A match made in hell?

It seems we still have the hots for each other 13 years later, but he's sure it wouldn't work. How do I convince him to take the plunge?


Garrison Keillor
January 11, 2000 10:00PM (UTC)

Jan. 11, 2000

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm a nice Minnesota girl living in the big city, and about two months ago I ran into a guy I
knew in college. We always had the hots for each other but never did anything about it.
Now, 13 years later, we find we're both still single and available. Running into him
brought back all the old hormones, and we had a conversation in which he told me he felt
the same thing, but that we'd probably be "a match made in hell." I know what he means:
He's smart, sarcastic, insecure, and so am I, and it's a constant battle of wits. But we agreed
that it would be fun to get to know each other again on a no-pressure basis, and since then
we've been shopping, going out to eat, seeing movies. It's a lot of fun, and I could definitely
see something developing here. He's a smartass, but he's also very encouraging about my
work, shows up when he says he will; I know he likes me as a friend and is attracted to
me physically, but he seems very hesitant to take a plunge. Part of the problem is his
insecurity, but I don't know if there's more to it than that. All my friends tell me I should
lay it on the line and tell him how I feel. But I don't want to scare him off. On the other
hand, I don't want to act so cool and unconcerned that he doesn't think I'm interested. What
should I do?

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Ready

Dear Ready,

We are all waiting to see what happens next. Breathlessly. Interesting story.
The man demurring, the woman pursuing, both of them picking up an old chapter. One
could take his early demurral as flirtatious. Or not. But why should Mr. Blue spoil this story
by tossing out a big clunky piece of advice? Life is a mystery. Play on, gypsy fiddler.

Dear Mr. Blue,

My boyfriend of eight years proposed to me and I am as happy as I could be, but I'm
worried about the wedding. He and I are private people and have always talked about
escaping somewhere to marry, but recently I have started to think that marriage requires a
proper ritual. (I felt bad when my father and his new wife married secretly.)
Though I cringe at the thought of the ice front between my divorced parents, and the whole
idea of a family gathering.

Should we elope, not giving my upset relatives a second thought, or should I say to hell
with my childish parents and throw a party for my relatives anyway?

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The Bride

Dear Bride,

Marriage is a bold step and the wedding ritual is for the brave hearts who
embark on it, not for the family. If the family is in discord and unable to come to the
wedding feast in a spirit of unanimity, then the couple should forge ahead on their own.
Good that you think about your family, but if your parents are angry and still hissing at each
other and the thought of a family gathering gives you pain, then don't gather them; gather a
few cohorts, my dear, and go off and marry this man in a lovely place, in a beautiful way,
on a day that is yours entirely and devoid of old arguments, a wedding you and he can
recall with pleasure. And when it's all over, go back to worrying about your family.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I made an unhappy discovery while visiting my boyfriend, and that is that he looks at
pornography on the Internet. We've lived in two different cities for several years and are in
the process of getting back together, but I don't know what to make of the situation.
Frankly, I'm not sure where I stand on the matter of porn. Strikes me as banal and sad
somehow.

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Feeling Sad

Dear Sad,

I'm not sure where I stand either. It is banal, but then so is a great deal of
literature that excites people's imaginations, and in the end one has to admire the power of
the human imagination to take these plain materials and run wild with them. Men crave intimacy
and when they can't find it, or find enough of it, they somehow can look at pictures of naked
women and invent a whole drama from it. I think you can decide about your boyfriend based
on your experience with him, and as far as the porn goes, give him the benefit of the doubt.

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Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm 43, female, still single. I grew up in Manhattan in a large alcoholic literary family;
everyone was very intense and unique, there was pressure to dazzle the world, and
alternately wonderful and stultifying experiences. I escaped on the verge of self-destruction
at the age of 28 to the Midwest, where I found a new way of life and a successful career as a
psychotherapist. I'm currently ensconced in a busy provincial little city, have a practice, and
simplicity, and less pressure. But I never meet anyone in a romantic way, and I feel
something important and indefinable is missing in my life. I've focused on spiritual pursuits,
and they add joy and mystery to my life. But I am still lonely. Is this my life condition? I
miss my cruel and beautiful family, and my roots, and I need a partner. Do I move back to
Manhattan? Should I try the personals?

