Dear Mr. Blue,
I'm a girl from the prairie, living my dream life in Manhattan, working as an editorial
assistant for a publisher, going out dancing at night and reporting bright-eyed for work,
wanting to soak up all the excitement that the city has to offer. I'm not anxious to marry,
being 25, but recently I've been seeing a man who seems taken with me and I am certainly
taken with him. A writer, from my part of the country. A sweet man whose company I find
stimulating and comforting. He has, unfortunately, asked me a great many questions about
my past, and I have foolishly provided honest answers, and so it came out, in a recent
conversation, that I have enjoyed participating in threesomes for the past couple of years,
both with a man and a woman and also with two men. He professed to be horrified and
disillusioned and we've had a couple of emotional talks about this. I'm not interested in
talking about my past. I have nothing to apologize for. What can I tell him? Are threesomes
"perverse" (his term)?
An Active Kansan
He's so curious because he loves you, probably, and so he is exercising retro-jealousy, a common phenomenon among men, and women too. When we're in love with
someone, we seem to need to conduct a title search for old lovers, to make sure they're not
an issue, but even if they're deceased, we may find the fact of them painful, even if it's only
a matter of a monogamous relationship or two. I doubt that he'd be any less jealous if your
triads had been couples. Maybe you provided a little too much detail. As to their being
perverse, I think that's an empty term in this context. All he means is that he doesn't like
what he's seeing in his imagination. But he isn't the proprietor of your past, you are. He
asked to know about it, you offered information, but he shouldn't abuse the privilege.
Dear Mr. Blue,
This is an incredibly stupid problem. My husband, whom I adore, whom I've happily slept
with for 15 years, is becoming so noisy at night, snorting and farting and yelling and
thrashing around, that I am having serious sleep-deprivation problems. Today I couldn't get
my work done, I was so weary. I can't bear the thought of separate beds. What to do?
It's a problem, so find a solution. Change the old boy's diet to something
lighter and brighter, at least in the evening: Keep him away from the bratwurst and the beef
bourguignon. Make sure your mattress is comfortable. Try having him sleep on his side with a
pillow behind him to keep him from rolling. Haul him off to a competent doctor and make
sure the doctor hears your side of the story. Get an educated opinion there. Ask yourself if
your husband is drinking too heavily at night or if he's under a lot of stress. If the doctor
recommends it, a sleep-disorder clinic might have something to offer. But there is no shame
in taking to separate beds or even separate bedrooms. Love isn't what happens when you're
Dear Mr. Blue,
I am a single mom, have been dating a man for a year and have never been
happier. He is kind and intelligent, and we share many of the same interests. (We are both
in college.) We see one another at least six evenings a week and spend good parts of our
days together, too, though we don't live together. Our sexual relationship is fantastic. He is
always buying dinner, doing chores around the house and even built bookshelves for me as a
surprise. I feel this could be a match. All our friends are delighted we have found each
Despite all this, he has decided his life plan does not include me. He still refers to
our relationship as a casual one and says he simply "enjoys my company and likes doing nice
things for me." After graduation he plans to move away. I have tried twice to break it off, but we felt so much pain apart that
soon we were together again. I have not confessed loving him because I don't want to look
foolish. I have come quite close, though. When I ask him how our breakup will happen, he
says vaguely, "Whenever I get a job." I, too, am graduating and have decided to go to grad
school but haven't applied anywhere. I think that he, too, has done nothing decisive. Whatever can I do about this?
In Love Anyway in Texas
Dear In Love,
It isn't foolish to let him know that you love him, if indeed you do. I question
whether this is the case, but you know your own heart, surely. In the end, he will figure out
what to do with his life. Two reasonable people can be happy together in a relationship and
still hold very different views of it. If you were to stay together longer, there might be times
when he was the ardent lover and you the casual partner. My advice is to put your cards on
the table and express your feelings as clearly as you can, ask him to make a decision, accept
what he decides, and if he decides to break up, then walk away and don't look back. That's
the crucial part. Be ready and able and willing to lose this man cleanly and decisively, and
your resolve may help him better read his own feelings.
