Should I worry about my boyfriend's pornography habit?

Published March 16, 1999 8:14PM (EST)

Dear Mr. Blue,

I consider myself open-minded, but I'm having a tough time dealing
with my boyfriend's pornography habit. He has a lot of videos and magazines,
and besides the fact that I don't find it attractive, it makes me
question what he thinks about sex. I love him but I don't want to be putting
energy into a disaster, either.


Dear Cautious,

Be open-minded. You know what your boyfriend thinks about sex
by the way
he treats you, and as for the videos and magazines and what they mean to him,
I'm not sure
you can know that. The realm of the erotic is haunted by fears and fraught
with anxiety, and
it may be that sexually explicit material induces fantasies that help a man
find out about his
erotic feelings. Or maybe he just gets a big whoop out of it. In any case,
it's got to be his
business, so long as he doesn't seem to obsess on the stuff. If he starts
wearing leather
pajamas, though, you ought to start asking questions.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am 58, a woman who has had eight books published, was married
20 years, then divorced. My last lover was 10 years ago. I am content
enough, but I feel sad that I may never have a really happy relationship again
or a really
successful book. I don't feel old and wise, mostly old and angry.

Morose in Montana

Dear Morose,

A mood of defeat is hard to shake, but don't let it become habitual, a part of your disposition, or else when you're 82 and full of piss and vinegar, in
love with some 75-year-old guy, out dancing till dawn, you'll look back and wonder, "Why did I waste my late 50s in self-pity?" Your next book may amaze you and make you a star with a pile of fascinating offers on your desk -- a book you suffered over in solitude that the American people clutch to their bosoms -- and next week you may turn a corner and a man looks at you and you look back at him and an invisible violinist plays "Liebeslied" and the scent of daffodils wafts over you. These things happen, and you need to be ready for them.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm 29, and the two real relationships I've been in have both ended
with the woman saying there was no chemistry between us. I'm intelligent,
considerate and funny, a good companion. But where romance is concerned, I
have a very
cautious approach and a strong aversion to risk-taking (scars that
remain from my teenage social ineptitude). I don't flirt or seduce; I
befriend. That same easygoing style persists when I'm in a relationship. I'm
worried that this
behavior is sabotaging my chances for a long-term relationship -- that it
neutralizes any
initial passion or mystery, rendering me harmless and unexciting in the
eyes of my partner. But my attempts to come across more charismatically
just feel unconvincing and fall flat.

Can I find -- and keep -- Ms. Right without having to sweep her off her
feet? What do you think?

The Anti-Catalyst

Dear Anti,

It's only romance, it isn't a movie or an election, so you don't
need to come
across more charismatically or sweep anyone off her feet, but, yes, it's
better for a liaison to begin in a state of passion, something more than friendship. You're not responsible for providing that. It's a feeling that builds between two people. The two women were only pointing out a fact, not accusing you, and undoubtedly they were right -- you don't seem to
be grieving the loss of them. It is good to be cautious, but you want to be
alert, your senses alive, when you go to the dance, knowing that She may be there, the woman who can sweep you off your feet, for whom you are willing to extend yourself and become a far better man than you really are. I think you're a little boring, but she won't, and when you sense that, you won't be, you'll be a fascinating and handsome guy, and that shining moment will
change your life, pal. We each have the capacity for a sorrowful gray life,
and each have the capacity to love and be loved, and it's passion that turns us away from the first and toward the second, a primal urge toward beauty and color and music and laughter. And now please excuse me while I go lie down for a moment.

Dear Mr. Blue,

My 33-year-old guy has dumped me just as things were getting warm and close,
and I truly despair of ever having another. Forget guys my age; I've just turned 55. I am still in love with The Kid. I mean, I just like him, to pieces. Maybe if you explained it to him.

