Caught looking

My teenage son is surfing porn sites on the Web and lying to me about it. Which offense is worse?

Published October 19, 1999 4:00PM (EDT)

Dear Mr. Blue,

My son will be 15 next week. About a year ago, I discovered him
surfing porn sites on the Web. I told him that I didn't want our computer
used for that and he was not allowed to do it. I feel that adolescents don't
have the maturity to handle that. Recently I noticed that he was using the
computer only when I was out of the house. I reminded him of my rule,
reminded him that trust is very important between a mother and a son who
wants to drive soon, and informed him that I knew a way to see what Web
pages had been visited from our computer. He looked me straight in the
eyes and said that he wasn't surfing those sites. Of course, when I
checked, I discovered that he had been and with the evidence at hand, he
admitted it. I
know that adolescents test their limits, and he is actually a very good
boy (kind of a smart aleck but also funny, fun, good student, good athlete,
affectionate, talkative). But the lying worries me. This is not the
first time that he has lied to me. I somehow have failed
to lay a moral foundation that says to him, "Lying is wrong
and I shouldn't do it." In other words, I'm afraid that the only thing
that works with him is the vulgar threat of consequences. Any
suggestions? My husband (a psychiatrist) thinks it isn't that big a
deal, that he's just being an adolescent boy, but still, I'd like to
hear your thoughts.


Dear Mom,

One of the ugly little secrets of the information revolution is
the ubiquity of pornography and its powerful attraction. Especially to
adolescents. The reason for the lying is the sheer power of the
temptation. You can fight back by using one of the available anti-
pornography software programs, but I don't think you should get into a
knock-down fight over the issue of lying. It's terribly important for you to
keep a close, warm relationship with your son and that is the context for
this discussion, that lying destroys closeness, honesty promotes it. But you
have to accept, then, that your son's interest in seeing sexual pictures
cannot be thwarted by you.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I have been dating a black man for a month now. He is a great guy, but
afraid to bring him home. I really do like him. No one ever treated me as
good as he does. I hate to let him go. I don't know what would happen if
my family found out.


Dear Afraid,

Don't assume your family's opposition to this man. Before you get their
opinion, though, you need to find out how you feel about him, which
takes more than a month, sometimes much more. If you still are fond of
him after a stretch of time, then arrange for your family to meet him. But
try to find one sympathetic ear in the family, someone whom you can
confide in, so that you have an advocate.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm a 37-year-old woman, getting my Ph.D. in English Lit., single,
considered rather
yummily curvaceous and beginning to reach the end of
my dating rope. I feel like if I never have to share another glass of
cabernet and tell my abbreviated life story, it's OK. Should I just enter
therapy to eradicate the last vestige of hope I have for finding a mate, or
is there some dating strategy I should employ to keep hope alive?

Alone and Ambivalent

Dear Alone,

You're tired of sitting in a bar drinking the house wine and telling a man
about your past, and who can blame you? Give it up. Don't eradicate
hope, don't look for a strategy. Finish up the Ph.D. Get it, find a job, get
yourself settled. And then see if dating looks interesting again. And ask
for a pinot noir.

Dear Mr. Blue,

Help! I'm losing perspective. I'm 32, and during the two years since my
last long-term relationship ended, I've fallen into a bad pattern of
dating a new fella for several months and then losing interest. I'm
beginning to think love will never happen to me again. My ex was far
from perfect, believe you me, but every man since seems to come up
short. Even though I have no desire to return to what I had, I miss my
ex's kindness and warmth.

My life as a single person is rich and full. I have a day job that I
enjoy. I do good works, read, write fiction, hike miles in the woods,
play with my dog, scuba dive, garden, go to readings and even stay up
far too late in smoky rock clubs. Yet as my friends pair up and drift
off, I find myself getting a little obsessive about love -- feeling like a
carton of milk that's nearing its due date. I hang out with people who
are younger and younger, because all the ones my age have significant
others to go home to. All the men I meet are younger as well, and as a
result not so interesting to talk to, either. As the time keeps ticking
by, I worry that I am getting too set in my ways to allow a new person
into my life and my heart. I worry that there's something wrong with me,
I worry that I am expecting too much, I worry that I am losing my looks
(such as they are). In short, I'm worried.

