No strings

How can I have a fling with a handsome Casanova and happily wave goodbye in the morning?

Published January 18, 2000 5:00PM (EST)

Dear Mr. Blue,

I really like sex but have never been good at relationships, the
longest in my 43 years being three years, and only a few of those.
I'd like to have a little affair or fling with a man, but after a
night of sex I wind up feeling inexplicably emotionally attached to him. I daydream about a
guy for months even though I know in my heart he is not for me. I have
several women friends who find it easy to satisfy their sexual
desires and not feel any more involved the next morning than they did the night before.
I envy them for it. Of course I am afraid of being alone for the rest of
my life. If that is my destiny, I can bear it, but it is so much scarier
to think I will live without good sex, which is one of the joys of living. How can I have a
male friend or two who I could call for a nice safe romp with no strings attached? Or
have the occasional fling with a handsome Casanova and happily wave goodbye
in the morning?

Any advice, or encouragement?

Crushed Out

Dear Crushed Out,

If you simply are looking for sex with men, you surely can find takers.
As for your feelings, I think that casual sex is an acquired skill, more common among men
and among Gen-X women and women in big cities, and if you're not skilled at it, maybe
your women friends can advise you. I too know people who live that life, are frank about it,
seem to do OK in it, and I have the impression that it's a skill not available to everyone,
like hang gliding or bear hunting or arbitrage. And even for those who claim to lead carefree
sex lives, it may become more complicated than they're willing to let on. There are strong
emotional tides on this particular beach, large waves crash ashore, great whales occasionally
beach themselves, ships break apart on the reef, and the ability to be oblivious to it all may
not be supportable in the long run. I don't know. I'm not the authority here. But I'm
flattered that you imagine I am. Next thing you know, people will start asking me about
transmissions and carburetors.

Dear Mr. Blue,

One of my dearest friends of 20 years has recently gotten married for the first time at
age 47 to a woman he met, wooed and wed in the space of six months. Of course, I
was happy for them both. The problem? She doesn't like me, wants me out
of his life, has forbidden him to lunch with me as we used to do regularly
and has made it clear that there is no room for my husband and
me in their new life. My friend's compliance with her demands is deeply
wounding. What should I do? I've tried to befriend her, recognizing that
she is the most important person in his life, but my efforts are in
vain. What kind of wife makes her husband give up his best friend? And
what kind of husband goes along with that?


Dear Saddened,

There's nothing more to be done by you, nothing whatsoever. Your friend
must make his own choices, fight his own battles, and you cannot press the point. Send a
Christmas card every year and a note on his birthday and see what happens. And turn your
attention to your other friends.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm 58. My husband left me three years ago for a lady we had working in our office;
she had been there six weeks. She was married for 25 years and had left her
husband four times before but never for more than a year. This time she knew our business
finances so she divorced her husband and moved in with mine. We have been divorced two
years, and they are still living together. I spent our time together helping him build our
business, taking care of him and our home. I had no life except him. So now I find I don't
have anything to do outside in the world to meet people. I find myself staying in my home
for several weeks without going anywhere. I'm afraid of running into the friends we had and
how they will treat me. Some of them I have seen act as if they never knew me. Can you
help me?


Dear Lost,

You need to evacuate. It sounds to me as if you're still involved in the business
that you and your ex-husband ran. Are you? Get out of it. Make sure you get your share,
which is half of everything. Get the money, sell the house, do what you need to do and
escape from this man and his friends and his business and all the rest. And start your new
life in a new place. It's hard, but it's easier work than what you're going through now.

Dear Mr. Blue

I am a woman in my 30s, married for six years, happily for the most part.
Unfortunately, I have fallen in love with a man at work. He is smart, funny, kind,
understands me well, and he is gay. So a romantic relationship is out of the question, yet I
can't seem to accept this. I love my husband very much and don't want to do anything to
hurt him or jeopardize our marriage, yet all I can think about is how strong my feelings are
for the other man. I have not told him or my husband about any of this. I have had these
feelings for about three years, ever since the other man and I started working together, so I
have a hard time believing that this is a passing fancy. What does it mean that I am
stubbornly holding out for an unattainable man? And what, if anything, can I do about this?

Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered

Dear 3B,

Passing fancies can be powerful. You're not in love -- you have a teenage crush
similar to what millions of girls felt for Elvis, and it's entirely up to you whether you keep it
innocent and harmless or turn it into an obsession. I say, keep it innocent. Don't tell
anybody. Enjoy the sensation, the sweetness and silliness of it, and let it mature into
friendship. But if your feelings start to worry you, get a different job.

Dear Mr. Blue,

Seven months ago, my wife of 10 years and two children decided she
would be happier with someone of her own sex, and as a matter of fact,
there was someone in her office who just happened to fit the bill. Anyway, we got divorced,
and now we get along (mostly) better than we ever have. And I am here in a small Alaska
town wondering how in the hell do I connect with someone?

