The art of seduction

Now that we're married, our great romantic adventures seem to be a thing of the past. How can I arouse my husband again?

Garrison Keillor
June 8, 1999 8:00PM (UTC)

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm a 28-year-old French woman married to a happy and wonderful man, an
American about
my age. I feel blessed, but I wish we could make love more often. I would be
delighted to
make love every day, but after three years of
marriage, we only make love once or twice a week. I wish we could experiment
with new
things and be more kinky. He says his love for me prevents him
from letting go in that way, that I'm his beloved wife on a sort of pedestal.
At the beginning of our story, we were more spontaneous and had great
romantic times in
trains, cars, parks. Is this the turn all marriages take? A woman told me to
find a lover, which I found ridiculous. Should I calm down?



Dear Curious,

Be calm, be happy, don't press. The amorous life is one of
suggestion and
gesture, not persuasion or petition or complaint. If you want to arouse your
man, praise him
as a lover, tell him how he arouses and delights you, don't suggest
there's a deficiency.
Your husband may have a problem letting you know when he is interested in
and this is a problem of physical communication, not solved by serious
discussion. For
example, in bed, in the evening or in the morning, embrace in a light way
that allows him
either to kiss and dismiss you if he's not in the mood or to be playful and
move toward lovemaking. It's all a matter of gesture, sometimes very slight ones, and the
beauty of it is that
the gestures are enjoyable in themselves. The mutual seduction is part of the
pleasure. The
worst thing is to say, lying next to him in the dark, "Why don't we make love
more often?"
That is a killer.


Dear Mr. Blue,

I have been in love with a wonderful man for four years. He's 27, I'm 30
and he's just finishing graduate school. About two years ago I brought up the subject of
marriage, and
what a disaster. He said he didn't want to get married, and he didn't want to
marry me. We
eventually stopped living together, got some therapy and have been
really happy for the last year seeing each other. But it seems that a
large invisible elephant has come in: I wonder if he's going to leave me,
what will happen. I
don't dare ask him again, but I imagine my babies calling him Papa. Am I
stupid for staying
with him? I've got a good job, am not afraid of being alone and don't want
to be fooling
myself. But I can't imagine life without him. Please
advise; my heart seems to be breaking.



Dear Misty,

There is an inequality of feeling here -- him wanting a loose
arrangement, you
wanting babies and marriage -- and you may as well resolve this. If you're
worried about him
leaving you, it would be better for you to open the door: Tell him that you
need a few months
to think things over. Be honest about how you feel, but propose that you and
he not see each
other for a period of time. It would give him a chance to think about what he
wants. If you
lose him, you lose him, but at least you settle the matter now and don't
suffer over it for
years to come.


Dear Mr. Blue,

I always imagined that I would be a writer. Unfortunately, I just
don't write and can't even seem to begin. This past winter the idea of
becoming an architect jumped into my head. I started looking
into a graduate program, and although there are several steps involved, it
seems like a viable plan. My friends are confused because architecture never
came up in conversation before, and my husband (who says he's sure I could do anything I
put my mind to) wonders if it's just a phase born of frustration. I want to believe that I have some great artistic calling and that when I hear the call it will be unmistakable. I do think architecture is fascinating, and I have passionate feelings about how things should be built, but it doesn't seem to fit my heart like the idea of writing a story does. I'm confused and am starting to think that in the absence of a calling I am hearing voices. But then too I wonder if the idea of a calling is
melodramatic and that maybe instead of waiting for it to come to me I should go out and try to embrace something I find interesting and see if it grows on me. What do you think? Do only great people get called?

Hearing voices


Dear Hearing,

Calm down. Go ahead and look into architecture if that
interests you; get some good advice and counseling from someone in the field and at the school. But don't look at it as a great artistic calling. Look at it as a discipline to be mastered that demands focused and diligent hard work, not passionate feelings. It is a branch of engineering, after
all, as much as it is an art. The sentence that leaps out of your letter is
"I want to believe that I have a great artistic calling ..." Believing in it isn't quite enough. One needs a sense of calling in artistic work because there is such a high incidence of failure and embarrassment: To survive demands some irrational sense of purpose. And that is what a calling gives you, an inner suit of armor, a sense of confidence not supported by the facts. Even a person so armed, however, may fail abysmally and may in the end abandon the enterprise; there are no
guarantees. It strikes me that, more than enjoying the process, you may
desire the outcome. You don't want to write, you want to have written. That isn't a calling; it's just plain covetousness. Get over it.

