Hot sex with the ex

My boyfriend's tortured by something I wrote about a long-ago, meaningless affair. How can I reassure him?

By Garrison Keillor

Published May 25, 1999 4:00PM (EDT)

Dear Mr. Blue,

My relationships with men were brief and unsatisfying until three
years ago when I met one who is a tender lover, a soul mate and my playful
best friend.
We are planning to get married in August.

Last week, I called him from work and asked him to go through some of my
files to find
some insurance papers I needed, and he happened upon an essay I wrote long
about one of those meaningless affairs. His eye fell upon the one
sentence in which I mentioned the great sex I'd had with this other guy, and
he shut the
folder right away, without reading on to find out how this guy's carelessness
and callousness
left me feeling even lonelier.

Now my fianci can't stop thinking about the hot sex with the ex -- that it
was better than
anything he can offer me -- and I can't seem to reassure him. I am afraid
this is going to
ruin our relationship. What can I do?

Ready to give up writing

Dear Ready,

You can make love with him. It's better than an explanation in
most cases. Of
course you can tell him you're sorry he saw your essay, ask him to reread it,
tell him you
love him and say that you understand his jealousy, but making love is what will
calm him down.
I hope you do understand his jealousy and take this outburst as a sign of his
But ruin your relationship over a sentence in an essay? If he's that
distraught, he's very
confused about more than you and your love, and you should let go. You don't
want to have
to defend your right to have a past.

Dear Mr. Blue,

Why does everyone who writes to you sound heterosexual?


Dear Amy,

I don't know what heterosexuals sound like. I do know that not
everyone who
writes is. I recall, off the top of my head, four or five letter writers who
were gay, and
many more who, interestingly, revealed their lover's gender by the pronoun
and did not
reveal their own. I see my correspondent's name in the e-mail heading, so
it's clear to me,
for example, if it's a letter about a lesbian romance, but it may not be
clear to you from the
letter. Take the letter below, from "Constantly Confused": Is it from a gay man or
a straight
woman? And does it matter?

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am 33, a screenwriter in Los Angeles, not yet successful -- I've had a few
agents, meetings,
some interest, but haven't yet sold anything. I met my boyfriend almost five
years ago in a
graduate film program that he dropped out of and I stayed with. About a year
ago, I moved
out of the apartment we shared, but haven't been able to break things
off -- I keep going back and forth. I feel he doesn't support my writing:
when we were with friends and one asked if he thought I was a good writer, my
just shrugged and said he didn't
know. This hurt very much. I feel like my staying with him has not been
good for my career. But there are many good things about him, and I do love
him. I don't know what to do: give up on him, give up writing or what?

Constantly confused

Dear Constantly,

His remark seems innocent to me; honestly, it does. He was
only brushing
off a dumb question. You can choose to take it as a hostile remark, but
that's your choice. If
you feel queasy around him, or feel he doesn't respect you, then it may help
to create a little
distance, as you did when you moved out. You're in a delicate spot, on the
verge of a
breakthrough, and of course your feelings are exposed. But why break off with
him if you do
love him? Surely you won't consider giving up writing, not now, having
invested so much.

Dear Mr. Blue,

Why don't men call?


Dear Waiting,

They don't call because they know they're in trouble for not
having called and
you're going to ask them why they haven't in that miffed tone and they won't
be able to
come up with a good enough answer -- they weren't in Nepal or writing "After
The Fall" or
practicing for Carnegie Hall. That's why men don't call. Because they
haven't. And because
they're not sure why either.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am a college student, 6 foot 10 inches tall, tired of people asking me
if I play basketball.
(I don't.) I am coming home for the summer to work in construction, and it
suddenly occurs
to me that I have zero social life except for a couple of beer-drinking
buddies. I am
convinced that people (I mean women) avoid someone who is so much taller than
they. Do
they? What do I do?

