Rarin' to go

Even after I lost 79 pounds, my husband isn't interested in sex. What if someone else makes a pass at me?

Published November 2, 1999 5:00PM (EST)

Nov. 2, 1999

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am 40 and have had a weight problem all of my life. I recently lost about 79 pounds and am
looking somewhat normal (although I have more to lose). I've been married for 12 years
and all throughout our married life, the sexual side of our relationship was nothing to write
home about. My husband is a wonderful man and is thoughtful, kind and romantic in other
ways. Our sex life began to dwindle to nothing, and despite extensive medical tests, it still is
a problem. Whenever we try (and it's been about two years now), nothing really happens. I
have never approved of adultery, but I find myself on the brink of a midlife crisis of sorts.

I want to get rid of things in my house (we're a pair of pack rats), streamline things and get
organized. And I want sex.

I'm kind of clueless when it comes to someone making a pass at me, but I think that a man
(unattached) is being flirtatious with me. I know nothing good can come of this and I'm not
really pursuing anything, but I will admit that if I got a phone call asking for a weekend
meeting, I'd be there, consequences be damned.

I've discussed the lack of a sex life with my husband, who admits it's psychological, and I tell
him that I cannot be sure what I'll do if someone were to make a pass at me given my state.
He says nothing, but he's more affectionate toward me. (Nothing sexual, just hugs and
kisses.) I'd like to be reckless and do something exciting. I care for my husband, but the reality is
that I'm bored and restless. Any thoughts?


Dear B&R,

Your giddiness is understandable, given all that weight loss. My gosh, you've
shucked the equivalent of about five bowling balls, or a 10-year-old child, or a stack of
encyclopedias. So you're raring to go, gunning your engines, waiting for Raoul to call up
and invite you to dance. Good for you. Don't dismiss your husband. He clearly cares about
you. Draw out the hugs and kisses a little longer and see if they don't develop into
something. Maybe try shocking him a little, with some forthright bawdiness. In other words,
play with him.

Of course it's a psychological problem, to engage in intimacy that you
abandoned two years ago. It'd be hard to go out onstage and perform after two years off, or
fly a plane, or do backflips, but you need to be bold and take steps. And in the meantime,
pull that dumpster up to the house and start divesting yourself of junk. This might well have
a good general effect, clearing the decks, getting ready for something new in your life. In the
end, it's up to your husband to find out (with your help) whether he is your partner or not,
and if he is not your partner, then it's up to you to decide what to do with him.

Dear Mr.Blue,

I am a 59-year-old divorcee and have met a woman 10 years younger
who really makes my heart beat faster. We have been out on three
dates and have kissed and held hands. I think she likes me, but so far I haven't
managed to make a date with her on Saturday -- she always says she is busy.
How do I find out if she has someone else and I am on the second team?
Also, do you have some advice on when it is permissible to ask your date to go
Dutch, if you know she can afford to.

Relief Pitcher

Dear Relief,

Keep your heart rate up and enjoy her company and don't try to scope out too
much too soon. She'll tell you there's someone else, if there is someone else and if she feels
a conflict. Maybe she's spending Saturday nights playing Parcheesi with her aged parents.
As for getting her to pay half, I recommend fumbling with the check. Don't snatch it from
the waiter. Set it on the table and ponder it and see if this doesn't elicit an offer to pay half.
If she doesn't volunteer, then you have to be explicit up front and say, "How would you like
to go Dutch to the International House of Pancakes tomorrow evening, mon cheri?" A third
option is to go someplace cheap, like the drive-up window at Burger King, but try fumbling

Dear Mr. Blue,

My boyfriend has been living with me and my 18-year-old daughter for seven months.
At times we are very happy, then there are times I don't know where the
relationship is going. He is 35 and has been married three times. About three
weeks ago he started getting on the Internet and looking up single women in
the area and trading pictures. Well, of course that upsets
me. He claims he is just playing with them. He says he needs to feel like he is wanted by
women. He claims he loves me but that there is an ingredient missing in our relationship and
he can't figure it out. Sometimes he feels like he needs to move out of
the house and see other women to see if he can find it, but he still wants me
there to wait for him to figure it out. Well, I won't do that. What should I
do? Should I let him find himself or let him go? I am really confused. I
love him and want to be with him. He has promised he will not see
anyone as long as he is living under my roof. He doesn't want to move, or so
he says. I need someone to help me understand.