I'm a shy type of guy. I see an interesting woman headed the other way on the hiking trail,
and I can get a hello out of her and perhaps a smile, or a "How's the trail up to Point
Bridget?" and then she's gone, headed to the next deadfall. Groups
of women are worse. I see women in taverns in town who drive me wild and mountainous
with desire, who I could envision bivouacking with in driving sleet, standing with
at the winter solstice, staring at the aurora under the Milky
Way. Women with whom I could imagine getting tattoos. Invariably, I am struck dumb
simply by trying to think of any type of introductory talk. I have no idea how to
approach her, be she in the park in summer or in a bluegrass bar in the winter. They smile
at me, but I am so totally at a loss of what to say to them it is painful. There is one woman
from work whom I am somewhat attracted to, but after 10 years of being in a relationship, I
have no idea of what to say to her.


Dear Floundering,

Consider the possibility that it's too soon for you to connect, that your
heart isn't ready, and you need to stop floundering and start floating. Thinking of what to
say is not your problem -- you're an intelligent, articulate, funny guy. Maybe you're
reluctant to seduce attractive women for the very good reason that you need to be on your
own and get your bearings, get over the loss of your wife. The reason you're struck dumb is
that the situation is absurd and artificial: you, trying to pick up somebody in a bar or on the
trail, trying to think of magical words. In the first place, there aren't any, and in the second
place, your heart isn't in it. Take it easy. Listen to the music, enjoy your beer, talk to
whoever wants to talk to you, don't attempt great feats of charm. Anyone who comes up
with the term "bivouacking with in driving sleet" as a measure of true attraction obviously has
a great sense of humor, and that counts for a lot in life, mister.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am 27, living in the Midwest, faced with a major life
decision, immobilized by doubt. I have loved a man for over two years. We were good
friends and I wanted more; he resisted. Finally, I moved on with my life. He saw me
moving on and suddenly realized that he wanted the relationship with me that I had wanted.
After several weeks of his pleading, my heart told me to give it a try. I couldn't walk away
from something I had spent so long wanting.

So try we did. And it was beautiful in the beginning. We dated for three months and then
rented a house together. And from there things went downhill. He felt
stifled, I felt him pulling away. We grew apart, but just as we were about
to break up, we managed to hang on. We've been through counseling
and continue to go. But our lease expires in May and I can't help but feel
that if we don't pull things together by then, it means things are over. Despite how much we
love each other. If we can't be happy in the first year of dating, how could
we possibly survive a long-term commitment?

But the thought of leaving the only man I've ever loved is breaking my heart. I don't know
whether to stay and try to work it out or leave him behind. What should I do? And what if I
make the wrong choice?

Afraid to Choose

Dear Afraid,

I think you've made your choice and, though it's scary and sad, you can't
unmake it, any more than you can rewind the past two years. When you say, "If we can't be
happy in the first year of dating, how could we possibly survive a long-term commitment,"
you say a lot. Nobody could put it any more clearly than that. It's heartbreaking to go, but
it's destructive to stay in such a high-maintenance relationship that breaks down in its first
year. The first year is supposed to be giddy and wild: You should be so busy making love,
you don't have time to have problems. It didn't happen.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I've just come out of a 15-month, rather intense relationship. I am still madly in love
with him even though our breakup was messy. I thought that our problems were resolvable,
and he did not. At a New Year's party, I met a rather attractive man, and we hit it off
immediately, and at the end of the night, he gave me his phone number. Under normal
circumstances, I would be interested in pursuing a relationship with this man, but I am not
entirely over the last one. Mutual friends tell me this second one is quite a catch, and they
say to go for it, but I'm not sure it would be fair to him to start dating when I'm not entirely
over my last love. Should I simply not call him? Should I pursue a friendship? Or do you
think the best way for me to get over the last one is to put myself back into the game?


Dear Divided,

You're interested, so why not call up the man and talk? And if he asks to see
you, and you want to, then see him. And at the earliest opportunity, tell him what you're
going through and what happened with Mr. Messy and how you feel and so on and give Mr.
Clean the opportunity to console you and advise you and be sympathetic. See how well he
does this. If you enjoy seeing him, and if he is properly consoling and understanding, then
perhaps you'll want to see him again.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am 25, about to graduate from law school. I have been dating my boyfriend for two
years, and I have just accepted a job at the law firm where he is a partner. Although he
knows that my desire is to marry and have a large family, we have never discussed
marriage -- until last week when he told me he wanted me to marry him. He seemed upset
when I asked if he were "asking" me to marry him. He answered yes and then asked me
to marry him. I was so excited, I said, "I don't know what to say." And he said, "Well,
then, I withdraw the offer." He said he had planned the proposal, told his friends and his
partners, etc., and bought an engagement ring, and he had expected me to be so excited and
joyful that I would shout yes.