Dear Mr. Blue,
Do you feel good about the love life you've led, specifically about the
broken vows? I don't ask this to harass you -- my own commitment to my marriage (with
three wonderful kids) comes at a price I question daily; and by virtue of your fishbowl life,
your decisions have been very public; in short, was the gain worth
I am often visited by remorse, being a remorseful man, and carry enough grief
from the past to last a lifetime, but I don't revisit those decisions I made -- there isn't any
satisfying way to. A man and a woman take vows of loyalty to each other and mean them
sincerely, and time proves that they have such contradictory intentions that their life becomes
a constant struggle so that they are hard put to maintain a decent regard for each other. In
this situation, there are not easy answers, and one takes the road that one feels prepared to
live with. I don't see this as a transaction, paying a "price" to achieve a "gain." I once lived
with a woman who kept telling me I was so foolish I'd never be able to conduct my life
without her help. So I told her I intended to try. I couldn't imagine listening to her say that
for years to come. I didn't intend to spend time with a counselor trying to unearth her
reasons for saying it. I was sorry about breaking up with her. She is a fine person and I
loved her. I can imagine how life might have taken a different course -- I write fiction, I
can imagine other endings -- but at that time, in that house, looking at that woman, I had to
go or stay, and I went, and I believe we're both better off for it.
Dear Mr. Blue,
My husband is a very charming man, or so people think, but I've heard his stories dozens of
times now and am wishing he'd stop telling them. He just won't shut up. We have friends
over for the evening, and he talks and talks, and it seems to me that he gets worse and
worse. Should I say something?
The lust for attention is not a pretty sight: the terrible need to keep things focused on you,
your recent adventures, your views on current films, your feelings about creamed peas,
whatever. Garrulousness travels under the guise of charm, and it tells a lot of stories, some
fairly amusing, but it's not conversation, it's holding court. I think you need to talk to him
about this. Remind him that other people like to say their piece too. It would be merciful of
you to mention this. And if the routine continues, make a point of leaving the room when
Dear Mr. Blue,
I'm a young writer, progressing with my first novel, which I started as a way of making
sense of a major family trauma (yeah, me and every other first novelist). Though it's a
novel, it's quite autobiographical. In telling my story, I've gotten to some of the brutal
truths of my family. One character in particular, a cousin, I paint a very unflattering portrait
of -- I change the name, but anyone in the family would get it in a second.
I'm proud of this book and want to publish it. (Of course, that's the big "if" here.) I don't
want to change things that work, and the characters make sense to the novel's intrinsic
architecture. In my ideal world, I'd publish it as is and not allow two or three relatives (with
whom I'm not personally close, but who do matter in my familial galaxy) to read this thing.
I'm not willing to mess up the best work I've ever done just to be nice, but I also don't want
to hurt people. Writers have been spilling family secrets throughout history: How do they
handle the interpersonal ramifications?
Push ahead and write your novel exactly as you please. Write the first draft
and the second and the third, and only toward the end should you begin to consider the
feelings of your family. Once you have something like a final version, read the unflattering
portraits of relatives and ask yourself if indeed the architecture depends on them. Consider
changing enough superficial details to cloud the issue in your relatives' minds. Make the
fictional cousin older, a vegetarian, and give him a bright red serape and a pair of snakeskin
boots and a box of licorice mints in his shirtpocket and a copy of Rilke in his hand and see if
that doesn't help.
Dear Mr. Blue,
I am a happily married woman in my late 30s with a 1-year-old baby whom
I love dearly. The problem? I have a Ph.D. that I see I'm not going to be using anytime
soon. I don't want to leave this area, and I foresee no university jobs for me. Frankly, after
several years of part-time teaching, I don't want a tenure-track
job anymore. Academics is too much like a poorly paid, high-pressure
business job these days. I want to start looking for other work,
but I've been so submerged in the academic world, with academic friends and
colleagues, that I don't know where to start. I feel dumb admitting this.
I haven't seen any jobs advertised for which I seem qualified, but I know I have a lot of
skills that would be valuable to the business world. What inspirational words do you have
You say you're submerged in academia, so what you'll do is take a step
away from it. Academics tend to have a strong negative streak and are somewhat hung up on
credentials. You're going to put that behind you and put on your entrepreneur wings. You
start by applying for jobs that strike you as glamorous and potentially wonderful and that pay
plenty of money and so probably require management ability -- fine, think of yourself as a
manager, why not? Your Ph.D. is evidence of discipline and the ability to master a body of
knowledge. In applying for jobs, you learn something about the job market and what's
demanded and how the world works. Let the companies interviewing you worry about your
qualifications; you carry on your search as an intellectual exercise, by which you'll divine
what alternatives you have, what corporate life is like, what the world wants. The way to do
it is to do it. Aim high. Now's the time.
