Love me, love my wife?

Is it OK for me to see my married male friend without his wife tagging along?

Garrison Keillor
June 15, 1999 8:00PM (UTC)

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am a single woman determined to live the most joyous life
possible until I meet the man who will love me and whom I can love. My
life is really very full: close family, many artistic opportunities,
satisfying work. I find,
though, that I don't want to limit my friendships to other single people, and
I find that, while
I can be friends with a married woman and not feel I must pay equal attention
to her
husband, the same is not true with married men. I'd like your opinion. Can a
man and a
woman be "just" friends, or is the question of sexual attraction always


My relationship with a particular couple has been the source of a great
deal of anxiety. I met him before I met her but knew very soon that he was
married, and
therefore not available to me. She is an interesting person, but I
prefer his company. We have spent time together, the three
of us, and I am happy to have them both in my life. But so often I wish
I could just talk to him alone for a while, and then I feel guilty for
that wish! I try so hard not to let it show. Am I kidding myself?

Miss LonelyHopefulHeart

Dear Miss,


Yes, you can be friends with a married man and not have sexual
electricity make
your hair stand on end. It happens all the time. You do have to walk a
careful path so as not
to excite your friend's spouse's jealousy, but if your conversation is mostly
with him and not
with her, then you should feel free to pursue it.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm blazing along on my first novel, clicking out 2,000 words a day when I'm
rolling, and I keep wondering, how many words in a novel?


I know it varies widely and that the novel is done when the story is told and
all that, and I also know that I'll know when I'm finished. But what are
the actual word counts?


Dear Curious,

I'm so envious of someone who clicks out 2,000 words a
day, I'm tempted to say, "4,684,330," but the truth is that you're getting into the novel league when you approach 50,000, and around 100,000 you may want to stop, sit down and read the thing to see if you're done. You don't want to write more than your reader cares to digest.


Dear Mr. Blue,

I am a 31-year-old male, recently finished with my Ph.D., but planning
to blow off the bitter politics of academia to seek my fortune in Paris
a few months from now. My problem is that I am unable to enjoy any of
the good luck that has recently been raining upon me. Ever since a
disappointing break-up with my fiancie three years ago, I have been
filled with cold distrust toward other people. Worse than that, I may
have inadvertently strung a couple of women along, wrongly giving them
the impression that they might have a chance. By most people's
standards, three years is probably a bit long to be nursing wounds from
a relatively amicable separation, but I feel like a part of my soul has
been cut out and I hardly know where to find it again. Any thoughts you
might have would be appreciated. But the following question strikes me
as especially relevant: Are these things best cured gradually, or isn't
there something immediate and quasi-ritualistic (e.g., skydiving, a
courageous knife fight) that might jolt me out of this dreary era?

Black and Blue


Dear Black and Blue,

Put the idea of a courageous knife fight away, OK?
Most knife fights
are short and brutal and nothing you'd consider ritualistic. I don't know
about skydiving
except that it's nothing to try if at first you don't succeed. Go seek your
fortune, young man.
Enjoy Paris. Enjoy it for all it's worth. Read up on it so that when you
arrive the city will
already be alive in your imagination. Let the glory of the city and the
delicacy of French
culture be the intense experience that will wash this bitterness away. Your
miseries took
place in English, so speak French for a while. As for cold distrust, it won't
do you a bit of
good in Paris; it will be wasted on people who will have more than enough
cold distrust for
you. So start being charming, sir. And look for your soul in Paris, a city of

Dear Mr. Blue,


I had an unfulfilling experience in a writing program long ago, and
wondered what you thought of them. Do they do more harm than good?


Dear Skeptical,

I had an unfulfilling experience in a department store the
other day. I don't
know what I think about it. But it does no harm. You just look for an exit
and go through it. There's a big colorful world out there to conjure up. If programs insult your soul, quit, and slam the door on your way out. Give yourself the pleasure of insulting the programmers.