Too Tall

Dear Too Tall,

People do discriminate against the tall person. I'm only
6 foot 3 and I know
they do. People don't like to be loomed over, I guess. The vertically
challenged naturally
like to look someone in the eye, and when this towering person lumbers in and
stands over
them, darkening the sky, they feel threatened. We're just ordinary people who
ate too many
string beans and not enough potatoes, but we don't get the affection that
smaller folks do. A
sad story, but you needn't be defeated by it. Walk tall, and bide your time.
Be kinder and
friendlier to make up for your formidable appearance. And one day some fine
woman will
avoid avoiding you.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I don't know what to do. I met a man 10 years ago who was married
and we fell in love very quickly and he divorced his wife. We stayed together
all this time,
though he wasn't sure about marrying me, and I tried to break up
several times but couldn't. Last year, we got engaged. Our wedding is
scheduled for June.
A week ago I came home from work at midday and caught him having sex
with a girl 20 years younger! It was so devastating. Just describing it
now makes my
heart sick!
I asked him why he would do something so cruel and he said he was nervous
about the
marriage. My heart is torn. I have invested 10 years of my life in this
relationship. I cannot walk out without breaking into pieces. On the
other hand, he says he cannot stop the affair with the girl
just yet. What should I do?


Dear Devastated,

This is terribly cruel, monumentally cruel, and you simply
must turn your
back and walk away from it. The reason for such cruelty must be that your
fianci wants out
of the script. You must, at the very least, postpone the marriage. That is
minimal. To forge
ahead now is to walk off a cliff. You've invested 10 years, but that's
nothing compared to
the misery of a misbegotten marriage. Break it off and tell him that if he
wants to resume
with you, he will need to court you again. You won't break in pieces. It'll
be hard, but you
won't break, and a little anger would be good right now. Tell the jerk to get

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am a 31-year-old gal who has never had a normal romantic
relationship. I tend to involve myself emotionally with clearly unattainable
men: close
friends whom I pine for desperately for months, years even; one married
man years ago whom I thought I was madly in love with. Am I Monica Lewinsky?
insecure to believe I deserve a real relationship? Am I terrified of
intimacy? Am I afraid of
commitment? Can you point me in the right direction?


Dear Heroine,

It's a sweet adventure to make a life with someone real, whom
you meet daily
with a full heart and a sense of humor. It casts a glow on your day. You say
witty things,
you present countless little gifts of attention and care, you lavish sexual
favors and you are
there when the loved one really terribly needs you, in moments of ordinary
despair and
extraordinary too. The single life surely has its own dignity and rhythm, but
there seems to
be a general preference for couplehood. There is a continuum from friendship
to love: The
person you like to talk with and ride bikes with is the person you want to be
with is the
person you fall in love with is the person you want to have kids with. It all
starts with
conversation. Maybe you're trying to make a great imaginative leap forward,
and you need
to start with conversation and bike riding.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am dating a wonderful woman who happens to be a Wisconsin Synod Lutheran.
Hence, no
sex. In two weeks we both graduate from college. It is spring and one can
feel the
debauchery in the air. I feel I should spend the last week or
two of college enjoying the kind of hedonism that will be denied me later.
What I'm saying
here is that I want to sleep with as many women as possible before I get out
of here. But I'm
too cowardly to break up with the WSL woman. Am I a bastard
for wanting to enjoy myself?

Minnesota Boy-Toy

Dear M.B.T.,

If the words "debauchery" and "hedonism" and the phrase "sleep
with as
many women as possible" spring easily to your lips, then you shouldn't be
dating this
wonderful woman. You should go and debauch, taking precautions so as not to
spread or
contract disease and letting the WSL woman know that you won't be seeing her
for a few
weeks. You're not a bastard -- not unless your mother felt this same urge back
before you
were born, which perhaps she did. Perhaps she thought, "I'd like to get laid
about 60 or
70 times in the next two weeks before I go back to Good Old What's His
Name, the
man I want to father my children." Go have as big a time as you want to have.
confidence is breathtaking.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am 48, have three darling children and am married to a fine woman whose
passion for
physical fitness is wearing me out. It's all she reads about and talks about,
about risks and
percentages. I admire the fact that, six years ago, she took off 30
pounds and kept it off.
The woman doesn't have an ounce of cellulite on her. She is a committed
vegetarian. She
runs, she lifts weights, she knows everything about nutrition and exercise. I
just wish I could
change the subject.

