A childless future?

He has everything I want in a man -- except for that vasectomy.

By Garrison Keillor
Published November 16, 1999 5:00PM (EST)

Nov. 16, 1999

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am a 36-year-old woman who, after years of dating reckless men, has
finally found a wonderful guy. He is 32, professional, caring,
loving, funny, attractive, and we are crazy about each other. We have
only been dating for three months, but it feels so right. We have even
talked about marriage. But he absolutely does not want kids. Period. He
doesn't want the responsibility. He is so certain that he had a nonreversible vasectomy. Until I met him, I just assumed that I would
someday have a child in my life. But that biological
alarm clock has never jolted me from my life as a single woman and made
me feel desperate for kids of my own.

I am falling in love with this man. I am afraid I will get too deep in the
relationship to turn back, then resent him when I wake up at 45 with my
eggs dried up and no kids. But I also don't want to give up the first real,
honest, loving relationship of my adult life. What to do?

Giving Up Something

Dear Giving Up,

Your interest in having a child is a result of your having
found the wonderful guy. Before, you vaguely "assumed" you'd have a
baby someday, but the sort of men you dated gave you no confidence in a
stable future and so having children wasn't an issue. Now, because you're
crazy about this man and it feels right, a child seems like a prospect,
though it probably would end the relationship that made you think of it in
the first place.

You need to examine carefully his emotional reasoning against children
and think clearly about the prospect of not having children. If this prospect
is grim to you, and if he's adamant on the point and won't consider
adoption or a sperm donor, then you can't marry this man. It's a bad piece
of baggage to carry into a marriage. You should enter marriage free and
clear, with a whole heart, and if having a child is in your heart, you are
divided from the beginning.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am a 23-year-old sort-of-professional woman, married, and
completely unable to choose a life course. I don't know
whether to join the Peace Corps, go to law school, both or neither.
I am madly in love with my husband who is also indecisive, idealistic
and fearful of making the wrong choices and would support any plan I
choose. How can a person make choices without looking back and having
serious regrets? Time is precious, and I don't want to waste it. I enjoy
the life I have but don't want to be stuck in the same place for 10 years.
I also want children before I am too old.


Dear Paralyzed,

You can't live life without making mistakes and having
regrets. (Maybe someday you'll look back and regret this period of
indecision.) So press onward. And enjoy being madly in love. Thoreau
said, "Advance confidently in the direction of your dreams, and you will
meet with a success undreamed of in your waking hours." Old Henry
experienced some career uncertainties too and learned to enjoy confusion
along with everything else. I can't recommend law school if you're
indecisive about it. Spend a day in a law library, reading Supreme Court
decisions, and see if, at sunset, you feel inspired or bored to tears. The
Peace Corps is a fine choice for idealistic people who need an intermission
in their lives, a period when you do something entirely different for a few
years and emerge from it with a clearer sense of who you are and what's
important. Don't spend the time being bored in a job you hate, and don't
commit to a Big Choice you're not sure of. I recommend having an
adventure, working abroad, hiking across America, canoeing the Red
River of the North, doing something that you and the mister can tell your
children about and elicit their stunned amazement. It's hard to amaze kids.
Now's your chance.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I've been married to my husband for a little over a year now. He's a
good guy -- smart, funny, imaginative, affectionate, domesticated, devoted
to me. But I don't like the way he talks to me sometimes. There is an
undercurrent of sarcasm in his voice if I ask what he considers a stupid or
pointless question, or if I forget something or make a mistake. He says
that's just the way he talks, but when I hear him talking that way to my
friends, or worse yet, to my mom, it appalls me. His parents are divorced
and he spent a lot of time alone when he was a kid, and I don't think he
developed good social skills. He is very bright and is often frustrated by
people who are not. But I resent being treated that way. I have told him
about this repeatedly, argued, cried, even tried to be sarcastic back, and
nothing helps. Do you think this is something he can change? Any


Dear Condescendee,

I know what you mean. It's adolescent and it's
painful to be around. I broke up with an old pal years ago because his
condescension was unbearable. I hope your husband can change, but you
should stop begging him to, stop arguing about it, don't cry and please
don't be sarcastic in return. Refuse to respond when he's in condescending
mode: Tell him, plainly and pleasantly, "I can't talk to you when you adopt
that tone of voice. Let's discuss it later." Deal with it cleanly, without
irritation. He isn't a bad person, he simply is playing the wrong song.
And try not to let this put a damper on your own enthusiasms and your
sense of curiosity and delight. In the end, love and joy can triumph, if you
don't let sarcasm and anger make you dour.