Dear Confused,

Your boyfriend may have some clunky emotional baggage from a previous
relationship. Perhaps he is confused about his own feelings, after all his romantic adventures,
and is playacting with anonymous women, flirting with them, re-living some fond moments
in his colorful past. You are being extraordinarily patient about this. He was probably deeply
in love with at least one of the three wives, and though he loves you, the heart is only
capable of so many great leaps and then it can't leap anymore. The missing ingredient is a
passion he had in the past and can't have anymore, and he doesn't know how to settle for
what he has, which is love. This isn't a happy situation. Perhaps it will improve over time, but
do you have the patience for that? And is this a safe and comfortable situation for your

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm a 20-year-old college student. When I was in Berlin the
summer before last, I met a 40-year-old physicist with whom I lost my
virginity. Our time together was lovely: We went dancing every night and
enjoyed ourselves, and I felt we loved each other. We have stayed in
contact since then, and he has repeatedly suggested coming to visit me in
the States, although I keep putting him off. Next semester I
go back to Berlin for six months. I don't know whether we should start up again or not. I'm
not sure I can believe he loves me outside of my youth. I
haven't let him come visit me because I wouldn't want my friends and
family to find out I'm dating a much older man. Now I have to decide
what to do when I get back to Berlin. I loved him and felt wonderful with
him, and the sex was above and beyond. I haven't felt that with any other man since. What
is the right thing to do?

Liebe und Schmerz

Dear Liebe,

You had a big fling and enjoyed yourself and then, returning home, you put him
behind you. You were embarrassed by him and couldn't let your friends and family know.
And thereby, you decided that, though you loved him and felt wonderful with him and he
was a great lover, the romance had no future. If you thought it had, then you'd have braved
the scrutiny and shown him around. Now, returning to Berlin, you're tempted to strike up
with him again. This would be slightly dishonest, no? If he had been only infatuated with
your youth, I think you would have known. Obviously something about him -- his age,
perhaps -- troubles you. I don't think you can go back and relive that old fling, and since this
romance has no future, what's the point of seeing him?

Dear Mr. Blue,

You told one reader concerned about her husband's smoking, "When he's
ready to stop, have him write to me and I'll tell him how."

Care to jump the gun and share your advice now? I just awakened at 2 a.m. only to have a
smoke. I would be grateful for any advice.

Nicotine-Addled in New York

Dear Nicotine-Addled,

You stop smoking by deciding to and meaning it. I quit because I was tired of feeling bad,
tired of worrying about it, tired of thinking about quitting. That was back in the days when
you smoked in your office and went to other people's homes and expected to find ashtrays.

Three methods helped me: 1) I set a date when I would quit; 2) I quit with a friend and we
promised each other that if we were tempted to smoke again, we'd call the other one up on
the phone and tell him; and 3) in advance of the date, I cut down my intake severely by
eliminating categories of cigarettes, e.g., the early-morning smoke, the telephone smokes, the
car smokes, the post-9 p.m. smokes, etc. I gradually removed smoking from my daily
routine and placed it in smaller and smaller ghettoes. And then the night before D-Day, I
stayed up late and smoked a whole bunch and thought back on how much I had enjoyed
cigarettes and how they'd figured in my life and I smoked my last one and went to bed. The
next few days were hard, but far from unbearable: I ate a lot of popcorn, chewed gum,
devoured apples, went to movies, walked a lot and stayed away from my routine. After the
first week, it became noticeably easier to do without them. After a month, it was all over
except for the occasional twinge. I am not a powerfully resolute person, and if I could quit, I
believe anyone can.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I've been in a wonderful relationship with a man for about 10 months. He has an ex whom
he's still friends with and spends time with (dinner and a movie or TV date), but she will
not spend time with him and me together. I've met her twice and she seems to ignore me,
preferring to focus on him. What's the deal?

Going Along

Dear Going,

Three is an awkward number socially, especially when two each have a separate relationship
to the third, and being a couple is so much pleasanter. The gentleman enjoys her company,
and she his, and why not, and you enjoy his company, and nothing suggests that she'd enjoy
yours, and so why push it?