Content and Discontent

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Dear C & D,

I love the Midwest and am glad you found refuge and solace here, but if
something important is missing in your life and you're 43, then perhaps you need to look
elsewhere. Maybe you're resisting romance because this might tie you here and make you
one of us. You certainly sound like an exile. If I read you right, I'd suggest that you've
achieved what you were looking for here, you escaped from your intense family and your
own self-destructiveness, and now, 15 years later, you can safely return to Manhattan. It
is probably a better place to find a partner than a provincial little city. And your family is
there, and if you want to return to your roots, this is a darned good time to do it. A long
exile, but a successful one, and now you get to start afresh in your old hometown, which
can be a great boon to the spirit. I know, I did it myself.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm 36 and have been with my boyfriend, 28, for two and a half years,
living together for the last year. We're crazy about each other and
feel very lucky to have found one another. I would like to get married
and share the rest of my life with this wonderful person, and he sometimes mentions
marriage himself in his tender moments, but whenever I bring up the subject in any serious
way, he becomes very cold and analytical. He tells me how no one he knows has a
good marriage, that his parents' divorce devastated him, that he doesn't know how the law
applies so far as my debts (I owe a lot in student loans) or what he'd stand to lose if we
divorced.

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He has suggested premarital counseling and writing a prenup to allay his fears.
But all his hemming and hawing and fears and caution are making me think
maybe I don't want to marry him at all if he looks on marriage as
nothing more than a legal contract involving tense rounds of
negotiation. He is so sweet and romantic almost all the time, except
when we talk about marriage! I also wish he would be willing to take a
risk on my behalf, the way I took risks for him -- I moved more than 2,000
miles, left my family and friends and sold some valued possessions so I
could be with him. He admits that I am braver, and admires me for it,
but won't match what I've done. It's making me think I'm not so sure I
want to be with him at all, when his biggest concern is protecting
himself against a hypothetical divorce.

Should I hang in with this guy and be glad he's being
careful? Or should I hang it up, and find someone who actually wants to
marry me and doesn't have to be negotiated into it?

Want Marriage, Not a Treaty

Dear Want,

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Men are passionate and ingenious in pursuit and not so good at disengaging.
They want to make women laugh and toss their heads and make low moaning sounds of
ecstasy. They don't want to tell a woman, "My feelings for you aren't right, I'm not in love
with you, I can't marry you." Your boyfriend may be trying to tell you this. Of course
maybe he's a worrywart who can't take a step forward before he takes a few hundred steps
to either side. But I think not. And either way, you should drop the subject of marriage; it's
nothing you should want to press on a reluctant partner. If you're not sure you want to be
with him, then why spend money on premarital counseling? Marriage is a big subject, but I
don't think this sort of flailing about is a good preparation for it. Take a step back, don't
bring up the subject again and set a deadline in your own mind: If he doesn't ask you to
marry him in X months, then say thank you and move back across the country to your
friends.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm a 35-year-old man, divorced, and in February I started dating a wonderful woman, eight
years older, who has rekindled my faith in people. She laughs at my jokes, runs her fingers
through my hair and, when we're alone, makes me feel like no one else on earth exists but
me. She's a little inhibited when we make love, very self-conscious of how she looks naked,
though I've told her many times that she's beautiful. But a more serious problem is her
inability to say no to her family who, since she's not had a serious relationship in about six
years, are accustomed to having her at their beck and call. She's blown off commitments
we've had because someone in her family "needs" her. She seems to know that her family is
pulling her strings, but can't bring herself to just say no.

I love her, and I think we can work through her inhibitions, but I have a sinking feeling her
family will only get more demanding as we get more serious. What to do?

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Cursed by Future In-Laws

Dear Cursed,

Your love for this woman -- because she laughs at your jokes, runs her
fingers through your hair, makes you feel that you're the only person on earth -- does strike
an objective reader as somewhat selfish (what about her jokes and her hair?), and so does
your resentment of her family. The woman did not fall to earth from a distant galaxy; she
comes from an earthly race of mortals and is naturally attached to them and accepts some
responsibility for them. The problem could very well be you, your possessiveness, your
jealousy. At least consider the possibility. And please don't think about marrying her if you
can't abide her family. That would lead to nothing but trouble.

Dear Mr. Blue,

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I'm a professional writer, a two-time National Endowment for the Arts fellow. And finally
I've gotten to the point where I'm earning a good living. I'm slender, attractive, witty,
sophisticated, a great dancer, an innovative cook, I can do evening gowns or jeans,
silk/cashmere or flannel.

But my work tends to be isolating. I haven't been in a relationship for five years, because the
few straight available men I meet keep telling me that they're intimidated by my intelligence!
(Is this a compliment?) What to do?

