If he really loved you ...

My friends tell me I shouldn't let my boyfriend go to Alaska without me. Am I being naive by trusting him?


Garrison Keillor
August 24, 1999 8:00PM (UTC)

August 24, 1999

Dear Mr. Blue,

I have been seeing a wonderful man for the past six months. He makes
me feel like the sexiest woman on earth, he makes me laugh, he cooks,
he writes me poems -- I'm happy with him in more ways than I can count.
His vacation is coming up, and he plans to spend it visiting Alaska.
He said he had considered asking me to join him, but this was
something he really wanted to do on his own. I said that I understood,
and thought it would be a good experience for him. However, my
friends insist that if he truly loved me, he'd want me
with him. They say my response was "naive" and that neither of us is
behaving like people in "a real relationship." Are they right? I
always thought my friends were pretty levelheaded.

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Clueless

Dear Clueless,

Your friends aren't levelheaded, they're flat-headed;
they are giving you the gift of pure unadulterated bullshit and you
should ignore it. You are not being naive. You're trusting the man you
love and you're happily allowing him his individuality. If you were to
tell him, "I think that if you really loved me, you'd take me to
Alaska," you'd be giving a weird manipulative twist to what sounds
like a perfectly wonderful romance. Tell me: This is the advice of
women friends, right? I can't believe a guy would hand you such
nonsense.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm 35, married, have two kids, and since 1987 I've been stuck in a
Ph.D. program. I know my work is good: I've had chapters published in
two scholarly volumes, and I've given well-received papers at two
international conferences. But the university won't give me my Ph.D. I came
here as a fresh-faced 22-year-old feminist and married and had
children, and now I think my committee sees me as a yuppie-wife
dilettante. The committee (which keeps changing members) has demanded
and gotten three versions of my dissertation. I presented my defense
last January for the full two hours and they sent me away to do
another year's work, making no guarantees that it would pass on the
next go. Now they're demanding that I resubmit the entire manuscript
in three different typefaces so they can clearly see where the changes
are. I'm losing my mind trying to do this insanely complicated thing.
All the academic folks I've talked to tell me that this is a clear
case of supervisory neglect, but as a student peon my retaliatory
options are limited in direct proportion to my desire to get the
degree. If the committee screws me around on this go, I'm considering
suing them and exacting literary revenge in the preface
of my first book. Any thoughts?

Way Beyond Beleaguered

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Dear Way Beyond,

I believe you. I recommend you try to do what they
ask one more time, and if the thesis isn't accepted, then sue the
bastards. Make sure you have complete written documentation of this
madness. I suppose it is possible that you aren't competent and
they're trying to get you to give up, but if you aren't competent,
they should've seen this years ago and intercepted you. The fact that you
have published and given papers seems to indicate you are indeed
competent. Sorry you've gotten caught in this meat grinder. When the
time for revenge comes, hit 'em hard and hit 'em low.

Dear Mr. Blue,

What a pickle. After a failed and childless marriage to a charming
man who was far more interested in his career than he was in me, at the age
of 45, I have fallen head over heels in love with a wonderful man.
He's a keeper.

Here's the problem. He has a neurotic ex-wife who happens to be
meaner and nastier than a bag full of wet cats. She's a nut and she
has custody of their 12-year-old daughter. The kid is a
nightmare, a compulsive liar, on Prozac, getting professional
counseling.

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My guy wants to get into a custody battle with his ex and get the kid
out of her clutches. Guess who would be called upon to help raise the
kid? Me, the wicked stepmother. What to do, what to do? I love this
guy more than life itself, but I'm scared to death at the prospect of
having this wild child dropped in my lap. Any thoughts on this, Mr.
Blue?

Peri-menopause Panic

Dear Peri,

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You are right to feel panic. Any reasonable person would. But he's a
wonderful man, and so of course he's taking responsibility for this
damaged child, and if you are with him, you will be his partner in the
rescue. And it will be an ordeal. The child needs attention, love and
someone to set clear limits. No easy task.

It's your decision. If you feel you really can't do it, walk away from
them both and save everyone the heartache. And if you decide to stay
with him, then understand that this is going to be an all-consuming
job for you for a while. You can make it clear that you are his
assistant and partner, you are not the heroic Mama in this play, but
nonetheless it'll take a lot of your time. And if you get
custody, make sure you have the continual long-term guidance of a
psychologist specializing in childhood and adolescence and with whom
you and your guy share basic values.

Dear Mr. Blue,

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Several months ago an old acquaintance got back in touch. We'd never
been that close before, but this time it was like magic. We talked for
hours, felt wonderful and went out on dates for some weeks,
acknowledging the attraction but not acting on it, because he'd just
broken up with a girlfriend and didn't want to get involved again so
soon.

