We may have to wait six or seven years to have sex -- is that OK?

Published March 31, 1999 3:51PM (EST)

Dear Mr. Blue,

After three years of dating, my boyfriend and I just started living together
in Manhattan. It's wonderful, but I'm starting to feel anxious about a few
things: 1) As a politically liberal/socially conservative Christian I am
trying not to indulge our desire to have premarital sex. 2) He's
thinking of going to law school, which is good, but I can't
imagine waiting another three or four years for marriage. Am I being
impatient, or should I press the issue? And is it better to wait until
we have enough money to pay for a wedding, since neither of us has
parents who can?

Figuring it all out

Dear Figuring,

I don't question your decision to move in together, rent being what it is in
Manhattan, but it does constitute a marriage of sorts, and you probably
should tie the knot sooner rather than later. If you love each other and
don't doubt it, then marry with all due speed; living together and
avoiding intimacy is a noble and unnatural exercise, like breathing
underwater, not to be attempted for too long. Do you really need to put on a big wedding? They're usually such overblown affairs, a cultural relic, and why not design one that is 1)
fun and 2) cheap. Get your friends to help out with the food and the
entertainment, have it in a church, come in costume and skip the
$3,000 bridal gown and the overpriced caterer and the men in rented tuxes.
Let love reign and never mind the decorations.

Dear Mr. Blue,

She's 27 and has had many lovers and wants to settle and have
kids. I'm 22 and want to sow my wild oats for the next five
years and then find stability. Things are wonderful between us: The
chemistry is good, the sex is great, we are best of
friends. Although she understands how I feel, she doesn't want me
wandering around.

Younger Man

Dear Younger, Sounds like a plan. Five years of wild oats, and then plant
a lawn. It's nice that she and you are the best of friends, but your urge to
roam is an urge to get away from her and the kids she wants to have.
Your call, sir.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am very attracted to a man at my temporary day job. We met here four
months ago, and for a couple of months I felt our attraction to be mutual, but
now I'm not sure. We rarely see each other, let alone have
a conversation. I am very shy, and I think he is too. I am leaving this
job soon and would like to ask him out. I've never done that before, and I
don't want to be humiliated. I'm not even sure he doesn't have a girlfriend
already. Any advice would be appreciated.

Seriously Shy

Dear Seriously, If you're attracted to him, you should ask him out. It's
absolutely no humiliation if he says no; it's only humiliating to want to ask
him and not dare to -- which is the ordinary humiliation that we shy
persons endure daily. So take this as a challenge, a sort of game, and sit
down and write him a simple note -- "It was really nice to meet you that
afternoon and I'm sorry we haven't seen more of each other, but I'd like to
invite you to have dinner next Friday night" -- and put it on his desk. See
if you can't do that. And then, over dinner, you can find out why you are
attracted to him.

Dear Mr. Blue,

My youngest brother, an aspiring writer, left home last summer to
live with his girlfriend. He was 26, the last of the children to leave the
nest, and it was hard for him. He's been homesick and broke and not
adjusting too well; meanwhile I've been telling him that the only way you
can live your own life is just to do it. Now he's been accepted into a
graduate school and will have to move far away again. My parents can't
help him out financially. I could help and I'm happy to, but should I? I'm
torn between the desire to send him money so he can concentrate on
writing, and concern that I'd be doing more harm than good and keeping him from getting on with his own life. He's had a pretty soft life so far, and maybe some struggle would be good for him. On the other hand, he's my kid brother and what's a family for anyway?

