How much is too much?

I can't focus on my schoolwork unless I have sex three or four times a day. Does this make me an addict?

Published December 14, 1999 5:00PM (EST)

Dec. 14, 1999

Dear Mr. Blue,

Let me get right to the point. I think I am addicted to sex. I'm a healthy
20-year-old woman and I really can't focus on work and school unless I
have sex at least three times a day, preferably four. I find myself waking up at 6 a.m.,
shaking my boyfriend awake and satisfying my desires. I find myself sometimes skipping
class to work in a quickie, staying up all hours of the night ... you know the
rest. I'm lucky to have a loving, affectionate, devoted boyfriend who is
more than happy to help me continue my addiction. But I honestly enjoy
myself! Am I just a normal 20-year-old? Or should I
treat this like an addiction?

Awaiting your sage advice

Dear Awaiting,

I don't have any sage advice, only questions of my own: How do you
manage to stay in school? I assume your parents are supporting you and you don't have to
work, but really, sex four times a day raises real time-management issues, unless you've got
the drill down to 10 or 15 minutes. My second question is: How long has this been going
on? The boyfriend is going to wear out his organ, even with the use of industrial-strength
lubricants, and eventually he is going to lose interest as well and go into the priesthood and
take a vow of celibacy and be darned grateful for it. Sex, my dear, as wonderful as it is,
can't be wonderful four times a day. It just can't. So if you're still pursuing the quota,
chasing diminishing returns, this strikes me as obsessive behavior. Perhaps you might, in
between getting dressed and getting undressed, find someone with a certificate on his or her
office wall -- a psychologist, a minister, a mechanical engineer, somebody -- and ask

Dear Mr. Blue,

I need to make some changes in my life. I'm 29, single and live in a midsize Midwestern
city. I got my degree in French and taught in a French high school for a year. Then I
came back to the U.S. and started going for an MBA, but I realized that I despised business
courses and would end up zoning out during class. So I started writing theater reviews for
an alternative weekly. I liked doing that a lot. I have a day job at an agribusiness
corporation, which pays the bills, but I can't imagine doing this much longer. I've been
yearning to move to a more international city, thinking my chances of finding what I want to do would be greater. Am I
too impulsive? Why can't I seem to focus?

Bored and Anxious

Dear Bored,

You're young, dear heart, and you're searching around for what you're meant
to do. You're enterprising, and you've found something you like a lot, and you need to let
these things sort themselves out. Keep the day job for a while -- say, until the end
of next summer -- and start to plot your move to a bigger city. You're focusing just fine,
but hey, it's a tumultuous time in a person's life. Of course, New York is the city that
presents itself first. A city where theater is a major industry, a city of international trade. But
consider Chicago. Or Los Angeles. Or a dozen other places. In any case, it's perfectly
normal that you feel yourself drifting. It's what we do at that age, if we're lucky. Some poor
people get all nice and secure in their 20s, and then they have to try to accomplish in
their 40s or 50s what you're doing now. You're ahead of the game. When I was 29, I
was doing an early morning radio show, spinning the disks; I was bored silly and wondered
what would become of me. It's a great age.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm a 38-year-old single woman. I have a great job that allows me to travel and I feel very
fulfilled except for one thing. My parents divorced when I was very young, and my father
got custody of me and my two sisters. He remarried when I was
7, so I've been with my stepmother most of my life. I've had absolutely
no contact with my mother all these years. I've been having thoughts of finding her. I have
no memories of her whatsoever, and my father has never spoken of her in all these years.
I've been thinking about this for so long, I can't be objective about it. This could hurt a lot
of people, including my stepmother, whom I love very much, but a part of me
feels like such a coward for not pursuing this. What in the world should I do?


Dear Confused,

Find your mother and make contact with her. Write her a letter and tell
what's happened in your life. Seek her out. Your stepmother will not be hurt by this; surely,
she knows that you love her, and that's the important thing. Your curiosity about your
mother will not diminish with time. The longer you think about her and about whether to
find her or not, the larger she looms in your mind, and really she is simply a human being.
The person who is being hurt is you. Be strong, and screw up your courage, and write the
letter and make the phone call.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I love my husband, love my children, loathe my job and my suburban house
and all I really want to do is move to the mountains, think, write fiction,
finish raising my two teenage daughters and look at pretty trees. Everyone thinks I'm nuts
but me.