Dear Mr. Blue,
I am a former would-be writer whose 30th year included breaking up with my fiancie,
putting my dog to sleep and taking up smoking again. I have even more foreboding about
31. I spent most of my 20s after college waiting tables and learning to write. I
was a bum. I'd sit in the coffee shop all day and read Heraclitus and Wittgenstein and Joyce
and Nabokov while smoking cigarettes and drinking too much cappuccino. I got published a
few times, won some awards and scraped up enough cash to live on. Then I met her. I fell
in love. I quit smoking. We lived together for three years. I got a corporate job and started
making money. I got a dog. My writing went in the shit-hole. My relationship followed.
Now I'm single again, working a corporate job and haven't written a word in six months --
about the same time I last got laid. Here's the trouble: I'm uncertain about being a has-been
writer working a job; I think I'm a bum at heart. I want to finish my book, but it seems like
all the women I meet have credit-rating and odd-sleep-habits radar. What should I do? Give
up the corporate world and go back to the Heraclitus and cigarettes, or settle down with the
babe up in Product Marketing who thinks Plato comes in cans of primary colors? Is
trepanation an option here?
Maudlin in Minnesota
Six months is nothing. Writers can lay off for longer than that and then have
it all come back and be better than ever. As for smoking, it has nothing to do with writing,
and neither does cappuccino or reading Heraclitus. If getting published a few times and
winning some awards satisfied you, then that's fine and more power to you. If this book is
haunting you to get busy and write it, then you should do that. You're young and single and
you can write your book and do your corporate job too. You just need to learn how to
goldbrick and do some of your writing at the office.
Dear Mr. Blue,
My ex-husband has written me four or five long letters apologizing for his bad behavior the
last two years of the marriage. He was sexually promiscuous -- I think "predatory" is the
word -- and he drank heavily and did stupid things that embarrassed me and the children,
but hey, enough is enough. It was six years ago. I don't care anymore. I told him that I
forgave him and he's still apologizing. What to do?
You don't have to read his letters. Confession is good for the soul, but it
isn't necessarily worth listening to. Some people just love to confess. Look at that bureaucrat
in Washington who resigned, with a great flurry of breast-beating, for having used the
term "niggardly" and thereby offending someone. Or the newspaper critic in Minnesota who
was caught having appropriated a few phrases from a book and resigned his job in a column
that was creepy with self-loathing. I say, move on. Put your ex-husband's letters in a drawer
unopened and go on with your life.
Dear Mr. Blue,
I am 44, have ended a 25-year marriage and now find
myself in a romantic relationship with a woman I was close
friends with before the split, though she was not the cause of
it. She is 36, and although very attractive and wonderful,
has difficulty seeing herself in a relationship. On the other hand, all I
know is how to be part of a couple. I tend to stay very linear in my feelings
toward her, while she bounces back and forth between being in love and
running away. This makes me crazy, yet I love her desperately.
Tell me, how do we reconcile such profound differences between us?
Wait for the waves to settle from your divorce and don't make any plans for
a few years. Don't be linear, in other words. When she runs away, let her run, and welcome
her back when she returns. Don't try to settle everything and make it smooth. A divorce is a
tumultuous event and one needs to gain composure and a measure of self-knowledge before
forging ahead in a new relationship.
Dear Mr. Blue,
Three years ago I started writing a novel. It got sidetracked by self-doubt and
procrastination and the birth of our son. My wife and I both work, and she often says I
should go back to writing the book, and she'll support the family. Her recent promotion
makes her offer realistic, and we had planned for me to stop working anyway after the birth
of our second child next year (if all goes according to plan). However, caring
for two small children will mean I won't be able to
write. If I don't finish my novel, my world will still be complete and,
let's face it, quitting now will also make our financial situation
somewhat uncertain. Many a strong relationship has floundered on the
rocks of financial trouble. Writing does not necessarily come naturally
(or quickly) to me, but I do enjoy the process and I am excited about
my story. Should I try to finish a novel that, statistically speaking, won't come anywhere
near the printing press?
