Healthy urges

I don't want to have to beg my boyfriend for sex, but I'm too young to give up on it.

By Garrison Keillor
Published November 23, 1999 5:00PM (EST)

Nov. 23, 1999

Mr. Blue learned a few things from the readership this week: first, that
bad breath is due to disease, either bad tonsils or sinus infections or
periodontal disease or roast beef mulching between the molars, and so I
should have advised Holding My Breath to tell her boyfriend to see a
dentist or an ENT specialist. (That stands for Elbow, Neck & Thorax, by
the way.) Mr. Blue's breath is sometimes funky, but that is due to a
combination of french fries, ketchup and a 1988 Bordeaux.

Several readers protested my dismissive response to No Follow Through,
the chronic procrastinator. One said: "Shame, shame! The problems this
person reported are classic symptoms of depression. It's a vicious cycle
that I am just now coming out of because of good counseling and
prescription drugs. Don't assume when someone says their house and life
is a mess that it isn't a living hell for them -- it is." OK. Fine by me.
Get counseling and drugs then. Another reader felt that No Follow
Through might be suffering from ADD or ADHD, "disorders that can
result in great personal stress, low self-esteem, depression, inability to
maintain intimate relationships or hold down jobs etc."

A book was
recommended: "Driven to Distraction: Recognizing and Coping With
Attention Deficit Disorder From Childhood Through Adulthood" by
Edward M. Hallowell and John J. Ratey, who, according to the reader,
are both M.D.s with ADD. As soon as I finish James Joyce's "Finnegans
Wake," I intend to tackle this tome. Joyce, by the way, suffered from
personal stress and depression and had self-esteem issues, too, and had a
hard time holding down jobs. Both he and his common-law wife, Nora,
were in great need of good counseling and prescription drugs. It's a
tragedy that they lived when they did and not 50 years later when more
help was available. And now Mr. Blue's attention is wandering and I must
go to another subject. Sorry.

There was a lovely fake letter this week, purportedly from a man who
took a class in creative writing and fell in love with his teacher ("she is
gorjous and she like me a lot") and now he must decide whether to
become a "famass writer" or an international opera star (he has a loud
voice from "hollaring at pigs") and would I like to hear a tape of his
"sinning"? It took me back to my childhood days when I used to think that
Orpheus C. Kerr and Petroleum V. Nasby were a real stitch.

Dear Mr. Blue,

My boyfriend of eight years never wants to have sex,
and it's driving me mad. When we first got together,
the sex was frequent and fun; we'd do it in the
morning, in the evening and midday if the
opportunity presented itself. After those early
halcyon days, he experienced a rash of health problems
(not serious, but aggravating), and our sex life became more and more
spotty. For the past
two years, we've often gone for two or three months at
a time with no action. I have stopped initiating sex
because invariably he's not in the mood, and it
became too depressing to try.

We have discussed this,
and he has seen therapists, tried anti-depressive
medication, but to no avail: His libido has just
checked out. He's physically capable of having sex,
and he claims that it's not me, he's just not
interested in sex with anyone. I don't want to end the
relationship -- he's sweet and charming and talented, and living with him
has been a pleasure. However, I'm only 28, I have
healthy urges. I don't want to have to beg for it, I don't want to make him
do anything he doesn't want to do and I don't think I
can look for sex outside of our relationship without
destroying it. And I don't like being quietly
angry at him all the time. Should I break it off?
Fling myself into the arms of other men? Or just get
used to it?


Dear Eunuch,

All doors appear to be closed, and short of cutting a hole in
the wall, or burning down the house, there's no logical way to make this
work. Drugs, therapy, cajoling, nothing works. You can keep looking --
zinc tablets, oysters on the half shell, the right shade of beige lingerie,
Chopin waltzes, long walks on the beach -- but you don't have time for
that. You're a patient, thoughtful, intelligent person, and, I'm sure,
incredibly sexy. His trouble isn't your doing. And he does not benefit
from your attempts to help. Let's consider one obvious possibility, that the
man may be gay. If he were, and if his background made this an
emotionally lacerating fact, he might require years to come around to a
reasonably happy solution, and in the meantime, what should you do to
help? Crochet pillowcases? Write sonnets? You have a responsibility to
carry on with your own life. Start sleeping in a separate bed, be sweet, be
charming and start looking for a new place to live.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm male, 19, dedicated to writing, editing my first novel, plotting my
writing career. My best friend is a lovely young woman who's 18, and
lately we've become really close. I'd love to go beyond just friends. The
problem is she respects and listens to her immigrant parents, and the only
people her parents want her hanging out with are med/law-school
track guys of their ethnic group who'll make a lot of money, whereas I am
American who writes and plays bass guitar, and who is probably not going
to make too much money. So I don't know if pursuing a deeper
relationship would accomplish anything. Any