I am hurt and confused. What should I do to get him to apologize for his reaction and ask
me to marry him again?

Still Waiting

Dear Still,

I think that you two swerved at the last moment and narrowly avoided a head-on
marriage and you should be grateful for your good luck. Get over your hurt and confusion.
Let some time pass. Shop around for a nice walnut credenza for your office, a frame for
your diploma, some silk orchids, some classy lawyer clothes. He withdrew the offer. Be
cool. Don't ask to see it again. See how you feel a year from now.

Dear Mr. Blue,

Most of the time, my man is very romantic, bringing flowers for no reason, paying me
extravagant compliments, sending sweet notes, etc. But guess what I got for my birthday?
A set of kitchen chairs (OK, my old ones were falling apart). For Christmas, it was a new
computer hard drive (yes, I'd been grumbling about my lack of disk space). What do you
make of this? Is there a nice way I can tell him I'd love something more personal, or should
I count my blessings and work on my sense of humor?


Dear Bemused,

I make nothing of it because there is nothing to be made. You're blessed
with a loving man, and you seem to have a sense of humor, and I hope you two get to use
the kitchen chairs for many, many years together. Gifts are given freely and can't be
orchestrated by the recipient, otherwise they ain't gifts.

Dear Mr. Blue,

After three years of courtship and two years of marriage, my wife has decided she wants to
separate. There is no abuse and no violence in our household; in fact, she says I've been a
good husband. She just feels she made a mistake by getting married. Of course this is all
very confusing and hurtful. It was only a year and a half ago we were discussing children
and only last summer we were searching for a house. Luckily, neither one came to fruition
so a divorce would be a simple one. I just don't understand why this would happen and what
I should do. We went to counseling together, but my wife gave up on it after five weeks --
even though the therapist suggested a minimum of 10 weeks. What is going on?


Dear Sad,

It is sad that it happens and you should simply accept her explanation, that she
made a mistake. She may have had doubts about the marriage all along and thought she
could squelch them and instead they got bigger and bigger. This happens to people. They
want to be married because it seems like the doorway to normal adult life. Your parents may
treat you like a child for years if you remain single but they look at you as an adult when
you marry. And marriage seems like a good hedge against loneliness. So people have an
urge to leap. But if there's something wrong at the beginning, it may grow and become
unbearable. Be glad it's as simple as it is, and try not to brood over it. No regrets, no
recriminations. Say thank you and goodbye and God bless you, and move on.

Dear Mr. Blue,

OK, here's my dilemma. I'm madly in love with a brilliant, talented,
loving, sweet, sexy musician with a blooming record career, two
wonderful dogs, an overbearing mother and a few semi-psychotic exes. We
dated for a year and then needed to take a break so he could deal with everything, and now
he is trying to move on to bigger and better things, including (I hope) a future with me. We
have both expressed a desire for marriage, kids, etc., but he needs to figure
some stuff out, gain more of my trust, change his locks and
make a commitment (all of which he has said he is willing to do). It's
obvious he is making changes in his life. The problem is that I don't
know how long I can wait. The suspense is killing me: Will he or won't
he? I'm 25 and all my friends tell me I could do much better, but I want this man in my life
even if he is a musician, sometimes can't pay the bills and isn't
everyone's idea of the perfect provider. I don't care, I love him. I
just don't want to become another semi-psychotic woman he has to change the locks
against or wait for something that may never happen. Help! To wait or not to wait?


Dear Pining,

There are a thousand jokes about musicians and their love lives (What do you
call a guitarist who loses his girlfriend? Homeless.), most of them told by musicians. I
admire musicians -- some of my best friends, etc. -- and I also think it's a field in which a
main occupational hazard is self-delusion. There are a few musicians who earn a million
dollars a year, and a lot of musicians who earn $4000 a year, and not many who earn
$35,000 a year with health benefits. This gets stressful as people get older, and anyone who
gets involved romantically with a musician should understand this. It's fine and noble to have
a big dream; it ain't necessarily so fine to be in love with someone with a big dream. And I
think you should pay attention to the gentleman's string of semi-psychotic ex-girlfriends. Just
be aware of them, be aware that history loves repetition, and don't dismiss your friends'
advice out of hand. If you wait, don't wait passively -- like a piece of merchandise waiting
to be claimed -- wait and be watchful.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I believe that this December I had my best chance to date a woman who I can't stop
admiring, but I can't pull out all the stops and try to win her over romantically because I feel
a religious calling that, though not requiring sexual abstinence, is not spiritually compatible with her
type of character and personality. But even after praying for the romantic feelings to go
away, I just can't shake them. What should I do?

Born Again Bluesman

Dear Born Again,

Scripture doesn't promise that God will remove temptation, only that
you'll be given strength to withstand it. Temptation seems to be constant, a regular river,
though of course one can choose to climb out of the current and at least get up on shore.
You seem to have done that. What else should you do? Nothing. Just plain nothing.

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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