A bumpy ride

My taxi driver boyfriend slept with one of his fares. Can I ever trust him again?

By Garrison Keillor
July 6, 1999 8:00PM (UTC)
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Dear Mr. Blue,

I have loved a man for the past three years and he has loved me.
We've bumped down some of the usual bumpy roads, but there have
been a couple of doozies between us. The first was my
precipitously moving out on him after we'd been living together
for six months. I was pregnant, his father had died and his need
to cling to me overwhelmed me and I ran. The house we lived in
was too small for two, so I moved into my own. My leaving worked
wonders in the relationship and we went along quite well until
last fall when he told me that he had slept with one of his taxi
fares, a stranger to him. We broke up for a few months. We got
back together and then broke up again, and he began dating several
women and having the time of his life. But we are always drawn
back to one another and have recently been seeing one another,
nonexclusively, and are having a ball.

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When he holds me in his arms, I want to be nowhere else but
there. When he looks at me and smiles, I am more seen than I
ever have been. He has forgiven my every transgression and I
have forgiven his. Our sexual life is out of this world. We are
good companions, laugh together and our connection is deep and
abiding. And the biggest plus of all is that he meets me
unafraid. I can be kind
of a handful. He loves to read what I write, he loves to
listen to me, and I to him. What's the problem? Can he give up
other women? He says he would, but I have a hard time believing
that. He has met a woman he feels he could be serious about and
that has woken me up. Do I want to lose this man? Part of me
does not want to lose him and part of me wants to think it is
only about sex. Any wise thoughts?

Yearning and slightly befuddled

Dear Yearning,

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It sounds to me as if you do not want to lose this
taxi driver. Your description of your feelings for him go far
beyond sex. I suggest that he has introduced the specter of the
Other Woman as a ploy to get you off the dime. So is this what
you want, sweetie? People have launched wonderful abiding
marriages on a flimsier keel than total bliss, total forgiveness
and extraterrestrial sex. I don't know. If the befuddlement is
only slight, then I wouldn't let it stop me, if I were you.
Slight befuddlement is more or less a continuous condition in
life, I find. If we paused at every instance of it, we'd hardly
get out of bed in the morning. And if sex is that good, maybe you
shouldn't.

Dear Mr. Blue,

Only twice in my life have I met a guy with whom I've felt a true
connection. I was too young to appreciate the first; the second
I met a month ago. We bonded immediately, began spending a lot of
time together. The problem is he has a long-term on-and-off-again
girlfriend. Even though they're now "off," I told him I couldn't
relax and get to know him without imagining the day he went back
to her. He said he understood, that he really liked me too but
didn't know me well enough to make a decision. I broke it off
with him and now I'm miserable. Did I do the right thing?

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Mopey in Minnesota

Dear Mopey,

You saved yourself a lot more misery trying to help
Old On-and-Off with his baggage. A romance is not a competition.
Let him figure out that girlfriend by himself. Look for No. 3 and
let O&O be miserable about losing lovely you.

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Dear Mr. Blue,

What a mess. I'm a 42-year-old mother of two, married for
16 years to an antisocial, obsessive/compulsive man who
criticizes and belittles me constantly. I pay him back in kind.
Almost from the start, I knew I'd made a mistake, but I
lacked the courage to leave. Our marriage has been rather hollow
for years. I've endured rather than enjoyed sex with him. For as
long as I remember we've diminished rather than enhanced one
another. Nine months ago I began a love affair with a younger man
(36), also married, also with children. The relationship
developed gradually from friendship to the sweetest and most
passionate of romances. Two weeks ago he confessed everything to
his wife and left her in the hope I would join him, which I want
to do with all my heart. But I fear that leaving would destroy my
husband, who basically has no one but me. I want a new life,
shared with this wonderful man I love. But I fear destroying my
husband or awakening a streak of latent vindictiveness in him
that I've seen occasionally and that I fear will be turned on me
and my children. Your thoughts?