Kick-Ass Granny

Dear Granny,

If you're in love with The Kid, go tell him so, but in the end
you have got to
let him find his own way. Maybe the age difference scares him. It's unusual
for a man to be
involved with a woman 22 years older, and goodness knows, there have
got to be
reasons for that. Maybe he wants to have kids. Maybe, even if his mind thinks
otherwise, his
body wants to have kids. Anyway, you are working against long odds here, and
while I
admire your spirit, I don't have any good advice for how to beat the averages.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I have a wonderful partner I've been seeing for several years now.
He's 31 and I'm 28, we are both graduate students and have lots and lots in
common and
I'm starting to want to come home to him every night and vice versa. I'd like
us to live
together, but he says he is not ready. He needs a certain amount of time to
himself and he's
never lived with a partner. I respect his feelings but I'm worried that it
signals a larger
problem in the relationship. I want a relationship wherein I live with my
partner. So even
though everything feels good, I'm wondering if it would be better for me to
leave it and find
someone who wants what I want, or if I should wait and see. What do you think?

Shacked Up

Dear Shacked,

Having a lot in common with a guy isn't the same as being crazy about him, and
probably he
isn't crazy about you, and that's why he doesn't want to give up his privacy.
A reasonable
feeling on his part. It's up to you whether you stick with him or let go of
him, and I
wouldn't presume to tell you which you should do. But you can't argue with his

Dear Mr. Blue,

I recently broke up with my girlfriend of four years. Ours was a
bicoastal relationship filled with excitement and loneliness. This emotional
roller coaster was too much, and we decided that it was time to get
off the ride. Part of the problem, she says, was that it was "love at
first sight," and we never got to know each other and become friends and forge a deeper bond and better understanding of each other before we
became lovers. I feel
that passion is the driving force, not only in love but with anything in
life. My heart still longs for her. What's your thought
on this matter, Mr. Blue?

Longing in Los Angeles

Dear Longing,

Don't theorize about your own romances, friend. Be thrilled, be ecstatic, be
desolate, but don't be an expert about you and the people you love and why it happened. With love, the pleasure is in the details, not in the theory. Love has to do with her eyes,
the touch of her
hand, her voice, her laughter, how it felt to stand next to her and feel her
brush against you,
how it felt to see her after a long absence. Love isn't a Problem to sit
around and discuss. If
your heart still longs for her, then you are in love, and her idea about why
it didn't work
out is something that may give her consolation but it doesn't mean anything to
you or me.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I have been writing all my life, scribbling, and a few years ago began to
honor my gift and
now have begun to see my work in print. Now I'm being asked to do a couple of
and I'm scared to death. I've given speeches before, and readings too, quite
well, but these
words are different. These words are from my guts. Your advice, please.

Looking over the cliff

Dear Looking,

It's good to be scared before a reading; it means you respect
the audience.
Now get your act together, and decide what to read to them. Don't waste their
time. Give
them your best. Don't talk too much by way of introduction and explanation.
Don't go on
too long, period. Don't expect to have any sense of success as you read -- it
just isn't going
to be there, so don't look for it and don't panic when you feel crummy. You
never know
what people take away from a reading -- it may be one image or one line or
one story that
sticks with them and becomes part of their dream life and changes ever so
slightly the way
they feel about their oatmeal. Don't worry about how the audience is taking
it. Just deliver
the goods, and at the end say thank you and sit down.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I have left a two-year relationship with a man with whom I was very much in love, but I
could not deal with his daily use of marijuana, his dealing it, his history of
cocaine use and
sexual promiscuity. What causes a person to be self-destructive
like this? He seemed to want to pursue a future together and
have kids, but he gave up. He has a high-level management job that he loves.
Are certain
people inherently self-destructive, or can love make a person clean up
his act?

Just Asking

Dear Just,

You did the right thing and you're not in any way responsible for
this man's
choices. You're also not responsible for figuring him out. Yes, I think that
we each have an urge to find out where the bottom is and what it feels like to almost crash and how close can you come to destruction and still avoid it, and what a thrill it is to escape. That's his urge -- to deal marijuana and avoid prison and thus to enjoy the euphoria of living by his own rules and not Daddy Government's -- and he pursues it in brazen ignorance of grim facts
that would terrorize you and me. I think that the war on drugs is a national
scandal; that decent people who never harmed a soul are serving horrific prison sentences; that we cannot punish people for trying to escape a certain vacuity and boredom inherent in our suburban, shopping-mall, TV-sitcom culture. But the fact is that prison is a grim prospect, and anyone who deals marijuana these days is terribly foolish.

