Many readers took issue with my advice to Struggling Mama, a young single mother, to
chase down her child's father, a married man with whom she had had an affair and who had
wanted her to terminate the pregnancy, and to demand child support of him. The most
persuasive letter came from the single mother of an 8-year-old girl, who wrote:
"I chose not to pursue my daughter's father for child
support because he did not want a baby. He
made himself very clear on the subject, and I chose to go ahead with the
pregnancy anyway. 'I chose' are the operative words there. If he had wanted
the baby, and I chose not to continue the pregnancy, there would have been
nothing he could do about it. I firmly believe that, since women have the option of NOT
becoming parents, men should have this option as well. If a man cannot make a woman have
a child she does not want, a woman should not be able to do the same to a man. This is
what equality means, ladies. You don't get all the fun. I believe the
correct term to use in this case would be 'suck it up.'"
A good point, but I stick by my advice. Men and women are not in an equal position when it
comes to children, and any man who has lived with a pregnant woman and been present at
childbirth knows this. Abortion is not a 50-50 proposition either. Birth control pills brought a
sort of equality to having sex, but when conception occurs, all bets are off, and a man must
accept the consequences of the glorious nights he enjoyed. That is my position, and old-fashioned and ill-informed and judgmental and marginalizing and non-nurturing as it may
be, I'll stick to it.
Dear Mr. Blue,
I am a 63-year-old woman blessed with incredible genes. My mother is 81 and looks like my
sister; my father is 86 and looks like he is maybe 50. I look great. I'm a size 4. I have great
bones. I love men, and I love sex. But no one ever asks me out, except a
couple of old friends and a few lovers who are married to other women. They tell me that I
should just enjoy life with them but I want to meet interesting, sexy men who are not
married. A considerate man who loves sex, good food, good movies, classical music. I
could delight such a man indefinitely. What is wrong with me?
Perplexed in Mississippi
Nothing is wrong with you whatsoever, but perhaps Mississippi is low on
unmarried, sexy men who are interesting and who are interested in 63-year-old women with
great bones, so, as when you search the woods for your car keys, you must cover a great
deal of ground and look closely. Look for "interesting" first and then cull the marrieds from
the herd. An interesting man is one who can talk and when he does, doesn't talk about his
pickup, or football, or hunting. Football is a depressant, like most sports, and hunting is
mostly about drinking and male bondage, and pickups are not suitable friends: They are motor
You might feel differently, but I don't know any interesting people who don't read
books, so you might start nosing around bookstores and the library. You can spend hours in
these places and not spend a dime and nobody blinks at it. Avoid the auto-repair section; hew
toward nonfiction, history, biography, and when you see the zebra come to the water hole,
approach him and ask an innocent question about whatever section he seems to be browsing
in -- e.g., "Do you know any good books about World War II?" -- and if he leaps away in
alarm, let him go, and if he answers appropriately, scan his left hand, and if it's clear of
ringage, tell him in a quiet voice that he is awfully good-looking.
Tell him this as a preface
to something else, e.g., "I suppose you hear this all the time, but you're what I call a blanket
man. Speaking of which, do you know where I'd find the poetry section?" The vanity of men
should never be underestimated, and women, for some reason, have given up playing to
men's vanity, thinking perhaps that in the 12-Step Era, frankness and empathy are the
key. Nonsense. Men go to pieces if a woman compliments their appearance, their overall
sexiness, because it almost never happens. So this man, dazed, not knowing exactly what
"blanket man" means (neither do I, I just made it up), follows you into the poetry section
where you are browsing, and, as he approaches, you look up and smile and you ask him,
"What do you think of this?" and you read him a poem -- like Mary Oliver's "Wild Geese" or
James Wright's "A Blessing" or, if you are brave, something sexy by Sharon Olds -- and you
judge this man by his response. If he can say that he likes it and sound plausible, then he's
worth looking into. Good luck, and remember that good advice can be magical: Sometimes
you do the exact opposite and achieve the same result.
Dear Mr. Blue,
I ruin every relationship I'm in with insane jealousy and depression. I've been
through every kind of counseling, self-help book, anti-depressant, religious
revival, 12-step program, you name it. Now I'm even freaking exercising. But
I know I haven't really changed and wonder if change is possible. I
trust you will give me the straight dope: Can leopards change their spots?