Torn

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Dear Torn,

What a mess indeed, but be brave and press forward.
You strike me as honest, and I accept your assessment that you and
your husband are dug deep into your trenches and you see no way
to reconcile. This must be a lousy environment for your children:
I assume they're in early adolescence, a time when one has a hard
row of one's own to hoe without your parents going over the edge.
I feel that, for your children's sake, you should not run out the
door, which is what your heart tells you to do. Call a truce with
your husband, if you haven't already. Tell him you're tired of
the bickering. Withdraw from him as civilly as possible; sleep in
another room, don't sit down to meals with him. Explain that the
hostility is exhausting you, both his hostility and your own, and
you need to take a break from it. You need to be polite for
a while. Tell him you're willing to see a counselor with him, but
you're not willing to engage in any discussion with him that has
a bitter or negative tone. Take a polite tone with him and see
what tack he takes. Your goal is to get him to talk to you about
the marriage in some calm and levelheaded way -- not to agree with
you but to be respectful toward you, and eventually to see your
point of view and, if you go through with it, to accept the end
of the marriage. This may take time. But if, by vindictiveness,
you mean violence, then that's different. At the first sign, the
first threat, of violence, call in the cops, take the kids, flee
and deal with the wreckage later. I wish you well.

Dear Mr. Blue,

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A woman I was having an intense relationship with for six
months ended it abruptly and with little comment two months ago,
on the phone. I was very hurt, but this stuff happens. I asked to
speak to her in person to simply say a few last
words, and finally, after six weeks, she called and chatted,
almost as if nothing had happened. She said she had avoided me
for fear that she'd want to get back together again. She quickly
added, however, that her busy life would not permit any kind of
serious relationship. Still, she cheerfully agreed to meet the
next night. And then she blew me off. Ouch. I left one more
request on her message machine to meet with her. She called and
left a message saying I was annoying her and I should let her
have her space. Even in my worst breakup scenarios in the past,
no one has ever refused to talk to me. Any advice
for going through the closure process solo if the other person
refuses to participate? Is closure even necessary?

Bewildered

Dear Bewildered,

Consider yourself closed. Or closured. Don't try
to talk to someone who doesn't care to talk to you. The way to go
through the closure process is to go back to the dance and enjoy
being with someone who is eager to talk with you, who smiles at
the sight of your face. Life is strenuous and happens quickly and
we can't always stop and get our scrapbooks in order and hold
hands and hum the eternal chord and exchange mantras and coordinate auras or whatever closure involves. I say, forget that
phone number. It's busy.

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Dear Mr. Blue,

Two years ago, my beautiful poet broke up with me after several
passionate, wonderful years together. We grew apart when I
became an entrepreneur and lost my credibility with the slacker
poet crowd. I thought I was being mature and sensible by letting
her go. But now I regret not following my heart.

The new woman in my life is wholesome, funny and generous, but
she just isn't the beautiful poet. And now the b.p. is back in my
life. My heart dares me to pursue her again. Reason suggests I
let it be.

I'm almost 30, want to have children, a peaceful home, dreams
my new woman shares with me. But must I live a life without
poetry?

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Papa

Dear Papa,

Sounds like a mutual thing -- she broke up with you,
you let her go. In what sense is she back in your life? Is she
pursuing you? Or do you simply see her across a crowded room at
poetry seances? "Wholesome, funny and generous" strikes me as a
tepid review of the New Woman. So I'd let things drift along here
for another year or two. No sudden lurches. If the Beautiful Poet
should write a poem to you, write it out by hand on fine
parchment and give it to you, and if you like the poem, and if it
strikes you as romantic, then consider taking up with her. But
poets are notoriously poor bets in marriage. Even if you get one
who isn't wildly self-destructive, she is certain to write about
you someday and this will not necessarily be flattering. Think
about it, Papa. There are beautiful, wacko, grim, needy poets who
can make a man long for the wholesome, the funny and the
generous.

Dear Mr. Blue,

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I'm in love with my best friend. When we first got to know
each other, I had a girlfriend, she had a boyfriend. Then she
moved away. Now, five years later, for career reasons, she moved
back and we're neighbors again and unattached.

I have this incredible urge to tell her my feelings, but I don't
want to alienate her. I want to do the right thing, but
suppressing all these emotions is slowly killing me. She hasn't
lived here long, she just broke up with a guy and her job is
quite stressful. She used to talk about us being an item, back
when she was far away, but I feel now that maybe she doesn't want
to deal with the reality of it.

Just Friends

Dear Just,

If you're afraid a declaration of love might spook
her, your hunch is probably right. Just be her friend, be kind,
be helpful, be present, don't hurl yourself at her and let your
feelings emerge naturally, which they will in due course. It
isn't a corporate merger, you don't need to put out a press
release; it's a sweet romance, let it sneak up on you.