Older Sister

Dear Older,

There are a number of factors to weigh here, and only you
can weigh them. First, do you feel strongly enough about your brother's
writing that you want to underwrite it? If you don't, then don't. Second,
are you able to give him money and not feel pinched and not cause him to
feel guilty? Third, does he really need help? Generosity, though
admirable, can be complicated, and you don't want to smother this fellow.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am a musician and have been married for several years to a wonderful
woman, who I deeply love. When we first met, I wasn't working all that
much, so we spent a lot of time together, sunny days and romantic
evenings, but a year or so after we married, my career started to get
going, and I started working nights and weekends, often away from home.
And I spend time during the day practicing, working on new
arrangements, rehearsing, etc. Which doesn't leave us much time, and she
is getting testy about it. What can I do? If I start turning down jobs, my
stock will fall -- fast. I am making enough money to carry us both, but she
has her own career and doesn't want to quit. The only realistic solution I
can see is to pick up a teaching job. But I'm afraid I would be miserable.
I'm at wits' end over this and find it difficult to talk to anyone about


Dear Alan,

A career in music, like any pure entrepreneurial career, can eat up your
life, devour it day by day. The odds are against you, the competition is
fierce, so you dare not turn down any offer of work; you work your butt
off to get any advantage you can and keep trying to create even though
exhausted; you live with constant self-doubt and fear of failure; and what
so often is sacrificed is the plain comfort and pleasure of a good marriage.
If your wife is unhappy, you need to pay attention. Take a closer look at
your schedule. Surely you can prune it and create some more space for
yourselves. Believe me, it's possible. Don't teach: It's a separate calling
and if you think you'd be miserable then you're not called. Cut back.
Have a life. Your career will benefit from it.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am a freelance writer who has had more than my share of romantic
adventures and passionate relationships, but I seem to keep walking out on
them even though things seem good. I find reasons to be dissatisfied, then
I flee. (I'm 37.) I like freelancing, but I'm always flirting with employers
and going to interviews for jobs that I'm not at all sure I want. I am fond
of my current boyfriend, but I let some old boyfriends hang out around the
fringes of my life, to do handyman chores for me, and to keep me
from concentrating my attention on any one man. What's wrong with me?
Everyone else seems to have gotten married years ago. Should I investigate


Dear Footloose, You're a romantic and you enjoy the flirtation and
courtship and you're bored with what follows, the dailiness of love; but
you're getting to an age at which romance becomes harder and harder to
support. For one thing, you know too much. The fact that you're single at
37 doesn't mean something is wrong with you. Forget about
antidepressants. Just try to visualize your 40s a little bit. If you want
to have a man around, it might be easier to get one and hang onto him than
to keep auditioning guys for the part. By the way, you don't need to
concentrate your attention on a man if you're married to him: That's the
wonderful thing about marriage -- it's comfortable and peaceful and frees
you to lead your own life. It's romance that's tiring, having to do your big
dance number again and again and again. If you marry the right guy, he'll
amuse you for years to come.

Dear Mr. Blue,

Sometimes I can go months without meeting a woman; other times, they
come in droves, and I don't know what to do with all of them. When it
rains, it pours. Why is that? Is there anything chemical about it, like
pheromones? Is it the law of odds? This is an unmistakable pattern in my


Dear Curious, Perhaps you don't look good as a loner. There's a hangdog
quality about you, a sour slouchy look, perhaps a slovenliness that says to
a woman, "This man has problems." But when you are involved with a
woman, the gloom clears, your step quickens, your shoes are shined, you
trim your eyebrows, you whistle, and this naturally attracts Woman B,
Woman C, Woman D.

Dear Mr. Blue,

My boyfriend is 21, smart, responsible, cheerful and so good looking that
I still get a thrill every time I see him, even four years into our
relationship. I am 24, a cynical but goofy grad student. He loves playing hockey, I love reading novels; he's studying automotive engineering, I'm studying race and gender dynamics of the 17th century. We don't have
much in common, yet we never argue and over the years have gone from
having a passionate fling to being best friends.

Now he's moving several states away to work in corporate
management. Should I follow my man? My graduate
career has been halfhearted, and I could be persuaded
to put it on hold. But what happens next? I'll still be goofy me, and he'll
be working his way up the corporate ladder. Can our
unlikely partnership work in a new context?