Depression is a separate issue, a dangerous malady, and you need to address that
by seeing a psychiatrist. If one anti-depressant doesn't work, have your doctor switch you to
another. As for insane jealousy, it is likely exacerbated by the depression: You're in a dark
and scary place, you clutch onto the person you're with and can't let go. Address your
depression, and you'll find yourself, if not a cougar or puma or jaguar, then a happier
Dear Mr. Blue,
I am a 34-year-old short story writer whose dilemma has to do with the
25-year-old woman I have been involved with for the past nine months.
She doesn't read, except for the occasional detective story and astrology book. But novels
and short stories have no place in her life. She is very beautiful
and sweet, a good, intelligent person who supports my dream to write.
In short, she is everything I could ever want, save for her lack of interest in literature.
She talks about our settling down in a half-joking way, and I feel the
panic raise itself. I am divided, in that I like her, but worry about
her not being a part of my writing life. We connect on the basic levels
of values and attraction, but when it comes to talking about authors and books, offering up
useful feedback for my work, I find she has very little to say. My fear is that I may
be shortchanging myself by not being with a partner who could take me further along in my
writing with her insight and commentary. Of course the flip side would be to date a fiction
writer, something I have absolutely no desire to do (one of me is quite
You're right that one of you is enough. Yours is the whiniest letter I've seen
in a coon's age. You're worried that this beautiful and good and intelligent and sweet person
may not be a worthy professional asset to you? Pardon me while I throw up. Whatever
happened to passion and romance? Bubbie, do this fine lady a favor and tell her you're not
good enough for her and send her on her way. Clearly, you don't love her. Go write your
short stories and hook up with a woman who can copy edit, but if you ask me, it'll take more
than insight and feedback to make a writer of you -- anyone who can write, "We connect on
the basic levels of values and attraction," is not what I call a great talent -- but you didn't
Dear Mr. Blue,
I have a degree in English, work in Web site development, read voraciously, am happily
married and have a few precious, wonderful friends. I have lots of projects that I plan --
cross-stitch kits, a personal Web page, photo albums, scrapbooks -- and I start work on them
and get overwhelmed and never finish. The project looms large and I get intimidated and
quit. Also, I feel guilty about spending time on stuff that's just for me. But ironically, I don't
feel guilty about watching television or reading for hours. How do I get motivated?
Push Me, Please
It's only human to be ambitious and conceive large and noble projects that
languish for a while and then die a quiet death on the shelf. The landfills of America are full
of unfinished cross-stitch kits and scrapbooks. The country survives without them.
Civilization marches on. Don't punish yourself over this. There's a natural selection process
going on here, whereby you lay out what you believe you should be doing and then you do
what you really want to do. You're motivated just fine.
Dear Mr. Blue,
How do you maintain a sense of self in a marriage?
How do you spend years discovering who you are and
then agree to merge with another? How do you come to
depend on someone else, and trust them, when you know
life is known to throw curveballs, and who really
knows how things will turn out? I'm young, I'm forming
myself, I'm trying to listen, I'm trying to learn.
But why are so many "adults" unhappy? Why aren't
people taking care of themselves? If life is about
evolving and developing and learning, why do so
many people seem to be moving backward? How can we
know who or what to trust anymore? What is it that
people aren't listening to that leads them to ask,
"How did I wind up here??"
I Don't Wanna Be Blue
Once one moves past the infantile gratification stage of life, one gradually learns to
accept a measure of pain and unhappiness as the price of progress and eventually one learns
that unhappiness is a fundamental part of life. Suffering is unavoidable. There can be no
human dignity without it. If one seeks to eliminate uncertainty and unhappiness from one's
life, then one must lead a very small life. I don't recommend marriage to anyone who can't
hit a curveball, but you need to be able to endure a lot of strikeouts without feeling ashamed
of yourself. In any marriage, in any theater of human endeavor, people regularly make dumb
mistakes, say dumb things, feel blue, feel they are moving backward, feel they can't trust
anybody, ask how they wound up in this predicament, and then they go to bed and wake up
and it's a new day.