Dear Mr. Blue,

Why is it when anyone writes to you and mentions being fat your
first response is to tell them to lose weight? Most fat people
have tried to lose weight, usually to no avail. That perpetual
struggle is soul-crushing misery.

In my experience, the best thing I've ever done for myself was
learn to love me the way I am and watch how well my newfound
self-confidence attracts people around me. Can you try to imagine
a happy, healthy fat person, please?

Large and Lovely

Dear L&L,

You got it, I can imagine it. The people who mentioned
obesity to me, however, struck me as feeling sad or queasy about
it. I proposed change because they seemed to yearn for it. I
believe in people changing their lives. People do it all the
time: quit drinking, change their eating habits, become
vegetarians, switch parties, quit jobs, move cross-country, fall
head-over-heels in love with unlikely people, have religious
visions and follow them, and God bless and good luck. I also
believe in accepting one's lot and being grateful and content.
And I know plenty of unhappy size 6s.

Dear Mr. Blue,

Do you have any proven methods for better balancing
family, work, writing? As a 30-year-old mom of a 5-year-old, I work approximately 55 hours a week outside the home to pay
the mortgage, buy the food and clothes. I spend the rest of my
time with the husband and child doing fun family stuff or the
not-fun family stuff if the laundry needs to be done.

Stretched Thin

Dear Stretched,

If I gave you any advice whatsoever on this, my
wife would laugh herself silly. All I can say is, you can't write
well when you're tired. You can be tired and be with your family
and often they'll revive you. As for paid work, it can be
carnivorous these days; the pace gets faster, the demands
heavier and you simply cannot give your loyalty to a company or
organization that wants to eat your flesh. A 55-hour workweek is
not supportable over the long run by anyone with a family, I
don't care who it is. We are not immortals. End of homily. Go in
peace.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm a 41-year-old woman, living in Washington, D.C. While I truly
enjoy my life and interesting work, friends and family, I feel
lonely for romance and marriage. Is it too late for me? I have
always attracted, and been attracted to, younger men not
interested in marriage. Now I've begun dating a much younger man,
again, who is lovely but doesn't yet know how old I am. At the
same time I have become intensely attracted to a married man my
own age. We spent a night together not long ago. I feel guilty
about it but also excited. My personal life is a mess. What
should I do? I feel the need to chart a new course but sometimes
feel like I am too old and have missed the boat.

Marooned

Dear Marooned,

No, it's not too late for you. You're not sitting in your
bathrobe, eating cherry creams, weeping into a hanky, you're out
there leading what most people would consider a darned
adventurous life. Is it a mess? OK, if you say so. For
starters, don't get wrapped up in the married man: This is a reef
on which many women's ships have crashed. Court the lovely
younger man, and keep your eyes open for any other prospects.
You're not marooned at all. You're in heavy traffic.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm 27, married to a great guy, doing well except for one thing.
Ten years ago my parents forced me to give up my first love. I
still have friends who hang out with him, so I know what's going
on in his life. I have a lot of anxiety wondering if I should've
fought my parents to return to him. I seek closure and want to
know if the passion that has grown mythic in my mind is indeed
the reality. What the heck do I do?

Star-Crossed Lover

Dear Star-Crossed,

This is an itch, and if you scratch it, it
will bleed, and if you keep on scratching, it will get infected,
and if you keep scratching, your arm will fall off. Forget about
closure. As you go through life, you'll accumulate other sorrows
and regrets that maybe won't close up and wrap themselves in
ribbons either. Every so often you'll think about these hurts, and
years later you'll still be able to weep over them. And you just
shoulder your musket and soldier on.

Dear Mr. Blue,

After a series of lousy lovers, I took time off and forgot men
for a while and it's been great. I've found out a lot about
myself. But it's also been years since I've enjoyed so much as
one good kiss.

There is a guy who's been pursuing me, sort of, who's very clear
about what he wants -- an occasional pizza, maybe a movie and
lots of sex. I want candlelight dinners, backpacking trips in the
wilderness, long conversations about what "breaks the frozen sea
within us." I want a relationship with someone who's smart and
caring and laughs at my jokes. Mr. Pursuer tells me I'm naive.

Part of me knows he's wrong, another part of me is starved for
physical affection and wonders if a brief interlude might
tide me over until a more suitable gent comes along.