Mr. Blue,

How do you know when it's right and you ought to consider marriage? People
say, "You just
know. If you're unsure, it's not right." But if you happen to be a semi-skeptical person,
where absolutes don't exist and "love" is a vague bond based on
deep affection, what sort of parameters do you use? When do you say:
"This is not complete enough. I enjoy this person. I admire this person.
But it's time to move on, not get bogged down in a relationship that
doesn't cover all the corners."


Dear Wondering,

Here are a few parameters: Marry someone who you want awfully
much to
make happy, who you would gladly be awakened by a phone call at 3 a.m. from,
who you
feel a sort of low trembliness and excitation in the presence of and who can
make you laugh.
Some slight emphasis on the last: Never marry a humorless person. Just don't
do it. That's
no joke.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I've been dating a man for several years. The two of us are very similar. We
are in the same profession, like to spend our free time in similar ways and
care about each other deeply. The problem for me is that I am attracted to
him, but not
enough. There is no deep desire, daydreaming or
excitement about sex. And I cannot stop looking at other men. In fact, a
French man, who I once lusted after, just stepped back into my life. He is as
sexy as a man can get. But we are too different. I don't think there's
anything long-term there. Is it worth sacrificing a stable relationship
without lust for a sketchy affair that may or may not have a future?


Dear Frustrated,

A young person should not settle for less than the best, which is a passionate
love with a
good and reliable companion. You don't want to be one of those people who
spend their
mature, productive years trying to cobble together a disintegrating marriage or
trying to
recover from a shipwreck of a divorce. Life is short, and you have good work
to do, and it
is so much easier to endure some loneliness early on and wait for the right
person than to get
entangled emotionally with guys who need a lot of work. It sounds as if these
two guys are
not your man. Enjoy them if you wish, be as honest with them as you can and
don't get tied

Dear Mr. Blue,

My fiancé of five years broke it off, and I'm devastated and feel
rudderless. We'd been living apart for some time. I was away for a year
and came back and then got a job offer far away that I couldn't pass up.
Through these
separations we've been supportive and loving and we assumed we'd get
married, have children, be together forever. For the last nine months,
however, she's been
in a high-pressure work situation, and she has met a colleague and developed
beyond a crush" on him, and says that all these experiences have changed her,
and that no
longer is she sure what she wants. She said she loves me but is not, alas,
sure she is any longer in love with me. She is torn about breaking it off, and
I don't believe
this is what she really wants. I love her too much to let her go -- I think
she's having a
psychological breakdown. We agreed on no contact for a while, and I know she
needs time
to figure everything out. Should I expect her to come to her senses and come
back to me?
She's my best friend in the world, and I'm hers: It's so sad and strange and
painful that the
most important thing in our lives has broken, and we can't even help each
other gather together the pieces.


Dear Broken,

This is awfully sad, and I feel bad for you. It must be dreadful for you to be
out of touch
with her. Of course, one would like to hear her side of the story. Perhaps you
should sit
down and write a letter from her to you and tell yourself what is happening.
Use your
imagination. Picture her and the colleague and how they became close to each
other in
stressful circumstances. Try to say it in her words. I think that, in writing
this letter,
you might start with the fact that a five-year engagement is awfully long. I'm
sure you can
justify it in terms of your career, but the truth is, five years is a long
time for someone to
hold her life in suspension, to be committed and yet not be together and
confirmed. In the
end, the life in suspension is going to come to earth, no matter how hard one
tries to
maintain weightlessness. I don't think you should "let her go," but if and when
you do
resume contact, it will be as a friend, not as a fiancée. By that, I only mean
that you have to
start over at the beginning. I wish you well.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I've been in a relationship for four years with the guy I believe is The One. We began dating in college, lived together after graduation, parted briefly while he went to
Europe to play
violin in an orchestra. He came back to me when the gig was over and followed
me halfway
across the country when I went off to graduate school. He has talked about
going to graduate
school and then getting an orchestra job. But he hasn't done much
about it. He's working to save money to buy a better instrument; he seems
to think that needs to happen first, before he can go to school. He
practices only occasionally. We are living together, and all is well between
us. I love
him, he loves me and he says little things like "When we move to a
bigger place ..." or "When we go to Europe ..." implying that he's not going
anywhere without me. But when I once brought up the subject of marriage, he
flipped out completely. I feel like he's using the idea of grad school to avoid committing to me completely. The longer he puts school off, the longer he puts me off. Is there something else about the male animal and commitment that I just don't get yet?