You seem to be in a swoon of doubt over this book, and unfortunately I
haven't read a word of the novel in question, so I'm not the one to buck you up. I assume
that your wife has seen some of it, so if she's cheering you on and offering to guggenheim
you for a year, that's about as much encouragement as anybody ever gets. If you're going to
finish the novel, though, don't plan to baby-sit two infants all day, or you won't even have
time to finish writing the dedication and disclaimer. As to your chances of publication,
statistics have nothing to do with it; novels are not selected by publishers randomly. If it's
good enough, it'll find a home. If it's not good enough, it's not worth your time. The ancient
dilemma of all authors.
Dear Mr. Blue,
My ex-girlfriend is pregnant. All along I told her I didn't want
children and now she wants me to move in with her and help her raise the child
and eventually marry her. But I don't want to marry her. I don't love
her. I'm doing all I can to prepare for the child, and
I'll support it and love it, but I can't see doing it with someone who
will probably hate me for not committing to her. I've been wanting to
date after our breakup, but I haven't because I feel guilty dating
someone else when I'm about to become a father for the first time. To
summarize: HELP! MY LIFE'S A MESS!
Your life may be a mess but it could be an even messier mess if you moved in
with her because you feel guilty. Guilt is no basis for a relationship. Give her what help you
can, but your commitment is to the child, not to the mother, and you should feel free to date.
Dear Mr Blue,
I've been with the same woman for almost 20 years, married for 15
of those. She is incredibly jealous of my friends, both male and female, and
has harbored suspicions about me from the start. I've always had
fantasies and even flirted a couple of times but never came close to
having an affair. She is a controlling type, and my anger toward her is
increasing daily. I am seeing a therapist, but what I really want is to
lead a normal life. I am a writer of sorts and she resents my keeping my
ideas to myself. I think what she always wanted was to be married to her
old college roommate. Any advice would be appreciated.
You're in a cold war here, both of you nurturing hostilities against the other,
blaming the other for your miseries, and whatever solution you find -- separation,
conciliation, an arms race -- will affect you equally. I'd only say that she must be crazy
about you to be so jealous. It's the dark side of her love for you. You can find a way,
perhaps, to get back to the source, and I'd recommend putting your own hostility aside for a
time and practicing simple civility, good manners, kindness. A little kindness can work
wonders. This may sound like Girl Scout talk, but it does work.
Dear Mr. Blue,
In early April, an old friend came to visit and we played music together for two evenings
and talked and had a good time. The next day my friend left with no notice. I woke up,
he was gone. I sent him an e-mail asking what happened, and he responded, telling me I was
mean, rude, condescending and abusive. After thinking it over objectively, I think his
accusation has more to do with him than with me. He is bright, compassionate, creative and
nearing a Ph.D. in psychology, but he has been a daily marijuana smoker for many years. He
recently attempted suicide. I'm not looking for someone to take my side, nor am I looking to
compromise myself in order to save the friendship. I'm looking for grounded advice on a
direction to take toward resolve.
Blind-sided in California
Some friendships go trucking along for years without a harsh word spoken, and
others crash in flames; I don't think one should take the crashes too seriously. It's a
matter of temperament. Some friends have so little gift for friendship that it's bound to
crash. But sometimes they come back, if you give them an opportunity to. Write your old
friend a friendly note saying you're sorry he felt abused and recalling the good time you had,
and tack on some small question at the end, something to give him an excuse to write back --
by the way, what was the name of that tune you were singing Friday night, the one about
so forth and so on -- and then leave it to him to be in touch or not.
Dear Mr. Blue,
My boyfriend and I have been together for two years, get along
amazingly well and have a fun time together. The problem is that we don't seem
to be in love. We've talked about it, and we agree that we're not, but then
how do you know? I've been in love once; he says he never has. He figures, "You
know when you have to go to the bathroom; so you must know when you're in love." Is he
right? How do you know? How do you define being "in love"?
If you have to ask, then you're not.
Dear Mr. Blue,
For 10 months I've been dating a wonderful man, 31 (I'm 26), who is
affectionate, intelligent, open-minded and fun to be with. The only
sticking point for me is that he's not verbally expressive about his
feelings. Thinking that this was due to his shyness, I worked up
the courage to ask him if he was in love with me. He said he was beginning to fall in love
with me but wasn't there yet and needed more time before he could be certain, which made
me sad because I've known for months that I am in love with him. If he doesn't
love me now, will he ever?