Dear Mr. Blue,


I am a happily married 25-year-old woman with two beautiful young boys
and a decent job. I have my share of stresses and frustrations, but
I'm reasonably happy. I have two dear friends in their 30s who
are pining to have babies and husbands and constantly talk about getting their
lives started. I try to be reassuring, but I wonder if a matchmaker might be a more
straightforward solution than singles bars or personal ads. It hurts to see them
alone and
suffering. I want them to get what they want, but I don't want to insult them
or seem nosy.


Dear Auntie,

It's sad to see one's friends dissatisfied and tempting to reach
over and set things
to rights, but don't overreach. If they ask for your advice, offer it, and if
they only ask for a
sympathetic ear, give them that. You can't orchestrate someone else's life.
operated in a religious cultural setting wherein a prospective couple could be
brought together
and, though strangers to each other, feel that they knew each other: You
not only married an individual, you married the culture. I don't think it works
so well in a secular society that believes in people inventing themselves.


Dear Mr. Blue,

A while back you advised someone to avoid dating men whose best friends are
women, and I've been wondering why you said that. It seems to me that a man
who has
close female friends is likely to be a good partner for a woman. Could you

Just Wondering

Dear Just,


My advice was to a woman, that she should be wary of a man who
told her that
his best friends are women. Not to be wary of the fact but of the
proclamation, which shows
defensiveness on the man's part.

Dear Mr. Blue,

Can a true relationship come out of a lustful affair?
About three months ago, having sworn off one-night stands, I allowed a very
handsome and
interesting man to seduce me. We saw each other over the
course of a month, it was very passionate and I began thinking monogamously,
which made him retreat. We still see each
other as "friends" with no sex and some flirting.
I still think he's great and my respect for him
grows, and I think his appreciation for me is maturing.
I think we are formally dating. It's as if we are
going backward. Can this become a serious
romantic relationship? He has said that he doesn't want to
be involved now, and I have been in therapy and have
realized that this isn't the best time for a
romantic relationship. Any hope?



Dear Hopeful,

Where there's hope there's life. If you enjoy his company, keep
seeing him.
Don't rush your feelings, though. Don't try to read ahead. You made the first
overture and he
said no. Now it's his turn.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I've done a really silly thing. I'm 30, in grad school, have been told I'm
attractive, have dated plenty and now there's a man, a Ph.D. student, in one of
my classes
whom I've developed a huge crush on. We definitely made eye contact, but when
class was
over I panicked and walked right by him
with a nonchalant "see ya!" I completely blew it, and since then I haven't
been able to figure out a way to talk to him. I know
I'll just kick myself if I don't find a way to talk to him. This is a
grad-level psychology class; you'd think I'd be able to not act like
a teenager! What's happening?? What should I do?

Tongue-tied silly

Dear tongue-tied,

The delights of infatuation extend even to thirtysomethings,
and the delights
include stammering, blushing, confusion, the vapors, sleeplessness -- good
for you that
you're capable of such innocent pleasures. The people with the problem are
the ones who
don't react, sweetie, not the ones who do. What should you do? Walk over and
talk to him
about whatever's on your mind (other than him), and if there's an appropriate
moment to say
it, say, "How would you like to have _______ ?" ([a.] coffee [b.] a beer [c.]
lunch [d.] a big
romance). And if you can't bring yourself to do it, too bad for him.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am a well-employed man, 34, and hope to be married,
but I have noticed a pattern of monogamous long-term relationships. A woman
pursues me,
and I allow her into my life, feeling not really that interested. But it's
better than being
alone. A year goes by. Two. Three. I am neither in love nor really unhappy.
takes most of my time. I do not make promises, and if the subject of marriage
comes up I am honest. The most recent has been a very good friend. She would
a very steady mate. I truly like her and would almost rather sacrifice my
hope of
happiness than subject her to pain. (Somehow I think that would be less than
the optimal proposal of marriage.) Do you have any advice? Does one need
to hear bells to be happily married?


Dear Yawn,

You sound like a drone, to be perfectly frank, and a drone is not
likely to fall
head over heels in love. A drone needs to mate with another drone, and make a
marriage of
polite disinterest, in which the partners service each other sexually and do
not interfere with
each other's career trajectory. If you want to escape the drone existence,
there are ways, but
that's a separate problem; droning probably suits you well enough. If
this seems severe,
it's because your second sentence is so smug and reprehensible. If you had
told these women
the truth -- that you weren't really that interested but, heck, you'd allow
them into your
life, generous guy that you are -- they would have walked the other way.
Don't even think
about marrying this woman. Don't consider it for two minutes. If she is a
good friend, you
ought to warn her about yourself.

Dear Mr. Blue,

Re: MFA programs -- do the school names or ranking matter much
toward getting published? I was accepted in a program this fall. Should I
apply to a higher-ranked program for the following year? Intuition tells me to get over the
politics of
envy and just get the writing done. What's your opinion?


