My advice last week to Stuck and Confused set off car alarms, and so let me
attempt to elucidate. S&C is a man who is stuck in a silent and loveless
marriage and wants a divorce but wonders if it'll hurt the kids. My answer
was: Yes, of course it will; it always does; you and your wife ought to
move to opposite ends of the house and just concentrate on being polite and
because, whether you go ahead separately or together, you're going to need to
I did not advise him to "stay together for the sake of the kids," though many
that I did. I did think that he won't get the "amicable divorce" he wants
unless he and his wife
start being amicable now. I should have been clearer in saying that divorce
can be a healthy
and reasonable choice. Of course it can.
There were many good letters taking me to task. The most moving, to me, were
and women who said their parents were cold and angry toward each other and
anger had made it harder for their children to have healthy, loving
relationships. One letter
writer said: "My mother and father never kissed, never hugged, never spoke
warmly to each other that I ever heard or saw, and this weird cold life had a
brutal effect on me and my brothers. Get the divorce, pick up the pieces,
move on, and try to be happy. That's my
"Having lived with a mother and father who waited 29 years to divorce, I
can tell you that a loveless marriage is no picnic for kids. My
siblings and I were at a loss as to what was wrong, because my
parents put on a happy face though they weren't really
happy. I grew up believing happiness wasn't something I deserved to have
in my mate. Lying is harder in the long run; honesty, whether it includes
divorce or not, is
still the best policy."
Another wrote, "Growing up in a house with parents who didn't love each other
children confused and fearful of long-term relationships."
And finally: "The pain of a divorce is great, but I would take it any day
over growing up in a house where my parents were miserable for my sake. My
parents divorced when I was four and it was very distressing but they later
remarried and I got a great stepfather, a happy mother and father, some
fabulous half siblings and a much healthier family life. I
seriously doubt that I would be in the great marriage I am today if loveless
parents had been my example."
Dear Mr. Blue,
I'm lucky enough to enjoy the love and affection of the perfect
woman, intelligent, incredibly quick-witted, literate and hip,
not to mention sexy, gorgeous and horny most of the time. And
yet I still feel overwhelming lust for other beautiful women on a
regular basis, and since I started dating the perfect woman a
year ago, I have received more unsolicited attention from more
beautiful women than I ever had before.
I avoid putting myself in the path of temptation, but if I was in
a situation where I could have another woman and get away
with it, I don't know if I'd be able to resist. These feelings
threaten to consume me.
Thoughts of a lifelong commitment to the perfect woman drift in
and out of my mind. I dare not consider it,
though, given my feelings. What can I do?
Temptation is universal. I don't know about the
pope or the Dalai Lama, but most men I know experience lust on a
regular basis. I certainly do. But those beautiful women are not
going to force you to succumb. They won't slip a Mickey Finn into
your club soda and an hour later you find yourself tied to a bunk
in a deserted cabin with Lola standing over you, unbuttoning her
blouse. It's only in porn movies that strangers leap into bed
after a few minutes of conversation. In real life, you need to
scheme and maneuver and take some very clear steps, and you'll be
aware of them as you take them, and you'll have the opportunity
to think of the P.W. and consider whether you want to lose her
just so you can tumble in the sheets with a bimbo. What can you
do? Stay even further away from temptation than you do now. Shun
Dear Mr. Blue,
I'm one of those guys that the younger people who write you don't
want to turn out to be. I'm in my mid-40s, never married, in
good health, with more than enough money, but totally alone.
I have been through three serious relationships in my life that
lasted about six years each. Each was loving, passionate and
committed to the future. And each ended with a woman leaving me.
Now I have been alone for about six years, trying to get a bead
on what I am doing wrong. My neighbor has a daughter in her late
20s that I would like to get to know better, and a recently
divorced employee with a child has become very attractive to
me ... but I am stalled. What should I do? And what is wrong with
Don't you think that those three passionate
romances simply died of their own weight? Six years is a long
time for a love affair to stay up in the air, and perhaps each of
the three women came to the same conclusion: that the romance was
not going to wind up in marriage and commitment, and so she moved
on in search of something more lasting. And perhaps that's all
for the best. You've been alone long enough to start again. Don't
mess with the employee. Invite the neighbor over and see if the
daughter comes along. And stop mourning those old loves: It ain't
the dancer, it's the dance, so get back out on the floor and let
the music play.