Dear Mr. Blue,

I have been a fool. I am in my 20s, work
in New York, and for most of the past two years, I have been
involved with a lovely, intelligent, graceful, sexy, caring, divorced woman in her 30s.
Our relationship was wondrous but I wasn't ready to commit so I took a break in June. I
returned in July, ready for commitment. In late August, she announced that she
couldn't herself recommit, that the passion was not there, that she
needed to find herself, alone. She told me that our
relationship was the best, most loving, most caring, most healthy
she had ever had, but she never, I think, gave our
reconnecting a serious chance.

I don't know if she has found someone new, or she never really loved
me, or I have not expressed myself well enough. But without her in my life, I cannot sleep; I
sweat; I cry; my hands tremble; I despair; I drink to block it out. I tried to date again,
to get on, but I knew I was cheating on my love. My hope is that her heart has not closed to
me completely.

How to make her see what I feel?


Dear Despairing,

Assume that she wasn't ready to take you back in July, so soon after you
walked away. She didn't find someone new, she really did love you, but perhaps what you
call taking "a break" seemed to her like rejection and wounded her. In any case, you should
tell her how you feel. Preferably when sober and not weeping or trembling. You may get
only one chance to tell her; it would be far, far better for you if the meeting came at her
instigation. Wait a while for your phone to ring. Then call her and invite her to dinner. Sit in
candlelight, order a wonderful meal and splurge on the wine, and somewhere between the
appetizer and the soup make your bid for her heart. Tell her succinctly that you love her,
you want her in your life, and you're miserable without her. And tell yourself that if she
says no, then that's the end of it, and you'll kiss her goodbye and soldier on.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I've been married 12 years to a man whom I have long felt I love far more than he loves
me. We have an enchanting 4-year-old daughter, and he is a very good father, and I believe
he loves me "in his own way." But he has been indelibly
stamped by a horrible father who is a famous overachiever and has had an "infantilizing"
effect on him. I have trouble dealing with
this, his childishness, his unassertiveness, his lack of strong feelings for me. We are in a
really rough patch right now. I am very impatient and at times utterly unloving toward
him. I am angry and act in a way I do not like at all, but I seem helpless to change. Do you
have any suggestions how I can accept my husband for who he is
and hold onto our marriage?


Dear Suffering,

This is a long-standing, deep-seated misery, and I know no way to deal with it
other than to go through the process of sitting in a room with your husband and a caring
professional for a couple of hours every week and talking this out. You should be careful
about your anger, careful not to leap to the conclusions you state in your note, but clearly you
are at an impasse, behaving badly and being unable to change, and if you both can commit to
the process of examining your lives together, there's hope for you.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm 40, a social worker in a child protection services agency, which is a very stressful job. I was
relatively happy until things began to fall apart a year ago. A death in the family and
relationship problems and job stress led to depression, which counseling and medication
helped -- but a leave from work helped even more. I've been back to work for about five
months and it's becoming unbearable. I'd like to quit the job and start over, but I have
20 years seniority and in 10 years, I can retire with a good pension. I'm too
burned out to do a good job where I am, but I'm not being allowed to transfer
to a less stressful position. Should I go or should I stay?


Dear Crispy,

You shouldn't go until you've pushed for a transfer any way you can, through a grievance
procedure, through direct appeals to higher officials and, if nothing else works, through
legal action. I am not qualified to advise you on any of this, but I'm sure that civil service
offers you a route for petitioning for reassignment on medical grounds. It's tedious, I'm
sure, and involves forms and interviews, but you're used to that by now. Don't let your
misery make you passive.

Dear Mr. Blue,

One year ago, my star was rising as a professional. I started a job that offered prestige,
money and a way out of a stale situation. It didn't work out, and I voluntarily left. Since
then, much to my chagrin, I have not been able
to secure work despite excellent credentials. I am beginning to feel unemployable.
I am in a funk. I find myself awakening later each day, doing mundane tasks to occupy my
hands and mind. When everybody talks about a tight labor market, I can't help but wonder
what is wrong with me?

