Dance of destruction

My husband was charming and funny until I became successful; now his anger and resentment frighten me. Should I give up on him?

Published March 21, 2000 5:00PM (EST)

Mr. Blue writes from a hotel room in London this week, toward the end
of a long and flu-stricken tour of various dim hotel rooms in Scotland and
Ireland and then recovery in a stately apartment in Rome, on Via
Panisperna in a disreputable neighborhood near the Colosseum. Mr. Blue's
whole outlook has been changed by 10 days in Rome. All of the troubled
readers whom he ever advised to seek counseling he now advises to fly to
Rome. Rome is the answer. Everything that the counterculture was
seeking in the '60s and '70s -- basically it's all there in Rome,
along with all virtues touted by conservatives. The freedom to dress up
and create a finer persona, the bemused tolerance of human nature, the
love of high living, the fondness for grunge, the loyalty to family and
tribe. If you're an old hippie, you should've gone to Italy, you'd have
been happier.

Mr. Blue loved being there with Mrs. Blue and Baby Blue,
strolling through the sunny piazzas with splashing fountains, appreciating
the various ruins, enduring the aggressive sidewalk vendors and spending
literally hundreds of thousands of lire like it was Monopoly money. The
baby toddled around the Pantheon on ancient pavements, and ancient Italian
women smiled their crooked smiles and murmured, "Bella bambina," and the
baby's father paid a visit to the church in the Piazza del Popolo where
Martin Luther came as a young friar and observed the excesses of the
popes and hustled back to Germany to start the Reformation. Mr. Blue has
been in more churches in the past week than in the past 10 years. He
walked into one vast baroque space after another, Bernini angels fluttering
on the ceiling, lighted candles for various friends and family, and went back to
the neighborhood to shop for dinner, at the grocery, the meat market, the
bakery and the green market. The Italian men who ran the green market
looked at Mr. Blue and decided that he was French and, after the shopping
and the weighing and the wrapping and the paying, they said, "Bon soir, monsieur." To be taken for French is, for a guy from St.
Paul, all by itself worth the airfare.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I married a funny and charming man four years ago when I had a horrible
secretarial job and a tendency to complain about life, and since then, I've
been through a bit of therapy and pulled myself out of the rut and went
back to grad school. Now I feel I have a bright future. The problem is that
as my personal successes mount, my marriage seems to
crumble. My husband says he supports all of my goals and is proud of
me, but when I go out to study, he complains that I'm abandoning him. If
I talk about work successes, he complains about how much he hates his
job. To make matters worse, he's become addicted to marijuana. When
he's high, he's tedious. When he is sober, he is irritable, complains
constantly and sometimes becomes verbally abusive. He's very resentful of
the fact that I make more money at my part-time job than he does at his
full-time job. We've been fighting more and more lately.

If I met my husband today, I'd never consider marrying him. In addition to the
complaints and the screaming, he's started throwing things and shoving
me. After recent fights, I've stayed with friends and things seem better for
about a week. I'm not ready to give up yet. We recently started
counseling, but I'm not sure how sincere he is about it.
I'm thinking of getting my own place for the next six months. My
husband thinks that a month apart to cool off would be enough. My
friends think forever would be a wiser choice.
I can't decide what to do next. I can't motivate myself to act. I don't
even have the energy to get out of bed in the
morning. What do I need to do to get back in control of my personal life?


Dear Frozen,

The two of you are locked into a dance of destruction, and
you need to break out. You need to get out of range of your husband's
anger, finish up grad school and get your career under way. His anger
probably has something to do with his imagining that you and he would
be partners in the pits of despond and you surprised him by climbing out,
so he's terrified of losing you. Go. Keep in touch with him, if you can,
and continue the counseling if you have hopes of saving the marriage, but
the first priority is to pack the bag and call the cab. The motivation is
safety -- shoving can lead to battering -- and also you need the clarity
that a serious separation will bring.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am engaged to a wonderful guy. About five months ago, he and I broke
up and I started seeing someone else. My boyfriend and I got back
together, and I confessed all my sins. He says he forgives me, but he
constantly brings it up (he didn't date anyone), and he is driving me crazy.
I would rather not talk about it anymore. How can I make him feel more