Dear Mr. Blue,
I am a 25-year-old woman in a committed
relationship with a man (29) for three years. We live
together. Recently I became annoyed with him for coming home from
a party at 2 a.m. without letting me know he would be late, and
told him I didn't mind where he went or what he did, as long as
he let me know when he'd be back and endeavored to be on time.
Since then, he has been sulking over this and yesterday announced
that he misses being single, and wishes he were "without
restrictions." (He did say he doesn't want to break off the
relationship.) Is it asking too much that he let me know when
he'll be home and call if he's going to be more than an hour
late? If he "misses being single," should I cut him loose? All
the hostility is wearing me down.
Weary of Fighting
The dynamic of a party is highly unpredictable and
your partner wants to be able to laugh and cut loose and not be
watching the clock like a teenager on a curfew. It strikes me as
excessively managerial for you to wait up for him to return, and
if you're not waiting up, then what difference does it make if he
comes home at 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. or 4 a.m.? Either you trust him to
leave home unaccompanied or you don't. If you don't, then work on
Dear Mr. Blue,
I have a happy life, a good job and a wonderful 3-year-old son.
Money is pretty tight, however, and everyone seems to think that
I should pursue child support. I am not so sure. I dated my son's
father while he was separated from his wife and they are now back
together. He was also very upset that I refused to end the
pregnancy. He has not wanted any contact with his
son, nor has he offered to help out in any way.
My son has a peaceful, happy existence, and I don't know if
pursuing support will bring conflict and disharmony into our
lives. What do you think?
The father of this child is responsible for supporting
this child financially. Period. The child did not appear under a
toadstool, he wasn't carried in to shore on the back of a
dolphin: He is the result of this man coupling with you, and the
gentleman is responsible. The fact that he wanted you to end the
pregnancy and you didn't is utterly immaterial. The child is his
son. Pursue this matter, via whatever legal help you need (look
for a women's resource center or legal aid center), for your
son's well-being. Even $300 a month, properly invested, could pay
for your son's college education.
Dear Mr. Blue,
I've been pretty good friends with another guy at work for a
little over a year. We hang out, grab dinner together every
couple of weeks, check out a movie every so often, and I'm glad
to call him my friend.
I assumed when first meeting him that he was gay, as do most of
my friends when they meet him. But he absolutely does not
disclose anything about his love life. I'm very accepting of
gays, and I feel funny about this gap in my understanding of him
as a person. My girlfriend says I should just ask,
"Are you gay?" I can't think of anything more inappropriate. Any
I suppose you could come right out and ask him,
after a suitable drumroll ("I hope you don't mind if I ask a
personal question ... It's none of my business, but I'm curious."
Etc. etc.), and if he is gay, he'd probably laugh and say yes,
but what if he is in pain or doubt over his sexual orientation? Or what if he's straight as a ruler? What do you gain from
putting him on the spot? Why not go on assuming and not let it be
a problem? And let him choose the time to make himself more
Dear Mr. Blue,
My mother told me never to depend on a man to get what I want, to
get it myself, and so I have always made my own way in the world,
and I am fairly successful. My friends say I am the most
independent and resourceful person they know. The problem is that
I think I may be too independent. My recent ex-boyfriend said I
didn't act like I "needed him." Well, I don't. Nobody needs
anybody. But I am terribly lonely, and someday I want to get
married. But I can't seem to let myself depend on anybody. Is it
possible to learn how to be "intimate"? How do you make someone
feel needed? Please help.
Your mother gave you good advice, but of course it
doesn't cover all the contingencies and vicissitudes of life, and
so you need to augment this advice now and then. You may not have
needed your ex-boyfriend, but you need somebody and that somebody
needs you, and when you meet him you'll get one of life's great
experiences, one you shouldn't attempt solo, and that's romance.
