Dear Mr. Blue,
About a year ago I met the woman of my dreams -- witty, creative,
beautiful -- and we fell in love with each other. The trouble is, we're
completely different. I'm a liberal, she's a Gingrich conservative. I'm
outgoing, she's more inward, more contemplative and a lot shyer. She
functions during the day, I at night. She needs a lot of sleep, I don't. And
she's so restricted, all the time. Some of these are very abstract things,
except when you fight about them all the time.
On New Year's Eve, we decided we needed space. We tried breaking up,
and it didn't
work. We needed each other too much. Then things got so bad that we
couldn't function and we split for three days. We got back together again
for two wonderful weeks, and everything was wonderful. Then the
fighting started. And it was too much for me to handle.
I am too tired, too hurt from all the fighting. I am still very much
in love with her, and she with me. But we can't go on like this. Is there a
chance left for us to be happy together? Dude, I would appreciate your
If you can't go on like this, then you can't go on. Fighting with the
one you love isn't a good way of life. If you two feel that you need each
other, I have to wonder what you need each other for. I recommend
giving up this romance that has caused you so much pain. Give it up as
you'd give up a bad gin habit: Each day you go without her makes it easier
to go without her another day.
Dear Mr. Blue,
I just turned 27 years old and have been involved for 16 months with a
girl I went to college with. I tell her I love her, though I very seldom feel
that I do, yet I cling to her like a scared child. I feel like we looked at
each other and said, "Hey, we're in love, let's get married, that's it."
Sometimes I feel we're in love and would have a good life together, other
times it feels horribly staged and phony. There is another woman I've
been crazy about for six years, who plays me hot and cold. Won't return
my calls for two weeks and then we'll see each other, then not see each
other for an entire year and then do the same thing all over again. Should
I break up with my girlfriend and wait for the other woman to come
around? Is it normal to feel so dreadfully ambiguous about one's
You've crossed the borders of ambiguity and entered the land
of active resistance, and you've rekindled this old flame in order to scorch
yourself loose of the new girlfriend whom you have promised more than
you can deliver. Don't promise her any more. Let your old proclamations
of love cool off. Tell her you're scared. Tell her you feel like a phony.
You don't have to be dramatic about breaking up. Just be a friend and
don't play her along.
Dear Mr. Blue,
I'm a copy editor trapped in the job of a reporter. I enjoy writing, but I
don't like reporting:
For me, story generation is like crawling across Belgium, and picking up
the phone to call a source is like putting contact lenses in for the first
time. I'm really struggling in my job. But the local newspapers don't seem
to value good copy editing.
I could try to move into magazine or book publishing, but I have no desire
to live in New
York City. I think freelance writing would be like reporting
except scarier, and I'd burn my eyes out with hot pokers before taking a
job in public relations.
A talented copy editor can find work, believe me.
There is a dearth of them, and good ones can work freelance from almost
anywhere via fax and phone and FedEx. But you have to be good: the sort
who picks up typos and grammatical glitches and flabbiness and unclarity
like a magnet picks up iron filings. Writers recognize these people
instantly, as do editors, and so they're in demand. You're needed, like a
good plumber is, and now you just need to advertise.
Dear Mr. Blue,
Since I was 10 or 11, I've been having a recurring dream, which threatens
to undo me. The one constant in the dream is a lovely girl with mocking eyes who, unlike the others of her tribe, has no interest in learning how to fly. She stands and laughs as I try to teach her.
I've spent thousands of hours over the past several years fitting this dream
woman out with all the details of a life. And I've gotten so carried away
with thinking about her (and her ups and downs and friends and enemies
and the crime her boyfriend is bent on committing and how she's dealing
with the baby that's due in four months and so on and on) that it is liable
to hurt my livelihood. Last Sunday, I got up around 7 a.m. and
immediately started thinking about "Intermingled Emily." After a while my
stomach growled and I looked at the clock and realized I'd been sitting
daydreaming for more than 10 hours. Lately she's all I think about. If I
weren't writing you this letter, I'd be thinking of her now.
I'm finding that playing with an imaginary person in my mind is a hard
habit to break. It's harder than quitting drinking. I have a social life and a
decent career, good friends, a girlfriend, but what to do?