Miserable in the Midwest

Dear Miserable,

If your family is firmly planted there on the frozen tundra, enjoying the
cheese sandwiches and the hockey, you'll have to conspire pretty hard to pry them loose and
trundle them out to the mountains, and do you really want to be responsible for everyone's
happiness? Do you want teenage daughters looking at the snow-capped peaks and mourning
their lost happiness in the cornfields? A husband who subscribes to the old hometown
newspaper and drives a hundred miles to a liquor store where he can buy Leinenkugel beer?
And who is going to pay you to look at pretty trees, my dear? You'd better write your big
commercial novel first, and meanwhile settle for hills and dales. You're not nuts, just
jumping the gun. First you write the novel, in which two teenage girls escape from their
nutty mother and run off to the mountains where loathesome suburban men lure them to a
house surrounded by beautiful trees and where, in the last chapter, their mother arrives to
rescue them. This novel becomes an Oprah Book Club selection and Dreamworks buys the
movie rights and you and your lovely husband take the proceeds and purchase that big A-
frame in the Grand Tetons. The girls will be at Mount Holyoke, but they'll visit in the

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am a 30-year-old copy editor languishing in the Bay Area, who has just
seen her 24-year-old ex-boyfriend off to his home in New York after a lovely visit. I broke
up with him a year ago because I felt odd about the age difference -- he was young and
bouncy, I was old and crotchety -- and because he was moving East. We had a lovely visit
-- he took a cab 20 miles to my house in the wee hours of his
last night in San Francisco so we could drink champagne and snuggle and he could play me
some of his new music. We've both mellowed a bit in the time we've been apart, and now I
am besieged by thoughts of music and dog walking and, well, possibly Brooklyn. Absence
does make the
heart grow fonder, but I think I am just plain fond of him. I mean, how can
one not be fond of a gorgeous and brilliant man playing cello naked in one's
kitchen? I ask you. Is this my heart talking, or my biological clock?


Dear Tick,

Sounds like your heart talking. Your clock doesn't talk for five or six more years,
and your clock doesn't care about the cello or the brilliance, just the nakedness. This is your
heart. Invent a reason to visit New York and then purchase the ticket and call him and tell
him you're coming and see if he invites you to come stay with him. And I hope you've
already written him a long letter telling him how fond you are of him and his cello and his
dog and his nakedness. And copy edited it and mailed it. Brooklyn is a fine place. It's like
the Bay Area, but with 85 percent less civic narcissism. The book publishers are in constant need
of copy editors. Manhattan is 15 minutes away by train, if you should ever need to go
see "The Nutcracker" or look at the Temple of Dendur or see Andri Watts play the
Beethoven "Appassionata," but with a naked cellist in the kitchen, you'd have all the
appassionata a person could wish for.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm in my late 20s and suddenly find myself pregnant and on my own.
I'm going to have the baby and keep it. I'm in college pursuing my
bachelor's degree with a 4.0 GPA. The father is a casual
friend with whom I had a drunken one-night stand. Although he is a gentle and
good-natured person, I'm not attracted to him and I'm not interested
in spending time with him in the future. We just don't have much in
common. I understand that my life of youth and pleasure is definitively
over, and that it's very unlikely that any other man would volunteer for a
life of helping me baby-sit. So, I'm willing to go it alone, although I
spend nights awake thinking of the terrifying aspects of this situation.
I'm trying to decide whether to tell my casual friend what we've done. I'd
really prefer not to. He is an honorable person and will probably feel
obliged to help me out, but I don't want to be linked financially or
otherwise to him and I don't want to share parenting with him, and I sure
don't want to be involved with his family. He may move away from the area
before things become obvious, and I don't see him much anyway, but if he
happens to see me with a burgeoning belly or toting an infant, I think he
could count backward from nine.

Knocked Up

Dear Knocked,

You're brave and good, as well as brilliant, and if you prefer not to tell Mr.
Casual that you're having his baby, then don't. Your reasons are perfectly valid. But do read
up on the legal aspects of paternity and paternity rights, so you know where you stand. Don't
give up on youth and pleasure, though, and don't be too terrified. But do start to put together
some (I hate to use this word but here it comes) network of pals and relatives who can help
you out for a few years. Single mothers need good friends. Even more, they need good
mothers. Where's Grandma? Close by, I hope.