Befuddled in Brooklyn

Dear Befuddled,

You're unemployed, and that can be bewildering and scary to anybody, no
matter how professional. Really. It's like getting lost in the woods: You know there's a road
somewhere nearby and you feel a little panicky that you may miss it. Sit down and get your
bearings and calm your funk. Write out a plan for your job search. Be specific. Make a list
of people who might help. And then start calling. Meanwhile, make a project for yourself,
something to improve your professional skills, something that gets you out of the house
every day: a piece of research, say, that gets you into the library, maybe involves some
interviews in the field, and that winds up in a piece of writing. As for the labor market being
tight: yes, in theory it is, but not necessarily in your profession and in Brooklyn. Eventually
you may need to make a move.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm a 41-year-old single mother of two boys, both of them under the age of 5, so I stay
home with them and work part-time. I want to start dating, but I have a
problem meeting eligible men. I go to church regularly, but single men don't
seem to do the same. Do you have any suggestions?

Stella by Starlight

Dear Stella,

If you were 16 you'd attend football games with a herd of other girls and have a
herd of boys to ogle and flirt with, but there aren't so many 41-year-old single men out
milling around, and no place to find them in herds, so you must search. You can do this
directly and indirectly -- directly, by placing a personals ad in some publication that you
yourself might read, and indirectly, by putting your social life into a higher gear and pushing
yourself out into the current. This is not easily managed in your situation, but let the boys'
dad do some baby-sitting and you get out and mill. You look by not looking, by engaging in
group life, crusading or bird-watching or discussing or whatever you hanker for. Anybody is
more attractive in purposeful action than in repose.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am 45 and have been dating a 50-year-old guy for three years
now. He treats my daughter and two sons real well and
is a perfect gentlemen to me. He ran a tree-cutting service, which failed, and then a
dry-cleaning service, ditto, and is now trying to make money off the Web. He is always
telling me that we will be buying a big home any day now. I have
my own apartment and pay all expenses. When he has money he will buy my
groceries, but that is about all he can do. He has been
living at home with his parents for eight years. Do you think things will change? Will he
ever get a good job and make some money? I just can't afford this relationship.


Dear Dubious,

I would be dubious too. One can hold out hope that the whistle will blow and
the ship will come in, but I wouldn't start packing my bags if I were you. What it comes
down to, my dear, is, exactly how amusing is this man? A guy who can't pull his own
weight has to be able to make up for it in sheer entertainment value. If you're broke, you
better be a good dancer.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I live with a man who, in our best times, makes me cry for joy, but who, after three years in
AA and 10 years of sobriety, has gone back to drinking, thinking he can
handle it socially, when all signs point to the fact that he can't.
When he's had too much to drink, he turns from a funny, lighthearted,
kind man into a cold, distant and angry one. We had talked about marriage. Now I'm
wondering whether to stick around to see how he'll destroy
everything he's worked so hard to build or
whether to leave him. When he's not drinking, he brings me a joy
I never knew was possible. My sense of commitment to him is strong, but I
don't want to lose myself, my dignity or my wonderful memories of him.
What should I do? My own soul searching only brings more questions, and I'm
confused enough now that I don't see any answers on the horizon.

Searching for Answers

Dear Searching,

Your lover is in a struggle, and if you want to find out more about it, there
are organizations for families of alcoholics, such as Al-Anon, and there are books, but essentially
it is his struggle and your role can only be to tell the truth. Attend some AA meetings to get
some perspective. Visit a rehab-detox center and inquire about programs for people in
relationships with alcoholics. Your future with this man depends on your gaining your own
understanding of the disease. Don't get entangled with him when he's in his cold and angry
phase; turn your back on it; don't discuss the drinking with him, unless you can collect some
allies and form an intervention committee to confront him. Of course if life becomes
unbearably sad for you, you'll need to create some distance between you and him. But you
should stay while you can, if he still brings you joy.

Dear Mr. Blue,

My husband's family is Dutch. They have distinct personal boundaries and no apparent need
for intimacy with other people, including each other.

When we married, I valued his practical traits and wanted to flee my own crazy, enmeshed
family. I loved the freedom he and I gave each other. But now I
want romance and tenderness and to share my life with someone, and he's
wondering what the hell is wrong with me. I do love him but I feel lonely. I've tried to tell
him this but don't know how to say it without offending him.


Dear Chilling,

You married him for his strength and independence; try to imagine that he
married you for your warmth, your outgoing nature, your charm, and now he needs you to
demonstrate it. It's like teaching him a new language, it takes patience and perseverance and
repetition. And you teach it by speaking that language, not by sitting down and discussing
the need to speak that language. You show your husband what you need by offering it to
him. You receive romance and tenderness by being tender and romantic, over and over. You
know how to do this and he doesn't. But he can learn.

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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