Maybe you're a novelist who hasn't felt the need to take
the final step and write down the story. Maybe you're a full-fledged
lunatic. In either case, the dream does you no harm, it seems, except to
eat up acres of time. My gosh, to be able to sit and daydream for 10
hours straight is a tremendous feat of imagination. I don't know a single
soul capable of that. It is a useless feat, but then how useful is most
writing? One man's dream is another man's boredom, but I say, enjoy it,
if it's enjoyable. If, in a few years, you should find yourself living alone
in a bus at the end of a long dirt road, a bus full of empty bean cans and
populated by cats, where you sleep in a refrigerator carton, write to me
again, but so long as you have a girlfriend and a social life and do your
job, what's the harm?
Dear Mr. Blue,
I'm a female grad student in literature who's studying for comps. Last
summer I taught literature and creative writing to underprivileged high
school students and really enjoyed it. One book in particular ("Ellen
Foster" by Kaye Gibbons) opened up one of my students, who confessed to
me that she had been raped as a child and hadn't told anyone. I got her
into counseling, helped her to start writing about her experiences and
guided her toward going to college.
Trouble is, she lives in the same town I do and has taken to dropping
by unannounced. She brings me gifts, tells me I saved her life and
calls me quite often. She's not stalking me or anything, but I've felt
tremendous guilt over my sudden change of feelings. At first I wanted to
help her, now I want her to go away and live her life with her newfound
knowledge. Will I ever make it as a teacher?
Studying like mad in PA
It's in the nature of teaching that you will be a surrogate
mother and aunt and sister to emotionally needy students, one after
another, and surely you'll do what you honestly can do for them. God
seems to lead people into teaching who have that capacity and to reroute
the arrogant jerks into radio, or politics, or surgery. Children are terribly
sensitive, and a calm word of advice, some praise and recognition, can
turn a person's life around. We all know that's true. I had teachers who
I admired so much and who, simply by extending themselves a little and
being friendly for a few minutes here and there, levitated my feet off the
ground. But you can't pick a person up and carry her. You can't
impersonate a friendship. You can only do what you can do, and as a
teacher, you'll always be struggling to know what that is and what the
Dear Mr. Blue,
My one true love has left me after 12 years together, and I just don't know
how I can go on. I love her more than anything, and the only thing I want
is for us to be happy together, but she says that's impossible, that
she was miserable and now that we're apart the only thing that makes her
unhappy is seeing how unhappy I am. For a while, I tried to keep in
touch with her, but I've broken off seeing her because it's just too painful.
She says there's nothing I could have done or can do, that she just
doesn't feel the zing anymore. She still cares for me, and wants me to be
happy, but she's not giving me any mixed signals about getting back
together. In a situation where everything's bad, she's doing all she can to
make it not worse.
More than anything I want to call her, see her, tell her the one thing that
will make everything OK, but she's heard everything I have to say and
nothing matters. The only thing I can do to make her happy is to be happy
without her, but that's impossible and I don't know what to do. It's
been over three months. I'm trying to throw myself into work and
activities, but the longer I try to live life without the more I'm falling
Dear Life Without,
Twelve years is a long time and it's surprising that your true love would
walk away abruptly, because of zinglessness, and that you wouldn't have
seen it coming. It just hit you, wham, a door in the face. It sounds
dreadful, the sort of character-building experience that none of us wants to
have. I must say, though, that you write cogently about it, so at least your
faculties are intact, and you're doing the right thing, which is to put your
feelings in the sock drawer and close it and not pursue her. What you need
to do is alleviate the pain as much as possible, for mercy's sake and to
keep your stability, and the best way, if you can manage it, is to find a
caring professional whom you trust and sit down with her or him once a
week and tell your story. You probably don't need a shrink, but you could
use a kind therapist who will listen to you. You talk about your life and
your true love over and over and over and over and over and over and
over and over, and at some point, it's enough, and you shake hands and
say goodbye. I suppose, as an alternative, you could sign on as a seaman
on a tramp steamer, or dedicate your life to the peasants of Nicaragua, but
a kindly therapist with a box of Kleenex beside the couch is a good
practical way to handle this. That's honestly what I'd do in your situation.
Dear Mr. Blue,
As a survivor of the '70s and '80s and most of the '90s in a long-term,
old-shoe marriage, I've watched with interest the Mars/Venus dialogue
with its notion that men are unable to express a range or depth of feeling.
I've observed that whenever my wife wants us to sit down and share
"feelings," ultimately what's shared isn't feelings but anxiety about the
future. Not a range of feelings but a deep well of fear about a range of
situations that we have little or no control over.
Men don't lack for feelings; we're simply not as worried about what's to
come, nor do we need to try to control things beyond our control. So I
just sit and pretend to listen and think about the Mariners.