Dear Mr. Blue,

About five years ago, amid a career I thoroughly enjoyed, I was mugged
and seriously injured on the job. Since I was employed in a "helping
profession," injuries (both physical and psychological) have hindered my
sincerest efforts to regain the skills necessary to return to a
career that was my passion, my identity and my life. Even after several
years of therapy, this simply seems to elude me.

How can I be of help to fellow human
beings when I am, quite honestly, afraid of them? Is this one of life's
cruel jokes?

Off Duty

Dear Off,

A physical attack is very traumatic, in the truest sense of the
word, but if therapy hasn't worked for you, I think you need to change
course and find other work. Five years is a long time to try to resume
your career; the goal may become more elusive the harder you pursue it.
So relinquish it. Stop looking at the mountain: It only gets bigger and
bigger. Take another route. Find something else to occupy yourself,
something utterly unlike the old career. Pursue it for a year or two and
allow your anxieties to subside.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am delighted, confused. For months, my senses have been
deliciously acute. Ordinary clouds are now as textured
and vivid as Tiffany stained-glass windows. Every
aroma and word presents itself for attention. Perhaps
Proust has come to live in my skull.

For months, I slept poorly, waking repeatedly in the
night. I had buried an estranged parent, taken a new job
and experienced several other changes. And then I fell in love with the
woman I had worked with for two years, the one whom I woke up thinking
about in the night. There is no other face I would rather see, no
scent I would rather smell. I want to
write poetry and songs for her.

I am married with two children. She is single and, at
37, over a decade younger. There is no sense in any of
this. All reason says this is foolish, pointless,
unworkable and just looking for trouble.

My eye has not roved in 18 years of
marriage. This passion was sudden and unsought. What I want is to tell her I love her and tell everyone, and to maintain this intensity and joy forever, and to make her happy.

Should I tell her how I feel? Should I
enjoy the bliss and accept that it will eventually
subside? Should I have only chaperoned lunches with her and keep
everything light?

Inexplicably Happy

Dear Happy,

Your children are going to be inexplicably sad about this tale
when they find out; your departure would be a huge blow to them and
don't kid yourself about that. Eighteen years is a big story to suddenly tear
up and start writing a new one. You are in the throes of a beautiful
fantasy, like a man carried away at a movie. I suppose that if you
searched the country over, you'd find a few men who walked out on a
good marriage to hook up with a fascinating younger woman and who
were glad they did, but it would be a distinct minority compared with those
who leaped and landed in a swamp of misery and sorrow and regret and
who looked back at their leap with utter incredulity. Learn to appreciate
normal life and don't start singing opera in your 50s.

Dear Mr. Blue,

When I graduated from college 10 years ago I had no idea what I wanted
to do, only that I wanted to parlay my creative writing degree into a life
rich with words and ideas. I ended up as a dissatisfied high school
English teacher. Two years ago my wife and I moved to Los Angeles
where we hoped to start over. I've had a series of writing and editing jobs,
but I still don't know what I want to do exactly. Meanwhile, my wife
and I have both started feeling we want to start a family. The prospect of
struggling indefinitely has lost its appeal. Looking around, we envy our
friends who have achieved financial success and a comfortable life.
Suddenly law school has started to look very appealing.