Normal Husband

Dear Normal,

You don't say what shape you're in, and if you're overweight and
that might be what keeps fitness on her mind. I only offer that as a thought.
Of course,
degeneration is programmed into our DNA: Nature seems to want us to reproduce
and then
fall by the wayside. But your generation wants to hang onto its youth into
its 90s, on the
theory that if you stay around long enough maybe you can get your life
My generation is already starting to fall apart, forgetting its own Social
Security number,
enjoying the sex drive of potted plants. You didn't ask for my advice, so I
won't offer any.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am a 25-year-old woman in Italy, in love with a wonderful Italian man (also
25) who has
been my best friend and lover for almost four years. He is incredibly sweet,
kind and
supportive: I quit my corporate job so I can paint full-time, and he is
enthusiastic about that. We each want a quiet, simple life, and we speak
often of marriage,
but I'm afraid. We are so different. He approaches life
without ambition, one day at a time, accepting whatever it brings. I
am always pushing and planning, agonizing over every decision. He is bright
but more
interested in practical talk than abstractions. He never has doubts about us,
no insecurities or
neuroses. He makes no demands. After four years, I am still very much in
love and spend days on end smiling for no reason except that I know I get
to see him at the end of each day -- but sometimes I feel trapped too,
wondering if this is as good as it gets. I am afraid that my feeling of
estrangement can only
grow. I also feel that only a fool would consider abandoning such a
loving, sweet man.
I would love to be able to relax into his loving arms for the rest of my
life, but I have a
tendency to panic every six months or so, threatening to leave him. Is there
a way to
reconcile my doubts? He seems too good to be true -- is
that because he is? Or should I take it easy and enjoy being in love?
What do you make of this?

Panic Annie

Dear Panic,

I don't know what to make of this, but maybe there's a medication
for it. It
could be chronic jumpiness, or youth, or the result of ingesting too much
linguini. Or
perhaps you've run into a language barrier. (I'm assuming you're American.)
Is that the
"estrangement" you mean? My best guess is that you have an edgy imagination,
and that
when the going is easy, you need to excite yourself with visions of misery.
That's normal, so
long as you don't brood and force these random nervous impulses to become
thoughts. As for the man being "too good to be true," surely four years is
long enough to see
through a man's PR. I advise you to talk to a doctor about one of the new
happy drugs that
alleviate the heebie-jeebies.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I've been involved with a man for the last three years who lives in the
basement of a house
that we rent together. We are in a relationship, although we've never made it
We spend a lot of time together, have lunch, grocery shop, raise my son (from
a previous
marriage), talk to each other constantly and enjoy a very active sexual
But whenever things are going well, he starts a fight with me, says vicious
and then stays out all night with another woman. We don't speak to each
other for a while,
then make up and start the whole process again and end up sleeping together.
I just
don't know what to do. I know that I love him, but he says he doesn't feel
that way about
me. I keep hoping that he'll come to his senses. Writing this letter, I
realize I am stupid.
How can I have feelings for a man who treats me this
way? How can I fix this if we both can't afford to move? Please tell me what
should do to get the sanity back in my life?

Tired of Love

Dear Tired,

This is a miserable cycle. Break it. Don't love a man who doesn't
love you: It's
not love, it's movie acting. It's easier to take the hard step now and break
off than to keep
slogging forward in an affair that you know is hopeless. You're not stupid,
you're romantic
and a little dreamy, but do understand that you can't fix this man. He is
playing fast and
loose. You have a raccoon in your basement, and you need to open the door and
let him out.

Dear Mr. Blue,

It irritates me when someone writes to you expressing fear of never finding
a partner, and you
advise them to be patient and eventually Someone will appear. I find this
conjuring act
wholly inadequate. Why not tell them, "Don't worry. Having
a significant other is not the pinnacle of existence. There are other
wonderful things in the world. Such as learning to live alone. Such as
laughing just simply from the joy of being alive. Life with a partner
is entertaining, but life without can be even more so." I have friends who've
been simply
devoured by loneliness and made bad choices trying to escape it. I myself am
alone and feel
peaceful about it.