Don't ask him again. One warning shot is enough. Back off. If he's going to
fall in love with you, it has to take place in his own time, in his own mind, and not in
response to cross-examination. You can't extricate bold declarations from taciturn persons by
squeezing them. The gentleman has many virtues, it would appear, and you should amuse
yourself with those a little longer, and then, if he still can't figure out how he feels, bid him
a fond goodbye. You're not a math problem, you're only a person and either he has these
feelings or he doesn't.
Dear Mr. Blue,
I find that my writing goes in bursts and then falls off drastically. I will write five hours a
day for a week and then fall into a lull that may last weeks, in which I don't get much work
done. I've read that you should write every day, but sometimes I can't bring myself to do it
after 10 hours of work at a job. Does this mean I don't have what it takes to be a writer?
Sitting in a Lull
There is no gimlet-eyed timekeeper watching you, noting the interesting
rhythms of your writing life. Only the outcome matters. And the truth is that you're writing
even when you're not writing. The rule about writing every day is a good rule, but don't be
ruled by it.
Dear Mr. Blue,
I moved across the country to go into business with a good (male) friend who has
subsequently become a significant other. After two and a half years, I
have serious reservations and would like an outside perspective.
I've been a single mom for nine years and have grown to love my
independence, but on some level I still long for a happy marriage. My
business partner and S.O. has been a good friend for most of my single years.
I thought he might be an option for the long term, but the
longer I'm around him, the more concerned I am about moving forward
with the relationship. I'm a faithful churchgoer, and he finds religion
not just useless, but annoying. My ex-husband was an alcoholic, and this
guy likes to have an evening cocktail. I don't particularly care
about pets, and he acquired a dog without asking me. I could go on, but
you get the picture.
Does this add up to incompatibility? Or am I just afraid of commitment?
Not Too Sure
Dear Not Too,
The dog isn't important (says me), and one cocktail doesn't make him an
alcoholic, but his annoyance at religious faith may be a serious block. If, after two and a half
years, the S.O. can't bring himself to respect your faith and your feelings about church, it's
a very bad sign. You say you're concerned about moving forward: I take that as a cue to
stop and listen and look around for an exit. This doesn't look like the doorway to the happy
marriage, not if you have serious reservations.
Dear Mr. Blue,
A few years ago I met a wonderful girl in our office with whom I fell in
love. To this day, she brightens my day every time I see her. We are
extremely compatible, and I can easily see spending the rest
of my life happily with her as my companion -- something I've never felt
with any other woman.
Here is the downside: I am not all that sexually attracted to her and
never have been. She seems almost asexual in a sense. We have sex and
plenty of it, but it is far from great. It has slowly improved
from the terrible awkwardness of the first year, but even today I am not sure if she
ever reaches climax. She says she's satisfied but that sex is not all that important to her to
She's 28. I'm 36. She's hinting at marriage and family, but I am concerned. I
hear that passion eventually fades in a marriage, but in this case passion was never really
there to begin with. I feel I need to either start our life together or dump her. Part
of me hopes that sex will improve over time. Another
part says that I am trying to ignore the elephant in the room.
Can passion be created in a passionless relationship?
Down in Dixie
I don't understand how you fell in love with her if, on the other hand, you had
no passion for her. Sexual desire is a part of love as I understand it. Making love is where
two people restore their intimacy and trust, how you make up after a fight, how you return
to the source of your love after you've been apart. Something is wrong here, and I don't
assume the problem is with her. Sex isn't a performance to be judged, it's the expression of
two people's feelings, and your cruel assessment of her being "almost asexual in a sense"
speaks volumes about your own feelings. (The modifiers make it almost crueler.) For you to
contemplate starting a life with someone you regard as asexual is heartless. Let the woman
find someone who loves her.
Dear Mr. Blue,
I am an arts and entertainment reporter for a midsize newspaper, and I love
my job and the work I do. I got into journalism five years ago after I left a graduate fiction
writing program. I did not take well to the grueling weekly critiques and began to
imagine people looking over my shoulder while I was writing. It became impossible to
Writing for a newspaper has proven to be much more satisfying: more black
and white, nuts and bolts. I think journalism has made me a better
writer. I want to go back to writing fiction, which I loved, but when I
sit down at my computer, I still see those people
hovering over me. Any advice?
