Is three a crowd?

I'm happy with my boyfriend, but there's this woman ...

By Garrison Keillor
July 27, 1999 8:00PM (UTC)
main article image

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am having a problem with temptation. Though I am
very happy with my boyfriend, I have fantasies about a woman I have a
crush on. I have never had a homosexual experience, I have
always fantasized about them. I related this to my beau, which excited
him (big surprise). Do I pass through this looking glass? Are my feelings
for this woman real, or am I just thinking about a taboo subject? Is it worth finding out,
considering I am largely happy and fulfilled in my heterosexual
relationship?

Advertisement:

Bothered

Dear Bothered,

Classic questions, all three, and of course the answer isn't here, it lies with
you and the woman. You seem not to sense her attraction to you, which is crucial, and
perhaps you're unsure that she's even attracted to women at all. So you're sailing without
much to go by. Assuming that the woman is an acquaintance, not a member of the U.S.
women's soccer team or a lady in a power-tools ad, then I suppose you pursue this friendship
and spend time with her and see how you feel. And then, perhaps, you blurt out something,
as people have done for eons, lean forward and confess -- I love you, do you have any
feelings for me? And either she warms to this or she is flustered or she is horrified or she
laughs out loud -- something happens, and depending on what it is, you kiss her, or you
apologize, or you burst into tears, and then something else happens. There isn't any over-arching wisdom or formula to offer you. You are experiencing one of those Very Interesting
Situations that years from now you will tell about and of course we'll all want to hear.

Advertisement:

Dear Mr. Blue,

A little over two years ago I met a foreign woman, we hit it off, and a month later
we decided to get married. So I brought her and her teenage son over here, and now I discover
that I have very little in common with her. She seems to cope with this by extending herself
socially and I cope by withdrawing into myself. I feel great responsibility for her and her
son for bringing them here, and I did make a commitment to her and would like to be
honorable, but I dread a life of boredom with her. I am not sure what
to do.

Stuck in New York

Advertisement:

Dear Stuck,

Glad you feel responsibility. Act on that feeling. Initiate a discussion of your
separate natures and needs. Bring your discontent out into the open in a frank and non-accusatory way. It isn't her fault, it isn't yours. But you have to extend yourself. To
withdraw is to reach a foregone conclusion. Why build a house and then walk away from it?
Why get on the train to Chicago if you don't want to go?

Advertisement:

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am 37, divorced, with a 4-year old son, and can't seem to get on with my life as my ex
and I have a fairly amicable arrangement by which he comes over for dinner and puts the
boy to bed several times a week. He has a key for my house. I've had a couple of dates with
another man, but feel I risk the wrath of the ex if he finds out. I think it is important for my
son to have a relationship with his dad, but I feel I am sacrificing my
own life for it. What should I do?

Psyched Out

Advertisement:

Dear Psyched,

This is one of those times when you have to grit your teeth and tell the plain
truth. You want your former husband to stay close to your son, but this is your house, and if
he comes here, he has to accept that he is a guest, and if he should come and find another
guest, he has nothing to say in the matter. That's the plain truth. Don't worry about
consequences before you take the first step.

Dear Mr. Blue,

Advertisement:

My husband of 22 years recently told me that he didn't know whether he wanted
to be married anymore. I know he is unhappy about my weight, and unfortunately I have
been very depressed for a long time, about 10 years, and I'm sure he's tired of dealing with
that. I'm tired of dealing with the depression myself. This condition runs in my family and is
predisposed. Ten years is a long time to watch someone whittle their
life away. I've quit working and stay home all day and really don't want to
do much of anything. I have been with therapists off and on over the years
and have tried medication. At times I feel a little better about myself, and
want a life like I used to have. I used to be a very attractive, dynamic
person. I don't blame him for being unhappy with me, but does he want me to change or
does he want out of the marriage? He is so vague when I try to get answers. What should I
do?

Depressed and getting worse

Dear Depressed,

Surely after 10 years your husband doesn't expect you to snap your fingers
and make yourself better. But he's tired, as you say. Who can say what he'll do? Perhaps he
himself doesn't know. Of course he's vague: He's trying to find his way in the dark. What
should you do? You should contemplate a future without him so that it doesn't come as a big
shock if he leaves. You will need someone to take care of you and you should start now to
think about what long-term living situation you'd prefer. If your husband seeks a divorce, the
settlement must include provisions for your care and support, and you should have a voice in
deciding what that will be.

Advertisement:

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am an intelligent, fun-loving girl, considered pretty, and I find that so many guys my age
are turned-off by smart girls. After two years of college I have had only one boyfriend and
have been hopelessly unattached for almost a year. I have no idea how to interact
with guys and break the ice. I don't want to feel weird and out-of-place forever!

19 1/2

Dear 19 1/2,

Advertisement:

One of the basic lessons of life is that none of us is universal, none of us fits
everywhere, and popularity and attractiveness vary according to local conditions. So you
avoid people you don't belong among and you seek out people where you feel happy and
cherished. It's a foolish goose who goes to the fox's church. If you come into contact with
men who aren't comfortable around an intelligent woman, you're in the wrong place. Leave.
There are plenty of bright men in the world who seek equals and find intelligence attractive
and erotically exciting.