Then all of a sudden he stepped back, said he wasn't ready to go
steady. He still sends me lovely little notes from time to time, full
of news and compliments, but I want to see him, I miss our
conversations badly. It's been three months. Is there anything I can
do that will let him know this without scaring him off for good?

Carrying a Torch

Dear Torch-Bearer,

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If he sends you lovely notes, this is a big deal -- guys don't write
notes for exercise. For most guys, note writing is more indicative of
romantic feeling than actual sex would be. So write him back. Find a
card with a bleak and beautiful landscape on it and write, "I think of
you often and remember the great conversations we had and the delight
of your company." Words to that effect. Put in some news about you,
your neighbors, your old grandmother, your thoughts about Y2K or
whatever. And so forth and so on.

Sexual attraction can knock a guy for a loop, and he may be staying
away from you in order to put a damper on the temptation he feels and
to get his head screwed on straight. Chances are, if he was attracted
once, he'll come back.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am 47 and am hoping to hang around a lot longer, but I eat, smoke and
do much too little physical exercise. Sure I could diet, stop
smoking and get off my ass once in a while, but I really like my
Marlboro Light Menthols, burgers and playing with my computer. But I
gotta do something. My clothes don't fit, I'm worried about getting
cancer and I can't climb stairs. If I stop smoking I'll gain weight;
diet, I'll be bored; exercise, sweaty. Where should I start? Help.

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Habit Creature

Dear Habit Creature,

Sounds like you're halfway down the slide and looking for a parent to
stop you before you go flying off the end and out into the great
hereafter. If I were your parent, I'd give you some unwelcome advice,
but I'm not. An internist can give you advice and also some hard data
on lipids and pulmonary function, if you want. Meanwhile, you ought to
buy some new clothes. There are big savings to be had at the end of
summer and you can shop online, saving the physical exertion of a trip
to the store. And get yourself a larger chair, one with wheels.

Dear Mr. Blue,

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I'm engaged to a beautiful, intelligent woman whom I love, but
she's an aspiring opera singer, and though I'm supportive of her
career, I'm not interested in opera myself. I fell asleep at the one
opera we went to, and I get bored with it when she plays it around the
house. She seems to view my boredom with opera as a character flaw.
But it doesn't interest me, just as the movies with explosions that I
love don't interest her. Anything I can say to let her know that my
lack of interest is not personal?

All Ariaed Out

Dear AAO,

Opera is, for your fiancie, more than idle recreation, it's
her life, so the movie analogy fails. You can't be married to this
woman and be bored with opera. Well, you can, but the prognosis isn't
good. You ought to go to a few more operas and relax and let yourself
get caught up. Go see top-flight productions of some of the great
classics, "Boheme," "Carmen," "Madame Butterfly"; do this on your own,
without her along. Fly off to Santa Fe or Houston or Seattle or
Chicago or New York. Maybe you'll never become an opera nut and stand
around in the lobby during intermission comparing this performance to
the one Furtwangler conducted at Bayreuth in 1932, but you need to
gain respect for what she does. You can't be bored with it. Really.
It's not nice.

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Dear Mr. Blue,

I am a 35-year-old nearing completion of the long road to Ph.D.-dom. I
have been happily married to my high school sweetheart for the past
10 years. She has worked her ass off to keep us afloat while I got
the doctorate, and meanwhile she has developed a wonderful career; now I
have an excellent opportunity to do post-doctoral work 1,400 miles
away. She doesn't want to go with me and leave behind all she has
worked for. We love each other and want our marriage to work, but I
can't help feeling like a shit for asking her to just pick up and
leave, but I can't see us living apart.

Befuddled in Boca

Dear Befuddled Bocan,

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You're right; you can't ask your wife to give up her career for yours
at this point. So consider pursuing yours by a different route than
the one you'd imagined. A harmonious marriage to a good woman is not
to be cast aside. Of course, some marriages have endured separations
of 1,400 miles or more, and yours could be one of them; but that's a
decision to make gingerly, and it has to be mutual. Talk to your
advisor and others in your field and see what other possibilities
there might be.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm working on the first draft of my first book, and when I head
toward the computer in the happy throes of creativity, my husband
mutters, "There she goes into the Void. Will I see you before dawn?"
The joke about naming the computer as a co-respondent is wearing thin.
I write on the weekends, spending the rest of the week (when not at
work) with him, and he occasionally asks me not to write for a while.
But when the "vacation" is over and I go back to writing, he's
annoyed. I guess he's trying to break me of the habit. We've been
married for 15 years; I'd think he'd know better by now. Any
advice?