Dear Mr. Blue,
About 18 months ago, I managed to fall in love online with a man in
Italy. (I live in the U.S.) A few months after we met, I found out that he is married. I was
hurt and furious. But we kept chatting online and in January, we spent 10 days together in
England and had a really wonderful time. He paid for everything; he's a doctor. We've
grown even closer since then and chat online nearly every day. He calls me two or three
times a week. He sent me some lovely jewelry for my birthday. We are planning to meet in
Italy for several days in March of next year. At one time, I was sure I could end the
relationship, or let it fade, but now I'm not. He puts a lot of
effort into the relationship, which surprises me. He says he no longer loves his wife, but he
feels obligated to stay with her for the time being. I don't spend money sending him gifts,
and I do have a life outside of our friendship. What do you see going on here that I can't
see? I've been over this a million times in my head and simply can't put the pieces
You're having an e-affair with an Italian, is what's happening. This seems
to work out pretty well for you so far. You have the pleasure of his company and
conversation online, and once in a while you win a free trip and some jewelry. You don't say
that you're wracked with guilt or feeling anxious about the future or about what people might
think, so I'm not exactly sure what you're asking me. What's going on is that he's fascinated
with you and you with him, and distance facilitates this, and probably you will have a
wonderful trip in March. If you want me to give you a sermon, click on the podium icon.
Dear Mr. Blue,
I'm in a low-end job in an industry in which I've worked for the past eight years, and now
this type of work is starting to feel very unfulfilling. And my current supervisor is proving to
be a tad unstable. (He got into a 10-minute tirade with a co-worker over desk chairs!) I've
started writing a resignation letter.
However, I feel that another job search right away would just be going through the same
motions. I've started keeping a journal and have rediscovered a talent for creative writing
that I've tried to suppress in the past in the name of "maturity." I have a comfortable amount
of savings from previous work, so a year without a steady paycheck while I pursue my
writing (among other interests) is feasible. But I don't want to be labeled lazy or
irresponsible by my family. (I know I'd never hear the end of it.) And if I go back to a
9-to-5, how do I account for that year on my risumi? I've spent a lot of time crying and
losing sleep over this situation. Is there any hope?
Of course there's hope. You're only talking about taking a sabbatical, which,
according to Scripture, you're overdue for, and which you've frugally saved up for. Don't assume
your family's opposition to the idea of your taking some time for yourself. Just do it. Don't
try to tolerate the fatigue and dissatisfaction you feel. Time to break out of the rut and set a
good example for your nieces and nephews. A year of strolling about Creation and consulting
your soul and writing about what you see is a noble enterprise in the grand old American
tradition of adventure. These are puritanical times indeed if a man in your situation must
anguish over the exercise of a little freedom. Don't be a drudge. Take a walk. And if you
need to account for it on your risumi, say you were working on a book. A book about a
man taking a year off.
Dear Mr. Blue,
I have a close friend who is gorgeous, intelligent, witty and
one of the few people I really admire. For the past few years we
have lived in different countries and have only seen each other
occasionally. She is now coming back to this country, and I expect we'll see a lot more of
each other. I think she is attracted to me and would like our relationship to move to a
deeper level. I've been very bad at relationships in the past, have handled them badly and
ended them badly, rejecting people because I'm afraid of intimacy and of revealing too much
about myself. I'm scared that if we do start a sexual relationship, it will
turn out badly and I'll end up losing my best friend. Should I stick with the wonderful
friendship -- or take the plunge?
In a Spin
You're reading ahead. Stay on the page. She's not back yet. When she returns,
throw a party, take her to dinner, welcome her back and enjoy her company. Obviously
she's a terrific person and you have a lot of catching up to do. If she wrote you a letter in
which she intimated her attraction to you, forget about that. Be a friend. Don't plunge into
anything. Take your time. I don't buy the pat line about being "afraid of intimacy," but never
mind. Enjoy the friendship. And stop trying to read ahead.
Dear Mr. Blue,
In 1998 I wrote my first novel and sent it to an agent, who read it and made
some suggestions on how to improve it (all insightful), and I told
him I would endeavor to make the changes and resubmit to him in short
order. Unfortunately, the demands of my real life took over and now it has been over a year
since our last conversation. How should I best approach the fellow in order to salvage the
situation? (By the way, the rewrite is now complete.)
In the fiction trade, a year is nothing. Two years is nothing. Five years is not
much. So don't kick yourself and don't worry about how to approach him. Make two copies
of the manuscript and send him one in a big manila envelope and thank him for his insightful
suggestions. And start working on your second novel.
Dear Mr. Blue,
Two years ago I lost my beautiful husband in a car accident. We
had been married for three years, and the first year without him
was devastating, I wandered through it like a zombie. Now things seem to have reached
a comfortable plateau, a nice reprieve from the whole nightmare.