Dear Mr. Blue,

My friend has started sleeping with her boyfriend's cousin, who happens to be going
out with her best friend. Her best friend and her boyfriend have no idea
about this. She and her boyfriend's cousin have a real physical attraction,
but she doesn't want to hurt anybody. She doesn't know how to resolve
these feelings and frankly I am no help at all. What's your advice?

Wanting to Help

Advertisement:

Dear Wanting to Help,

Short of suggesting you tie a dead mackerel around her neck, I'm no
help either. She'll have to learn from experience, I guess. But don't you get drawn into
telling lies to protect her. And make sure she knows that you won't.

Dear Mr. Blue,

After being married for 13 years, I left home for a life of adventure (encouraged to
leave by my wife, let me add), and I met a young woman and fell madly in love. I was a
man possessed by passion and rapture. I cared deeply for her. Soon we had a child. Life was
good for about four years, and then, driven by I don't know what, I committed a terrible
indiscretion with a person close to her.

She left instantly. Never looked back. I was hospitalized for depression a week after she left.
Did the therapy and Paxil for six months. Days turned to night. Life has never been the same
since. I know I made a terrible mistake. I have repented and asked for forgiveness many
times. Eighteen months have passed and I haven't lost hope that one day she will return. We
speak daily, mostly about money and our daughter. Once in a while I bring up the subject of
reconciliation. She tells me she will never return to my side and the only thing she needs
from me is money.

How long should I continue pursuing a reconciliation? She says I am only hurting myself by
not letting her go.

Driven by hope

Dear Driven,

Keep in contact with your wife, and don't mention reconciliation. She's already
answered that question. You can, however, still court her, primarily by paying attention to
your daughter. Being a loving and funny father is your best chance to put yourself in a
favorable light. And while you're being a great dad, maybe you should investigate the cause
of that terrible indiscretion.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am a 45-year-old physician, married for 18 years, still in love with my wife and
crazy about our four kids. In the last several months, I've developed an enormous crush on a
lady doctor in the clinic where I work. I feel like a teenager, obsessed with thoughts of her,
fantasizing all sorts of scenarios of us getting together. She's younger than I, also
married, but with no children. Despite our busy days, we manage to find time at lunch or at
the end of the day to have long conversations, so far fairly safe and neutral, which she seems
to enjoy as much as I do. I'm afraid if this woman ever sent any stronger signals that she
was interested, I would go for it. Is this a midlife crisis or what?

Doctor Torn

Dear Doctor,

Eighteen years is a long time to go without temptation, and maybe that's why
it's landed on you so hard. If you savor this obsession, you can keep it in play for months or
years, simply by continuing these conversations. However, a sexual overture to a colleague
carries enormous risks, and you should pause to consider them: You could, without exerting
yourself much, get hit with a sexual harassment action, perhaps a lawsuit, that could affect
your professional future in addition to driving your wife away and alienating your four
children. These playful urges do carry real risks. I suggest you invite a third person to join
the conversation. And invite the lady doctor and her husband to your home for dinner. That
ought to let the air out of the obsession.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I grew up in a small town in a good church where there were plenty of old couples who were
devoted to each other, and though my parents were divorced, nastily, I was determined that if
I ever got married we'd be one of those old couples. So five years ago I fell profoundly in
love and the feeling was mutual. We married two years ago and now have a baby. And now
I feel desperately trapped and pretty miserable. I don't know what
happened. The respect and tenderness are gone and I spend most of my days
trying to conceive a way out. I can't go on like this. The thought of therapy seems
narcissistic and divorce equally so. I've usually been able to make myself think positive
thoughts. But I can't think my spouse into behaving differently and I certainly can't ask him
to -- in fact, he has changed very little. I think if I told him what I've told you he'd be
mystified. I can't confront him about anything without him denying any
recognition of what I'm talking about (no matter what the subject, he's
always right). Even if he pretends to be open-minded about something, it's
usually just passive condescension.

Is the hope for growing old together just old-fashioned? Is there a way to reestablish respect
out of bitterness? Can you offer any hope?

Wanting out

Dear Wanting,

If you haven't told your husband that you're miserable, you need to, either
straight to his face or else tell it to a marriage counselor in his presence. It's important for
him to hear it, if you respect and love him. But only tell him how you feel; don't frame your
misery in accusations. You can safely assume he's at least as unhappy and confused as you.
Is there hope? Yes, of course. You were profoundly in love with him a few years ago, and
he hasn't changed much: What's changed is that you have a baby, an exhausting experience
for anybody, and one you need to work around in order to shore up the marriage. Love is a
habit. You speak a kind word and perform a tender and thoughtful act, and the first attempt
makes the next one easier. You restore good manners. And you start to pull out of this dive.

Dear Mr. Blue,

My wife and I are in our late 20s, quite successful, happily married. However, we also
choose to take part in discreet, safe erotic fun with other married couples periodically. It's
hardly a lifestyle for us, more like a hobby to add spice to our marriage. Do you think our
behavior is even remotely normal? Is there any way I can talk to my friends and associates
about it without them immediately assuming we are wild and crazy, hell-bound hedonists?

