue, don't plead, don't raise your voice, but simply tell her you care about
her and recall
some of your mutual experiences and ask her to call you when she has a free
moment. You
may need to repeat this once or twice. If you don't get a reply, wait a year
and try again.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am 38, divorced last year. My daughter is 8, my son is 6. I won't bore you
with the whole scenario, which years ago might have won me a new washer
on "Queen for a Day." I have been seeing a sweet, gentle, hard-working, funny young man, who is
12 years my
junior. He has no ex, no kids, no complications. We talk about getting
married, and I am in
a quandary whether to have a child with him. He is wonderful
father material: handy, clever, generous, energetic, loving. But I am not
sure I want to be
45 and taking a kid to soccer. I'd rather be riding my Harley. Will I regret
not doing this?

Selfish Motorcycle Mama

Dear Selfish,

I assume, though you don't say so, that the wonderful young man suggested that
he'd like to
have a child with you. It's your decision, since he can't go through labor for
you, but if his
heart is set on it, then you have to choose between a dashing middle age on a
Harley and the
risk of alienating a sweet, gentle person. It sounds to me as if you two need
to talk more
about this and get your thoughts on the table. Men can be devious when it
comes to saying
what they want, so you may have to do some mind reading. But if you're going
to have a
baby, you already have three baby sitters lined up, which should give you time
to hop on a
bike now and then.

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.

MORE FROM Garrison Keillor

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Books Writers And Writing