The plot thickens

I love my girlfriend, but I lust after her best friend. Now they want us all to live together. Is there any way it can work out?

By Garrison Keillor
July 13, 1999 8:00PM (UTC)
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Dear Mr. Blue,

I have an obsessive crush on the best friend of my girlfriend of
four years whom I still love dearly. My girlfriend knows about my
feelings and said she wouldn't believe I was truly heterosexual
if I didn't feel this way about her friend. Weird, right?

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Now the best friend wants to apartment-hunt with us. We're all
23 and poor in an expensive city, and a minage ` trois
makes monetary sense. My girlfriend, however, is oblivious to the fact that my lust for her friend is boundless, and I'm worried that things could
get ugly if this comes out once we're all on the same lease. At
the same time, the prospect of the woman I have and the
woman I want together with me under the same roof is hopelessly
tantalizing.

Am I a total cad or am I legitimately muddled? I know my problem
might seem trivial, but it's scary growing into love and finding
that there don't seem to be any rules about the right or wrong
way to do it.

Naked in New York

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Dear Naked,

What we have here is the beginning of a great sitcom, or a novel,
a real page turner, and only you can decide whether you want to
live a novel. The reader assumes that one outcome will be your
girlfriend running screaming into the Manhattan night, but who
can say? Maybe you'll surprise us. If you do rent an apartment
with these two, be sure to keep a detailed daily journal. You owe
this to yourself. It'll make great reading when you're 50. And
it might help you steer your way as a young sheik with a harem
in Manhattan. As for right and wrong, it's best for you to learn
by experience. You're 23. Why should you listen to the
advice of a 56-year-old guy out in the soybean field?
You're on your own, pal. Enjoy the suspense.

Dear Mr. Blue,

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I'm 27, have a great job, nice house, good friends. I feel very
lucky. However, my last relationship was six months ago. A week
ago I ran into my ex and felt all of the things that I had felt
before. Her face and smile were just radiant. We have always
been on good terms. The reason we're no longer together is that
I wasn't ready for such a commitment. I wanted to experience
life on my own for a while. I can't stop thinking about her and
think that maybe I'd like to see her again. My friends are
warning me against this behavior. What can I do to see if the
time is right?

Confused, but ready to be serious

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Dear Confused,

You don't seem confused at all; you seem bent on
courting this radiant woman. Do you need my permission? You have
it. She sounds wonderful. Why should you pass up the chance to
romance someone you can't stop thinking about?

Dear Mr. Blue,

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I am a 27-year-old single woman. I have been close friends with a
25-year-old guy for over two years now. I have, on occasion,
entertained the idea of us becoming physical, but it's always
been more out of curiosity than anything else. We are at
different stages in our lives, and I seriously doubt we could
ever make it as a couple. Besides, we're like siblings. Several
weeks ago, I went to visit him and some other friends who were
working out of town. We had dinner and drinks and soaked in the
nightlife, and I ended up sleeping in his bed at the hotel because
it was late and I knew there was no chance of any funny business.
Boy, was I wrong. We agreed that this would never
happen again and went out to breakfast like nothing was wrong.

Ever since then, he won't return my calls. Normally we
talk at least four to five times a week when he's out of town. I'm afraid
this has ruined our friendship, which I value greatly. What's
going on with him? Why is he avoiding me? What should I do?

Confused in Carolina

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Dear Confused,

He's even more confused than you. That's why he's
avoiding you. You shouldn't do anything. Sit tight. You have no
apologies to make, nothing to explain. You are innocent. Be cool.
This is his problem. Entirely. Let him get over it. If he can't,
then he is much too fragile and not worth your time.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm married to a wonderful man, have a great job, wonderful
friends, good health, etc. A few years ago, my dad
unceremoniously dumped my mom for a younger woman -- a long,
sordid, ugly tale full of lies that did a number on my siblings
and me, not to mention my mom (we have the counseling bills to
prove it). Anyway, my dad is still involved with this woman,
enjoying a high-roller lifestyle unlike anything our family ever
had together. For quite a while after my dad first left, he
hid the relationship from "the kids," as even he was obviously
embarrassed by it. And now he has flip-flopped, wants us to
embrace his girlfriend and is pressuring me to visit them and
stay at their home. (We live at opposite ends of the country.)
We're now supposed to be adults about the whole thing, forgive,
forget and all be friends. My relationship with my dad is still
very strained, and I just don't know if I can handle this. I am
very close with my mother, so I feel a little like a
traitor.

