case dismissed

women who write using only lower-case letters must be careful about love. they'll fall too easily for a cabbie, a pizza boy or a poet.

By Garrison Keillor
July 20, 1999 8:00PM (UTC)
main article image

dear mr. blue,

a man i've met twice has e-mailed me an entire collection of his poetry. i was
deeply moved by many of the poems, which were of a very personal
nature. but it strikes me as strange a person would disclose something
so personal to someone he hardly knows -- namely me. is this a sign he is interested and
wants to pursue something? friends have told me i tend
to take affairs of the heart too seriously, so i want to be careful not
to let my heart fall too quickly this time around. but i find myself
being drawn to him already just by reading his poetic verses. and did i
mention he e-mailed me a recent picture of himself as well? how should i
interpret his motives?

Advertisement:

wooed and confused

Dear wooed,

Women who write in all lower-case letters should be extremely cautious about
romance. They can develop a crush on a cabdriver in the course of six blocks. They can fall
for the meter man or the pizza delivery boy. They even fall for a Jehovah's Witness now and
then. Poets are generally a bad risk (the men, not the women). Just look at the record. No
woman should consider hooking up with a poet unless you have a full-time staff to help out.
As for this guy, anyone who e-mails you his entire oeuvre plus a recent picture is trying too
hard by half. If you really think you'd like to pursue things with him, e-mail him back and
say, "Thank you very much for your poetic work. I found it, on the whole, to be very
personal and quite capable, except for a few little things here and there that struck me as
self-conscious in a particularly weaselly way." I mean, if the guy can't take criticism, if he
isn't interested in your opinion, then delete him.

Advertisement:

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am a young woman, married for a couple of years to a man whom I absolutely adore, and who adores me back. He is everything I could ask for
in a husband: sensitive, supportive, strong where I'm weak and sexy as hell. I met him
when I was just leaving school and entering a career that is, shall we say, potentially very
lucrative for those who are good at what they do. And now my annual income is well into
six digits, while his is in the respectable low- to mid-five. My husband has been wonderful
and very supportive of my career, but he does seem to feel some small tension that I do
not wish to exacerbate. When we discuss it, he simply says that he
doesn't want to become a "kept man," with me supplying the lion's share
of the money to buy the nice house and slightly indulgent car. At the
same time, while I give a fair amount of my extra money to good causes
and save much of the rest, I see no reason not to use money we've got
anyway. I can understand how he feels, and I want to be sensitive to
that, but I'm not sure exactly how to handle the situation. Any
suggestions?

Concerned in Colorado

Advertisement:

Dear Concerned,

Like any learning situation, this takes time. He'll learn that you love him
for his own sweet self and so it doesn't matter if you pay for the mansionette and the BMW
and the condo in Aspen, and you'll learn that if you have a guy who's this good, the
mansionette isn't important. Give it some time, salt the money away, focus on enjoying each
other, postpone this argument and over time the tension will abate, if indeed he is not
jealous of you and opposed to your career.

Advertisement:

Dear Mr. Blue,

How do I get my husband to get a vasectomy?

Tired of Pills

Dear Tired,

You tell him that you are passing the torch of contraception to him, and he can
choose between condoms and a vasectomy and the Vatican Rag. The condom is no man's
idea of pleasure. A vasectomy is somewhat scary in the abstract, but in point of fact is not a
major procedure. Some men faint at the thought, others will shoulder their muskets and
march. See what sort of man you have.

Advertisement:

Dear Mr. Blue,

Four years ago I met a wonderful man at work. We started dating; then suddenly last
August, something hit me like a bus and I claimed him as my own. We were together for six
months and absolutely worshipped each other. But we both suffer from chronic
depression. Despite our love, we argued quite often; finally, when he growled at me one
morning, I got flustered and hurled my breakfast plate. He broke up with me.

That was six months ago. I have since sought treatment for my
depression, and he hasn't. He told me recently that he is still deeply
in love with me. We both want to be together, but he says that he can't heal
his depression with me in the picture. I'm almost 30 and I've never met
anyone I've so adored. But I'm a more determined person that he is. Am I
a fool to think he'll ever recover and come back to me?

Advertisement:

In Suspense

Dear Suspense

The man you adore is not, unfortunately, running on all six cylinders, and
you have to accept him as he is, as he offers himself, and right now he doesn't want to be
with you. A man who can't bear to have a little china thrown his way is not thinking clearly.
Plate-hurling is a sign of passion. It's a man's cue to burst into tears, kneel on the floor,
clutch your ankles and beg your pardon, and then carry you upstairs and make love for a
couple of hours in utter abandon, whooping, throwing furniture around, etc. This guy wants
to incorporate you into his illness. He is trying to toy with your feelings, test you, pull your
string, make his problems your problems. Don't accept it. Don't phone, don't write. Let him.
If he recovers and comes back, be good and surprised.