Happy Now but Anxious About the Future

Dear Happy Now, Your letter says so clearly what you intend to do, and
that is to put grad school on the shelf and go with this good-looking guy
and maintain this partnership. You're smart, and so you won't give up a
thrilling lover and best friend so you can hang onto a halfhearted career.
Truck along, take it as an adventure, be confident you'll find something
good to do in the new place and be happy to be so in love.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am 31 and slowly emerging from a long, cold, lonely year of depression.
My mother died, I moved to a town where I knew nobody, took a very
unfulfilling job and broke up with my boyfriend of two years. Now I'm
getting ready to quit my dreadful job, travel to another country for three
months and start living again. But I think I've forgotten how! I don't
seem to have any zest for living anymore. I want my old life back. Sure, I
drank too much, danced too much, loved too many men and
had my heart broken too many times, but now I live this placid, skeptical,
calm life alone. How do I find my passion again without becoming a sad
old woman in singles bars crying into my whiskey?

Ready to dance again

Dear Ready, Life goes in one direction and nobody gets to paddle
upstream and retrieve the past. You've had your run of hard times and
now you're packing up and moving on, embarking on a foreign adventure.
You'll dance again and love someone again and the music will be more
precious to you for what you've been through. You will not suddenly
become a sad old woman crying into her whiskey: That is a fate you can
achieve only through a series of turns, more or less intentionally. After a
year of depression, don't let yourself think too far ahead. Take the three
months week by week, be calm, be organized, get yourself around to see
things and be with people, and have faith that the world will call out to
you and fill your heart.

Dear Mr. Blue,

My husband and I have been married for 13 years, have two
beautiful daughters whom we adore and a lot of
shared history. Trouble is, I'm pretty sure he doesn't really love me,
though he says he does and he's nice enough most of the time, but
somehow I just don't feel it. Our sex life is pretty awful, too.

He's a fine-looking, intelligent, good man. Our family life is very good,
considering. But my heart aches when I consider spending the rest of my
life feeling unloved. Leaving seems far too selfish to consider, so what to


Dear Unhappy, Don't brood over feeling unloved the rest of your life;
try to focus on the immediate future of this marriage. Every marriage is
complicated in its own way, and though marriage works best when left to
itself and not studied too hard, every so often you need to pay attention. Go
back to the basics, which are kindness and entertainment. Look to your
own behavior first: Are you kind to this man and do you extend the ordinary
social graces to him and consider his feelings? And do you offer conversation
and company and the occasional playful or extravagant gesture? As a first
step, extend yourself a little toward him. Clear some time to spend
together apart from the adorable girls. And as a second, somewhat later,
step, after your exercise of kindness and companionship, then you suggest,
in the friendliest possible way, with no trace of accusation, that it's time
to sit down together in the company of a caring professional and discuss
your feelings of being unloved. That's what those people in the offices
with the ficus plants do for a living: give you a chance to take darkness
and terror and heartache and put them into words, which does limit their
power to rule us.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I have a box of mementos from old girlfriends: sketchbooks, handmade
gifts, etc. My current girlfriend doesn't mind my having these things
and it's not like I'm pining away for anyone, but I still worry that
it's not entirely healthy for me to keep this stuff.

Am I worrying too much?

The Curator

Dear Curator, Yes.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am a 30-year-old man confused about my sexual identity. I am
physically attracted to women but emotionally attracted to men. All of my
relationships have been with women, but usually I felt like I was going
through the motions. I get really attached to guys, though. I had a long
(five-year) unconsummated love for a college classmate. I wish for a
heterosexual life yet wonder if I am just deceiving myself. I have had a
few gay flings and can't resolve whether I'm gay or not. Have I just not
met the right woman? Should I date men? What should I do?!?


Dear Suffering, You do as we all do. You wash your face in the morning
and put on your trousers and go to work. You live your life in the here
and now, meeting whomever you will, feeling what you feel, expressing
what is close to your heart, and from experience you gradually draw some
conclusions about yourself. Don't worry too much about being gay or
being ungay. Be with who you want to be with and enjoy their company
and their wit and compassion and things will work out somehow.