Dear Mr. Blue,

I have brought my beloved husband to live with me in Iowa, my native state
-- he is a New Yorker, from the Upper West Side, and the terms are that we will spend two years here, after which, if he doesn't like it, he has only to say the word and we will go back to the city. The thing is, I am a veterinarian; my career possibilities in Manhattan are limited to tending kitty cats, and I prefer cattle and horses and hogs, particularly hogs, which are truly fascinating and endearing animals. My husband is a writer. We've been here six months, and so far he's been so hard to live with that I've been tempted twice to send him back to New York alone. He makes fun of everything and everybody in such a sarcastic way, and lately he's taken to ridiculing my poor mother for her devotion to gardening and lawn care. I don't get it. He used to be more mannerly. What can I do?


Dear Heartbroken,


Your husband is struggling with culture shock and needs to
work his way out of it. Only he can do that. It's a long way from New York to Iowa. In New York, if you see someone on her hands and knees on the ground, you'd assume she was having a bad drug experience. Most dirt in New York City is dirt that you wouldn't want to get involved with. It's dirt that other people have been involved with. The devotion your mother expends on growing things would, on the Upper West Side, be expended on excoriating the mayor or finding a great Chinese restaurant. All you can do is be patient. And if you must return to New York and resign yourself to treating the urinary tracts of kitty cats, know that you, as a Midwesterner, are much more adaptable than a New Yorker, and you'll find a way to make it work.

Dear Mr. Blue,

Some years ago I was in a long, stupid relationship with a guy I should
never have dated to begin with. When it was over, I was haunted by how
many of his flaws I'd willingly overlooked. Then came Mr. Wonderful. He's the
National Gallery, he's Garbo's salary. But he believes -- as Buddhists believe in
the Middle Way -- that he's 5-foot-10. Well, I'm 5-5, and he and I
are almost the same height.

What to do, what to do, what to do? Should I try to point out
the reality of the situation or let it go? My fear is that I am too in love
to see what this means, that he lies about whatever he doesn't like about
himself and then
forgets it's a lie. Or is this small potatoes. For what it's worth, I like
him exactly the way he
is and am prepared to spend the rest of my life
dealing with his every shortcoming if I can just get past
this one.


Being Honest

Dear Honest,

This is a small potato. The man is vertically challenged and he
has clung to the
notion that he's 5-10, which is not so different from a 130-pound woman
believing she
weighs 112. One of those tolerable little lies. But yes, take any natural
opportunity to point
out the reality, and tease him a little about his prevarication. This will
let you know whether
the man has a sense of humor about himself, and that is not small potatoes.
That's crucial.

Dear Mr. Blue,

My beloved wife is in the fourth month of pregnancy, our first child, and
we're both happy and excited. But I am slowly realizing that she assumes that I will be with her during labor,
and I can't imagine this. I mean, I get woozy if a nurse draws blood from my
finger, so how
can I be of any use to my wife when she's in the turmoil of childbirth, which
I understand to
be a fairly bloody operation. How can I break it to her that this is
impossible for me?


Dear Nauseous,

Under the Old System of fatherhood, the dad did not come into
the delivery
room. In those days, we men lived in hunting lodges in the woods and were
brought into the
village for breeding purposes and went back to hunting, and usually we were
squatting around
a fire eating half-baked venison on sticks and smoking cigars when a guy came
by and said,
"Hey, they say your wife had a baby," and we said, "Yeah, I was sort of
thinking maybe it
was something like that." Guys were out of the loop as far as babies were
Nowadays, the father is a partner, present at the birth, helping his wife,
holding her ankle,
encouraging her, sharing her pain, mopping her brow, saying "push" when the
says "push," lighting incense and putting on a CD of a Bulgarian women's
chorus if it's a
natural birth, and if you skip all this and stay out at your hunting lodge,
you will look bad
and your wife will have reason to wonder if you really care about her. Go to
the childbirth
classes, learn what you can (which will make the real event less
frightening) and know that
a father in the delivery room is an ornament. Nothing really is expected of
you but your
ceremonial presence. You can always avert your eyes. The sight of the child
emerging is
something you shouldn't miss, but don't look when they administer the
epidural or the
episiotomy. Never look at an episiotomy.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm 28 years old. I recently left my hometown for a larger city after
becoming involved with a co-worker at my last job. We started off as friends, but immediately there was a connection I've never experienced before. We were both in pretty awful relationships, and I ended mine and then decided to relocate, and he then ended his, and immediately after, we became involved, and WOW! I've had quite a few relationships and never dreamed that one could be this wonderful.