Is this how dreams get extinguished? My wife wants nothing
more than for me to be happy, but I don't think she deserves being
subjected to a life of poverty either, particularly since writing is not an
overwhelming passion with me. Are there any symptoms that might
indicate if writing is my true calling? What are the prospects for a writer
ever putting financial worries to rest? I trust in your bluntness to set me

Last Gasp Before Law School

Dear Last,

OK, I'll be blunt. You'd be foolish to head for law school
armed with only the motive of achieving financial success. A passion for
the law is a prerequisite, even if you wind up negotiating divorces for
Hollywood stars. Why not write something that will earn you a nice
bundle? Or aim for the editorship of a big glossy magazine? Or do both.
It'll take you at least six or seven years to start earning real money as a
lawyer, and in the meantime you'll slave through law school and spend a
few more years of drudgery as a peon in a firm. Why not take two years
to write the big new book? Writing may not be your overwhelming
passion, but you can push yourself for a couple of years, can't you?

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm a young journalist at a crossroads in my career. I've written for some
major dailies and alternative weeklies and like the weeklies for the editing
and the lively, intimate style. In the next few weeks, I expect to be offered
a position at a big daily. I'm afraid I'll be pigeonholed into writing lots of
snoozey 10-inch stories. But the money is right and my mom could tell her
friends I've finally made it big. Plus: A big paper has the resources that
might let me write some good stories. Any thoughts?


Dear Skeptical,

Don't duck out for fear of the worst scenario, imagining
how a new job might degenerate. If you get a good offer, take it; if you
don't, tell them you need a better offer. You're young and you ought to
anticipate the best. Be bold. The genius of the popular media, including
print journalism, lies in its ability to keep absorbing new styles and fringe
viewpoints and to keep reinventing itself. Newspapers that don't welcome
bright young writers will limp into the woods bleeding and lie down and
die. You're not a mendicant here; you're the bringer of fire. And what's
wrong with making your mom proud? I ask you.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm "taking a break" from a two-year relationship with a man who
I'm not sure I want to marry. Our life together is fine (yet slightly
uninspiring and suffocating) and I love him, but I feel scarily passionless
about a future together. How do you tell the difference between settling
for too little and healthy compromise?


Dear Struggling,

You don't say anything wonderful about this man, not
even that you like his taste in socks or he makes good omelets, so why
continue? Life is too short to spend it in a marriage that's passionless and
suffocating from the start. This is not an intermission; this is the end of
the play; it's over; don't sit in the cold dark theater waiting for the lights
to come up. Put on your coat and go home.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I met a man in April. On the second date, we became intimate (I had
been celibate for five years). He is 45, divorced and was very
attentive until I got sick with Lyme disease and depression, but still we
kept in touch though he was traveling. In September, he asked me out
again. The date was wonderful, but I didn't hear
from him for another week, then we met again, then another 10 days
passed. Then I discovered he was also seeing an old girlfriend. I am in
such a depression. I care for him and cannot bear the thought of breaking
off with him. He said he needs to be alone for a while. What should I do?

In the Dumps

Dear In,

This guy isn't interested. Maybe he's too polite to say so, but he
lost interest back there somewhere, maybe when you were feeling so bad,
and he's strung you along out of -- who knows what? Pity? Inertia?
You're fascinated by him because he was your first lover in a long time,
but it's over. He needs to be left alone by you. Turn away and find
someone new, someone who is glad to see you more than once in a while.

Dear Mr. Blue,

An ex-lover I had been holding out for for four years just confessed he
now loves me more than ever and wants me back. These are words I
prayed to hear again. I am convinced he was my soul mate, but early in
our relationship he lost his job and pushed me away and was hateful and
cold, leading me on, saying he loved me and then saying it was
over. I pined for him for years. Then I got over him with the help of a
wonderful man who I have been dating for a year come next
Saturday. This is a stronger, healthier relationship. However, my
feelings are not as intense as the ones I had for my ex. Can I trust this
man again? He says he has changed and regrets how he treated me, and that the recent death of his father has made him realize how important I am to him.
Is the possibility of regaining that brief, beautiful, passionate
love worth losing the great relationship I have now?