Dear Mr. Blue,

How's this for the foolish concerns of a 24-year-old: My first date
with a profoundly witty and gloriously crazy young woman ended, after
hours of fun and enchantment, with a handshake. A damned handshake.
First time that's ever happened to me -- normally, I think at least a
goodnight hug is appropriate. Is it doomed to failure?


Dear Shaken, You were so moved by this glorious young woman that in your
confusion you stuck out your hand and she shook it. Had you kissed her, she would have kissed you back. I'm sure that by the time your letter appears in Salon you will have kissed her at least six times, if not 60.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I absolutely adore my sister who is a 40-year-old single mother of two
teenage daughters. She put herself through graduate school and is now a
lawyer, but she's pretty depressed and feels incredibly alone. She often
reminisces about a grad-school romance she had with a total schmuck, and
for all her brilliance she can't see that this guy was such a jerk. I wish she
could meet other decent guys. Any advice?


Dear Bro, It's sweet of you to concern yourself, but there's not much you
can do for her. She's got a family, she's working, she's got her feet on
the ground and you can't create a social life for her. And don't bad-mouth this jerk. One day he suddenly could become your brother-in-law.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm not sure whether I have a problem or not.

I recently moved to the Big City, and sometimes it's lonely. My work is
extremely absorbing and occurs at odd, antisocial hours. The only people I
know here are in the same profession. Some are becoming good friends
and there's one who might become a romance, but it isn't easy to find a
free day when we've both had a prior night's sleep. Then again,
socializing and romancing with people in my profession has obvious

Sometimes I tell myself, It's a phase. Don't judge it, make the most of
it. Sometimes I fear that this cloistered life could
become a habit, and leave me lonely, bitter and
eventually psychotic.

Going Crazy (or not?) in the City

Dear Going, You should take your own advice. Give it time. This is a
problem that will work itself out.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm a poet in a long dry spell. I was very productive until the birth
of my first child. After he was born, family and work have taken up all
of my energy, leaving little for writing. I feel guilty about
it, but I've been unable to get myself motivated. The ideas are still
kicking around in my brain, but it's difficult to put them down on paper.
Do you have any suggestions for jump-starting my muse?

Stalled Out

Dear Stalled, You're the working mother of an infant child and you feel
guilty for not writing poetry? Honey, don't try to motivate yourself, just
try to get some sleep. If possible, have a moment now and then with your
husband. When the baby starts sleeping through the night, then you can
think about resuming writing. But you may need to do it on schedule,
which could take some getting used to. Such as early in the morning,
before the little prince wakes up.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm 24, a college man, dating a woman from school who is 21. A
couple of months ago, I broke off a relationship with a young woman
because she was pregnant with my child. I don't think I was ever really in
love with her, but I am unsure how to deal with this in my own life. How
do I tell my new girlfriend about my upcoming
fatherhood? It is hard to bring this type of thing up without looking like a
gigantic asshole, which I think I may already be.

Father to Be

Dear Father, Explaining paternity isn't your main problem, sir, or dealing
with it in your life; it's the life of that unborn child that should be
foremost in
your mind. This little person has a right to your love, your support, your
presence in its life, and it will be hard for you to execute these
responsibilities unless you square things with the child's mother. I can
imagine she's not enamored of you right now, but don't let her hostility
harden, and then use that as an excuse for abandoning this child. It will
haunt you all your life if you do.

Dear Mr. Blue,

Me, age 40-ish, unexpectedly single after cute young husband left me for a
woman with a more buxom salary. I have two beautiful children.

I have no extant dating skills, apparently. I'm good company but my heart
is boarded shut. Men get impatient. They adore me. They want answers.
One of them -- who's waiting
on your answer, though he doesn't know it -- could even be a good

The problem is that I no longer trust my judgment. The more my
gut says go, the more I think I'm just headed for another
spectacular train wreck.