Dear Mr. Blue,

My girlfriend and I have always had a significant religious schism. I have a very skeptical,
anti-clerical view of religion, and she leans toward a more Calvinistic Christian view.
All of this rather scares me, though she is pretty casual about it. My parents had a similar
difference and they divorced. I fear a future problem with my girlfriend.
It's been three and a half years of best friendship and I would like to ask for
her hand, but this looming problem scares me. Any thoughts on the

Befuddled in Michigan

Dear Befuddled,

The tone of your letter suggests that you are standing on the edge looking
down into the schism, that it's a large fact in your life, and you have large forebodings about
a future with her, but where's the evidence? You don't say you've discussed this with her,
and silence does make these differences appear larger and more threatening. If your
girlfriend takes a casual view of your differences, then why shouldn't you? A Calvinist is
brought up to be leery of being yoked with unbelievers, and if she isn't, well, maybe you
should relax. What bothers me about your letter is the fact that your first sentence is not "I
am in love with the most wonderful woman in the world and for three and a half years life
has been sweet indeed," but you didn't ask me about that, so I'll shut my mouth.

Dear Mr. Blue,

Almost a year ago, I stopped returning calls from a friend I've had for 10
years, a very unhappy, needy, clingy person with a martyr
complex. For the past few years, any time I've spent with her I have dreaded beforehand and
regretted later. It is tiring and depressing to deal with her.
I have decided not to continue this friendship and have been tapering off
our contact.

My question is, do I need to tell her this explicitly? She has been leaving odd messages
designed to inspire guilt. It feels cowardly and cruel to not respond at all, but if I were
to come right out and say that I don't want to see her anymore, it will be ugly. My gut tells
me she has seen this coming for a while; she is not a stupid woman, but she seems to be
getting more and more desperate for my attention. Why won't she take the hint? Do I have
to spell it out? What do you advise?

Feeling Trapped

Dear Trapped,

She won't take the hint because she is desperate. You would do her a favor if
you could tell her why you can't continue with her, that she has worn out your friendship
and you have no more to offer. A 10-year friendship deserves at least a decent burial. I
suggest that you put the words down on paper, where you can look at them and weigh them
and make sure they aren't caustic or snide or belittling, just very, very clear. And then take
the letter to her and give it to her in person. Let her read it, and say you're sorry, and turn
and go. Friendships are not carved in stone. Most of them dwindle, or ebb, or crash in
flames, and this one probably has run its course, though sometimes a beautiful bird does rise
up from the crash site. You never know. But nothing is gained by not telling her the plain
truth. And you feel like a coward if you don't tell her, so do.

Dear Mr. Blue,

My wife and I were each married before and had children by those earlier
relationships. We have three daughters. Each of our former spouses has
remarried and has a child in their new relationship. Their new spouses had
children in earlier relationships. We all live in the same area and the
children know each other. They mostly think it a great joke: One child
introduced another as her half-brother's half-sister's half-sister's
half-sister's half-sister's half-brother's brother. Is there an etiquette
for this feature of a modern world?


Dear Stepdad,

The etiquette is simplicity and kindness. You put your arm around your
half-brother's half sister's half-sister and you say, "This is my sister." The basic principle is:
In friendly company, people get to say who they are, and they don't need to delineate and
define. If your mother's father was black, and you consider yourself to be black, then you
call yourself a black person, even if your dad's family was pure Norwegian. Or, if you
prefer, you call yourself African-American. If you're three-eighths Ojibway, you can
dispense with the fraction and simply be an Indian. My stepdaughter has a son and I have
decided that I will be his uncle. You got a problem with that?

Dear Mr. Blue,

Well, it's the old story: I am a 45-year-old woman, divorced. He is a 49-year-old man, married. It started as a friendship and then went further. He has
asked me to wait until his life gets resolved, and though no promises are being made, I think
we both want to see what the future holds. I love and care for him deeply and know he
cares as much for me. The problem is my own self-doubt and insecurities. Sometimes I
feel I'd wait a lifetime for him; other times, I feel I'm probably just
fooling myself. We see each other rarely while he works things out. So, an
opinion based on sketchy information: Am I nuts?


Dear Squirrel,

If you're nuts, then so are most of the rest of us squirrels. Sit tight, don't
push and don't work too hard on self-doubt. Time will provide you with all the self-doubt
you need.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm 24 and living in the big city, a small-town boy at heart, and I've been dating a small-town girl for over a year now. She is not as educated as I am but is
nonetheless smart, beautiful and has a successful career as a hairstylist. For some reason she
doesn't communicate well with me. I miss the deep conversations I used to have with my
friends from college. She's a super listener, but she doesn't speak much. I ask her questions
three times before she answers and the answers I get are never more than a few
words. Do I need a more educated girl who can have a discussion with me? Or should I
take the plunge?