Torn between Sex and Romance

Dear Torn,

This guy who is very clear what he wants and thinks
you're naive not to want the same thing he wants needs to be sent
away. You're a lovely woman. If you are starved for physical
affection, bestow it on someone who is surprised and gratified by
it, not on someone who is bargaining for it. And don't give up on
the idea of candlelight dinners and backpacking trips and long
conversations. Don't abandon the prospect of these lovely things.
Let him have the pizza to himself.

Dear Mr. Blue,

A friend of mine has asked me for advice on her unusual romantic
situation. She is a smashing young woman with a good career, nice
home, two small children, and she's being courted by a scrupulously
religious young man who refuses to have sex with her unless she
seduces him, and then he feels remorseful afterward. This has
happened three times in a couple of months. Aside from
this he appears to be an admirable fellow, attentive,
career-minded, stable and hardworking, and good with her
children.

I do not quite understand this young man. If he were banging her
19 to the dozen and feeling remorse, I'd say, "Marry him,
and knock yourselves out." I don't see how a healthy man in his
early 20s can put his religious scruples ahead of
pleasing this young woman. I believe that if she marries him she
will find herself disappointed in their
sex life after marriage, and taking second place to his religious
observance.

Dubious

Dear Dubious,

The scrupulous young man is an admirable character,
and it's to his credit that he is loyal to your friend, even
though she has managed to overcome his scruples. A person of his
scruples might very well turn his back on her, but he hasn't. He
must be in love with her. As for their prospects as a married
couple, I can't say and neither can you. I do believe that when
it comes to sex in marriage, religious people are no more
restrained than anyone else, and may be less so. It's hard to
tell, religious people being so circumspect about this aspect of
their lives. I have the impression that deeply religious people,
within marriage, screw with fabulous abandon and do it 23 to the dozen, but that's only my impression.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm 24, dating a 21-year-old girl who I think drinks too much.
It's not that she drinks all that often, but when she
does it means at least a four-beer session. It makes me feel
alienated and sober. I've asked her why she was drinking so much
and she blew up on me and told me it was my problem that I
couldn't accept it. So what constitutes a drinking problem? And
how does one go about asking his or her partner to cut down?

Put Off

Dear Put Off,

Four beers once in a while doesn't strike me as a
problem. I don't think there's any good way for you to reform
your partner, but I frankly don't see the problem. You are only
dating this girl, you're not her guardian. Lighten up.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I recently finished writing my first short story, which gave me a
thrill and a confidence in my ability. Then I read a New Yorker
review of a young woman's very self-referential art exhibit, and
the reviewer scared me when he wrote that her work had "the
merits and flaws" of many first novels in its "woozy
perspective of the first-person format, along with its
sympathetic pull."

My work resembles this artist's only in that it's
about the experience of a late-20s woman: me. There's no
sympathy-seeking. Nonetheless, this guy has silenced
me for a week! I had a great idea for another story in the first
person; then I read his review and now I feel pre-chastised.
I need advice on defending my voice from the specter of Lord
God King Monster Critic. Please help!

28 1/2

Dear 28 1/2,

Critics are meant to put the fear of God in you, and
this one succeeded. Bully for him. You've been pre-chastised
(great term you coined), and so you pause for a moment, you say a
prayer and then you plunge into your new story. His review could
easily be applied to Joyce's "Portrait of the Artist" or 300 other great literary works. Your voice doesn't need to be
defended; it only needs to be directed toward the reader who is
going to pick up your book. Think less about him, and more about
her.

Dear Mr Blue,

I've a moral conundrum.

I've been very close friends with a young woman for
seven years. She and I have a deep emotional
attachment that has existed despite both of us being
sexually unavailable. She's also very attractive.

Our relationship has developed over love of words --
good, meaningful conversation, swapping journals,
sharing poetry. Recently, she's sending readings with an
amorous bent, including some suggestive but unexplicit
journal entries.

She's married, and I'm not in a serious relationship
right now. Last week she called, expressed her love
for me and wants me to become her lover.

She laid it on the line: Become lovers or the friendship ends
now. I hate to lose her as my friend, but breaking up her
marriage is something I'm not prepared to do, despite finding her
sexually attractive.

But this situation has really stimulated my writing.
The frustration this has engendered is helping out a novel I've
been working on although I'm not describing the actual situation
in the novel.

What to do?

Bewildered in Batavia

Dear Bewildered,

Write the book. Ignore the ultimatum. Good for
her that she's stimulated your writing. Pursue the writing. The
woman is jerking your chain. Sure, she's sexually attractive.
Good for her. Pass this one up. Write the book.


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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