So I'm stumbling along, giving these poor men a color commentary on
how anxious I am, while trying to be warm, authentic and somewhat
encouraging. I feel like I've
been lamed and am just getting in the way of people who can still walk

Ms. Mauve

Dear Ms. Mauve, I am no substitute for your own judgment and I cannot
tell you to ignore what you feel, which is anxiety and reluctance to go
tripping down the path that these men are inviting you to waltz down. There is
nothing wrong with saying no. The men may be impatient, but you needn't
worry about that: It's your life and don't settle for less than what you
want. Evidently, you haven't found it.

Dear Mr. Blue,

After several years of working with a younger man, I found myself falling
in love with him. He and I are both married with children. I never
declared myself, and he never said he was in love with me. We were,
however, quite close
confidants. My attraction to him veered in the direction of obsession.
After much pain
and therapy, I was able to achieve a little perspective. And he moved to
another city.

I now hear from him from time to time via phone and e-mails.
I have not been very responsive. I miss his companionship, but I don't
wish to reignite the feelings I have worked so hard to extinguish. I can
tell that he is puzzled by my lack of response. How can I manage to not
permanently estrange this person?


Dear Wistful,

If you're able to distinguish in your own mind where the divide is, where
the friendship leaves off and the romantic obsession begins, then I think
you could try to respond to him via e-mail. It's a rather bloodless medium
and I can't imagine any romance springing up from it. But make sure you
have this divide worked out. Somewhere you leaped a gap, and you need
to mark it so you don't leap again.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am 22, about to graduate from college. I came to school with dreams of
writing the Great American Novel, and though I've done well in the writing classes I've taken, I realized that I don't write much without a deadline, so I started to think about other career options than novelist.

Last summer I was diagnosed with cancer -- a relatively benign one -- and
I became depressed as a result. I spent the summer at home
recuperating and realized that almost everything in the world except my
family has lost its meaning for me. My only goal now is to come back to
my hometown, be near my family and get some mildly interesting job that
will allow me to start paying off my massive school loans. My parents and
friends are horrified that I want to come home: They saw a big future
ahead of me.

I used to have ambitious goals, but I don't see the world the way I
used to. I just want to focus on keeping myself happy. I'm seeing a
therapist at school and taking antidepressants.

Writing occurs to me sometimes as a way to grant some meaning to this
ordeal. I can imagine myself as a writer. But I really can't imagine myself
writing -- I write even less now than I did before.
Do you have any advice?

Sad and Confused

Dear Sad,

You're very young and bright, and if you like, you can come
home to be with your family. It isn't a sign of failure. Your life doesn't
need to match some preordained trajectory. You're right that writing
could be useful to you in this period of recovery. It might heighten your
awareness of your life and make your life sweeter to you to keep an
account of your mornings and afternoons and evenings, impressions of
people you meet, snippets of conversation, memories of childhood -- this
is the simplest pleasure of writing: being an observer and journalist gives
you the chance to experience life twice. A true writer is one who needs to
write in order to think, who simply doesn't know what she thinks until she
puts it down on paper. See if that might be true of you, and write about
your family, and perhaps you will understand better your tie to them. As
for writing professionally, give it time. Though I would point out that
your story of cancer at a young age certainly has dramatic potential, and
goodness knows, with your school debts, you could use the money.

Dear Mr. Blue,

Now that my wife and I have found a measure of stability in our
marriage, I finally have sufficient energy to attend to other,
too-long-neglected facets of my life, particularly in
the realm of generativity. I want to write about the big questions -- the
meaning of life,
spirituality, the sacredness of the sensate -- yet I feel presumptuous in
tackling such weighty topics, and my ideas are not
breathtakingly original. Should I proceed cautiously, or should I simply
write what I want to?

Overreaching in Atlanta

Dear Overreaching, Some breathtakingly derivative books on big questions
have become huge bestsellers, and so I advise you to write as fast as you
can and don't mind being modest. "The sacredness of the sensate" sounds
like a good place to start. Call it "Finding God Through Better Sex" and
see how it does.

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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