The problem is, I'm now over 2,000 miles away and we're still going strong. We
met recently and decided we both want to get married. I've found a good job in this city -- my hometown is economically dead -- but he wants me to come back for a while to get married and wait for him to finish his degree in two years.

I still have student loans and other debts. I can't help but think I should
stay for a while to make some money; I'm making twice what I made back home. He says that if money is the only thing keeping me, that he wants to help me financially. I've lived on my own and supported myself since I was 18, and I find I'm very conflicted about this. Maybe money isn't everything. Maybe life is too short to stay apart (it is so hard).

Plus, I know if the tables were turned I would do the same for him.


Dear Undecided,

You'll do what your heart tells you to do, but since you ask
me, I'd argue
for staying where you are, earning some dough, paying debts and letting the
simmer for a while. It costs you nothing to wait. (If this sounds like a dad
talking, well, it is,
but it's good advice.) Enjoy the romance; don't rush it to completion. It
sounds as if this
romance took place amid a good deal of personal tumult, yours and his, and
it's not a bad
idea to let time pass and allow the winds to die down. Test the romance at
2,000 miles for
a while, and see how things go. And if you are going to marry, you'll want to
be on as good
financial footing as you can manage. You love him and he loves you, but you
must make
sure that you each mean the same thing by this. It's a bad sign if he tries
too hard to
maneuver you into returning. A very bad sign.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I was intrigued by your reply to "Wishy-Washy," that "indecision is a symptom
of narcissism"; would you expand on that statement? It might help me to get
past a recently
broken heart, or at least to understand it better. And while I have your
attention: Does love
matter to anyone anymore? When did we stop believing in the power of love to
us? Is it ridiculous to still believe this when you are almost 40?


Dear Worldly,

The rest of us haven't stopped believing in the transforming
power of love,
and when you get over your broken heart, you may believe again too. On most
days it seems
like a lofty notion that doesn't have much to do with the price of oranges;
it's seen more
clearly when we look back at our life and the people we've loved and discern
how this love
has rescued us from narcissism and grounded us in reality. As for indecision,
it's a common
human failing and no doubt in specific cases is due to honest confusion
(Would I rather go to
the horseshoes tournament or to dinner with the Hooples?), but when indecision
becomes a
way of life and a person feels chronically becalmed and bewildered, I say
you're taking
yourself too seriously. You're missing out on playfulness, a necessary
element. Play involves
other people. If I sit in a room alone and stare at my big toe, I won't be
able to decide if I'm
a writer or what to write, but if I walk down the crowded avenue of
literature, jostle with
other writers, living and dead, compete in the dancing contest, sit down at
the poker table,
then I have a much clearer idea about myself and what I can do.

Dear Mr. Blue,

Is it OK to let a man buy me dinner when I'm quite sure I don't want to
date him again?


Dear Independent,

I think you ought to buy him dinner, as a consolation. I
mean, if he grabs
the check, you don't need to wrestle him to the floor for it, but you ought
to make a
straightforward attempt to avoid being his guest. Unless he's loaded, of
course, and then be
sure to order the Malpeque oysters on the half shell, the 1988 Barolo, the
aged filet mignon
and a flaming custard, and when the bill arrives, push it gently toward him.