Practically married, but not

Dear Practically,

I'm a guy myself and maybe that's why I don't sense the
problem here.
You're in love, all is well, you think he's The One, he's working, you're in
everybody's feet are on the floor, the sun is coming up every morning --
what's the crisis?
So he got a little excited when you mentioned marriage. It's an exciting
subject. Wait a few
months and mention it again.

Dear Mr. Blue,

My husband of two years loves bacon cheeseburgers. I am a vegetarian. I am a
gourmet cook, my kitchen is brimming with herbs and fruits, but he still loves fried meat. We love each other happily and share common ground
in other things -- books, music, slow dancing, swimming at night and keeping the bird feeders filled --- but he has a cholesterol count over 400 and has
to take large pills every day, which he washes down with a hot dog. He says,
"You knew what I was like when you married me." And I say, "Yes, but I for
sure didn't expect you to stay that way!" He doesn't want me to be the food sheriff and I don't want to be either. I also don't want to be the widow. Is there a way to protect someone who doesn't want protecting?

Burdened in Birmingham

Dear Burdened,

Your husband is speeding toward the cliff. You need intervention from outside. He is inured to your pleadings and warnings, and it may have become a game to him: Don't play games. Stop nagging. Pray for him. Try fasting occasionally and let him eat alone. Ask a friend to intervene. What he really needs is a good scare from a doctor. But you can't scare him, so don't try.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am a journalism student, 44, single mother, attractive, know I have a good
brain and some talent, and I am profoundly alone. I can't even remember what
it's like to be loved by a man. I have no time and no opportunity. It just seems so over.


Dear Sad,

It ain't over. Believe me, it ain't over. It may seem to be over, but someday a muted trumpet will start playing again and the candles will flicker. Can you get a little help with child care so you can get out and mingle? When I was a journalism student, the hotbed of romance was the school newspaper. People stayed up late writing stories and went out for
a beer afterward and sparks flew and liaisons were struck up and intense
personal experiences were had. (Not by me but by others.) Loneliness is a habit, and it's not easily broken -- the lack of contact breeds fear of contact -- but it's easier to break it than to live with it. You simply manage to get out of the woods and come to town.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am recently married to my soul mate, who needs to travel a lot for his job.
In the next four
months he will be gone for two. I worry that we won't be as
close anymore. I miss him every day. I know his work makes him happy. But I
really don't
want to lose him.


Dear Anxious,

You are in a situation similar to that of the wives of sailing
men, who had to
cope with their man's long absence, and then had to cope with his constant
presence until he
shipped out again. There were many happy women married to sailors: They were
more self-reliant and learned to lead a bifurcated life, and the part of their life that was husbandless was far from dreary. They didn't sit and stare at the horizon. They carried on in a robust manner and schooled the children and ran the community -- of course they lived in towns where other women were in the same boat, and that was an advantage. But for you, the problem isn't the loss of closeness; it's to occupy yourself and learn how to
be happy alone.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I recently broke up with my boyfriend with whom I have a 2-year-old
because he was pushing for marriage and I'm not in love with him. I
care for him and we had a good life, but I couldn't marry him.

Now that it's done, I'm reeling at all the lives I've thrown into turmoil and
the warm
relationships that are now strained and awkward. I feel in my heart
that I did the right thing, but the guilt is tremendous. Is that normal?
Does it go away?

Weak in the Knees

Dear Weak,

Yes, it will get better with time, but the guilt that the
instigator of the break
incurs is heavy indeed. I can imagine that this must be awfully hard on your
daughter, and of
course the father must be in terrible pain over the thought of not
living under the same
roof with her and you. As the instigator, you have some sort of responsibility
to calm the
waters and make things as easy as possible. You broke up with him, and so it's
up to you to
instigate social situations involving the three of you. You had a good life
together, so why
stop seeing each other, painful as it may be at first. He's the little girl's
father and so he is
going to be around, in and out of your house, and despite your feelings,
you'll have to be
able to enjoy his company, break bread with him, converse and treat him like
Despite the strains and the awkwardness, don't avoid him -- don't let
hostility creep in and
define the terms of engagement. Treat him like a brother. Be happy to see him,
even if you
aren't. It will mean a lot later on.