I like my life. I just don't want it to go on the same way forever; I
want intelligent conversation and a family to make soup for and someone
to help me admire those mountain views. Sometimes, I swear, I save up
funny stories about my day to tell someone and realize there's no one to
tell them to. It's gotten so that I won't even cook for myself, because
it depresses me too much to look at that lonely plate. Do you have any
words of advice, encouragement or wisdom, as I pass the age at which
my mother stopped having children?

Tying Myself in Knots

Dear Tying,

It isn't a bad pattern to lose interest in guys who aren't so interesting. So
don't worry about that. What you need to fight is that obsessiveness. Turn
your face away from it. Enjoy your life. Embrace the idea of life as a
single woman and plan for that. Stop angling for something more. Several
women who've found a big romance in their 30s said, "It's when you
stop looking for it that you find it." Some goals cannot be approached
directly. A fiction writer who obsesses over what her next story will be
may, in her anxiety over it, chew up every little bit of inspiration and
wind up with nothing. Better to sit and wait and listen. As St. Francis
said in his famous prayer: "It is in giving that we receive, it is in
forgiving that we are forgiven." Thirty-two is a fine age, and you should
enjoy it to the utmost. Write the funny stories in your journal. Quit
cooking. Tend to your looks so you don't dread mirrors. You're not a
carton of milk, you're a bright and soulful young woman, and you have a
long and happy life ahead of you.

Dear Mr. Blue,

Here I am, 29 years old, and I've got the most intense schoolgirl crush on
one of my English profs, who's maybe eight or nine years older than I am.
I thought I outgrew this stuff 10 years ago. I am haunted by his
unbelievably green eyes, his expressive hands, his wiry build, his Slavic
nose, the barely visible greys in his sand-colored hair. I spend unhealthy
amounts of time fantasizing about him. His beauty is matched by his
brilliance; I want to get into his mind as much as I want to get into his

Though he has remained professional, I do sense a mutual chemistry, but
that could be a delusion. He says hi when we cross paths on campus, and
the one time I approached him outside class for advice on an assignment,
he did stand pleasantly close and hold my gaze. He might just be friendly.
I don't know.

For the length of the course, I wouldn't dream of making a move beyond
eagerly participating in class, dressing attractively and maybe smiling too
much. Still, I am already plotting how I might approach him once the
semester is over and the grades are official. How do I suss out whether his
heart is free? (He doesn't wear a wedding ring.) I don't want to mess up
his chances at tenure, but I so long to get to know him outside school if
he's available. Any suggestions on asking him out in December? Does his
career make it hopeless?


Dear Infatuated,

At the end of the course, tell him how much you enjoyed
it and take a deep breath and ask him if he'd like to have dinner with you
sometime. He'll probably say yes, and so you'll get a chance to converse
with him for a couple of hours. Go for it, but don't try to read too far
ahead in the story. And if he doesn't seem interested, drop it.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I've done a bad thing. My girlfriend keeps her diary
out in plain sight, and several times in the last few
months I've given in to temptation and read it. Apart
from the fact that I now know things I never wanted to
know, I'm
feeling guilty about my snooping. Do I confess, or is this one
of those cases where telling will only make things
worse? I've sworn to myself I'll never do it again,
and haven't peeked in over a month now. I'm serious
about this woman and am terrified of how she'll react
to my betrayal of her trust; on the other hand, I also
feel funny about keeping a secret from her. And is there any way to
ask her to please hide the damn thing somewhere
without arousing her suspicions?


Dear Snoop,

The person who leaves the keys in the ignition shares
responsibility for the auto theft, and the person who sets her diary out in
open view is asking for someone to read it. Boundaries must be drawn if
one expects boundaries to be respected. Put her diary in her dresser
drawer, and close it, and if she asks you why you moved it, tell her that
you once, months ago, opened it and read it. But don't be in a lather to
confess: You've punished yourself already for this small infraction.