Dear Mr. Blue,

Advertisement:

I'm a 35-year-old woman who just got a job at a magazine I love. They moved me out to
Los Angeles and I brought my boyfriend along. He's always wanted to live in Southern
California. I've been with this man for three years, but I have to admit, they haven't always
been as rewarding as I would like. He isn't educated, either formally or in a worldly sense.
He is fun, smart, sexy and mostly easy-going, but a real high-maintenance kind of guy. He
has a lot of unfinished projects he keeps going back to and animals he keeps around and
now he's left L.A. and gone back East because he left so many things unfinished. He says
he's coming back in a couple of weeks. My problem is that I'm kind of sick of this "one
day" thinking. My one day has arrived. It's here. I've moved. I'm making friends. The job is
going great. I wouldn't mind meeting someone else at this point. He just holds me back.
What should I do?

In L.A. and enjoying it

Dear L.A.,

You want my permission? You want me to write dialogue for you? Just tell him,
"Jim, you're a terrific guy, but you don't fit into my plans anymore. Your lack of
sophistication does not wear well here, and I am embarrassed to have you on my arm when I
go amongst my magazine pals. Thanks for the memories and please pay up your half of the
phone bill." And don't worry about cutting him loose. It happens all the time.

Advertisement:

Dear Mr. Blue,

A year and a half ago I fell in love. The young man and I started
sleeping together. Then he returned to his former girlfriend, and we
stopped. And then when he kissed me one morning we made love again.

Since then he has moved back in with his girlfriend. He and I are trying to maintain our
friendship. However, I find that when he calls me on the phone I become nauseous, and
when he talks about seeing me, I cringe. I feel guilt for having
slept with him after he was back with her, love for him that I'm trying to
kill, a sincere liking for him, plus anger and pain. Is there hope for us to continue to be
friends, and if there isn't, how do I tell him that he literally makes me ill?

Troubled

Advertisement:

Dear Troubled,

Physical nausea is a key indicator, not to be ignored. When it is present in a
friendship, steps must be taken by the nauseatee, usually in a direction away from the
nauseator. I know of no exception to this rule. "You make me physically ill," are words that
come to mind: strong words, but why spare him the truth? He isn't a fragile vase, he's an
active, healthy young man.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'd like your views on a topic that makes almost all my contemporaries squirm.
What do people in our culture owe to our parents? I have friends from China, Africa and the
Middle East, all of whom feel that we owe our parents everything, and should take care of
them at the expense of our own plans. On the other hand, your basic well-adjusted
head-shrunk North American is almost always quick to say that they have no claims, and that the healthiest thing is to walk away.

I think our culture's practice of slamming old folks into "homes" and ignoring them is cruel
and nasty, but the thought of living with my mother gives me
conniptions. Any advice?

Distant Daughter

Dear Distant

We learn how to treat our parents from observing how they treated theirs, and
this differs considerably in different families. I had a grandmother who lived with her
daughter to the end of her days and a grandfather who was put into a nursing home when he
could no longer care for himself. My grandmother was country people, my grandfather was
city-born and bred, as were his children. But she was useful almost to the very end, baking
and tending children and cleaning, and he was not; he grew more querulous with age, and
she was sweet-tempered. So there are many variables. By and large, in our culture parents
do not wish to depend on their children or be a burden to them; parents would like to live
independently and be active and fix their own meals and have all their marbles and enjoy life
right up to the day they drop dead. By and large, children do not want to abandon their
parents to a miserable end if it is possible to help. What do you owe your parents? A sense
of gratitude. At some point, a blanket amnesty for all wrongs. And your presence and
comfort at the end.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am 31, living with a very intelligent man, 38, who is fun to be with, but someone I would really like to part company with. He is just a very needy, high-maintenance guy -- uneducated, finances a disaster, can't manage his life, often behaves inappropriately in public and performs miserably in high-stress situations. And anyway he says he is not
interested in marrying me yet anyway. (My friends and family say I
should marry him under no circumstances.)

There is a part of me that knows it is time to end
this relationship. But as soon as he realizes I am ready to give up, he
gets very scared and cries and begs me to wait for
him. The bottom line is, I am getting depressed and
resentful. But because his feelings are very easily hurt, I keep
my complaints to myself. How can I let him down easy and let him save face?

Powderkeg in NYC

Dear Powderkeg,

This is your life, what you're experiencing right now; it isn't a game or a
book, and your life ought to be precious to you. You've come to a decision about this man,
one that is seconded by your loved ones, and you're not able to carry through and extricate
your life from his grasp because he weeps? Talk this over with your friends. Maybe you just need a little bucking up. It's hard to end a romance, even one that is tattered and worn and no good to anyone. But it's your life, and you are the one to defend and preserve it. It's not your responsibility to let him down easy. There's no face to be saved. Do the deed, sweep up the debris, open up the windows and air out the place, buy a new couch, get your hair cut, move on.

Dear Mr. Blue,

My girlfriend and I have been together over two years.
We're close friends and love each other very much, two bisexual women with a
standing agreement that each is allowed to partake in the pleasures of men (provided we are
honest and safe), but not other women.

My girlfriend has an occasional lover who lives far away whom she cares for very
deeply. When he's around, I'm constantly looking over my shoulder and afraid of losing her.