Wet in Seattle
A guy who has been married 30 years and lived through the
Seattle monsoons and endured sitting in the Kingdome and survived
drinking that flavored foam they call coffee out there is a man I will listen
to and not contradict. If you feel you don't lack for feelings, that's fine; I
feel that I do, but then I'm in Minnesota and it's February.
Dear Mr. Blue,
I have been dating a woman, a fellow graduate student, for some time and
believe we are heading toward marriage. I have had little sexual
experience and I worry that my naiveti will shortchange her. How do
guys learn to become good lovers?
First of all, I'm honored that you ask Old Blue about this.
Few people are aware of my sexual expertise, and so I don't get a lot of
questions like this. I'd just say that it isn't a contest, and you only need
please your lover, you don't need to reach certain goals. No matter what
you learn elsewhere --- from books, or sexual instruction videos, or
previous partners --- it's only applicable if it brings pleasure to her.
Second, never underrate the erotic power (and pleasure) of imagination
and suggestion, of role-playing. This is not mechanical engineering. And
third, the guiding principle is kindness. Making love is the continuation of
the everyday kindness and gentle civility that you practice in your
marriage. And that's what I would say. And what my wife would say, I
don't know and don't ask her.
Dear Mr. Blue,
I'm writing a first novel. I've got the ending, the beginning and
profiles of three characters, who are based on people I know. This bothers
me, because they end up looking like scumbags. Their shared stain is
flagrant marital infidelity. In real life, I've never given them any hint
that I might find their activities inappropriate. In writing the novel, I
couldn't get around describing them in detail. (Two are former
colleagues.) If I write them the way I want to and the wrong person reads
it their marriages and our friendships could be destroyed.
Should I show my friends the stories before I submit them for
publication, wait until I find out whether an editor's even willing to
consider them or work on the characters until they're unrecognizable?
Don't show the stories to your friends. It isn't their choice, it's yours,
whether to write about them. If you publish the novel as is, they won't
speak to you again (and shouldn't). But you have to decide if the book is
worth hurting people.
Dear Mr. Blue,
What do you do if you love rewriting more than writing? I work on my
short stories from outlines and then from a bony first draft. And then the
seductive powers of revision go to work on me, and the things I wrote
yesterday I rewrite today, tomorrow, next week. My outline gets
cobwebs. How do you not get lost in the fun (especially on a word
processor) of revising everything, and finally move forward?
Writing IS rewriting. That's the difference between flabby writing and
stuff that's worth the reader's nickel. Your outline is only a guess. Your
first draft is only a sketch. Then the process of discovery begins, and you
make your discoveries in successive rewrites. You're not lost, you're
en route to something, and when you get there, you stop.
And you're right about word processors. A young thing like yourself
wouldn't know this, but once upon a time we did this with typewriters, on
paper, sometimes using carbon paper, and my, it was strenuous.
Dear Mr. Blue,
Nearly a year ago I met a fantastic guy, but I was a little shy from a
previous relationship and wavered between allowing myself to love and
feel vulnerable or pushing away and protecting myself. We had a
wonderful relationship and he wanted us to think about a future together,
which only made me afraid. He began dating someone else. I love him
and want our relationship. He says I am his "real love" but that I hurt him
terribly. Should I continue to express my love, or let him move forward in
this new relationship, with me continuing to date the guys I'm seeing?
Your feelings will change with time, if you let them change, so keep on
dating the guys you're dating (or other guys), and don't initiate contact
with Mr. Fantastic. Don't look back. Life is right now and tonight and
tomorrow and next Sunday. You look back at M.F. and you'll slowly turn
to salt and become old and bitter like Mr. Blue and eventually wind up in
a mobile home full of cats writing an advice column for Salon aimed at
young attractive hopeful people like yourself. Don't.
Dear Mr. Blue,
I married my husband when I was 18 and he was 27. That was 14 years
ago. Since then we have both pursued relatively successful careers
and have two beautiful daughters, 5 and 1.
I was attracted to him for his strength of personality. He
knew who he was. He radiated confidence, which I craved because I felt
directionless. I looked up to him and respected him enormously.
Now his strength of character feels like domination and
control. I feel he's constantly checking up on me and it drives me crazy.