Frustrated

Dear Frustrated,

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I cannot imagine a man telling a woman that he's intimidated by her
intelligence, but there you are, so it must be so. But I don't think it's exactly intelligence that
is intimidating them. Very bright and ambitious people, men or women, need to sit down
from time to time and assess their manners -- manners, in the broadest sense of the term;
how you relate to others, your ease and affability. There is a tendency among the Very
Bright to be preachy and disdainful of human idiocy, which of course is disconcerting to us
idiots, and a tendency among the Slender, Attractive and Witty to make those of us who are
Lumpy, Homely and Slow to feel gloomy in your presence. Your letter gives the impression
of great self-confidence, an asset to be sure, but one that can be intimidating to us nebbishes,
when it's advertised so boldly. Are you able to converse easily and comfortably with
someone who never had an NEA fellowship and can't write his way out of a paper sack?
Nothing to do but do what we all do, keep trying; try to be aware of how you sound to
others and if you think you might be scary, then tone it down.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am in a relationship with a wonderful, talented, attentive, brilliant guy.
We've been together three years, and the problem is that he lies -- about big things, little
things, you name it. Example: For the first year and a half, he was in
touch with his ex-girlfriend constantly. They spoke at least two times a day and he accepted
lavish gifts from her. I have no problem with that, just that he denied having any contact
with her until the day I found out. Even then he tried to make it seem like much less
than it was. Since then he's admitted that he has a problem with telling the
truth and he has seen a therapist regularly. He says he's doing better but I don't believe
him. He only admits to lying when he is confronted with the truth or he
knows I'll find out. I'm tired of feeling like a suspicious parent; and while
I love him to the ends of the earth, I don't know if I have the patience to
help him with his problem. Do I stay and hope that things get resolved with
this problem or do I kiss him goodbye and tell him to call me when he's all
better?

Tired

Dear Tired,

It's a huge drag to be lied to by one you love. It puts you into an odd
adversarial relationship and makes you wary when you should feel at ease. Makes you feel
every sentence needs to be deciphered and analyzed. It's just a whole lot of unnecessary
work. The most charitable explanation for chronic lying is that the liar is torn between
contradictions, there are gaping fissures in his life, he is struggling to maintain appearances
and to quell some urgent realities, and I suppose that almost anyone goes through a spell of
this at some time in his or her life, but honesty is fairly fundamental in any relationship, and
if you feel you basically can't believe him, then this deal is broken. You love a guy whom
you don't really know. A man in a mask. What you do is entirely dependent on your
patience, and I can't assess that. But it sounds as if you're nearing the end of the trail and are
looking for a fork so you can get off it.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I feel that I have within me a great novel to write, and I can't write it. I'm confused, I feel
guilty about taking time to write, I'm in a dreadful marriage and
there's no honorable way out of this marriage, as my husband is ill,
elderly, loves me to the skies and is dependent upon
me now. I'm pushing 40 and my son is very troubled, autistic.
My husband adopted my son, who loves him as he loves no one else. I
love that child, and I want this block to go away and for me to settle
down and be grateful and calm instead of freaky and horny. What can I do? I already take
cold showers.

Miserable

Dear Miserable,

I'll take a wild swing at giving you advice and if I'm wrong, then ignore it,
OK? I say that the novel is the bright light in your life and you should go to it, and let your
marriage sit for a while. Do write the book, and perhaps in the course of things, the rest will
become clearer. Plot a time in the next few months when you can really start work on the
novel, and start arranging your life to make room for it. See if you can't do some small
things to alleviate your domestic situation somewhat. Your husband's illness, your child's
care -- these are separate problems, to be taken up separately. Do what you can for them,
and then plunge into the writing.

Fiction is a powerful tonic for a troubled life, and maybe it
requires grief and anguish to be able to do it. I believe so. A young woman who cruised
through college on her daddy's ticket and got her M.F.A. in fiction and whose most grievous
hurt so far has been her recurrent eczema and her dull boyfriend Brent does not have the
advantages that you have, so use your misery to give life to this book. Write from the
deepest and saddest and angriest part of you. Often, when you do this, amazingly it comes
out as humor. As for the block, a block is dispelled by making tiny progress; progress, even
tiny, leads to more progress; gradually the glacier shifts, the block breaks and things tumble
forth upon the page that you never dreamed of. But it may be necessary to move laterally
and outflank the block. Or to fool the block by turning your back on it and pretending to
write an entirely different novel. Good luck and be brave. The sun shines on the insouciant
and lighthearted and it shines on you too.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I don't have a terribly exciting problem. My husband and I are approaching our 11th
anniversary; we're deeply committed to each other and passionately in love. He's seen me
give birth to four children, we have few secrets between us. Several years ago I began to
feel like a supporting actress in my own life, and I decided to do something just for me. I
started writing a book. My question is, Can a very average person with no horrifying
skeletons in the closet, no string of ruined relationships and no time spent at a university
ever hope to get published? I want to write novels for older children and make my own
contribution to the library shelves that were my spiritual home throughout my childhood. I'd
just like to know now if I'm wasting my time. I think that's what is holding me back the
most. How do you invest so much of yourself in something with the possibility of it being a
failure?