The sticky thing is, I don't know how to be single again. I still
wear my wedding ring, and my apartment is littered with pictures of
him. A couple of months ago, after being dragged to a party by an acquaintance, I flirted for
the first time in a very long time. One man was responsive until he noticed my
wedding ring. I didn't know how to tell him that I'm a widow
without sounding spooky. The truth is, I feel that if I take it
off, then I am denying that we ever shared a life together, that it's
a sort of infidelity. I'm uncertain about how to make any romantic or social decisions at all.
Lady In Black
You are gradually moving away from your tragedy and resuming a full life, and
you will continue gradually, as the devastation greens over and your feelings change and
leave you room. Your beautiful husband, need I say it, would want this for you. Nobody can
tell you when to remove the wedding ring: Maybe one morning you'll simply take it off,
maybe you'll have it refashioned into a pin, but don't worry about it. It seems to me (a
person who has no experience with this) that two years is a perfectly normal span of time for
grieving such a terrible loss; nothing in your letter suggests spookiness or obsessiveness
whatsoever. If you do feel uneasy about what's going on with you, look around for a caring
professional to talk to. Friends aren't much help in this situation: Grief always goes on longer
than your friends expect it to and is stronger than they can appreciate. The big step for you
was flirting with the man. Bravo. That's the sign that you've turned your face away from the
wall and are looking ahead. Good luck.
Dear Mr. Blue,
What advice might you have for a shy, 26-year-old woman in New York City who is having
trouble meeting eligible men? I've tried all the usual places -- church, the Internet, work -- and
haven't met anyone yet. Am I doing something wrong?
Blue in Brooklyn
Dear Blue in Brooklyn,
I don't know about your workplace, but the Internet is full of odd guys you wouldn't want to
meet -- right-wing paranoids, various obsessive personalities, mouth breathers, guys living
in their mothers' basements, outright sociopaths --- and church is overrated as a social
beehive. Maybe it's different for holy rollers or Hasidim but among the pallid Protestants I
know, church is not what turns a young man's fancy toward romance. Church tends to make
him beat his breast for having such thoughts. You look for love and only find a lot of flat-chested men.
You say you haven't "met" an eligible man yet, but of course you have, you've met dozens
of them, passed them in hallways, brushed against them in elevators, you simply haven't
acquired one yet. So don't bother about acquisition at this point, just concentrate on
friendship. Too many young men and women leap from shyness to infatuation, a dangerous
leap because you skip learning some basic skills you need to sustain any relationship, such as
conversing, listening, negotiating, patience. Shy persons are prone to intense romantic
fantasy, and it's good to bank those fires while catching up on the basics. Shyness is
common, but severe shyness is a prison that one must conspire to escape from. I don't know
how severe yours is, but "shy" is the only word you use to describe yourself (and "blue").
Try to acquire some male friends and slip into easygoing relationships with no big romantic
overtones. Find men who make you laugh, who you can talk to and pal around with and
poke when they take themselves too seriously. Look for situations where this is possible,
where men and women mix easily without coupling up. Political campaigns, groups of people
passionate about hiking or camping or biking, or people who are out to teach reading to
ghetto schoolkids or clean up the parks or tend to the sick or achieve some other noble good.
The point is not to find A Man but to be among people you like, including men, and to learn
how to speak to a stranger and introduce yourself, how to demonstrate affection in simple
non-erotic ways, how to be a good conversational partner in large and small groups, how to
read people's moods, how to deal with their disappointment, how to be a friend and keep
your independence -- all the basic stuff that makes for a mature adult life. While you are
engaged in making a pleasant social life, don't be surprised if suddenly A Man shows an interest in you. And then, my dear, you'll have a whole new set of problems.
Dear Mr. Blue,
I write poetry and would like my husband to be
my first reader, but when I show him my
work, he says, "I don't understand it. Why do you have to write obscure stuff like this?"
If I show him something more accessible, he chides me for not writing this way all the time.
His reactions make me not want to show my work to him, but he's the man I live with, and it's
his support that matters most. What should I do?
You can't expect this guy to be Edward Hirsch. Criticism is a skill he
doesn't have. Some men aren't good at plumbing either, or painting, or wallpapering, so you
make allowances and call in a professional. Leave your stuff lying around where he can see
it if he cares to, and let him say whatever he wishes, but don't thrust it on him and expect a
learned opinion. On the other hand, my dear, when you get to be a famous successful poet,
people are going to ask you all the time, "Why do you write obscure stuff anyway?" or
they'll think it, so you may as well figure out what to say. And when you figure it out, tell
me. I'm not sure I know.