Hurt and confused

After 20 years of marriage, my husband told me he's bisexual.


Garrison Keillor
December 7, 1999 10:00PM (UTC)

My response two weeks ago to Eunuch, the young woman whose boyfriend is not interested in
sex despite counseling and drugs, was off the mark -- I said, "Give it up" -- and a passel
of readers corrected me, saying that the couple should investigate further. Several said that
loss of sex drive is a side effect of such antidepressants as the young man was taking. And
a woman reported great success from her treatment with tiny doses of testosterone by an
endocrinologist, which she says increased her libido mightily, after years of making her
husband feel rejected. "Eunuch should have her husband's hormone levels checked," she
advised.

Usually I run these medical questions past an old internist I know, and he has some snappy
answer, but he was at an internal medicine conference aboard a cruise ship in the Aegean last
week and out of touch. He will be back soon and when he returns, Mr. Blue's column will
again reverberate with expertise and glitter with words you'll need a special dictionary to
fathom.

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My juvenile diatribe against family-bed theory (in response to the exhausted sex-starved mom
with her 6-month-old in the bed between her and her paramour) attracted some gentle
responses from folks whose babies slept with them, and of course now I feel sheepish about
those terrible, terrible things I said. You should never be harsh with old hippies and people
living in yurts; they will mellow you to death. "All three of my babies spent at least their
first two years sleeping by my side," writes a wonderful mom, "and they grew into
confident, compassionate, competitive and notably independent young men. They were all
basically happy, secure babies who slept well and caused very few issues by sharing the bed.
All three qualified for the Gifted Students
program in our school district. All three are highly regarded by their teachers and score in
the 97th percentile or higher on verbal and math skills on the national tests." She goes on to
list some of her boys' other accomplishments, all of them stunning. So there.

(There also was a letter from a couple in Jerusalem whose 3-year-old insists on climbing
into bed with them and whose nights are devoted to getting the little bubbie to sleep. The
child is indefatigable and keeps climbing back in with them and then at 6 a.m. is wide awake
and clamoring for corn flakes. "What should we do?" they ask. I don't know.)

I suppose it's inevitable that a column dealing with romance is going to wind up talking
about child-rearing, but my wife is the smart one about this. My little daughter, who isn't in
the 97th percentile of anything so far as I know, and who has been chained in her crib lo these
many months, is one of the happiest little girls you'd hope to find. Anyway, my expertise is
in romance and writing. Send your child-rearing queries to Miss Paglia from now on.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I've been married for almost 20 years, have two great kids, and recently my husband has
told me he is bisexual. I am so very hurt and confused. I can't
talk to anyone about this because I don't want to ruin his reputation.
I would bail out in a heartbeat if I did not have kids. My husband is a fine father and a good
man and they need him in their lives. I feel lost and alone. I have bouts of depression when I
sleep a lot. I no longer am emotionally available to anyone other than my kids. I began a
sexual relationship with another man and I am scared because I can't feel anything
emotionally -- it's like it is all blocked. I am so terrified
to open up to anyone for fear of getting hurt. Sometimes I get overwhelmed and just want to
run away. But I have kids and they need me. I tried counseling but that failed -- they just
told me that people are born that way and there's nothing you can do about it. It's been more than
two years and I feel like a vase with a huge crack in it, OK to look at, but nothing left
inside.

Broken

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Dear Broken,

You tried counseling and you must try it again until you find the help you
need. You went to the wrong shop, dear. You found someone who tried to explain your
husband, and that's not the problem. The problem is depression. You need to treat it. I
recommend a good psychiatrist. Put your husband on the shelf. Put your lover on the shelf.
Take care of yourself, get help that works, and when you feel like yourself, you can deal
with these other things.

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Dear Mr. Blue,

I've had a crush on the girl who lives downstairs since she moved in. We have gotten to
know each other to some extent and are on friendly terms, and I feel we are very different
people. I am an atheist/humanist and she is the youth group coordinator at a local Catholic
church. She is not dogmatic or anything, but it is a stumbling block for me that we will not
get along on a very basic level if a relationship should occur. I wonder if it is possible for
the secular and the sacred to come together in harmony. Please help me with my conundrum.

Guy Upstairs

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Dear Guy,

Keep your mitts off that nice Catholic girl, you heathen, and go bother the
Unitarian girls. Life presents enough stumbling blocks in the natural course of things without
you going and walking into trees. You asked for my advice and that's it. Cool it. And if you
can't cool it, then start reading your Bible and taking instruction in the faith.