She's said she'd stop seeing him if it was hurting me too
much, but I know it's not what she would choose, and if I asked her to break up with him,
it'd drive a wedge between us. I know that I must either accept her seeing him or else break
up with her. The pressure is driving me insane and the thought of breaking up breaks my
heart. Any advice?

Torn in two

Dear Torn,

If she loves you, then she can bear to hear this from you. The agreement
notwithstanding, feelings are feelings, and you ought to be able to spill yours and not have
the world come to a standstill. If you're afraid that your jealousy may drive a wedge between
you, then invent a boyfriend of your own, George, a very cool guy, and start staying out late
on Saturday nights.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am 28 and happily married to the man of my dreams. Once upon a time, I
was engaged to a terrible man, and though I left him more than six years ago, I still have
terrible dreams about him and his evil, domineering mother. Why would I still dream about
him? How can I get him out?

Escaped to L.A.

Dear Escaped,

I am not equipped to answer your question, but the situation is interesting. The
wonderful real-life husband overshadowed by the nighttime visitations of the evil ex. It's a
sort of vampire movie, and you're the beautiful heroine in the filmy negligee, asleep, the
French doors open to the balcony, the nighttime visitor swooping over the garden, about to
make his entrance and turn into the old dude with the bat breath and the cheesy accent. I
think it's up to you whether to be fascinated by these dreams or not. I have occasional
dreams in which I am trapped in horrible situations, such as standing on a stage and not
having anything to say. How interesting is this? Not very. How do I stop them? I wake up.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm a 25-year-old guy whose excessive self-consciousness leads to
overanalyzing everything that happens to me. For some reason, I exude a harmless asexual
quality that has led to some great platonic friendships with women but very few romantic
relationships. How do I channel my neuroses so that the latter happens more often?

Just A Friend

Dear Friend,

You're young, you've got these great women friends, and you've had a few
romantic relationships. You're doing just fine, you're off to a great life. You're worried
about excessive self-consciousness. OK. Good. So am I. Right now, I am looking at this
answer as I type it and wondering, "Who, or whom, do I think I am, telling this guy how to
live his life when here it is 10:15 a.m., I'm still in my pajamas, and a friend is meeting me
for lunch, and what will we talk about, and what if I forget my credit card and can't pay,
and what if she accuses me of forgetting my credit card due to my unchanneled neuroses and I become physically nauseous and come home and begin having dreams about a terrible
former lover?" Well, so what?

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am marrying the man of my dreams at the end of the summer and planning the wedding is
driving me nuts.

I'm basically a private person and the idea of all those people staring at me is a nightmare.
It's the kind of wedding my parents have their hearts set on, so I'm trying to oblige.
I'm taking everyone's feelings into consideration, inviting people I don't care so much about
only because their feelings would be hurt if I didn't. But no one seems to be thinking about
my feelings. What can I do to let people know they're pushing me over the edge?

Brooding Bride

Dear Brooding,

You're putting on a show and, as any performer knows, there is a downside
to show business, including a certain loss of privacy and occasional feelings of utter
weariness with the whole thing. Buckle down, do your job, focus on the pleasure you're
giving to others and make an elegant event that expresses your and the dream guy's style
and taste, and be gracious. And then it's over, and you never need to do it again until your
daughter finds the man of her dreams.

Dear Mr. Blue,

My husband of 11 years has become unattractive to me. He is a trucker
and is gone a lot and when he's home he watches television for hours. I have been able to
fill my life up in the meantime, mountain biking and, for the past year and a half, having an affair. I feel guilty because my husband is a good person and a wonderful parent and very
difficult to find any fault with, but still I have moved on with my life. Is there any hope for
this relationship? l think he is content with it as it is, but I want more.

Blue-eyed Biker

Dear Blue Eyes,

It is no simple thing to do what you're poised to do. You seem to be under
an illusion that divorce is no more complicated than redecorating your living room. It is.
Even if your husband were a drunken lout and a liar and abusive to your children, it would
be a bloody business, emotionally, to heave him overboard. To do what you propose is going
to cost you and your children heavily. Yes, of course there is hope for this relationship, and
it lies in you being able to let your husband know how you feel. Maybe he wants more too.

Dear Mr. Blue,

Sure. Be patient; get out there and have fun; luxuriate in the company
of the opposite sex; she'll show up eventually. But she's not going to
show up, Mr. Blue. She just isn't. Wherever she is, whoever she is,
she's thinking about that schnauzer she wants to buy and her dental appointment and
everything else in the world except me. Because I just haven't got it, my friend. I'm the
wall, I'm the window, I'm the furniture. It's not going to happen. So
I'm asking you to recommend a good celibate lay religious order for me.
Game over, and I'm out of quarters.

Not Confused At All, Not One Little Bit

Dear Not Confused,

Take your choice, Buddhist or Catholic, and take your vows and start
doing good works. Give up all carnal desire. And as soon as you do, a lady birdwatcher in
brown oxfords will get lost in the monastery woods and knock on the big oak door, seeking
directions, and sparks will fly. And when it happens, remember who made the prediction.
There's a lot of human nature in all of us. Renounce a thing and it'll come looking for 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.

MORE FROM Garrison Keillor


Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Books Writers And Writing