Dear Mr. Blue,

In the past year, I've ended a loving but doomed
relationship and begun a journalism career. Many of the people I work with are
devotees of
the brass-balls hard-drinking newspaperman myth. Earnestness is considered a
personality defect. Same with dating: You're supposed to be
uninterested and not make a big deal about sex. Is there a place
in the big city for a soft-hearted sap like me?

Manhandled in Manhattan

Dear Manhandled,

The big city teaches you not to offer too much to passersby, to keep your
cool and not try
too hard to impress strangers until you size them up a little. That's not bad.
And earnestness
doesn't count for much compared to integrity: knowing who you are and what you
and standing by it. A good journalist has a lot of heart -- to speak truth to
power requires a
true romantic -- but you don't need to talk about it to show it.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I left the Midwest and moved out to sunny Colorado 20 years ago and have a
job, good friends, a wonderful marriage and great kids, but I still have these
pangs of
homesickness. I miss the deciduous forests, the weather, the crisp air of
fall, yes, even winter. What can I do about this?

Complaining about Paradise

Dear Complaining,

The Midwest is God's country, and so of course you miss it,
but why do
you need to do anything about it? It is probably the most missed part of the
country. Many
people have made wonderful lives based on missing the Midwest. They live in
California or
Connecticut or Katmandu, and they think longingly of the rectangular fields,
the silos, the
yellow leaves on the maples, and this longing is a sort of rich yeast that
raises their lives to a nobler level. We of the Midwest are happy to play this role, that of the
unattainable ideal
Homeland and fount of all true values. We love to be missed and are glad that
most of the
people who miss us are not coming back.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am happy in love and have great kids, but lately I feel stuck in the ruts of a career that is going nowhere, and I wonder: When should a man forget his
dreams or perhaps dumb them down? After all, I have a wonderful wife and friends and great kids. It's just that other eight hours a day I can't stand.
Tired of self-help books

Dear Tired,

This is a problem you shouldn't attack head on; it's too frustrating, and the
frustration can make you desperate, and despair is not useful at this point. My advice is to find ways to tolerate this job and learn something from it. I suggest jotting down notes at the end of the day, in which you record conversations from work, tell what you did, note your impressions -- a
novelistic account of your work life. You set it aside and read it in a few
months and see if it doesn't give you some insight into where you are and how you might get yourself unstuck.
Of course, it's easy to have unrealistic notions, especially if you're feeling
desperate --
comedians want to be singers, actors want to direct, every senator believes he
or she should
be president, and we all want to be 15 years younger -- and I'm only
suggesting that a
clear look at your work might help you figure out where you're going.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I started dating in college and in my junior year fell in love with R,
and for almost two years we have lived together. In the past several months,
I've been feeling like our relationship is lifeless: no passion, no luster, not
even stimulating conversation. I want so much to believe that this is not
possible, that your heart can't change. But this void won't leave me. I've tried telling him that I want to take a break, but he can't bear the thought. And I'm ashamed to admit that in the past month, I've cheated on him. There wasn't any sex, but I did stay the night with a friend of mine, D. I
could never have a serious relationship with D, and that's what made it so
enjoyable -- just raw sexual attraction. I felt so alive and attractive -- and I know it's completely narcissistic and indulgent and shortsighted. But I haven't had (or wanted to have) sex with R in months. I'm lost. Please help.


Dear Lost,

In the old days, before we accepted the idea of sex before marriage, a woman
had to take a good hard look at a man like R and size up his long-term potential and make a shrewd guess as to how understanding and affectionate he might be, and a good many women, through no fault of their own, guessed wrong and paid the consequences. You are operating under a different set of rules. And there's no reason for you to hold onto your relationship with R if
you feel it is lifeless. If there is no passion, then bring it to an end. When
you're married, you can learn about reigniting passion, but this is simply an affair that has run its course.

By 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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