Dear Hopeful,

You have written to the wrong advice columnist, sir. I am
the father of a daughter, and though she is only 2, my guard is up and I
intend to protect her from bass guitarist/novelist-track guys who can only
break her heart and lead her through an emotional morass and into a life
of poverty. Bass guitarists do not lead stable, productive lives, sir. I say
that on the basis of knowing two guys, a small sample, but fathers must
form judgments as best they can. Be a pal to your lovely friend, don't
complicate her life, pursue your career and when she finds Dr. Right
Ethnic, attend the wedding and make a toast to her happiness. And say
hello to her parents from me.

Dear Mr. Blue,

Our daughter is 9 months old and will only sleep in bed with us, her
exhausted and sex-starved mom and dad. We are
torn between the family-bed, attachment-parenting people who think it's all
fine and healthy to let your child fling her limbs all over you and
snore in your ear all night long, and the cry-it-out people who think that if
kids can't get themselves to sleep in their own beds they'll grow up
damaged. It seems cruel to send her off to her cold, dark room, and cruel
to us to keep her with us. What would you do?

Bleary Eyed Mom

Dear Bleary,

A 9-month-old child has no opinion in the matter and will
have no memory of this period. If she grows up to be a writer, she won't
mention in her memoir the pain she felt when she was torn from the
family bed and thrown into a cold, dark room. Frankly, compared to the
shock of leaving the uterus, this is not that bad. So I am in favor of the
baby discovering her own crib and you and your husband having sex and
then falling asleep. Do you still know how to do this? You rip his
undershirt off and he makes a low guttural sound and tears your negligee
from stem to stern and you fall upon each other moaning and groping and
an hour later you lie on your backs exhausted, your naked bodies
glistening with sweat. Meanwhile, your daughter sleeps, or she doesn't
sleep, she mutters or she weeps a little, but this is not to be confused with
actual suffering.

The family-bed people are the same ditzy, de-sexed
hippies who gave us coverall fashion and promoted bland cooking as high
cuisine. The babies of these attachment parents will grow up sleeping with
them in their yurts and when the babies are 16, they will turn on the
parents with a vengeance and shriek and curse and play bass guitar and get
swastika tattoos, while your child, the one who got sent to a cold, dark
room, will become a cellist and turn out elegant watercolors and love you
with a whole heart. Go figure.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I have just gotten engaged to a great woman who is everything I need in
She helped me out of a big mess and I am forever grateful to her. The
only thing is that she is a little heavy and not at all like all the
starlets and models I run into in my work and social life. These girls are
constantly coming on to me. I have not cheated on her yet and
I do not plan to. What I do, though, is fantasize about other women when
are having sex. Can I possibly marry this girl when I am
doing this during an engagement? Please throw some knowledge my way.

Fantasy Man

Dear Man,

She's a great woman and she gave you a helping hand and
you're forever grateful, but this is not enough to base a marriage on. I'm
sorry. It's not her weight, it's what's in your heart. You don't have the
requisite fervor, lust, whatever you want to call it. If, during your
engagement, you are starting to fantasize about other women, you should
call this off. Really. "I have not cheated on her yet" is not the note of
giddy passion we're looking for at this point, sir. Release this great
woman immediately and when starlets and models come on to you, seduce
them one after the other, dozens of them, hundreds, and enjoy the
pleasures of the flesh, and someday, propped up in your big circular bed
with the vibrating mattress under the ceiling mirror, sipping a mineral
water and waiting for your fourth starlet of the day to come tiptoeing into
your room with the pink carpeted walls, you will say, "Thank you, Mr.
Blue, for saving me from a life with Eleanor Roosevelt."

