Porn widow

My husband says his four-hour-a-night, $200-a-month porn habit isn't affecting our marriage. I beg to differ.

By Garrison Keillor
Published August 3, 1999 8:00PM (UTC)
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Dear Mr. Blue,

My husband is intelligent, compassionate, funny and devoted to
son. But every night, after our son goes to bed, my husband heads
to his office, sometimes to work, but most times, to do
pornography on the Web.

I'm not thrilled with the cost (about $200 a month on the
Mastercard), but it's the time that really bothers me. He starts
10 p.m. and doesn't quit until 1 or 2 in the morning, after
I'm in bed. He insists it has nothing to do with our sex life,
that it's
mere stress release, but it obviously affects how often we have
sex and
it leaves me feeling terribly alone.


I've tried talking about it many times, to no avail. Being
patient and
supportive hasn't helped either, although of course he's happier
I'm not complaining. Once or twice, he's admitted that it would
be hard
for him to stop, but he hates the word "addiction" and would
consider therapy.

I still love him madly, but I feel like I'm dying of loneliness.
I also
feel like my self-esteem is going down the drain because he
doesn't want
me, although I'm in better shape now than when we met and more

Any advice?


Lonely Wife

Dear Lonely,

Some men become fascinated with pornographic images,
to varying degrees, and I suppose you could call it an
"addiction," but the thrill of it seems rather thin, compared with
real life. Your intelligent and compassionate husband has
obviously gone off the deep end, if he is devoting three or four
hours a day to this. So I suggest you bring a little real life
into his fantasy world. Tell him you'd like to participate. Ask
him to show you the pictures he especially likes and to share his
fantasies about them. Take a friendly interest in his hobby. What
can it hurt? And tell him that $200 a month is too much:
Help him shop around for better deals.


Dear Mr. Blue,

I am married, 31, have been having an affair with a married man for seven
years, and about a year ago his attentions toward me seemed to
wane. I was jealous and did some spying and found out he
definitely was having an affair with another woman. (He does not
know that I know.)
I'm still in love with him. Do I give him up? I've been trying
but it's hard.


Nuts in New York

Dear Nuts,

To experience infidelity within an adulterous
relationship must be irritating, but one must draw the line here
and consider tossing the gentleman overboard. Let us assume that
your husband is having an affair with a meteorologist whose
ballplayer hubby is shacked up with four women around the Big Soo
League whose husbands are all having affairs with various
waitresses, and that your lover's wife is in bed with her
pediatrician who is married to a woman who is sleeping with the
florist who is banging three other customers, and that your
lover's other lover is also getting it on with four firemen from
Hook & Ladder Company No. 3. And all of these illicit lovers have
an eye out for other customers. You are thereby exposing yourself
to more risk than any reasonable person should. There are
unsightly diseases creeping around out there. At the very least,
tell Superman to bring condoms.


Dear Mr. Blue,

A year ago I fell into a wild, casual relationship with a man who
mostly made me miserable, and finally my good sense won out and
two months ago I dumped him for good.
And now I can't get him out of my head. I think about him
I've tried everything -- meditation, burying myself in work,
spending time with friends, traveling, meeting new people,
dating -- but I still can't shake him. He made me unhappy so why
does my brain refuse to cooperate? I just want him gone.

Tired of Thinking About Him


Dear Tired,

It's like my sixth grade teacher who liked to beat up
on kids. His making you miserable made him memorable, and the
harder you try to expel him from memory, the longer he persists.
It's like trying to expunge the thought of panda poop: Suddenly
you see it everywhere. Or like a particularly vapid song that
keeps playing in your head: You just have to wait for the battery
to run down. In a month, he'll be fainter. In two months, fainter
yet. And after that you'll lose track.