Though we both work full time, he feels it is my responsibility to take care of all things domestic, but he criticizes the way I do it. Our physical
intimacy, never very strong, declined precipitously after our first daughter,
and has been almost nonexistent since our second. And I feel absolutely
no desire to be physically or emotionally intimate with
I find myself spending inordinate amounts of time thinking about what it would
be like to take a lover, but I doubt that I would ever do so. I sometimes
wonder about getting a divorce, but the effort hardly seems worthwhile.
I occasionally see his good side, his decency and insight, his sense of
humor and warmth. But these seem to be reserved for his friends and not
for me in the same way my warmth and loving is reserved for the girls and
not for him. I feel we're stuck and feel sorry for us both, but I don't know
how to change where we are. Any words of advice or good cheer would be appreciated.
Lonely in L.A.
Your marriage has taken a couple of bad turns, and you don't have much
to lose, I'd say, by confronting His Lordship in some civil and cheerful
way, perhaps by going on strike, and provoking a good invigorating
argument. You've drifted into cold waters, and maybe an intelligent verbal
battle can awaken him to your existence. It's not tolerable that he expects
you to do double duty and then criticizes your work: You simply can't sit
still for that, so don't. He is a decent and warm man, and perhaps he'll
pay attention if you bring this point up. Passivity is not a safe route, and
perhaps your admiration for him led you to accept the bad turns, but you
can't spend your life this way.
Dear Mr. Blue,
How do I put it on paper? In my head, it's great, but in the process of
getting to the notebook or the computer screen or the napkin, I lose it.
The stuff that's up there comes and goes in seconds. How do I make it
At a Loss
Dear At a Loss,
What is in your head is great, far better than anything
you can put on paper, and you can't put it down on paper because it
would be flawed. You prefer greatness in your own mind to the ordinary
humanity of the page. I put this modest advice down on paper because I
want you to see it and consider it. In my head, it was like a Chopin itude,
but here it is: It doesn't exist until you put it on paper.
Dear Mr. Blue,
Regardless of talent, it seems that a writer must also be a canny and
determined self-promoter or else give up. You can't get a publisher to
read a manuscript unless it's submitted by an agent. And you can't get a
literary agent to read unsolicited manuscripts. You may as well give up if
all you have is talent and a normal amount of giddyap.
Thanks. Feel better already.
People in publishing are always on the lookout for ripe
talent and prepared to wave money and seduce it. They need to build some
walls to protect themselves from the tides of mediocre work that is
unpublishable, but they count on talent finding a way over or through or
under the walls. You don't need to be a canny self-promoter, but you do
need to have a certain stubborn confidence in your talent and your work.
Publishing is a profit-making business, and it is simply looking for work
that your friends and neighbors would gladly plunk down 20 bucks for
the privilege of reading. That's the bottom line. And it's simply human
nature to prefer a well-constructed entertainment to effusions of writerly
sensibility. There is only a certain number of coming-of-age novels that
the market can bear in any given year, just as there is a limit to how much
Camembert cheese the American public can consume. Canny self-promotion can only go so far: In the end you've got to have the cheese.
Dear Mr. Blue,
My lover told me, "Let's just be friends," and this hurt me very deeply. I
do like him, but since I was the one who was dumped, I feel funny about
calling and inviting him to really cool things we are both interested in. I'm
not sure if suggesting a friendship is
really his way of giving me a permanent heave-ho.
How can you tell?
Awkward in MD
If he doesn't call or write or try to keep contact with you,
then he doesn't want to be friends. It's up to the heaver to initiate this,
Dear Mr. Blue,
I'm a college student living away from home, and I've lost contact with
many of my old cohorts in recent years. However, one male friend from
home has remained a constant in my life, and our relationship seems to
have deepened recently. I think about him
much more frequently. Neither of us speaks of it specifically, but it is
obvious we are attracted to each other. I feel closer to him than anyone
else in the world, and I'm worried that
entertaining these thoughts could only be detrimental to our friendship.
What if my feelings of
attraction are simply misguided or a product of boredom and loneliness?
How can I figure out where we stand without embarrassing myself in the
process? Should I covertly attempt to discern how we both feel, take a
"wait-and-see" approach until I come home again or just forget
Bewildered in Atlanta
You're in love, girl. And now you know why love is what 95 percent of all the
great novels and songs are about. It's scary and thrilling and you don't
really know how it's going to turn out, even after it turns out. If you feel
so close to him, then you're going to want somehow to let him know how
you feel, and eventually you'll find out if you're misguided or not. Of
course your feelings for him have something to do with loneliness (and the
boredom of loneliness). You may have to embarrass yourself in the
process of figuring this out. Don't be too covert. Don't "wait and see," if
your feelings are strong. You can't forget it, so don't try. That's my
advice. Be brave. And if you wind up embarrassed, it's in a noble cause.