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In a world of moral relativism, I feel like the last holdout.
People I love and respect have very mixed reactions and throw up
their hands on this one. What do you think?

Daddy's little 31-year-old

Dear 31,

You're entitled to your feelings, but don't reject your
dad. Try to be in touch with him in a way that lets you be fairly
honest and also be affectionate. Try to let him get past this
jerky stage of his life. Defend him to your siblings, if you can.
Be sweet. You don't need to go visit him and his girlfriend if it
makes you feel bad. Keep a loose connection for a while, talk to
him on the phone, remember his birthday, send him a Christmas
card, send him pictures of your kids. Let some time pass.

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Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm a lawyer, and recently I've rediscovered an old love, fiction
writing, and I'm toying with fragments that might make a good
novel.

Once I sit down and start writing, the words flow with great
ease. I can draft six pages of my novel in about two hours,
though I always tinker with it afterward. Because it comes to
me so easily, I'm certain it must be truly awful stuff. My
friends and family who read my work say nice things but then they
love me. I'm sure I must truly be terrible and this makes it very
difficult for me to proceed. I'm losing the battle to
get myself to the keyboard. Months will go by without so much as
a journal entry. Yet I have a tremendous desire to turn my
talents to something besides law, of which I grow weary. And I
am very happy when I'm actually writing. How can I gain the
confidence I need to tap away more often?

Cinderella

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Dear Cinderella,

Confidence is an elusive goal for a writer. I
don't know many writers who have attained it. I haven't.
Confidence comes, if it comes at all, from the material you're
dealing with. I've never felt confident writing about myself, but
have felt very bold putting forward the lives and thoughts of
other people. You are suffering the tremors of a true writer.
Don't ignore the feeling, don't obey the feeling. Just forge
ahead.

Dear Mr. Blue,

After reading your columns I believe I am more fortunate than
most. I am 89 years old. Excellent health. More assets than I will
ever need, many good friends. Can find no fault with children,
grandchildren or great-grandchildren. Had a good marriage for 53
years. Traveled everywhere in the world that we wanted to go.
Still find life very good. You needn't
answer, just wanted you to know there are some without problems.

Grandma Bess

Dear Grandma Bess,

There's a fly in the ointment somewhere and if
you sit down and think about it, you'll find it, and if you
ponder it for a while, you can work yourself up into a lather and
then write back and Mr. Blue will address it. Start with those
grandchildren. Isn't there at least one bad apple in that barrel?
I'm sure there is. And be glad for it. It's the children with
problems whom you love the most.

Dear Mr. Blue,

My boyfriend and I, both 28, have been together seven years.
People were surprised when we became a couple. I'm sort of a free
spirit, he's very cautious. I had hoped he'd learn to relax and enjoy life more. But it
hasn't happened that way. I find myself curbing my exuberance and
becoming more like him. We've been having the same argument for
too long. I can't bear to spend the rest of my life fighting a
losing battle.

His job sent him abroad for a month. He was miserable. I was sad
to see my time alone end when he came home.

He's a good man; I often feel he deserves to be with someone
better than me. His greatest fear is that I will one day leave
him. He wants to get married but knows I will say no. He
believes we were meant to be together. I used to hope that he was
right.

Recently, I have become attracted to another good man who I'm
sure reciprocates the interest. I think about him constantly and
imagine what a relationship with him would be like. It's the high
point of my week to see him for a couple of hours. If he were to
ask me to run away with him, I think I'd leave in a moment. He's
shined a great big light on what I've been trying to ignore about
my current relationship. Can you tell me what it is I'm feeling
for this acquaintance? Do my boyfriend and I still have anything
worth fighting for? How do I know if it's time to move on? Should
I move on?