Dear Mr. Blue,

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I have a longtime friend whom I love dearly, but I can barely stand to be around her these
days. She has become increasingly negative about her life, and conversations with her
inevitably turn into depressing pity parties. She has had a series of disappointing relationships
and can't seem to move on or learn to improve her choices. For every suggestion I make,
she has a reason why it can't possibly work. She seems to think that no one has ever had
problems as dire as her own and that if she could only find a decent man, her life would be
golden. I'm finding it harder and harder to sympathize with this person who won't help
herself or open her mind to new possibilities, and I'm tired of trying to downplay the good
things in my life in order not to depress her. How do I save this friendship?

Sick of the Sob Stories

Dear Sick,

This is a friendship that needs to take a rest. Make yourself significantly less
available, and if you don't have the gift of lying convincingly, then make yourself busy for
a while, and fill up your calendar with things. Lying, though, is perfectly respectable. If a
friend asks, "Would you like to have dinner this evening and listen to me complain about my
life for a couple hours?" the truthful answer is No, but it's OK to say, "I can't, I'm sorry,"
which is a lie. You needn't supply details. If she asks for details, it's perfectly OK to make
up a few -- e.g., I am going to my therapist who feels that I need longer sessions and that I
need to lie down afterward with a cold compress. This is part of the art of friendship,
learning to make some distance when necessary. And then in a few months you call up the
Suffering One and say, "I can't believe it's been so long since I saw you!" and you see her
for lunch, and maybe this bad passage is over. Maybe she's discovered that the whole
problem was her allergic reaction to cat dander, or her unresolved anger toward Dad, or her
lack of zinc in the diet, and she'll be all shiny and happy.

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Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm really in a jumble. My boyfriend and I just broke up. He was my first serious boyfriend,
and we dated for a year and a half. Although I love him very much, I didn't
feel IN LOVE with him. He was thoughtful and kind and sweet and fun,
but something wasn't clicking. Now that we're apart, though, I'm
wondering if I have the wrong idea of what love is. What is being "in love," anyway? Am I
holding out for something that doesn't exist?

Mega-confused

Dear Confused,

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The failure to click is common. You get stuck talking to someone at a party
and they're OK, perfectly nice, they don't screech or give off noxious gas, and yet you
know in your heart you must make an escape and find someone else. This happens over and
over, at work with colleagues, at family reunions, even at Al Gore fund-raisers, and it
happens as a young person is looking for romance and a mate and a friend for life. You need
a few bumps so you get to learn what the game is about. In romance, as in life, you only
learn when you're losing. (When you're winning, you just sit there and grin like an idiot.)
You broke up with this fine gentleman for the best of all reasons -- it didn't feel right to you
-- and that's the one you don't try to argue yourself out of.

What is it to be in love? Well, I'm in love, and it means you feel you have sailed into port. At the end of the road, after
each day of the petty struggle for power and glory, I get to be with this marvelous human being whose company is continually interesting, whom I admire, who can speak the truth to
me, who I am loyal to and fond of to an excessive degree, whom I crave being naked with, and who reciprocates these feelings. There is deep bass drumming and there is also a high
degree of civility, I believe. And it does exist. And it's worth your time and trouble to find a person you can be in love with. Surely there are many men you could be in love with, maybe as many as 214, and all you need to do is come across one of them when the stars are shining and the light is right for your complexion. He'll look at you
and fasten himself to you for the rest of the evening and it'll be all you can do to shuck him and after a while you'll give up on it and marry him.

Dear Mr. Blue,

My good friend and I have known each other since high school and have
always had a wonderful friendship filled with laughter and conversation and
affection. Once he even told me he was in love with me. I had to tell him I didn't return his
feelings. We remained friends. Almost eight years later, our time together started to become
more precious to me and I told him I was starting to have romantic feelings for him. He told
me that though he still loved me, he was not in love with me anymore. But we started
sleeping together and for four months now we've had this sweet, intimate,
thoughtful relationship. We both love each other and are happy when we're
together but neither of us feels that crazy-crazy feeling you see in
movies. Everyone says you don't have to ask if you're in love, you'll
know. Well, we don't know. We're both scared of hurting the
other one. I've been in love before, or thought I was, and it ended disastrously. As a result, I'm fearful of moving forward. Have we stumbled upon what we're both looking for or are we just fooling ourselves?

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Anxious

Dear Anxious,

Life ain't a movie, my dear, it's a radio show. And if you've got Sweet, Intimate and
Thoughtful down, many of us mortals out here would ask, "What exactly is the problem?" It
would appear that you two lovebirds have done a very nice job of backing into a romance,
and rather than scaring yourselves with shadows, you have our permission --- mine and the
rest of the audience's -- to enjoy it, be grateful for this sweet deal you have and allow it to
find its natural course.