Dear Mr. Blue,
Twelve years ago my life was hell. I was suicidally depressed after my
wife dumped me and ran off with a fellow she met in a 12-step
program. Now I am remarried to a beautiful woman, together nearly seven
years, thinking of starting a family. I am blessed in
that most of the problems I have I volunteered for, in one way or another. My problem is that, in spite of
time spent with shrinks, in spite of various spiritual paths, I have
lost a certain energy and enthusiasm for my career and
perhaps for life. Is it middle age? I don't know.
Divorce is such a strange thing: When people say
they're getting divorced, we respond as if they had
said they were going to the supermarket. It is a
triviality to others, but a personal earthquake for the participants. As for
depression: It is a peculiar, timeless hell, where everything comes to a
stop and all life is jammed into the narrow corners of fear, anxiety and
despair. Somehow, while outwardly going about my business 12
years ago, my life fell apart. I lost my marriage and
came close to losing my life. But no one would have known that if they'd seen
me walk by on the street.
On a good day I don't feel it, but sometimes there is a leadenness within
me. You can see a shrink or have a good time with your friends, but it
would seem that some losses are not ever really
"regained." We just walk away, and get involved in
other things, and hope that most days the lead is not too heavy.
I miss a kind of optimism and sense of purpose in my life. I feel an inner
dread that everything will unravel again and that I will be cast back in that
place of timeless despair and no hope. Do you have any advice on
how to feel good about life?
Wary in Washington
It's true, I'm sure, that some losses are never regained and that, as one
gets older and suffers certain defeats, one takes on a sort of permanent
baggage. The sorrows of divorce can be profound: Friends of mine have
experienced sudden wrenching grief at the death of a long-ago ex-wife,
which seems to say that our history is never over, that it keeps coming
back. But energy and enthusiasm are still available to us, and even
optimism. I honestly believe so. I don't feel confident advising you in
specific terms where to go or what to do, but in times past, men have
confronted this sort of spiritual crisis by making pilgrimages. Perhaps
there is a distant shining place that has always loomed large in your
imagination -- Paris, Jerusalem, Mount Fuji, the Yukon -- and you need
to make a trip there and get away from yourself in order to attain a brief
Dear Mr. Blue,
I'm a happily married 33-year-old woman with two young sons, ages 1
5. Most of our friends enjoy our boys, but two of them are very critical of
our kids and the way we're raising them. They complain that the boys are
wild and undisciplined, and we're too indulgent with them. Both of these
people are in their 30s, single
and have never spent much time around small children. I
think they may also feel neglected and a bit jealous, since we don't
have much time to spend with them now that we have a second child.
My husband and I love our sons very much, discipline them, insist on
politeness and try to get them to act like civilized beings. We also try to
not talk too much about the children, since we know that this makes
Our friends' disapproval is causing bad feelings, and I'm not sure what
I should do about it (or if there is anything I can do). Do children often
spell the end of friendship?
In a pickle
Dear In a pickle,
Friendship is rarely a durable good. People get irked or
bored with each other and drift apart; it's the theater of life, and there's
not that much you can do to prevent it. Your two ill-tempered friends are
behaving like children. They can't be placated by you. And if you don't
enjoy their company, don't seek them out.
Dear Mr. Blue,
A week or so ago I was in a city not my own where, on an outing with
friends, I became reacquainted with a young man of 21 (I'm turning 30
any minute now). We had a hilarious interchange that culminated in his
fervent proposal of marriage and a hysterical prenuptial agreement. It was
all in good fun, but since then I've received a string of witty
letters from him, and it seems he and I are developing affection for each
other. I asked if he would meet me in Paris on my birthday (I had planned
on celebrating alone, staring forlornly at cathedrals). He said
yes. Am I being frivolous and setting myself up for heartbreak? Or
is it true that you're only young once, even if you're not really?
Older, but Not Wiser
This sounds like a Cole Porter song, and if you are in the mood to sing it,
go right ahead. It sounds pretty marvelous. Frivolous? Maybe, but only
your Aunt Priss would tell you not to go, if you really want to be in Paris
with him. Heartbreak? Yes, sure, but you're almost 30, you need to be
accumulating some good stories you can tell to your grandchildren. And if
he should turn out to be their grandfather, then you can tell them together.
Viva sweet love. (And when do the readers of Salon get to hear the rest of