Mad About Writing

Dear Mad,

You shouldn't have to negotiate this week by week. Get to
the heart of the problem. He's jealous. Writing takes you out of his
orbit and into a place he can't go; therefore it's a void to him. Do
you show him what you've written? If you don't, it might help
ameliorate his feeling of rejection to become your first reader. But
no writer should have to ask permission to go to the computer or run
the gantlet to get there. And if he's only being sarcastic, tell him
to stop.

Dear Mr. Blue,

Please reprimand me if I'm being terribly selfish and foolish.
At the age of 30 I've been married seven years. My husband is a
wonderful, deep, affectionate and kind man, and a great dad. We have
a son, 4.

The problem is I have never been happy as a wife, locked in coupledom.
I don't believe I ever would be. I want to be released from this
contract and have a more relaxed relationship -- to be parents but
not partners. My husband seems to understand this; he loves me hard,
but he doesn't want to keep me if I don't love him hard in return. But
I don't want to make a stupid mistake. Can I put away this restless
yearning to be free, or should I undo the tie and release us both to
live our respective lives?

Inamorata

Dear Inam,

It's not only your problem, it's your wonderful husband's problem too,
and why not work with him to find a way to adapt to each other so you
don't feel so possessed by the marriage? It can be exhausting to be in
a partnership, especially with someone as perfect as this wonderful
and kind man. Goodness can be oppressive, and marriage to a saint can
be torture. But marriage doesn't have to come in one size, one color;
it can be made to fit someone like yourself who might benefit from a
lot of privacy and the freedom to come and go. Don't make a dramatic
move until you've honestly tried to make some little adjustments. Your
boy will grow up to be a happier, healthier adult if he has parents
who were able to work out their problems. Good luck.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I've met the most wonderful woman. She's smart, witty, erudite,
earthy and amazingly artistic, and one of the most beautiful women
I've ever laid eyes on. We share a multitude of common interests.
We talk for hours on end, we finish each other's sentences. My urge is
to drop everything and run to her side, but she's in Northern
California and I'm in Atlanta. Can this really be true love?

Jazz

Dear Jazz,

Yes, it can be, so you'll probably want to talk with her soon about
finding someplace on earth where you two can live. Atlanta suffers
from withering summer heat and Northern California suffers from a lot
of things -- I could list them if you're interested. Probably you'll
want to settle in Minnesota, perhaps on a tree farm or a free-range
chicken ranch. Minnesota is a perfect location for romance, due to the
long winter when we are often snowbound for weeks at a time, cut off
from social life and newspaper delivery. A couple such as you and Miss
Erudite could only thrive under these conditions.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm in love with a wonderful, beautiful woman. She's everything I
could possibly want -- funny, smart, independent. But since we first
started dating a couple of years ago, she's gained more than a few
pounds, and for some reason it just turns me off (she was slender when
I met her).

She always claims to be on a diet, but she gets heavier and heavier.
I'm slender and work hard to keep up my appearance. I can't get over
this one flaw of hers. Is it possible to communicate my feelings
without hurting her?

Jack Sprat

Dear Jack,

No, it's not possible to communicate these feelings without wounding
her. Her sense of inadequacy and guilt over this is strong enough
without your adding to it. You could offer subtly and gently to join
her in an exercise or diet program. You could inquire as to whether
she's suffering from depression. Perhaps hypothyroidism is a factor:
Has she seen a doctor? But telling her how you feel cannot help.
Listening to her tell how she feels might help. But even if she slims
down now, she's likely going to regain much of the weight. So if
corpulence kills off concupiscence for you, consider ending this
relationship now.

Dear Mr. Blue,

Are there any established rules for getting to know someone who is in
the process of breaking up with a live-in mate? Is it always best to
lay low until it blows over? Reason tells me so, but it's very
difficult for me, because she and I just met. It was a few weeks ago
at a music festival. She was trying to break free of an old boyfriend,
and we quickly found that our conversations crackled with exceptional
color and rhythm. She said she wasn't yet sure what to do about him.
It seemed as if she was asking me for advice. What to do?

Waiting

Dear Waiting,

You had a nice romantic interlude with her, and that's fine, and now
you need to shut down your engines. If you help her break away from
this old boyfriend, you can then become the next old boyfriend she
will need to break away from. Don't facilitate this; don't let her be
emotionally dependent; you'll regret it. Be an understanding friend,
but let her make the decisions she needs to make. And let the hormonal
electricity between you settle a little bit so you can get a better
reading of her character and personality. And then you'll have a
clearer idea of where this relationship should head.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am in a quandary over two men. One is my ex-boyfriend, to whom I am
still inexplicably drawn despite the fact that we made each other miserable for
five years. The other is a wonderful man I've recently started dating,
who treats me as well as anyone could.