Dear Curious,

I can't argue with your experience and don't question your
peacefulness, but
my advice has to come from my own experience. I don't believe in Someone
appearing, if by
Someone you mean Aphrodite in a nightie, and I don't know about pinnacles,
but I am
happily married and believe in marriage as a heroic quest and as a good way
of life. You
have friends who made bad choices -- OK, I have friends who made terrific
choices, and if
people want to believe in that possibility, I don't need to discourage them.

Dear Mr. Blue,

Exactly one year ago, I was suddenly afflicted with a terrible physical
disorder, and overnight my life became a series of hospital tests and
and painful therapies. I had five failed surgeries. A few dear friends,
my elderly parents and faith in God helped me maintain my
sanity through all this, but my job, my colleagues and my "old
life" disappeared.

In March, bereft of hope, I had one "last resort" operation, which
completely corrected my disorder. On recovery, I began a daily fitness
regimen that has helped me to regain my former strength. As of this writing,
I am fully returned to health once more.

This summer I will be 45. Here I stand physically whole, but with my life, in
many ways, in ashes around my feet. The company that employed me has closed.
Many of my old friends are gone. Much of the way I looked at the world and at
myself seems gone. I feel like a newborn baby or the Pegasus: naked,
spiritually charged, full of questions, on some kind of threshold. Any advice?


Dear Resurrected,

No advice, only admiration, and of course prayers for your
future course.
To stand whole, healed, at 45, and look around at the ruins of your former
life, must be
exhilarating, like walking away from a plane crash. People go through
programs hoping to
simulate this experience, and you've earned yours honestly. Now you get to go
out and live
your new life. We all dream about doing this, reconstructing our lives. I
hope your second
life is as long as the first and brings you great happiness.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I have a friend who is intelligent, educated and good company. He does
plenty of favors for
people. But when it comes to paying the check, he never does; or he
plops down less than his fair share. When he comes to visit he never brings
beer, though he
drinks plenty. I haven't confronted him about his cheap behavior, not wanting
to lose his
friendship (where I come from, being cheap is a pretty humiliating thing to
be accused of),
but another former mutual friend has cut him off
as a "user," and it is awkward to let the machine pick up calls while
one or the other is here, and to have to remember not to mention
the scorner to the scorned, to spare his feelings. Any suggestions?

Shaking My Head

Dear Shaking,

We all make allowances for friends, and they make allowances
for us. My
friends, for example, make allowances for my compulsion to always pick up the
which is not such a nice thing to do either. If you like this man and find
him good company,
then that's the main thing. Enjoy his company. And don't try to correct this
behavior unless
you can do it with an offhand remark ("Next time, bring some beer, OK?").
As for the
awkwardness of mutual friends being on the outs with each other, it's not
worth worrying
about. Their problem, not yours.

Dear Mr. Blue,

For the last two years, I've had indecisionitis and can't, for the life of
me, decide whether to
dump my deadbeat boyfriend, whether to pursue grad school or a career. Last
night I spent
an hour obsessing at Office Depot over black file cabinets vs. beige.
Writing to you has
been the only definitive thing I've done in a long time. Why
is this happening to me?

Wishy Washy Wanda

Dear Wanda,

Dump the deadbeat, pursue a career, buy the beige. Indecision is
a symptom of
narcissism, says moi, and when you break out of your dreamy state and get out
in the hurly-burly and get a life, you'll start making decisions a mile a minute. Bang
bang bang. Having
a child cures this dreaminess, and so does mortal illness, or living in a
foreign country, or
military service, or farming, or any number of things. Get off your butt,

Dear Mr. Blue,

What do you do when loneliness becomes all-consuming? I'm a
(relatively) good-looking and intelligent 26-year-old, but I find
myself in a long dry spell when women turn away, ignore my
phone calls and make excuses. I blame this cold, northern city, but I still
think about it every
minute of every day. How do you learn to ignore the missing pieces?


Dear Alone,

It's good to have to deal with loneliness now while you're so
young. Some
people never confront it until much much later, and it swamps them. You're
intelligent and
so you know that loneliness is an accident and no reflection on you, and you
simply have to
be kind to yourself and see yourself through it. You can sustain yourself for
periods of time
through the imagination -- through books, movies, music -- and you can
enjoy observing
people around you, and making notes on them and their peculiarities,
especially the people
whose company you crave and who disdain you.

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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