Torn and Tired

Dear Torn and Tired,

In a word, no. The hatefulness and the toying with
your feelings were plainly abusive, and nonetheless you held out hope for
four years: You have no reason now to believe he has changed. His story
about his father's death bringing him to his senses seems much too facile.
He's jealous about the new man; he wants to resume his drama with you.
I suppose he had a sort of dangerous mystique about him -- the
excitement of his passion followed by rejection -- but you're over that
now, so why go back to it? If you need intensity, go parasailing.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am 32, somewhat overweight, but apparently still
attractive to men because they flirt with me all the time -- until they find
out that I am a highly educated woman making my
living as a scientist. Then they treat me like I have the plague. Maybe they
think I don't want to have kids. The truth is that I don't think there is a
more noble job in the universe than raising children. And
yet, how's a girl supposed to get married if she can't even get a date? I
tried asking men out and that's even worse -- they get totally rattled.

Sad and Lonely

Dear S&L,

If men are flirting with you, you're definitely attractive. If
men are spooked by your intelligence or your work, then be glad you
spooked them right away and saved yourself the trouble of getting to know
them better. They're insecure; they don't know how to make conversation
with an intelligent and accomplished woman; they're not the right men for
you. If this keeps happening, you're hanging out in the wrong places.
Change your route home, find a new place to drink coffee, quit going to
that bar, switch gyms, change your religion.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm in my first year of a Ph.D. program in science, straight out of college.
I love my mentor, but I hate everything else: the graduate school program,
the big cold city where I live, the fact that I can't think of a
single way to meet people. I feel like crying when I think of spending
several years stuck here.

When I applied to graduate schools, I was also offered
a spot at a university on the West Coast, which I loved: the
surroundings, the program, everything. I turned it down so I could
work with this mentor. But now I'm not sure that was the
right decision. Should I endure it, in hope it gets better?
Should I transfer though it would set me back at least a year?

Miserable and Lonely

Dear Miserable,

Sure, it probably does get better eventually, but why
endure so much grief in order to be in the charmed company of your
heroine? There are plenty of other mentors. You seem utterly too
dependent on her and it's a very unequal relationship. I think you should
give serious thought to moving to a situation you like better and don't
worry about the waste of the year. You're young; you can afford a little
indirection. Of course it would be good for your character to buckle
down, make friends, get to like the city, but it'd be good for my character
to take a cold shower every morning and eat a raw egg and read
Deuteronomy and I don't do that, so why should you?

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm a newspaper copy editor in a terrible funk. I moved into
editing five years ago and since then have pined for the lost thrill of
reporting. (My self-esteem has suffered; I've gained a lot of weight and
my hair has turned into a frizzball.) I love writing and meeting new people
and learning new things. But editing pays much better and I had hefty
student loans to pay off. I've won awards for my writing and am almost
convinced to apply for a reporting job even if it means a cut in pay. But
I'm up for an executive editing
post at a big paper. I have an interview scheduled for next week. I have
to decide whether to go for the interview or whether to bite the bullet
and apply for the reporting job.

Perplexed and Miserable

Dear Perplexed,

Go for the interview. Talk to them. And if the job
doesn't sing to you, then go back to reporting. If you were cut out to be
an editor, you'd have taken to it by now. Instead, you're longing for your
days as an ink-stained wretch sitting with the phone clamped to your ear, a
cigarette hanging on your lower lip, banging out a story on your
Underwood and yelling, "Copy!" Who can blame you? Executive editors,
however, get to sit in their offices with feet up on their desks, thinking
long thoughts about constitutional law and rapid transit. There may be
days you'd enjoy doing that.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I feel like such a jerk. I have a big crush on the man who fixes my
car. I had to tell him because it was driving me crazy so I wrote a letter to
him and said maybe we could get together sometime. I know I scared him
away because he never called me. I could never go back there again
because I feel like a jerk. What do you think?

The Jerk

Dear T.J.,

I think you're awfully sweet and as far from jerkishness as you
can be. Maybe he's a jerk for not calling you, but you're not. Or maybe
he thought about calling you and tried to think of something interesting to
say to you on a date and all he could think of was brake linings and in his
anxiety he dropped your letter somewhere and can't find your phone
number. If you go back there again, be cool. And if he says something
about the letter, throw your head back and laugh in that wonderful girlish
way you probably have, as if the whole thing were a huge joke. Don't feel
bad about this for another minute.

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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