Anxiety is normal: Your mother gives you the family heirloom platter
to put in the cupboard, and you think, "I'm going to drop it," but you don't. We tantalize ourselves with worst scenarios, as a way to keep up our interest, and we walk dark streets
and hear the violins play pizzicato horror riffs, but the killer doesn't leap out of the shadows,
we walk home. Right now, you need to stop looking at your romance. It's too new to analyze, so stop examining it and just live it and be happy with each other. If you want that
crazy-crazy feeling, go to Utah and rent a snowboard or take a raft down the Colorado. It would be a shame for two fine folks like yourselves to let anxiety about the future darken the
pleasures of the moment. Relax. Don't hurt each other. Mazel tov. God bless you.

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Dear Mr. Blue,

Eighteen months ago I met the love of my life and took a job in Boston so I could be with
her. And then she said she had changed her mind and she began to see someone else. She
hasn't explained what happened and she doesn't want to have anything to do
with me. I'm crushed by her abrupt change. And to live this close to her now and not be
even a small part of her life is killing me. How can someone act so in love and then just turn
it off like it never happened?

Brokenhearted

Dear Brokenhearted,

The Red Sox have been doing this to Bostonians since forever, my
man, so don't feel you're alone. How can it happen? Well, people crave romance, and they
want that elation, want to speak that delicious dumb dialogue and say, "I'm crazy about you,"
and hear it said back. Even honest and upright people feel the urge to let go and dance the
old dance. Americans are terribly hard-working and strait-laced folks. Even Swedes have
more fun than we do. And every so often we hurl ourselves into a love affair with a big
soundtrack. And we enjoy the music for a while and then reality falls like a bucket of dead
mackerel. Or like a late September series against the Yankees. Don't hate her for what
happened. Be grateful for the swiftness of her change of heart: It's more merciful than to
have to endure this in slow motion and to get the awful truth drop by drop. And believe me,
she wasn't the love of your life. You might get a big sense of relief, though, simply by
leaving Boston.

Dear Mr. Blue,

My insides are churning. I am in love with two men. My boyfriend and I live together and
have a really wonderful relationship, save for his obsession with golf and his job that
requires long hours. I travel quite a bit for business, and on one of
these trips met a man online and we talked and flirted, which soon escalated into chatting and
e-mailing each other several times per day. We talked about meeting
each other and I felt a strong attachment growing for him, so I decided I should end it
before it went too far. I wrote him and explained to him that we should not continue as I
was committed to my boyfriend. He understood and we discontinued. I missed
him tremendously but knew I had done the right thing. About a month later, around
Christmastime, I sent him an electronic card, just to say hi and that I still thought about
him. He e-mailed me back, telling me how much he missed me, and that started everything
all over again. I knew where he worked and decided to surprise him one day by phoning
him. He was thrilled and that begot other phone calls. Now, I knew I
shouldn't be doing this, and I felt guilty about it, but I felt like I was
powerless to stop the flow of things.

To make a long story short, we have been talking for more than a year, but
have yet to meet each other. He has dated many women during this time, but
he never felt a spark with any of them. We have gone through several
breakups, only to reunite after about a month of no contact. Each time we
stopped talking it became more painful for me, and each time we got back
together, I let myself love him a bit more. It probably seems unfathomable
that I can be in love with someone I have never met. I am a college-educated, professional woman, 30 years old, and up until now,
considered myself levelheaded. Now I have come to the end of my emotional
stores, and something has to be done. My boyfriend wants to get married, my
online boyfriend dreams of the day we will be happily together and I wish I
could just stop all this pain and confusion, but now no one escapes unharmed. I swear I love them both and I know this isn't fair to either of them. What
should I do?

Love X 2

Dear Love X,

Oh my. The things we do when there's too much free time. This is what
comes of a man getting all wrapped up in golf, if you ask me. In the three hours it takes to
chug around 18 holes, your true love can get herself entwined with another guy on the
Internet. What to do? Well, my gut feeling is that there must be a third guy out there who
you ought to work into this equation, maybe some old boyfriend, someone you went to high
school with, and you could use another medium to get involved with him, maybe sending
pictograms by fax. But probably you ought to straighten out this mess you're in. You're the
one paying the big emotional price, not the guys. They are each happy in their own little
worlds, your boyfriend correcting his slice and taking his gimmes, and Mr. Online feasting
off his fantasy of you as a goddess of pure delight. My gosh, the man must imagine you as a
combination of Winona Ryder, Katie Couric, Joyce Carol Oates and the late Amelia
Earhart, not to mention Helen of Troy and Mae West. You have a choice, dear. Either (1)
you close up your account with your server and go cold turkey on cyberlife and tell your
imaginary friend that it was a long and wonderful trip together but that it Ain't Real, or else
(2) you tell your boyfriend that you feel unsettled in your mind and heart and feel that you
need to be alone so you can figure out what you want at this point in your life. You don't
discuss this, you announce it, and you pack your stuff and move into a little studio
apartment, one of those places that comes furnished, with plates and silverware and a toaster
and a print of the Grand Tetons. And there you spend a week with your thoughts, and
consult your soul, and you make your next choice: whether to meet Mr. Online or not.
That's a separate issue.