Dear Mr. Blue,

We are both 28. He wants to have five children, I don't want to have any.
He just asked me to marry him. I love him dearly and cannot think of
anyone I'd rather marry, but I don't think he'd be happy childless and I
am unwilling to compromise with one or two children. Is this as hopeless
as I think it is?


Dear Non-Breeder,

Of course it's hopeless. Why do you ask? If you were
going to London, why would you get on a plane to Dallas? Don't marry
this guy. Find one who is child-unfriendly and marry him.

Dear Mr. Blue,

One of my closest friends told me last night that she doesn't want me to
call her anymore. She was apologetic and says it's nothing I've
said or done, but that she no longer feels comfortable having a close
friendship with a married man, even though we've never been
romantically attracted to one another. Earlier this year she confided to
me some marital problems, and every couple of weeks we talked as she went
through a difficult divorce. (My wife knew about this from the start, and
was quite understanding about it.) I'm very hurt
and a little angry, and I'll miss her a lot. It was wonderful for me
to have a close relationship with a woman without an undercurrent of
romantic intrigue or sexuality. So what is it about a married man having
women for friends?


Dear Bewildered,

You can only be friends with them what wants to be
friends with you. She doesn't. I guess she felt that she was falling in love
with you. Who knows? Give it up. Maybe she'll think better of it and
want to be friends again in a few months. But friendships are perishable.
And they go through periods of drought and dormancy. Let this one go.

Dear Mr. Blue,

My boyfriend has a former girlfriend who doesn't understand the word
"no." He broke up with her last year, but they maintained casual contact,
and when she found out he was dating me, she started coming to his
house, biking on our route, calling him for advice about the pump, the
furnace, the wiring, calling his mother. I told him that this was making
me jumpy and he assured me he was only being civil. I want to issue an
ultimatum, but that is not my style. My style is to move
on and leave the past behind, but I am finding that he has contact with
almost all his former loves and it bothers me. Am I worrying over
nothing? Is this normal for him to send birthday cards to all his old
girlfriends? I feel a big mess in the making.


Dear Distrustful,

Your boyfriend is a nice guy who tries to avoid making
women mad at him. I understand this really well. He needs years of
professional help and a lot of pharmaceuticals. Or he needs to grow up a
little and get a backbone. I mean, how many women's furnaces can a guy
deal with? Obviously, he is mechanically inclined and willing to work for
cheap, so when you join the ranks of his former loves, you'll probably be
able to get good service too. Look at it that way.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I got an uncontested divorce last year, found a wonderful new boyfriend
and am finally going to grad school. Life is good. But what should I do
with my wedding dress? It's traditional to use fabric from a relative's
dress for a ring pillow or something, but it seems weird to use part of my
first wedding dress in a second wedding. It also seems like a "bad luck
charm." Should I sell? Scrap it? Keep it around as a warning to future


Dear O.D.,

Put the dress out of the house. It's a weight, a drag, a
barnacle, and a person should divest herself of these encrustations and
bestow the dress on a second-hand shop where some young beauty whose
heart bursts with love and who is exactly your size will see it and rejoice
in her good luck. This is so much better than you opening a closet and
seeing it and getting a sour queasy feeling. And good for you to bounce
out of that divorce and land on your feet walking forward in a straight

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'll be 27 next month, and I'm tired of having my heart broken. The
older I get, the more disillusioned I am with men, and the more I think
that true love is nothing more than a big fat compromise.
I dated a man for four and a half years and we broke up three years ago over
his drug problem. I couldn't take the heartbreak of watching someone
destroy themselves. Since then he has straightened himself out for the
most part. He will call me occasionally and tell me that he loves me and
misses me, and the thought of dating him again just fills me with dread,
but no more dread than the prospect of spending the rest of my life alone.
Since we broke up, I have found a great job as a writer and had a few
flirtations, some random drunken hookups, a handful of first dates and
many, many unrequited crushes. I seem to specialize in finding unavailable
men. I'm told that I'm bubbly and cute and fun and smart, and I look
around at couples and just can't fathom how to make a connection
with anyone. I feel desperately lonely, all the time. I just want to give up
on dating altogether, because I don't think I can take much more
disappointment. I meet men everywhere and they seem interested, then they
never call. Will you give me the go-ahead to give up?