Moonlight and long walks and kissing in the park and all the rest
of it. It's good you're resourceful and independent, and you can
hope he is too, but the sweetest part is when you lean on each
Dear Mr. Blue,
A few years ago I was embroiled in an unhealthy affair with an
unstable guy that ended when I left town. Months later he called,
and though we had an amicable talk I sent him a letter
asking that he not call again. He didn't. But he continues to
haunt me. Even though he's a manipulative jerk, he had such
charisma and presence. Recently I learned he's living nearby. I
hate to say it, but part of me wants to see him again. How do I
put him to rest?
In Need of an Exorcist
Dear In Need,
When you tell someone to get lost, don't then go
looking for him. It's manipulative and it's jerky. If you're
haunted by him, sit down and write a memoir about the whole
miserable affair, and it'll help cure the problem.
Dear Mr. Blue,
About a year ago I met this wonderful man, divorced with three
children, who seemed the perfect match for me, loving and
sensitive, patient, but recently he has been going through a
stressful time at work and has become
defensive and short-tempered. We took a vacation together for a
week, and except for one day, we fought the whole time. He
claims that I should "absorb" this behavior, but I don't want to
absorb it, I want to drop-kick him to the moon.
We are planning to get married next summer, but I have my doubts
about this now. Thoughts?
Take a break from this wonderful stressed-out man. If
you're living with him, find a reason to go stay with friends for
a while. Create some distance in the quietest and least
confrontational way you can, and go about your life, and let him
approach you and talk to you and explain himself when he is ready
to. Put the plans on ice. Don't marry anyone you have serious
doubts about. Marriage doesn't smooth these wrinkles out, it may
Dear Mr. Blue,
I recently moved back to Chicago after two years in New York City
because I was very depressed after the death of a person I
was very close to. While in New York, though, I met a very dear
man who made it clear he was romantically interested in me. I
wasn't ready for that, but since coming back to Chicago and
putting things into perspective, I've come to realize that I miss
this gentleman and would like to be in a relationship with him.
We talk regularly and he has mentioned the idea of flying out to
visit me. Should I tell him how I feel? Is it too late? Should I
even consider moving back to NYC to be with him? I am afraid
that I may have passed by true love. What to do?
Tell him you'd love to see him if he wants to make
the trip. Avoid making any big declaration of your feelings.
Enjoy his company, get to know him a little. Don't move back to
New York for romance; do it only if it makes sense to you
personally and you have a job and a life of your own to move back
to. After a traumatic event, a big move, you need to walk
carefully in the garden of romance, lest you stroll into the
marsh. Play it lightly: no heavy breathing, no flock of herons
rising from the lake, no big cello solos, no lovers running in
slow motion toward each other through tall grass. Of course I
could be all wrong about this. But somehow I wish you could enjoy
the tender pleasures of romance and postpone the big stuff for
Dear Mr. Blue,
I recently responded to a personals ad via the Web for a handsome
(his ad was accompanied by a photo) district attorney, and we
chatted and he asked me to send a picture so he could "put a face
to the person"; I sent him three and haven't heard from him
since. This was three weeks ago. My head tells me that he is
busy, but my heart is in a bit of a spin, as things started out
so promising and now the silence and waiting are starting to make
me feel doubtful that things will ever get
off the ground. I should add that I am a reasonably attractive,
educated, petite, 42-year-old professional woman who has many
interests and abilities. Should I e-mail him a short note
encouraging him to write when he has a chance, or should I
patiently wait for a response from him?
Not So Patient
Dear Not So,
"You seem a little giddy over this G-man, sister,"
Marlowe said, swinging his big brogans down from the desk.
"That's your business, not mine. But let me give you a word of
advice." He tapped a cigarette from the pack and noted that it
was his last. "You're a lot more than reasonably attractive, kid.
You're the kind of lady men are willing to get in big trouble
for." He lit the match on his cuff link and lit up and took a deep
drag. "But this D.A. is already in big trouble on his own. You
name it, he's in it up to his button-down collar." The private eye
walked over to the window and looked out at the evening traffic
on Sepulveda. A couple of zoot suits stood swinging their long
chains and the clients went in and out of the candy store. The
beat cop paced the curb twirling his nightstick. Marlowe saw the
girl's reflection in the window. What a sweet kid. How could she
fall for a schnook like that? A D.A. is never going to proclaim
his love for you. He's going to sit tight and wait for you to
crack. "Don't do it, sister," Marlowe said softly. He turned. She
gave him a look you could have poured over your pancakes. "How
about we continue this over a drink?" she said. "Sure," he said.