The Mommy Person

Dear M.P.,

I believe in taking the short view when it comes to writing a book. I don't
believe in making a heroic commitment, tying yourself to the mast, Do & Die for the
Crimson & Blue. You sit down and fool around and put some stuff down on paper and give
it every chance to amuse you and arouse your curiosity, and if it doesn't, then it doesn't, and
you move on. Yes, you can write a book, even if you're happy and feel ordinary. A
university education is no prerequisite whatsoever and may even be a hindrance. But nobody
writes a book in theory: You write one day at a time, a few pages at a time, and then you
rewrite, and then you rewrite the rewrite. It's a good life, the writing life, and don't worry
about failure -- there's plenty of that, whether you publish or not. Just focus on that 10-year-old kid who's going to open up your book and sit down and read it: You're going to
entertain her and also speak to her heart. So take a deep breath and go do it.

Dear Mr. Blue,

She is the love of my life. She's smart, funny, beautiful and
talented. I can't conceive of being with anyone else. Problem is, she tells
me it's not right for her and she's not in love with me. This happens on a regular basis. She
throws in the towel and starts seeing other people and I sit at home and pine for her.
We never seem to be able to end it. Inevitably she comes back and we end up knocking
boots for a while and then, boom, it's over again. I enjoy most of it and even the inevitable
crash is tolerable if I think she will eventually show up at my doorstep again.
Am I an idiot? A sap? A martyr?

In Love

Dear In Love,

You might try to interrupt this routine, if only for the sake of variety. The
next time she comes back, try not to be there waiting. See how this affects her thinking.
Is the lady truly not in love with you or does she simply enjoy saying so? You need to know.
The way to find out is to stop pining, stop waiting. Walk away. Be uninterested. Don't
write, don't call. It's painful, but if she doesn't love you, then this is a merry-go-round
going nowhere and you need to step off.

Dear Mr. Blue,

Three years ago I had an abortion. I have put the entire mess behind me
emotionally, spiritually and completely. Now, I am in love with a
wonderful man. We have been good friends for nearly 10 years, best
friends for the past two and head over heels in love for nearly a year
now. He is everything I ever dreamed of. Lately we have been
discussing the possibilities of marriage and children. I
am wondering if I should tell him about the abortion. I look on that part of my life and I feel
like I am looking at a stranger and not the person he loves. I don't want to tell him. What do
you think?

Conflicted

Dear Conflicted,

Yes, tell him about it, and tell him soon. Find a quiet moment and say, "I
want to tell you about what happened to me three years ago." You tell him because it's
important to you, because you'd hate for him to find out from someone else, because you'll
feel sneaky if you don't and because it's good discipline, to tell the inconvenient truth to the
one you love.

Dear Mr. Blue,

If we're both married to other people and have children, is it simply
impossible? And if so, how will I ever, ever get over him? Being with him is being home.
My ear to his chest, listening to his heartbeat, is all the sound I need, is all the
warmth in the world. But to get there leaves so many bodies. What to do?

In Anguish

Dear Anguish,

It's terribly complicated and sad, but we're adults so that's what we're being
tested on; we don't get good marks for just being polite and knowing some good jokes. I
can't tell you what to do, but your sentence about having your ear to his chest seems to me
deeply illusory, and no matter how much you enjoy his presence, you can't overthrow your
life to join him -- the terrible price you pay will ruin the prize. Obviously your feeling for
him has some weight and meaning, but perhaps he is a temptation that you're meant to resist
and thus, through heroic sacrifice, find out what your marriage is really worth? I don't
know. But you have to start with the marriage you have and try to figure it out on its own
terms. And in order to do that, you need to set aside the man with the chest and the
heartbeat. Adultery has its pleasures, to be sure, but it doesn't have much to teach you and
you shouldn't draw conclusions from it. How you get over him is to stop seeing him and get
very busy doing something else.


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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