Dear Mr. Blue,

Two years ago my first novel was well received by a New York publisher,
who suggested that if I cut the manuscript in half and concentrated on the
main character, an offer might be made. I did this just in time to lose the
manuscript (and part of my house) in a mudslide. It took 15 months
to reassemble and edit the thing, and I sent it off with a
cover sheet reminding them who I am and what I'd written. Five months
later and I haven't heard back. I understand that editors are busy, but
e-mail and one phone message haven't been returned, and I'm running out
of patience. What is the etiquette here? How long does one wait to hear


Dear Tired,

Send one last e-mail: "I assume from your silence that my book has failed
to interest you," or words to that effect. And then take a month to read the
manuscript and ponder it. Has your dramatic revision improved the book
and loosed the story from the underbrush? Taking a fresh look at it; do
you now see other changes to be made? If you're confident of what you
have, send off a copy to another publisher. But don't hesitate to go back
to work on it, if you are dissatisfied. I'd say that two months is long
enough to wait (barring some crisis at the other end) for an editor to react
to a manuscript that he or she had shown interest in. But the etiquette isn't
as important as the manuscript itself, and you're responsible for tending to

Dear Mr. Blue,

I love my boyfriend, but I have no sexual desire for him, or for anyone. I
don't know what's wrong. I used to be a pretty lusty person. Now sex
almost embarrasses me. And its
not him: He's a good lover and the kindest, sweetest guy in the world.
And cute.

I've gained some weight since we've been living together (about five
years), and maybe my weight gain has caused some self-loathing, but I
only wear a size 12 or 14, so it's not like I have to wash myself with a
rag on a stick or something. And he still
seems to find me sexy. The poor guy is always asking me why don't I
want to make love anymore, and I don't have an answer. What's wrong
with me? I really do love him, we have a great life together. I
want to start liking sex again -- how can I do that?

Unhorny Hamster

Dear Unhorny,

I suspect that this weight gain is more important to you
than you let on. You're feeling large and ungainly, and that's hard on a
person's sex life. Try to get yourself on an exercise program and try to
put a lid on your eating, especially the aimless between-meals grazing.
Exercise is important to feeling better about your body. Give it a try for a
few months and see if things don't improve.

Dear Mr. Blue,

My husband and I have been together for five years. Four months ago he
got his "dream" job, one that involves a lot of flashy expense-account
travel. He's home only eight to 10 days a month. When we met, he was a
kid from the 'hood on his way to the big time. I loved his ambition and
supported him all the way. We were soooo in love and full of hope -- or so
I thought.

A few weeks into the job, he became resentful of the fact that I asked for
a phone call once a day and to know what hotel he was staying at, etc. He
wanted to not have to "report" to me and just wanted to give me his
cell phone number. He did his best to ignore my calls and e-mails. I was
getting the hint. When he was home, I was a mess as he withdrew his
affection and attention.

Now he says he doesn't want to be married right now, doesn't want the
responsibility and wants to enjoy his new life. I still love him, immature
and selfish as he is, but I've always been an independent woman and I
really need to move on here. He says that he still loves me very much and
is just confused and unable to deal with the stress of both a job and a wife.

Am I wrong to feel a real loss of respect for him here? Am I wrong to be
giving up hope for our relationship? I just can't shake the feeling that
anyone who can just give up a wife (who they proclaimed their love to
every day), a future family, etc., at the drop of a hat is a
selfish bastard with mental-health issues and kind of an
asshole. What's going on here?

Brokenhearted but still standing

Dear Brokenhearted,

Don't give up hope entirely. The selfish bastard
may experience a change of heart. But the facts certainly point to a
separation, and I urge you to gather up the strands of your life and look to
your own future. If he doesn't want to be married, then set him aside for
now and let him stew over his options, and you should tend to yourself.
Remake your life to suit your tastes, practice independence and enjoy it.

Dear Mr. Blue,

Years ago I moved to Europe to marry somebody. We've been very happy
together, and I have nothing to complain about. We weren't perhaps
each other imagined as the ideal mate, but it's worked out rather
shockingly well. But lately, I've been unhappy.

I think part of the problem is that I know my husband would never be
willing to live in the U.S. He's a writer, and his skills are very
language-based, and that language isn't English. I've known that from the
beginning. It was one of the things he told me to make sure I was
comfortable before we got married. I thought I was. But the thought
of having kids together (something we're discussing) feels somehow like
closing the door on ever going home.