If you have disapproving presences peering over your shoulder, perhaps it's
because you're writing for them and not for yourself. As long as they disapprove, why not
write something to horrify them and send them screaming out into the night. They want you
to produce work of fine polish and refined sensibility, elegant short stories of a stylish
opacity, in which educated people struggle nobly against their darker selves. So write
gutbucket fiction, in which wild filthy hairy people cheerfully perform acts of crazed comedy
and sadistic violence upon the pure and wholesome. This may at least get these critics out of
your hair, and then you can write whatever you'd like.
Dear Mr. Blue,
I've been writing poetry since my mid-teens, have been published and received my share of
recognition, but I've been increasingly despondent over the heavy lifting involved in getting the
work out. I mean, who cares? Poetry is increasingly cloistered in conferences and
workshops, becoming more of a club activity, like bowling, than a culturally
important art form. MFA programs keep growing, but the larger society is increasingly
indifferent to poetry. I will never stop writing the best that I can, but why should I go to all
the trouble to send my poems around to be published?
Skeptical in San Francisco
There's no reason to argue yourself into putting poems into envelopes and
mailing them off to the Bowling Review and the MFA Quarterly, no reason at all. Resign
from the club. Put the bowling ball in the closet. Take a year off. Or two. Or five or 10.
But do continue to keep your appointments with your soul that lead to writing poems. And
perhaps this voluntary silence will sharpen your sense of vocation, and in time you'll want to
rejoin the sacred society of poets.
Dear Mr. Blue,
I am 23, a female, happily living with my 24-year-old male
partner. My question concerns normal libido levels. It seems as if I am more
interested in intercourse than my mate. Maybe my sex drive is unusually strong, but is it
normal for my man to prefer reading in bed? I love him very much and the sex is
wonderful, but if I left it up to him, we'd make love once a week on Saturday (if I'm
lucky!). I look forward to a future with him, but I don't want to be one of those
married couples who has sex only once or twice a month. Any suggestions?
Yearning for More
A reluctant 24-year-old lover must be inhibited by fears of inadequacy, not
by lack of libido, and so, if you love him very much, it's your pleasant duty to seduce him
in subtle ways and instruct him and encourage him. Above all, encourage him. Men are very
delicate creatures with fragile egos, and if you tell him what a wonderful lover he is, over
and over, it will make him a better lover. If you intimate that he is lacking, then he will
wither like a frail reed in a hard freeze. Be wise.
Dear Mr. Blue,
I'm a writer. Writing is my passion, the one thing I can
count on to give me pleasure, and I've had some small
professional successes with it. But I have an unreliable muse. Months go by, and
nothing inspires me. Then -- bam! I get an idea in my head, and I'm in
physical pain until I write it down. I want to be more in control of my
inspiration. Does that make sense? It's so tiresome to have a free
afternoon and no inspiration to write. But if I force myself to write, I end up
with a piece I'm displeased with, which depresses me.
Should I wait for the muse? Or kidnap her and hold her hostage
until she gives me what I want?
The Muse can't be held hostage. Her gifts can't be extorted. But if you are
true to what occasional gifts she does bestow on you, she will become more and more generous. It is our failure to measure up to her offerings that makes her stingy.
Dear Mr. Blue,
I was recently accepted by a creative writing program. I know
I'm a good writer, but I find it difficult to produce without the deadlines
that school provides. My family has offered financial support, which I'm reluctant to accept,
and I could probably complete the program in two or three years. But I'm not sure I want to
be a starving artist. I have a job that gives me a comfortable life in a pricey
city. How do I decide to give up my income and go on the parental dole? Is
it realistic to think that I can go on living the good life (while paying off
some debts) and put off school until I have some support from a spouse (there
isn't one in the picture) and possibly young children? I feel like school is
something I should do for myself on a creative level, but is it better to go now when I'm
relatively unfettered, or should I wait until my life is more settled and I
need a creative outlet?
Don't waste your time in a creative writing program. You've got a good job and
a comfortable life and you're not particularly driven to be a writer, so don't go there. Trying
to be a writer without the motivation is like going to Outer Mongolia for no particular
reason. Italy is nicer. Mongolia will only cause you distress.