Weary in Washington

Dear Weary,

Give up on what? On life? On having fun? Or just give up your anxiety
about men? You could give that up in a heartbeat, same as you could stop
drinking if it were wrecking your life. You look at yourself in the mirror
every day and say, "Today is one more day without a man, so help me,"
and you'd seek out the company of friends who you feel comfortable with
as your lone self, no man needed. And you do this day after day.

Consider one possible reason for your woes with men. I don't know that
this is it, but consider that your dread and disillusionment and desperate
loneliness may be coming across loud and clear to the men you meet, and
that they can see, underneath the bubbliness and cuteness and intelligence,
this snarling Doberman of misery, and so the only men who venture near
are those securely fastened to someone else. If so, the way to cure this
misery is to give up the search, which is making you unhappy, and to
throw yourself into your job, which gives you pleasure. Work can be a big
comfort, and you can safely let your job take over a few empty corners of
your life. You know? If they need you to stay late, stay late. Volunteer for
the hard stuff. All the things that women with intertwined lives can't
handle, you can. And you can be ambitious about moving up the ladder
and running the mouse maze and getting the big chunks of cheese. And
then one day when you've stopped thinking about dating, you'll hear your
Doberman's collar jingle as she wags her tail at an approaching

Dear Mr. Blue,

My girlfriend and I have been living together for two years, and now, tired
of paying rent, we bought a house together. We moved in and right away
I began to question the future of our relationship. The idea of such
has really given me the willies. We're great friends, our romance still
has sparkle and everything is fantastic in the bedroom, and yet I can't
shake this nagging doubt in the back of my mind. I can't tell if I'm
concerned about our relationship or if I'm just afraid of commitment in

Awake at Night

Dear Awake,

Calm down. Who's pressuring you to rent a tux and hire an
organist? You're suffering from a form of buyer's regret. You plunk down
all that money and mortgage yourself to the First Carnivorous Bank and
you feel faint and think, What have I done, O Lord who didst cast the
money-changers out of the temple? and you reach for the smelling salts.
In your case you've extended this case of the vapors to cover your sweet
girlfriend. (What have I done, O Lord who didst keep Thyself pure from
women?) Get over it. Enjoy Tuesday, and then deal with Wednesday, and
then Thursday, and then you live Friday, and after that, Lord willing, it's
Saturday. Repeat this cycle over and over. Don't worry about the rest of
your life, just keep your lawn mowed.

Dear Mr. Blue,

My mother is 73 and living here in the same city as I. My older
sister moved in with her about four years ago and now my sister's son and
his wife have moved in with them. This doesn't seem to be a temporary
arrangement. My nephew is 30 and isn't looking for a job. His excuse for
not working is that he is too brilliant. My younger sister is ready to start a
holy war over this. She is suggesting we have a "family intervention."
(The last time we tried this was 25 years ago when one of my
other sisters was in high school and acting up big time.) I'm willing to
wait out the situation, figuring that my nephew's wife will tire of living
with her mother-in-law and
grandmother-in-law. In the meantime, I thought I might make good use of
my time by turning the saga into a prime-time soap opera. How do I
locate a good agent?

Getting Some Fun From Dysfunction

Dear Getting,

You call Mike Ovitz and tell him Mr. Blue says hi and that
Mr. Blue thinks this is the next "Ryan's Landing." If he won't come to the
phone, call up Mort Janklow in New York and tell him that you're calling
from my office and that he left his sapphire cuff links in my beach house in
East Hampton and that Bruce is bringing them in on Wednesday when he
chauffeurs Mr. Pookie to his therapist. And then, when you have Mort on
the line, tell him you've got this terrific idea. Meanwhile, you need to
make it more terrific. Your mother needs to become a multimillionaire
with amnesia issues, and your older sister a chain-smoking nympho
attracted to men of the cloth, and the nephew an evil genius who is
stockpiling weapons against an invasion by the U.N., and his wife a
conniving gold-digger with a background in estate law, and your younger
sister -- let's make her a devout Mennonite, just for contrast, OK? You
got anyone else in your family? A closeted gay uncle, perhaps? An aunt
with a helpless addiction to crhme de cacao? And do you have a place in
mind where you can go live when this series airs on Fox, sweetheart, like
Barbados, maybe?

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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