Going Crazy

Dear Going,

Jealousy dwells in every man's heart, a fierce goddess that
demands ritual sacrifices. You must ritually belittle your previous men,
even if it's only someone you went to two movies with and only kissed
lightly on the cheek. You tell your current guy that Mr. Used To Be was
intensely boring, had sour breath and was not very bright. You didn't
enjoy kissing him, and having sex with him was simply out of the question.
You think that maybe he was gay. Also, he knew nothing about politics,
had no books in his apartment except for a phone book, was a big fan of
the Spice Girls and had never been to Italy. If the jealousy doesn't abate,
then you get tough and tell the boyfriend you've done all you can do and
if he ever mentions Mr. Used To Be again, you're out of here. Say it and
mean it.

Dear Mr. Blue,

My one-and-a-half year relationship with a sweet, funny, devoted
man has ended and I can't get over it. Our sex life had dwindled in the
past few months and he said he is just not a passionate person and there
was nothing he could do about it. We discussed the issue for
months and nothing changed. Thinking a break would spark some passion
in him, I agreed that splitting up would be best. Now I want him back to
try to work things out, but he won't have anything more to do with "us."
I am devastated by the loss of this wonderful man who made me laugh and
enjoy life. I've tried talking to him, but he won't budge. I've tried NOT
talking to him, but after a few days I miss him so much that I end up
calling him and making a fool of myself. I am stuck!
What can I do?

Can't Get Over His Gettin' Over Me

Dear Can't,

The dear dispassionate man has finessed you out of his life.
You thought that if you left, he'd beg you to come back. You lost the bet.
He doesn't want you back and there is undoubtedly a good reason for this:
He doesn't love you. Men are not good at breaking up, do it awkwardly,
are seldom forthright, but you have to assume that he's an adult and
knows what he wants. You already tried to work things out and it didn't
work. You can't get over him? OK. Then get over him. The quickest
way is to get angry at the dear man and give him one last call and tell him
he is an idiot with the sex drive of a head of iceberg lettuce and that
breaking up with him was the best thing that ever happened to you and
that you've started seeing a guy named Antonio who has taught you more
about love in the past 36 hours than Mr. Wonderful showed you in one-and-a-half
years. Tell him, "And by the way, if you're thinking of dating again, you
really should do something about your breath. Maybe you need to see an
endocrinologist." Tell him, "And one more thing. Your hair. That look
was over a long time ago. Like, 10 years ago." Tell him, "And one more
thing. If you were wondering what you did that made me laugh, it was
oral sex. I told Antonio what you did and he laughed until stuff came out
of his nose."

Dear Mr. Blue,

Back in July you gave me good solid advice on how to balance finishing a
novel and wedding my wife. Well, it worked. I now have both the wife
and the book. Thanks! Now I'm hunting for agents. I have sent out 20
packages (a cover letter, two-page synopsis and the first 30 pages of my
baby) to likely prospects. Any advice for rising above the slush pile? Can
I bribe these people? What about sending them Polaroids of their kids
coming home from school? Any tricks that worked for you?

Happy Man

Dear Happy Man,

Make 20 more packages and send them to all the
big publishing firms and any smaller houses that you think highly of, and
start thinking about the third shipment. Meanwhile, enjoy your wife's
company and don't think about who is reading your package and what
they're thinking and what you need to do next. The publishing world is
looking for the next John Grisham and J.K. Rowling. If you're not them,
then maybe the publishing world can figure out who you might be and
who's interested. It's their problem now, not yours. Take your wife to
Rome, or at least to an Italian restaurant, and start entertaining thoughts of
your next book.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm engaged to a man I love very much and we rarely have disagreements,
but there's one big issue we haven't come to
grips with, and that's having children. My mom and dad divorced and I
have a lot of sad memories of being a kid, and I don't feel a burning need
to bring a child into the equation of our marriage. In fact, I'm deeply
afraid of the changes it will bring, both between us and in my own life. I
am a bookish, quiet type who likes to write long letters and read long
novels, and I cherish a dream of publishing a novel myself. He thinks
having a family is an important part of what marriage is about,
and indeed what life is about. We're so far apart on this, I don't even
know how to talk about it. We talk
and talk and get nowhere. I don't want to deprive him, but I also
don't want to end up sitting at the kitchen table with a vacant stare and
greasy hair, wondering how I got here
and what happened to that novel. Got any ideas?