Open-minded in Georgia

Dear Open-minded,

The urge to have erotic fun with strangers is certainly a normal urge and
probably universal. And the practice is common enough, God knows. As for your friends
and associates, you know them better than I. Among my friends and associates, it would be
considered weird in the extreme to discuss one's sexual exploits, whether monogamous or
orgiastic or bestial or involving canned peas or hearts of artichoke or whatever. Why would
you discuss it? To boast? To seek advice? To get a thrill out of shocking them?

Dear Mr. Blue,

I've stepped beyond a crossroads in my life: I got married and gave
up my job to write full time. These decisions feel right, but every
day I find myself sitting on the couch watching TV in an anxious
stupor. My sweet husband is helpless around the house, and as I was the footloose single gal
for 10 years, being home alone cooking and cleaning for a guy who can't pick up after
himself reminds me of my miserable mom. As for my writing career, I've had one success
and seem to be on the verge of another, but I have little money in the bank and my
husband's salary is pretty meager. I feel like I've taken some great
leap and am scared. Please advise!

Goofy with Anxiety

Dear Goofy,

First of all, take the damn TV and stick it in the corner of the garage and put
duct tape over it. Writers write for TV, they don't watch it themselves. Secondly, look
around you and decide how clean you want the house to be and figure out how many hours a
week it takes to keep it that way. I assume you're living in an apartment, not a 14-room mansion, and it shouldn't take you more than four hours a week to keep things decent.
Most writers spend that much time staring at a blank screen and clearing their throats. So
whenever you're in a stupor, just get up and run a vacuum cleaner around and mop a
bathroom floor. And then take 20 minutes to toss supper together. I'm sorry your mom
was miserable but you're not her. You've got a sweet husband and you're getting some
success writing. Move ahead, day by day, and do what you know you have to do. Don't put
too much effort into defeating yourself.

Dear Mr. Blue,

My husband and I have been married for three years and recently had a baby, a beautiful
little girl. Before the baby, I was 25 pounds lighter and had no stretch marks and
wasn't too tired to keep up my looks. I want to make myself attractive for my husband, and
when I don't I feel like a failure. I see him looking at other women, though he denies that he
does, and he has begun to read Playboy (he thinks I don't know). He tells me that I am still
attractive to him, but he looks at me differently. I am so saddened by this. I cannot diet until
I wean our daughter, so I don't know what to do. What is your advice?

Mom

Dear Mom,

Men are always looking at other women. Don't worry about it. As for Playboy,
it's harmless, an aid to masturbation, and you shouldn't deny that to him. Be attractive in the
best way you can, and that is to be his partner, his soul mate, the mother of his child. A
father is in an odd position, seeing you with your daughter at your breast --- where does he
fit in exactly? Make sure he gets plenty of time with the baby, that he developes some skill
in handling her and caring for her, that he feels essential, which he is. Tell him how you feel
and let him reassure you that he loves you. I hope he does a good job. Every mother feels
unattractive and every father feels useless. So help each other.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am a 21-year-old college student and I have a crush
on my dental hygienist, who is a couple of years older
than I. Are there any rules against asking out
one's dental hygienist? Or can I just ask her out
nonchalantly as if we had not met in the dentist's
chair?

Searching for the Tooth Fairy

Dear Searching,

You don't get much time in her chair to start a conversation and establish a connection, and
most of that time she has her fingers in your mouth. I guess you'll have to write her a note
and leave it propped on the instrument tray. A shot in the dark, but if you write a really
good letter -- better yet, a sonnet -- and if she's footloose and you don't have green teeth
and she's attracted to you, you might be able to persuade her. But be sure to floss regularly.
And make it a good sonnet.

Dear Mr. Blue,

My boyfriend and I (he's 28, I'm 30) have been living together for over a year. He's kind,
generous, intelligent and funny, and there's just one problem: I have a much higher sex drive
than he does. I'm in the mood for sex twice a week; he doesn't seem to be in the
mood more than a few times a month and even then, I have to initiate
the rolling. I've asked him about this very gently and he says he's stressed about his job or
about debts, and I suppose that's true, but everyone in the world has things they're worried
about.

I know that my boyfriend loves and is attracted to me -- he tells me so and
lets me know in many non-sexual ways. And, as I said, I have virtually no
complaints about our relationship other than this. Do I really have anything
to complain about here? Should I just count myself lucky and try to get past
this issue myself? Or might his lack of desire for me bode ill for our future
together?

Anxious

Dear Anxious,

Young men are more jittery about sex than they ever let on, and if your
boyfriend senses your dissatisfaction with his performance, this can paralyze him. You can
excite a man by praising his erotic qualities (e.g., "Whenever I look at your naked earlobe,
Eugene, I feel my uterus flutter"). I can't advise you on the long-term prospects here. I do
recommend that you seek the simplest explanation first, and that would be lack of
confidence, which you can help. If that's not the reason, then you can consider other fancier
explanations (your hair smells bad, he's gay, he's on steroids, the FBI is after him), and deal
with it accordingly. But no, don't simply accept this. You're young; don't settle for what you
don't want.


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