Dear Curious,

The rankings of MFA programs as a factor in publication is a
topic that
interests me slightly less than the mating habits of cutworms. Maybe it
matters in the
publication of poems, there being so little demand for poetry, but I don't
know, I don't care
and neither should you. Be a writer, and leave strategy to politicians.

Dear Mr. Blue,

As of last November I had spent five years alone. Then, she came
along. She said I was intriguing. She said I was warm and gentle.
Soon, she said she loved me. And I loved her too.

A month ago she said it was all a mistake. She said she wanted to love me
but couldn't.

Before all of this I was lonely, yes, but I was content. I had
accepted that I might go through life alone. Now that calm has blown away. I
am angry at
her for misleading me, though grateful to her for waking up my heart.

Now I'm torn. I don't want to risk love, but I don't want to risk
loneliness either.


Dear Torn,

You should be grateful to her. She did you good, as much as she
could do, and
then she chose not to deceive you, a second good turn. She didn't mislead
you, she simply
led you toward an adventure that couldn't be completed, and left you with
some good
memories, I trust. You can go through life alone and still have a wakeful
heart. Whether you
do, or whether you find someone else, cherish the memory of love. As someone
once wrote:

All of the lovers and the love they made,

Nothing that was between them was a mistake.

All that they did for love's sake

Was not wasted and will never fade.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I can never tell whether a woman is interested in dating me, or just being
friendly. Now I'm interested in a co-worker. She's beautiful, smart,
funny and so friendly. How do I avoid making an unwelcome advance?

Clueless in N.C.

Dear Clueless,

A workplace romance is tricky; you're sailing along a rocky
shore indeed,
and there are wrecks on that shore. If she is directed by you, if you're
above her in the
pecking order, it's especially tricky. Among colleagues, there often comes an
atmosphere of
trust and friendliness and emotional intimacy that is all very professional
but that can easily
be mistaken for something else. This is especially true for colleagues who
must endure a
good deal of stress: The intimacy is only to make life bearable. You should
bend over
backward to avoid making an advance. Let her make the advance. And make sure

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am at wits' end. I am 32, married to a wonderful 30-year-old woman. I think
we have a
good relationship, but there is one problem, and that, of course, is sex. She
just isn't
interested. When it happens, it is passionate, and she seems to enjoy it --
she says
she does, but her libido is extremely low. Sex is very intermittent,
less than once a month, and we've had a few unfortunate arguments on the
subject. I know
you can't convince someone they're in the mood, but what can you do? I love
her very
much, but the situation is making me unhappy and crazy.


Dear Desperate,

Anyone can sympathize with your unhappiness, but don't let
direct you. You know the old saying, "Women are looking for a reason to have
sex, men are
looking for a place." Don't confront, don't argue, don't discuss. Court her.
Be kind. Be kind
beyond kindness. And try to find a simple physical language, starting with
hand holding and
kissing and embracing, that brings you together in tenderness without pushing
her. You can't
push. You can't bully someone into loving you. It is all a matter of
enticement, delicacy,
intimation. The simple pleasure of touching, stroking, caressing is the
start of it all, and
perhaps you need to go back and rediscover that pleasure, not as a step
toward an end but
as a delight in and of itself.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm 65, but thanks to a good gene pool I look 50. I've been married three
times and have had
three serious living-together arrangements. I'm well educated and have been
an engineer, a
sales manager, a lawyer, a law school professor, a car salesman and so forth.
Presently I am working off and on as a computer
technician, wanting to be a writer but not writing, wanting a meaningful
relationship but afraid that I will mess it up again. It has been two years
since I dated or had sex. I left law when I started having heart attacks. I
had quadruple
bypass surgery two years ago, which solved
that problem. But it seems to me that God has given me a pass, and now I want
to spend my
remaining years doing something meaningful and creative.

Writing is something I do well, but the compulsion to write doesn't
seem to be there for me. I lose interest quickly. I'm aware that my fear of
rejection is what keeps me from initiating relationships or writing something
creative. If I
could figure out what to do, I'd "just do it."

Bummed out

Dear Bummed,

A writer is not someone who wants to write. A writer is one who
Just as a swimmer is one who swims, not one who sits on the shore and
imagines what it
would be like. Life itself is good enough, without trying to force oneself
into a calling.
Living each day can be a meaningful and creative act. I am a writer who's
written a ton of
stuff, but I have friends who, though they've never published a word and whose
will be shorter than mine, have led lives every bit as meaningful and
creative. They are more
aware than I, more generous, livelier, they only lack that little engine of
ambition that
propels some of us a little too hard. Don't covet a compulsion, don't try to
outsmart the fear
of rejection: Live as boldly as you can today and a little more boldly


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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