Wet Socks

Dear Wet Socks,

Conversation is crucial in any long-running relationship, absolutely crucial.
Don't leave home without it. Don't marry anybody who doesn't occasionally make you
laugh. Every love affair runs into rocky stretches now and then, moods shift, the skies
darken, snakes come up out of the toilet, and it helps a lot to be with someone with a quick
mind who is good to talk to, whose take on things you want to know, and who has a sense of
humor. Marriage to a silent person is harrowing, to be avoided at all costs. It doesn't have to
do with her education, it has to do with her herself and how she feels around you. Maybe
she's scared of you, probably she's full of self-doubt, but she simply isn't making contact,
and you'd be terribly foolish to plunge into a life with her.

Dear Mr. Blue,

About a year before my mother died, she and my father
separated after 48 years of marriage. It was about time. She was a
deeply troubled woman, alcoholic, and my father was a
good reason for her to be that way. As soon as she died, he moved back into her house and
made all traces of her disappear. Two months later he announced that an old woman friend
of theirs had stopped by to visit, a woman my mother had broken off with when she found
out that the friend and my father were carrying on. The friend's offering of
condolences to my father was generous indeed: She spent the
night. They've been carrying on ever since.

Now he wants my sister and me to accept his new arrangement as the
wonderful thing he says it is. Frankly, I didn't like this woman 25 years ago.
I like her even less now. I don't like the way my father treated my mother, nor do I like the
reappearance of the girlfriend. Is there any reason I should be gracious to these people?

Disgusted Son

Dear Disgusted,

Yes, there is. Be gracious for your own sake. You needn't affect big
feelings that are false, but there is an all-purpose pleasant easiness that can be brought to
bear, which will make things easier for you. Your mother is gone. You should remember her
kindly, but you needn't seek justice now in her behalf. Consider the possibility that you don't
have all the facts and never will, and ease up on the old man a little. Of course we'd all
prefer that a geezer behave in a stately manner and sit in the park and beam and chuckle, but
the old erotic urge doesn't necessarily fade with age, and old goats get horny too. Avert your
eyes and be gracious.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm madly in love with a beautiful man who sold his home in the Midwest to live in
California with me. He has friends here and loves the California lifestyle. We're happy. The
problem is this: He loves to get together with a few guy friends, most of them single, a
couple times a week in a bar. I'm not used to this and find it unnerving. I get suspicious and
feel left behind. I trust him, but there is a lot of temptation in these bars. Will he outgrow
this? (He is 38, I'm 44, for heaven's sake.) Or am I the one who needs to grow up? I do try
to keep busy with my own friends, family and pursuits, but it still gets under my skin. Your
thoughts on this would be greatly appreciated.

Trying to Understand

Dear Trying,

You are being left behind. This happens to us all the time if we're not a
Siamese twin. Sorry you're unnerved by it. If you trust him, then trust him. If you don't,
then say so and try to deal with that. But it is quite normal for a man to go off to meet his
friends a couple times a week.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am 23 and have been with the same wonderful guy for the past two years.
We met at college six months before my graduation and fell quickly and
deeply in love. He introduced me to love and sex, gives kind but
honest critiques of my writing and has helped me through all my
post-graduation blues. He's altogether wonderful, plans to graduate
this spring and will move back to our home city, where I am, come May.

For the past year and a half, we have lived away from each other. When we are together, I
know exactly why I hold on to him, but those times seem to be getting fewer and farther
between. I find myself getting incredibly lonely, and not always for
him. Time and distance are making my mind wander from him and it scares me. There is a
part of me that wants to be free (I've met many great guys here). There is another part that
wants to cling to him and never hurt him for the world. I love him and we have talked about
the future together (although the
realist in me says 23- and 21-year-olds have no place talking about
marriage). I feel there is a world that I want to experience, good or bad. I don't know what
to do. I feel mean and selfish, but justified
in my feelings.


Dear Restless,

I agree that you shouldn't talk about marriage. So don't. Be purposefully
vague about the future, and no matter how sweet his company is, don't let yourself be
maneuvered into making a commitment that is less than heartfelt. Make your own plans and
tell him whatever you decide but don't negotiate with him about the future, not when you
have such ambivalent feelings. Sometimes it's good for lovers to leave the future untouched,
blank, a door that one does not try to see beyond. Don't cling to him. Clinging isn't natural
for a 23-year-old woman. You're strong, you have a sense of yourself, you don't need this
man for an anchor. Don't stifle your curiosity about the big world out there, and don't feel
selfish about your need to experience life and be on your own. He may be altogether
wonderful, he may be Frank of Assisi, but it's your life, dear, and the part of you that wants
to be free deserves to be paid attention to. Let the relationship find its own way. You're not
the author of it.

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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