Good luck with it. And don't let this misery go on and on. Take action. And thanks for
having such an interesting problem. The rest of us struggle with the same old boring issues,
like Who Am I? and Why Don't People Flock To Me? and How Do I Get My Snippets
Published In Book Form?, but you, my dear, came up with a really original way to give
yourself grief.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am a bisexual woman, but I tend to get along better with men. I'm presently getting to
know a guy whom I like a great deal. I want to be honest with him about my bisexuality, but
I'm nervous about scaring him off. I'm not interested in having a
relationship with a man and a woman at the same time; but should I tell my new beau
about this? If so, when and how?

Walking on Eggshells

Dear Walking,

Wait until you know him better. Your sexuality is interesting, but the fact that you've slept
with women is not the foundation of your very being and ethos. You make an announcement
now, and it's like nailing up a quarantine notice. I would tell him about the husband you left
in the motel in Nevada, the cult you lived in that supported itself by taking a tithe of the
goods in chain stores, the fugitive warrant -- I'd tell him dozens of things before you get
around to bisexuality. It's not that you're hiding it from him; you're simply letting this
friendship find its way. If it blooms and grows, there will come a time when the two of you
are lying on your backs in a dark room holding hands and are telling life stories and that's
when you tell him.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I've been dating a man for a year now who seemed to be honest and upfront, and while
neither of us is convinced that this is "it", we agreed to have a
sexually exclusive relationship but are free to date others
on a casual basis. I've been dating others, he has not. Or so I thought until last weekend.
I was going to surprise him by sticking a greeting card in his dresser
drawer and there in plain view was an open box of condoms. I am so confused. Do
I tell him that I found them? Can I trust him per our agreement? I must admit that while I
dated one man for a couple of months, I did start carrying condoms in
my purse, just in case things developed further. Maybe
that's what he's doing? But he says he's not dating.
What do I do? All I want is the truth. There is no right
or wrong here, unless he is hiding things from me. I feel like a 45-year-old teenager.

In Confusion

Dear In Confusion,

Tell him you found them. Apologize for the invasion of privacy, tell him
you need to discuss the terms of the relationship in plain candor. And be prepared to tell him
your condom story.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I have a girlfriend of five years (I'm 24, she's 26) whose company I enjoy, whom I feel
deeply connected to emotionally, who is warm and intelligent, and who is also very
needy. Since the beginning of our relationship, I've longed for sex with other women and the
adventure of a single life. I've never been that attracted to her physically.
She talks about how she fears getting older with nothing but pets to keep her company. This
thought breaks my heart. Also, it strikes me as a distinct possibility. For a long time,
I've felt tension whether to leave or stay. There's been a melancholy undercurrent to my life
for a long time because of this. I'm desperate to achieve some distance from her, but she
truly does not have many people other than me whom she's close to. She mentioned a few
weeks ago that she'd like to live with me when her schooling is over -- I'm in New York,
she's a couple hours away -- and I, in the interest of emotional stability (hers and mine), did
not dissent. She has seemed happier since. I, on the other hand, have been quite depressed,
like there's this weight bearing down on me, and I'm not sure what to do about it. Do you
think I should just break off with her now?

Sad in New York

Dear Sad,

Yes. Do it swiftly, surely, mercifully. This relationship should have ended a few
years ago, in all likelihood. It has become an elaborate charade that you maintain at your
peril. Though your friend seems fragile, it's better for her to find some reality and put her
feet on it. A 26-year-old woman is much much too young to sit and brood aloud about
growing old with nobody but her kittycats: This is purely manipulative and you should
disregard it. It's a very bad sign. Pay attention to this melancholy of yours: It's due to your
feeling trapped. Steel yourself to the task, rehearse the words and then look her in the eye
and say them. Say that you care about her but you don't love her in the deepest sense and
you can't commit yourself to her and so it's best to stop. If you don't break up with her
now, before she maneuvers herself into your apartment, then you are in for a long spell of
sadness and grief. Don't go down that road. You're young and you need to get on with your
life and put this chapter behind you.


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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