Dear Mr. Blue,

Oh God, I just turned 37, which seems much older than 36. For years, I've
been writing songs and fronting a rock band without achieving much success.
Now I feel too old for this biz, and too worn down to write. I have a
relationship with a very sweet, kind, decent and intelligent man who is
untormented by any failed-artist scenarios. I'm afraid to settle down with
him for fear my life will turn into a deathly bore, and I'll feel hopelessly
thwarted and
unfulfilled. Once you've got the bug, can you make it go away? Is
day-to-day contentment
the enemy of creativity? Can I still rock?

Guitar Woman

Dear G.W.,

You are probably too old for the platinum end of the music biz, and
have been
for 20 years. That end is aimed at pre-teens and you, my dear, would only
remind them
of their mothers. Of course there are other levels and alcoves of the
business that would be
friendlier, but it sounds to me as if you need to think about your bug. The
urge to perform is
not necessarily an indication of talent, and every so often -- more often as
you get older -- a
person needs to reexamine these ambitions. Can you still rock? Of course you
can. But it is a
bruising business, the sort that a person should be prepared to walk away
from at any time.
Why don't you take a year off and rest? See if it doesn't help your writing.
And see if you
don't find other things to engage you. Such as this sweet guy, for example.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm 34. My father died six years ago, and a year later my girlfriend broke up
with me.
I was cautious about meeting someone new but eventually did and everything
was great at
the start. We had taken time to get to know each other really
well first. After a while she said she no longer felt attracted to me. We
continued to see each
other for a while, to see if things would improve. Finally she broke up with
She said I was a great guy and there was nothing wrong with me, but if that's
true then why

Now I don't know if I can trust another woman or even trust my own feelings.
I was sure it
was going to work out with us. I don't think I can take another failed
relationship. What am
I doing wrong?


Dear Shaken,

You've just gone through a rejection and you should take it
strictly as that --
one woman saying no -- and not as a general judgment. She is not the voice
of the
universe, so don't take it so hard. Move forward and put this behind you. You
don't know if
you can trust another woman? Good sir, you haven't even met that woman, the
one you're
not sure you can trust. Meet her and get to know her and see for yourself.
And there's
nothing wrong with your feelings: You're just bleeding a little. A person
learns so much from
failed relationships, and who knows? You may need more education, but I wish
you well.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I divorced three years ago and since then have had to dedicate most of my
life to my two children who were badly affected by the changes. I teach
at the university level and am getting a Ph.D. But I have practically no
friends. I can't afford baby sitters, the kids have homework every evening,
etc. I'm happy
during the school semester because I'm always busy. But when the children go
with their
dad for vacations, I have nothing to do but work. It gets lonely. Any advice?


Dear Caught,

It's awfully lonely, and good for you that your work keeps you
occupied, but
of course you must find some friends. Preferably some who are in the same
boat you're in, I
would think. Any sizable city would have groups of like-situated people (e.g.,
Without Partners), and you might check them out. And what about your
colleagues? Is there
nobody among your fellow grad students who seems interesting to know? Make
some room
in your busy life for companionship. No need for baby sitters. Train your kids
to let Mama
have some friends over for supper. Whomp up some spaghetti and open a bottle
of cheap
wine and sit around and talk.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I notice a great many letters to you from people dissatisfied with the
frequency with which
they copulate. I have been married for eight years to a sweet, funny,
charming man whom I
love deeply, and who returns my feelings. We work in the same office and
spend most of
our time together. We have never had a serious argument. However, our
schedule for
lovemaking is not nearly as crowded as those of some of your other
correspondents. We seem to be at the bottom of the curve. Should we be eating
more oysters
or watching X-rated movies in the tub, or is curling up together
and sleeping like two old dogs reward in itself?

Satisfied (or so I thought)

Dear Satisfied,

There was a man who went to a therapist to talk about his
marriage, and the
therapist asked him how often he had sex with his wife. "Once a year," he
said. The
therapist expressed sympathy and the man grinned and said, "But tonight's the
night." As we
say, it isn't a contest, and every marriage is different, and whatever makes
two people happy
is strictly their business, and I wish you two old dogs many happy years of
curling up
together and sleeping.

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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