Dear Stubborn,

You don't need to resolve this issue before you marry him
but you do need to have a meeting of the minds: He needs to know how
you feel about having children, as accurately as you can describe. If
you're leery of it, if you're opposed but willing to reconsider in a few
years, or if you've absolutely closed the door in your own mind: Tell him
what's what. And you should have a clear idea how he feels. Clarity, not
resolution, is what we're looking for here. It's important to be able to
discuss a matter in which you each hold strong feelings. If you're unable
to, then you should talk about whether marriage is a good idea for you.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am nearly 30 and have never had a relationship that lasted longer than
two months. This seems to worry certain people, like my mother, but I
don't think I am essentially suited to sharing my life. I like living alone,
my favorite activities are solitary ones like reading and writing and I
often feel so overwhelmed by the world and other people that I have to
shut myself in, screen my calls and take long baths by myself. I have a
lot of friends, and a huge family, so I can have plenty of company when I
need it. I don't feel like I need someone in my life, and I can't imagine
when I ever will. Is this so wrong? A lot of people seem to think that life
is all geared toward being part of a couple, when it seems to me that the
greatest part of life is figuring out who you are and meeting the world on
your own terms. It always makes me sad to think that I may one day get

I suppose I am wondering if I am a freak or deluded, or if there really are
people who are genuinely solitary?

The Lone Ranger

Dear Masked Woman,

You don't seem freakish or deluded to me, you
seem quite rational, and though your life is not as I'd wish mine to be or
your mother wishes hers, it's your life and you should live it according to
your lights. I do think there's a big difference between solitude that is due
to feeling "overwhelmed by the world" and solitude born of self-sufficiency, but the important thing is that you push forward, thrive,
prosper, enjoy happiness, under whatever circumstances you choose. If
you find, however, that you are accumulating cats (say, more than six)
and your house is filling up with stacks of old newspapers and unopened
packages and you are living on Spam and peanut butter and going around
the house in a lavender lace curtain under the impression that you're one
of the Borgias, then we need to talk again.

Dear Mr. Blue,

Ever since I was a child I've had the dream of Being A Writer, and now I
can't help but feel it would be liberating to chuck the whole damn
idea. I'm sitting here, feeling like there's no rocks left in my bucket. This
internal blankness disturbs the hell out of me, and I don't know how to
remedy it. Do I go back to school? Take a trip? Become a forest ranger?
My relationship with my husband has been strained, money is a constant
worry -- and yet somehow our three boys have turned
out great. I wince every month when we make a payment on a student
loan we took out so I could finish my MFA nine years ago. I don't know
whether to give myself a bit more time or if the gig is up.


Dear Rockless,

Don't torment yourself over this. Don't keep looking in
your bucket. Chuck the whole damn idea and cut yourself loose. Writers
are not necessarily people with a dream of Being A Writer, they're simply
people who need to speak their piece, and the need sneaks up on them
while they're busy with other things. So it's better to be busy with other
things than to sit and stare at one's internal blankness. For writers, the gig
is never up. Never. We're not like singers or ballplayers, we can lay off
for years and then suddenly wake up one morning as a writer.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I live in a coed dorm across the hall from a boy who has got my heart.
He's got a girlfriend back in his hometown, and we had a little affair,
which is over now, and we're trying to be friends, but it's hard to face him
in the hallway every day. So, tell me, how do I make it to spring finals?

Grad Student

Dear Grad,

You look at this buckaroo every day and you smile and say
good morning and you rise above your feelings, that's how you make it to
finals. What other choice is there? Either you sob in your pillow every
night or you rise above the whole mess and carry on, and you're going to
carry on. Sobbing is not a good use of time. And don't try too hard to be
friends with the guy. Just scare yourself into studying for finals (imagine
flunking them all and being kicked out of school and put into prison and
having to live on baloney sandwiches and listen to soap operas all day)
and finish out the year and have a terrific summer, which will be all the
more so because you did well on your finals.

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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