Feeling like a soap opera

Dear Feeling,

It's hard to do what you've got to do, kid, but
when your boyfriend came home after a month away and you felt bad
to see him, that's not right, and you can't make it right. You're
living with him out of habit. Your being a free spirit and his
being cautious isn't the issue: It's that feeling in the pit of
your stomach that you can't ignore. My advice is to stop arguing
and start bringing this old relationship to a decent and civil
end. Don't use the new guy as a lever; square things with the
boyfriend yourself. Maybe you could write him a letter and give
it to him and let him read it in your presence and then sit and
hold your hand and talk, and you can tell him just what you told
me, except do tell him about the good times too. It's painful to
be dumped by your lover; it's too painful by far to stick with
someone whose homecoming you don't look forward to.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I carved out a slice from Chapter One of my book
(autobiographical fiction) and shipped it to two major journals. It
is some of my best writing and has won an award for outstanding
writing, and part has already been published by a literary mag.
Alas, both journals rejected the work. Help. My confidence is
flagging.

Florida Cracker

Dear Cracker,

The fact that two impotent, alcoholic editors of
two cheesy rags turned down your work is of no moment, like being
attacked by houseflies. I don't know who the two are, but I do
know that they're limp reeds in literature, pitiful hulks of
intellects ravaged by too many martinis and prime-rib dinners,
and you should take those rejection slips and put them on the
back of your toilet and think about them as you pass water. Don't
be discouraged by rejection by pygmies like them, be honored.
Courage. Sail on.

Dear Mr. Blue,

My live-in boyfriend and I have a problem: holidays. We've always
each spent holidays with our own families, but last year, after
three years of dating, I went to his parents' home in
Pennsylvania for Thanksgiving. This year, my family is having a
reunion in Florida for Christmas, and my boyfriend was invited
to attend. At first he was hesitant, thinking his mother wouldn't
understand, but then he agreed to spend T-day
with his family and Xmas with mine. Now, with the tickets bought, he is
still prickly about the Christmas trip and says his mom will be
sadder without him than I will be happy with him. I think it's
unfair of him to pit his mother's emotional needs against mine;
what should we do?

Confused in NYC

Dear Confused,

What you should do is not have this argument. It's
like crossing a minefield to capture a hill you don't even want.
You lose a leg and bleed all over the ground, and for a prize you
get to spend Christmas with a morose person. If he wants to spend
Christmas with his mom, let him cash in his ticket. You go to
Florida. He's a big boy, he can decide what to do.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm 30 and have a boyfriend whom I love dearly. He is
creative and handsome and considerate; the problem is, he doesn't
stimulate me intellectually. It wasn't a problem until I met an
older man -- someone I approached about being a mentor to
me -- who is very intelligent, well-traveled and a successful
writer. He also happens to be attracted to me. I've become
infatuated with the mentor; we live in different
cities so the complications from having an affair have so far
been avoided. I'm tempted to run off with this older man, who
represents everything I feel is lacking in my life. It's risky in
many ways, but our connection is so intense that I'd be a fool to
ignore it. At the same time, I'm terrified of leaving my
boyfriend -- I still love him, and I don't want to hurt him. I'm
also afraid that our mutual friends would take his side, so I'd
be losing my social circle as well. I'm torn between adventure
and security. I want both. Is there a way for me to have my cake
and eat it too?

On the Fence in SF

Dear On the Fence,

Mad impulses strike each of us. We just have
to deal with them, that's all. I have an impulse to become a
saloon singer, which I feel would fill the empty places in my
life. So far I haven't done this. The part I don't understand is
about your going to an older writer and asking him to be your
mentor. Do people really do this? Am I just hopelessly dumb? No
attractive 30-year-old ever walked up to me and asked me to
mentor her. Is it because my eyebrows are too bushy? Am I not
well-traveled? OK, forget about that. I'll work through that
myself. As for your question about cake, it strikes me as
cunning, as does your letter, and it strikes me that what is
lacking in your life is knowledge of yourself. You don't need to
ask anybody's permission to run off with your mentor and have a
mad romance in Tuscany and fulfill each other totally, fully,
ultimately, and lead a delirious life among the vineyards. I
think the successful writer may have violated the code of the
American Mentoring Association, but that's his problem.

Dear Mr. Blue,

My boyfriend and I have been living together for three years, and
with each passing day we get closer and further apart. We're like
family -- caring, affectionate, concerned for one another -- but
there's no romance. I'm much more like his sister than his lover.
I often fantasize about rekindling an old relationship (which I
know is a bad idea).

How does one go about solving this? Do I poke my current
mate in the ribs and make him start being romantic again
(whatever that means)? Finding myself a new lover sure is
tempting, but it'll take forever to develop the comfort level I
have with my "brother."