Dear Mr. Blue,

You know those little floating, transparent, bubble-like things
you get
in your eyes sometimes? Well, a few weeks back, I got a
couple dozen of them in both eyes like an angry swarm of bees,
they're driving me crazy. I went to a couple of doctors, and
told me that while it's probably nothing dangerous, odds are that
won't get better, and with time it'll probably get worse. There's
no treatment. I'm 29 and I can't quite accept the idea that I'm
stuck with this state of affairs forever. I'm so frustrated and
depressed, and I'm not sure how to let go of this despair and
move on to more productive, pleasant things?


Visual Person

Dear Visual Person,

I don't practice medicine, only psychiatry, so I referred your
letter to my cousin, Dr. Blue, the internist, and he says you
definitely should see a neurologist, and perhaps an
ophthalmologist who is a retina specialist. You could be suffering
from a tumor, or a visual migraine, which can cause swarms of
spots, or "scintillating scotomata," or you may have a neurologic
disease of the visual cortex: There is a long list of possible
disorders that a thoughtful neurologist will consider. You say
you have seen "a couple of doctors" but this is not adequate. You
need to see a neurologist.

Dear Mr. Blue,


I'm 16 and fairly normal with a normal urge to tackle the world.
I'm a week away from getting my GED and will be taking some
college courses this fall, and I want to move into a dorm starting
the second semester. I've got a fairly steady job and I feel I'm
ready for this. I'm also pretty sure I'll go bonkers if I don't
get the hell out of here.

I believe my parents trust me to be on my own. The problem is,
they aren't exactly socialites, and my brother and I are all they
have. They're both deathly afraid of growing old alone. They're
in their early 50s, so it's not like I'm stuffing the old folks
away in a nursing home, but try telling that to them. How do I
convince my parents that I'm not abandoning them by moving across


Dear Escapee,


You take care of yourself and let those poor old
people fend for themselves. It's about time they learned to live
on their own. I don't believe in children coddling their parents
until actual senility begins to settle in and they're no longer
able to remember their address. I certainly don't believe in you
trying to arrange a social life for them. Give them your phone
number, get an answering machine so you don't have to talk to
them and trust them to find their own way.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I went back to my hometown recently and had
occasion to meet my old boyfriend whom I hadn't seen since we
were teenagers
(I am 52). I've always had a special place in my heart for him, and
when we met, there definitely were sparks flying between us
exactly as they did years ago. I find myself fantasizing about
selling my house, quitting my job and moving 3000 miles to be
with this man whom I spent all of two hours with after an absence
of 37 years! I believe the feeling is somewhat mutual as we have
had weekly conversations since I returned from
vacation. He is in a relationship that is on the verge of
ending, he told me.
Is it really possible that this man could be my one true love,
soul mate, best
friend and lover after all these years? Time's a wastin'.

Ready to Leap

Dear Ready,

Think about this for a minute or two. If this man
were not in the picture, would you consider moving back to your
old hometown? Does it offer you anything else that you want? If
you can make a case for the move without counting on him to make
you happy, then consider doing it. But if he is the star of the
show, then your move appears to be a desperate one. Are you
indeed desperate? Keep in mind that desperation is not an
attractive quality in a lover. Nothing spooks a man like a woman
trying to surround him and rush him toward a Happy Ending. If you
can't visualize yourself living in your old hometown as a happy
single woman, then this is a bad idea.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I was divorced and got custody of my two children and meanwhile
spent a lot of time in my attorney's office and became attracted
to a legal secretary. She is recently divorced, too. We had some
dates together with our children -- birthday parties, camping
trips, and so forth -- but she doesn't want to be with me without
the kids. She says she is scared. I can see a future with this
woman and don't know how to proceed. Should I just let it go?


Dear Donnie,

You can't hurry love, you just have to wait, as the
song says. Don't scare her. Don't press, don't angle, don't think
strategically. Get to know her, if you like, in everyday prosaic
situations, ones without big orchestral soundtracks. Enjoy the
summer and the fall. Be a friend to her kids. If you push, you
push her away or, worse, you seduce her into a relationship she
isn't ready for. If you give her room, you allow whatever might
happen to happen.