I never thought of the U.S. as home when I lived there, and ironically I'm
not sure I could ever go back. I like the lifestyle in Europe very much,
and it suits me much better. It's somehow that the "never" is finally
sinking in, and it makes me sad.

What do I do? Am I just having the vapors?


Dear Expatriate,

Glad to hear you're thriving in Holland and enjoying
your life, and good for you that you were able to make the transition. This
twinge of nostalgia and regret is utterly normal and nothing to brood over,
a sort of backwash from the happiness of your life. You should go ahead
and have children and raise them Dutch and give them the benefit of your
American heritage. They'll learn English, of course, in school, but you
can give them so much more -- the stories, the mythology, the art -- and
someday you can bring them here and show them all the wonders, from
Manhattan to Montana. The U.S. is good to come back to, and you'll keep
coming back, and count yourself lucky to have two lands to be happy in
and two languages to tell about it.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am a semi-retired academic working on a novel based loosely on the
romantic adventures of my beloved children. I'm concerned they will see
themselves in
the characters and plot. I have included a few steamy scenes in the
novel, and I am afraid my children [all in their 30s] will say,
"How could you?" Even though they've done nothing shameful, they may
feel that I have
betrayed their confidences.

This is bothering me a lot. How can I get around such a roadblock?


Dear Squelched,

This calls for the Big Nose gambit. If you're worried that a character in
your novel may be taken for someone you know, stick a huge beezer on
them. Or a tiny penis. No man will ever see himself in a character of
minor endowment.

Dear Mr. Blue,

My niece was engaged to a Moroccan man for three years. It turns out
he was an illegal immigrant here in Britain and he escaped abroad before
Immigration came a-knockin'. I and the rest of my family all thought we'd
heard the last of the rotter, but we now discover that he has moved to
Rotterdam, where he is working illegally, and my niece has decided to go
over and join him. Not only that, to do this she is giving up an excellent
job here and deferring her university course for a year.

She won't listen to any of us, and she won't tell us where she is going to
be living when she goes there. What to do?

Dysfunctional Uncle

Dear Uncle,

There is nothing to be done, given the facts as you describe
them, so don't put yourself through agonies of worry over it. Every adult
person has the freedom to take up with a rotter and a rounder, and the
family is powerless to prevent it. Do avoid hysteria, though. Keep your
communications with her friendly and uncensorious, and this will help you
stay in touch with her, which is the important thing.

Dear Mr. Blue,

Recently, after a year of self-imposed celibacy after a traumatic breakup, I
met a man who talks to me about the right things, holds me in
the right places, makes me feel all gooey and hopeful about love. I think
it's a great sign. What I'm concerned about is a gaping age difference. I
haven't had the courage to ask him the big number, but I hear he's got at
least 20 years on my paltry 25. What do you think?

Juvenile in New Jersey

Dear Juvenile,

If the warm feelings are there, focus on those, and don't
worry about the arithmetic. Age difference isn't so important as you get
older, which all of us eventually do. What matters, past the age of 25 or
so, isn't how long you've lived but rather how long you have left, and
none of us knows the answer to that. Set this concern aside for now.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm troubled by the rampant marital infidelity that appears in your column.
Are there no moral distinctions anymore? Have we reached a point where
nothing can categorically be described as simply "wrong"?

I believe that cheating, lying, deception are
just flat-out wrong. Always. Has the world passed me by? Am I
hopelessly old-fashioned? Why do you continually dismiss the moral
implications of infidelity in
your response to readers' questions? I think sometimes it's important to
take a moral stance even if it's unpopular.


Dear Troubled,

Cheating, lying, deception are flat-out wrong, always, and people who
are unfaithful know so. Thus the high anxiety and misery attendant upon
adultery. This hasn't changed all that much. The divorce laws have made
it easier for people to escape from a hard marriage, but infidelity is as
morally untenable as ever. People are mysterious, however, and life is
complicated, and these things happen. People get stuck in marriages that
are cold and inhospitable, with partners who treat them like furniture, and
people never lose their hunger for romance and tenderness. That's one
reason for adultery. And one would like to understand why people do what
they do. One would prefer a glimmer of understanding to the pleasures of
condemning bad behavior. I hope there is a moral stance behind my
advice, and I hope there is sympathy for people who are struggling.

By 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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