Sibling in Silicon Valley

Dear Sibling,

What comfort level are you talking about? You don't
seem comfortable to me, you seem dissatisfied and restless. Maybe
you're reluctant to cause pain to a good person, which is an
inevitable thing in life but something one naturally shrinks
from. As for poking him in the ribs, you know better than I if
his ribs are erogenous or not. Let me raise a hypothetical: What
if your live-in brother told you tomorrow that he thinks he
prefers men to women? Would that send you screaming and weeping
to a therapist? I doubt it. I think you could tell him that
you're thinking about finding a lover, and if he really cares
about you and if he's in touch with reality, he'd deal with it.
We don't own each other, you know. We're only lent, and on
certain terms. He isn't holding up his end of the deal.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I just turned 37, and suddenly realized that -- damn! -- I forgot
to get married and have kids.

My banal question is: How does a reasonably smart, reasonably
pretty woman meet a mate in the big city? I've had long-term
relationships, and when I was younger it was never any work to
find a boyfriend. But these days, most men my age or older are
already married.

Being a man, you must know how to locate others of your species.

Mateless in Manhattan

Dear Mateless,

At 37 you're probably not going to find a fresh,
crisp one; probably you're going to pick one up off the floor,
where he lies weeping and wounded from his divorce. He'll be
older than you, maybe 10 or 15 years older, and he won't
see you as reasonably smart and pretty, he'll see you as Athena
and Aphrodite. On his good days. On his bad days, he'll weep in
his beer over the crummy way he treated Mildred and Timmy and
Trish. He'll be a little wobbly, like a bicycle with a bent
frame. He'll be terribly grateful for you. I don't know if he'll
want to have kids or not. Not at first, but maybe as a favor to
you. You won't find this guy by searching for him. He'll find
you, probably through a friend. Let your friends know what you're
thinking. Meanwhile, enjoy Manhattan.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm surprised and shocked that you've made a mistake in your
advice. You shouldn't be advising a woman to spend time alone
with a married man. I have come to the point where I won't even
take a female co-worker to lunch without another co-worker present.
Let's face it, solitary conversations are an intimacy. That
intimacy can easily grow into something else. If marriage
means something, the line must be drawn somewhere. This is mine.
No intimate lunches. It has prevented lots of
problems and I honestly wish I'd started this many years ago.

Wiser

Dear Wiser,

Good for you. But I'm glad to have lunch now and then
with another woman, not secretly or intimately, just a lunch on a
sunny terrace in St. Paul, Minn., that I'd be very happy if
my wife walked by and sat down and joined us. I love to talk to
women. I don't see a reason to erect fences around the lunch. Of
course, a lunch between me and another woman is intimate. I don't
see intimacy as being necessarily sexual. I see it as necessary
to friendship, and if my friendships were limited to men, I'd
feel crippled.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am 23, single for about, well, 23 years. Sure, I've
had a few brief flings, but nothing substantial. Never had a
high-school sweetheart. Never even succeeded in asking a woman
out for dinner. I've tried to avoid one-nighters, and the result
is that I've had absolutely no luck at all. Most of the time I
have no problem with this, but sometimes I get a little antsy
about it and try to be a little more aggressive and ask women
out. And then I screw up all over the place. Either I wait too
long to ask, or I ask too soon. Often I misread their signals. Or
my higher cognitive functions shut down entirely and ask the
Wrong Woman, like a psychopath for example.

I have no trouble at all having good old-fashioned friendships
with women. Some of my best friends are female. Am I sending bad
signals to women I'm interested in? Or just unlucky?
I'm happy being single, but I don't want to spend the rest of my
life that way. Then
again it's hard to ignore the repeating patterns that are
emerging.

Antsy

Dear Antsy,

Ask one of your old-fashioned friendly women for
advice. Maybe you have bad timing. Maybe you have weird hair. Or
bad breath. Maybe there is a small chunk of food on your upper
lip. Get a friendly woman to check you out, and then go mill in
the crowd. You're a young guy, and there's nothing wrong with
your not having had a steady sweetheart or asked someone out to
dinner. You're eager and hopeful and that's what's important.
Don't brood. Be happy about the company of women, and something
will happen.


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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