Dear Mr. Blue,

My ex-boyfriend and I broke up over five years ago and now I'm
with a wonderful man and madly in love with him, but this
ex-boyfriend keeps lashing out at me.
He sends me harassing e-mail. (I wrote him a scathing response.)
What should I do?


Dear Tired,

Don't hit that Tar Baby, sister. If the harassment
reaches a point where you reasonably feel threatened, that's
different. But never get into an argument with a jerk if you can
avoid it. Anger will consume you, if you give it headway, and
soon you could be spending hours a day seething over this guy and
cussing him out and framing jagged paragraphs to wound him, and
what, in the end, does it get you? It only makes you angrier.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am 31 and have been separated from my husband for 10 months.
Just after our third wedding anniversary he announced that he
was deeply unhappy in our marriage, and was moving out. We were
dealing with career stress, and I thought we could work through
things. So we went through counseling to come to some
resolution. He said he was not sure if he wanted to be with me,
and as time
passed I was feeling the same way, so we agreed to end amicably.
I have since met someone I enjoy very much, and want to get on
with my life, but my estranged
husband says he has "found" a wellspring of love for me, and
wants me back. He
has "changed," wants to start a family, and is ready to make a
commitment." Family members are suddenly reminding me of my
wedding vows.

A small part of me thinks I should give him this chance. But I
hate to lose this other man.

In a Pickle

Dear Pickle,

It's up to your husband, having initiated the breakup, to court you and win you back, and I hope you'd give him that
chance. Hear the man out and show him some consideration and
spend time with him and give him a chance to sway you. A broken
marriage can heal up stronger than it was in the first place. But
if there's no feeling for him left in your heart, then say so,
and move on.

Dear Mr. Blue,

A man recently asked me out on two wonderful dates and we talked
and talked and had a great time, but now he keeps losing my phone
number and he forgets to call when he said he would. Last week, I
drove an hour and a half to cheer him in a triathlon, and after
the event he talked to his sister and other friends and ignored
me. I felt invisible and unwanted. (He also mentioned that he'd
lost my number again.) Later that day he
left three sweet messages at my office, wanting to take me to

Troubled by Numbers

Dear Troubled,

The social skills of American young men were, as
we all know, never high and have disimproved since then, so I
guess you can start there: The guy is a schlump when it comes to
manners. The question is: Does he mean anything by it? Assume for
a moment that he doesn't, that he too had a wonderful time on
those two dates and that he meant those sweet messages.
Nevertheless, the guy has to figure out how to keep in contact
with you. You can't do all the work for him. Go to dinner with
him (I guess you probably have already) and have a wonderful
time, and then let him figure out whether he wants to remember
your number or not.

Dear Mr. Blue:

I have a wonderful boyfriend of three years who is everything I
could ever want, except for his commitment issues. We are very
much in love, and I trust him completely, but when I mentioned us
moving in together, he said it was a bad idea. Things
are fine the way they are now, he said, why spoil it? I stay at
his place three or four nights a week and want eventually to
marry him and would like to see what living together is like, but
he won't budge. I just don't get it. What do I do?


Dear Stymied,

You brought up the idea and he nixed it. Don't
bring it up again. There's no shame in being turned down. Let it
stand. But don't spend so many nights at his house. Cut back to
one a week. Or less. Go out on the town with your girlfriends.
Make a lunch date with your mom. Develope your social life in
other directions. This is not gamesmanship or punishment, it's
simply to give him a little more room so that he can think about
the future without feeling your warm breath on his neck. Two
people don't proceed toward couplehood at a lockstep pace. You
love him, so be patient.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I have a problem. I am the mother of an 8-year-old boy, my
is self-employed and I've just lost my job, and now we are, uh,
financially challenged.
I should be out pounding the pavement with my risumi, but instead
I am sneaking upstairs
to work on my novel. This is a bad thing. I've never written
anything before
in my life, but I can't stop writing on this novel. The
characters seem real to me. They speak in dialogue that comes
from what I know but can only remember at 3 in the morning.
The scenery is interesting and the plants smell good in the sun.
What am I to do?