But ex-boyfriend was an artist, and was culturally more sophisticated
and stimulating to be around. My new man is intelligent, funny,
outgoing, honest and hard-working, and I think I'm falling in love
with him, but I miss what I had with my ex -- the foreign films, the art
shows, the concerts. The other day when my new man took me out to eat
at a sports bar, I became quite sullen and thought, Well, I was
mistaken: This isn't the man for me.

What do I do? Could my mate's tastes be more important to me than how
I am treated? My practical side tells me that giving up this new man
would be a mistake.

Culture Vulture

Dear Vulture,

Surely it isn't eating in a sports bar that revolts you, unless you
are an utter princess, in which case you need to find a prince who can
take you to the Four Seasons every night. Surely it's the new man
himself who takes some getting used to and it's the fact that you've
suffered a slight drop in social status, going from an artist to a
sportsman, from Marcel Proust to Bucky Dent. You and Buck can grow
toward each other and have a nice life, but he's going to want to
marry you, darling, and it's not fair for you to say yes if you have
Marcel on your mind. There are thousands of women who've been married
to sophisticated men who made them miserable, and they are leaning forward
and yelling at you right now to wise up, but you're the only one who
can do it.

Dear Mr. Blue,

Three and a half years ago, my ex-husband and I signed a separation
agreement. According to its terms, he was supposed to pay me several
thousand dollars over a two-year period of time. Well, the two years
have long since passed, and I haven't seen a dime of the money he owes
me. I've tried working out payment plans with him, even mailed him
bills, but nothing seems to work. My friends tell me to forget about
it; because we now live in different states, it would be difficult to
sue him in small claims court. I know he could afford to pay me since
he has a great job and I've heard from mutual friends about all the
expensive toys he's bought since we split up.

Should I Give Up?

Dear Should,

Look around for a women's resource center and see if
someone there can give you some smart legal advice. You're certainly
entitled to the money, and I would imagine that if Mr. Ex is flush, a
little jiggle might be enough to loosen the apples from the tree. You
don't want to hire the firm of Pinstripes, Wingtips & Cravat for a job
like this, though: You want a pockmarked guy with a bad toupee in a
polyester suit with pizza stains on the shoulders to knock on the Ex's
door and breathe on him. A repo man. A rat catcher.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'd always dreamed of being a writer but was afraid I didn't have the
chops. Then I had a splashy little success that took me by surprise.
Got an agent, had lots of interest from important people, wrote, lived
off my savings -- you know the drill. In the three years since then
I've worked my behind off in hopes of having another big success -- and
keep coming within a hair's breadth of it. Recently, though, I've
turned a corner and my confidence has bottomed out. I'm tired, have no
money and am embarrassed to be living this bohemian-artist lifestyle
at 37. I feel I've lost my bearings, and I'm sick of having
the carrot of success and fame dangled before me. Can you make any
sense of this mess?

Late Bloomer

Dear Late,

Discouragement is endemic in our business. It really is. I
can't offer you specific encouragement without knowing more about the
"splashy little success" and what you mean by "a hair's breadth" -- I
can only say that, in this business, three years is not a long time to
struggle with a longer work, and loss of confidence is something all
of us deal with regularly. But for you, or me, or anyone, the surest
cure for despair lies in the work itself, going back to it after a
rest, revising, reworking, cutting out the underbrush, letting the
best stuff burgeon. If one's work is any good, even in its rough form
it has the power to restore the author's spirits. You've been
distracted from your work by the chimera of success, an utterly
natural thing but nonetheless destructive. We writers live to write,
we do not live to have written and be admired: The satisfaction is in
today's work itself, not in the anticipation of an outcome. You're 37
and I agree that a person shouldn't struggle forever. But you need to
see your work without illusions of fame and wealth in order to know
whether this bohemian-artist life is worth the trouble.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I broke up with my girlfriend a while ago and cannot stop
thinking about her. She has moved on to greener pastures but still
calls sometimes. I want to open my life to her just as before, but it
hurts knowing we are "just friends." What would you suggest?

Uncertainty

Dear Un,

The heart works slowly. You can keep her as a friend and exacerbate
the pain and continue bleeding and spend years brooding over her. Or
you can gently relinquish the friendship, ship out on a whaling boat,
join the Peace Corps, hike across Finland, volunteer for the Quayle
campaign, do whatever you need to do to forget her and find the world
beyond her. Your call.


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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