"Why not?" He knew why not, but what the hell. It was Tuesday. He
didn't have anything on the calendar until Friday.
Dear Mr. Blue,
My husband and I live in the countryside of North Carolina and
have done everything we can to stimulate our daughter with art,
dance, music, books, but the people who live in this area could
give a rat's ass about anything intellectual or artistic, so we
are planning a move (I am forcing it) to the coast of Maine in
the next year or so. We are deeply rooted here, as far as
work, house, etc., but I have this voice inside me that
says we MUST move there. The schools here are rated 48th in the
nation, and Maine is voted the No. 1 place to raise
children by the Children's Rights Council year after year. Do
you think moving from one place to another solves things? Stay
and make the best of it, or uproot?
That's the Camden Redevelopment Commission that
rated Maine No. 1, not the Children's Rights Council. Anyone
whose head is screwed on straight and isn't on the take knows
that Minnesota is the place to raise a child. Minnesota was
settled in the mid-19th century by people fleeing Maine who
brought with them whatever culture Maine had, and it has thrived
and burgeoned here on the sunny plains. Art, dance, music,
books -- we've got all that and also an exciting cartoon-strip
governor. What Maine has is a strip of culture along its
coastline about two or three miles wide, and then a vast swampy
mosquito-infested moose-ridden interior, with some potato fields.
Thank goodness you wrote to me before you packed the U-Haul.
Dear Mr. Blue,
I find myself in an impossible situation. I deeply, deeply love
my life partner, would take a bullet for him, intend to grow old
with him. But I mess around with other men pretty
frequently. How can the love I have for him feel so genuine yet I
have no problem sleeping with other men? I do not believe that my
sexual straying in any way diminishes my love for him. He knows
that I have fooled around in the past. He caught me in flagrante
delicto, actually, and said he didn't want an open relationship,
and I said I didn't think I could be in any other kind. Then he
dropped the subject altogether, which left me with a loophole the
size of a UPS truck. In my mind I have not violated any
"agreement" because we have no agreement.
You understand the relationship your way, which gives
you wide latitude, but you know that he doesn't understand it
that way, regardless of the lack of an explicit contract, and if
he catches you again, the outcome may be different. So you are
taking a big chance every time you stray, and if indeed he is
important to you, consider what you risk.
Dear Mr. Blue,
I'm 49, a widow of five years. I met a man nine months ago
through an Internet personals ad who is very much the man of my
dreams. We have the basis of a very solid friendship with the added
spark of real attraction. He is, however, a very driven
businessman, and while we have communicated online, we haven't
seen each other since February. I desperately want to develop the
relationship. I'm afraid my exuberance might be seen as
pushiness, or that he may mistake my delight
in his presence for wanting to move in on his life. We've hardly
spent enough time together to know whether we have any
long-term future, but that's never been one of my goals. I want
to see him as soon as he can and as often as he can, but I don't
want to scare him away.
Anyone can be spooked by a friend who is more excited
to see you than you are to see her. Anyone can be repelled by
someone who is overexuberant and talks too much. These are
common social problems that we all live in awareness of. But you
can't put yourself under a wet blanket just because of what you
imagine he might think of you. If you're going to be real
friends, you have to let him see you as you are, not perform in
some mysterious femme-fatale role. But be subtle. Don't talk
about the future in any large way and don't talk about the
"relationship." There isn't any, yet.
Dear Mr. Blue,
Have you ever written with a partner? I am currently writing a
romance novel with a co-worker. She claims that she has sold a
romance novel before (it was never published), so I teamed up
with her to learn quickly how it is done. Also, because
I like her a lot and wanted to spend time with her. At the
beginning, it went well; we brainstormed a dynamite plot and
great characters together. She wrote a couple of pages months
ago, and since then I'm the only one working on it. I can't get
her to focus on it at all. I'm afraid to change what she did
without her input, but it needs revision before we send it to a
publisher. I'm also getting angry that I have to do
this without her support. The book wouldn't be as good as it is
without her input thus far, but I'm getting frustrated that I'm
doing all the writing. What do I do next?