I have a wonderful life, my husband is a wonderful man, my son
thinks deep thoughts, has a sense of humor. Even the dog is a
keeper. It disturbs me that I am risking what
I have to this compulsion that won't benefit us in any way when
we need every
ounce of benefit we can find. I'm investing time in this, and
time is
all I've got. Do you think this is OK? Say no if it isn't and
I'll stop.

Dickens' Poor Relation

Dear Dickens,

Don't stop writing the novel. But do take a
realistic look at your financial situation, see where you can cut
corners, figure out when you need to find a new job and what
income you need to contribute, and then shoehorn the writing
around that. And at some point, ask your husband to read a few
scenes from the novel, to tell you if he thinks it's a waste of
time or not. He's your partner, after all. If he's not too happy
about the novel, check with the boy and the dog.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am 39, married to a woman I love, with three great kids and a
job that I enjoy almost every day, happy with my life. About
three years ago, my parents divorced after 33 years of tension. My mother made it clear she wanted my
siblings and me to
disown my father, but I continued contact, albeit sporadic, with

This enraged my mother and now she has taken to telling people
that she has no children and telling relatives that we did not
support her during the divorce. In the beginning, this hurt me
deeply, but over time I decided to focus on my own family and now
I rarely think about her. Recently, I sent her a letter and
received a particularly virulent response.

Do I have an obligation to continue to try to restore my
relationship with her?


Dear Weary,

You can't restore a relationship that she is
determined to undermine, but you can speak softly and patiently
to her wrath, and this you should do as a spiritual exercise: not
to cast aside an angry person or to let her anger infect you, but
to speak softly to her. Respond to her virulent letter with one
that picks up on any pleasantness in her life and that offers
some news about yourself and your family. Don't try to reason
with her or defend your actions or argue in any lawyerly way,
just be patient and long-suffering, and do it for its own sake
and not as a strategy to obtain a result. She's your mother: Be
good to her.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm 24 and have become very interested in this friend of my
roommate. He is
almost 39. At this point we are just friends. We have shared a
few intense
conversations, and I already feel very attracted to him. I want
relationship to go further, but I have no idea where he is at with
this. Should I just
wait it out and let it develop slowly or lay my cards on the
table now?

Little Green

Dear Little Green,

Don't put anything on the table. It isn't a
card game. It isn't a relationship. It's simply talk. So enjoy
the talk, and meanwhile try to get a focused picture of this man.
He's a lot older than you, not that that's a problem necessarily,
but he's had half a life already and you ought to know something
about it. If you try to leap ahead into blind passion, you'll
miss out on the interesting discovery process.

Dear Mr. Blue,

For years I've written for my own enjoyment, and lately I've been
wondering if I have it in me to do it professionally. How does
an unpublished writer
make the first move toward the publishing world? I've heard that
manuscripts languish unread in the dusty corners of editors'
offices all over
the world. Should I start with tiny local magazines? Can one
submit to more
than one publication at one time?

Steeling for Rejection in Seattle

Dear Steeling,

Your first step is to take a hard critical look at
your own stuff. Read it aloud, ponder it, show it to friends and
try to figure out what your strong suit is. The stuff sitting in
dusty corners is stuff written by people with tin ears; somebody
read the first paragraph and tossed it on the pile and eventually
it'll get mailed back with a rejection slip. Once you figure out
what you do that's really worth a reader's time, you can submit
to tiny local magazines or send to the Major Mazumbo Literary
Review, but it's very bad luck to send out multiple submissions.
You might want to try joining a writers' circle, where the members
can bring their work and get the benefit of friendly critical

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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