I wrote a book with my wife a few years ago and I
must say it was painless, even fun at times, but our partnership
was pretty clear: She was the architect, and I was the draftsman
who draws in the plumbing and electricity. Your partnership with
your friend is closer to the norm, I'm afraid -- these
arrangements are tricky -- and it seems clear that this book is
now your book to write. There is not a single thing you can do to
get her to contribute if she doesn't want to, so don't try: no
pleading, no browbeating, no recriminations, none whatsoever,
they won't work. Just keep going. And keep showing her the work
as it progresses, and invite her comments. Maybe she'll get
inspired later on. But if you sell the book to a publisher,
you'll need to put her in the contract as a co-writer, even if
she contributed very little. Don't get angry. Take it as a
learning experience, and finish the book.
Dear Mr. Blue,
Since falling completely in love with a poet, I've realized
that I am not a writer. She has obsession and passion and
genius and compulsion -- that obligation to write that has
proved so elusive for me. I have a serviceable ability, a
decent vocabulary and no drive. Though I mourn the loss of
my identity as "writer," I am glad to be witness to a true
writer in action. I am also glad to have ended my sham of
Writing (with a capital "w"). I feel I will be freer to write
letters and journal entries without striving for something
"finished" or "publishable" since I obviously am not insane
enough to achieve that. (I use the word "insane" with all
love and admiration for those who are.) I'm only 23 and at this
point I feel perfectly happy to be Alice to her Gertrude.
However, I worry that I'm perhaps giving up on my potential in
the face of her more established talent and falling into
some outdated woman's role -- that I could end up resenting her.
Though she has never suggested that what I write is not good. In
fact, she has praised some of it. So this is not a matter of a
wallflower being squelched by a psychopathic spotlight hog. I
haven't told her that I no longer think of myself as a
writer. What do you think?
No Longer a Writer
Dear No Longer,
You're in love and so you're entertaining anxious
questions that needn't trouble you too much. Let the future
decide whether you're a writer or not and who resents who and
what your potential is. At the moment, it seems to me you're
doing a healthy thing. You're in love with a woman you deeply
admire and moved to join your life to her cause, and this gives
you pleasure and seems to relieve you of the pressure to be
somebody you are not, a Writer; under cover of this romance, you
can now be a writer. I don't think this is an "outdated woman's
role"; I think it's what happens when partners complement each
other. My wife, for example, is more charming than I and takes
the lead on social occasions, and this leaves me free to be back
in the kitchen cooking the pork chops, which is a mercy. Your
friend is a big personality, and that takes the pressure off you.
Good. Just don't let her write your Autobiography, Alice, and
don't be too worshipful in general. No fawning. Start poking fun
at her and see how far you can go.
Dear Mr. Blue,
I'm in love with someone who loves someone else. They have been
in love for five years. I know he liked me before, but I don't know
how he feels now. I can't make a "move" toward him as that would
be cruel, but I can't seem to "get over" him either. Everyone new
seems second best. It's as if I've conditioned myself these past
years into thinking that there's no one else for me other than
him. So I'm all messed up, but at least I'm happy enough to hope
that things will get better. What do you think?
It's a long path out of this particular forest, but
it gets easier and you'll be better for having gone through it.
In fact, you're better already. Your letter is calm and
principled and you admit to having some happiness -- you may be
messed up but you're not strung out on Demerol and gin and
sitting around writing bad poems -- and as time goes by, this
guy will fade. What lingers is a sort of ghostly aura of a
memory. Train yourself to deal with involuntary thoughts. They
can be made to go back in the box, to be taken out and looked at
when you choose.
Dear Mr. Blue,
So many people tell me that I would be happier if I got a dog. I
wouldn't. What can I say to stop this pointless nagging?
Dogless in D.C.
Tell them that as a child you lived with a vicious
German shepherd who lunged and snarled at you and when your
mother sent you out to play, you had to sit up in a tree until
your dad got home and then your ex-girlfriend turned out to have
a dog that did the same thing whenever you sought intimacy with
her and you are in therapy for this and expect to be for another
20 years or so, and your therapist has told you not to get a