I'm having sex with my daughter's basketball coach and I'm terrified she'll find out. Should I bail out now or go for it?

Published March 28, 2000 5:00PM (EST)

Mr. Blue writes this week from a sunny hotel room in London, about to head
home. The Blue family had a fine time and how could we not, in such a great
city? For one thing, it's a great newspaper city; the morning reader has
a big buffet to choose from, and what a pleasure to get away from the daily
meat loaf of the New York Times and read some journalists who have the
capacity to surprise. The English press is freewheeling, capable of
delicious sarcasm, wild hair-up-the-bum opinions and merciless wit (for
which it atones by publishing those long elegant loving obituaries when Great
Men and Great Women finally succumb).

Yesterday we went to the London Zoo, a wonderful place with stately
architecture and well-tended animals and beautiful plantings, and you stroll
around on a spring day, flocks of white and yellow daffodils blooming here
and there, and observe the giraffe couple nuzzling each other and lightly
necking, and the elephants politely noshing their hay, and the fish, the
beautiful fish, in the aquarium. Baby Blue sat on the railing, in front of
tank after tank, like watching fish TV, looking at the tomato clownfish and
the Picasso triggerfish and the foxface rabbitfish and the yellow sailfin
tang and the porkfish, bright yellows and blues sailing through the water,
and a horsefaced fish, bright blue with yellow trim, who seemed to be the
boss, pecking at the others. Afterward, you walk across the broad green sward
of Regents Park to the outdoor cafe by the Queen Mary Garden and sit and
enjoy lovely sandwiches and a plate of green curry in the sunshine. Nearby is
a close-clipped lawn where Mr. Blue, one spring day years ago, rented a
canvas reclining chair and reclined in it and napped for a couple hours. Felt
like a Wodehouse character, an old boy from the Drones Club, but woke up
feeling as cheerful as P.G. himself and went off for a lovely walk and a good

When an American starts talking about "lovely sandwiches" and "a lovely
walk," it's time to leave England and come home and go to stock car races or
read David Mamet, but it's a great city, London. The older traveler sits in
the park, eating his sandwich, and thinks that perhaps he has seen enough of
the world and that perhaps his traveling from now on will be limited to
return trips to places he's already seen. One can survive not having seen
Japan, or South Africa, or Rio, or Moscow, or anyplace else -- the aim of
travel is to get away from home, for the pleasure of the departure and the
pleasure of the return, and to spend the intervening time in an interesting
place, and it doesn't really matter where. A person could do worse than
simply keep coming back to London -- be a sort of monogamous traveler --
and the city would keep rewarding you with new sights. At Mr. Blue's age, one
could be happy as a tomato clownfish, if your tank were London. Hope to
return soon. And now on to the week's mail.

Dear Mr. Blue,

After five-and-a-half years of no sex, I worked up the nerve to call this
man I have known casually for a year and ask him over for dinner. I
figured, be brave and go for it. We had a lovely time and ended up in bed
together. I am 47. He is 53. We are both unattached, but both have children still at
home. In fact, he is my daughter's basketball coach. I shudder at the thought. I
now find myself sneaking around trying to figure out how to see him
without my daughter finding out. Neither one of us is ready for this to go
too far too fast. But I am so completely inexperienced at this, I find myself wondering if I just
shouldn't say thanks for a wonderful evening and bail out now. I seriously
doubt we would ever end up together as partners -- I just want to have some
fun with another consenting adult. He definitely wants to get together
again, and I find myself planning to get rid of my kid for a few hours to
hop in the sack with this guy. Any suggestions?


Dear Salome,

Good for you. You saw what you wanted and you went out
and got it, and I'm sure it was a lovely time, you and the basketball
coach, and now you must deal with the slight complications. Go ahead and
see him again, I say. (He's Italian, right?) What's the problem?
Suggestions about what? What to wear? What music to put on? What
snacks to serve afterward? I say togas, Verdi and a thin-crust pizza.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I have a strong personality. I'm a good listener and a solid friend. But I
am loud. And talkative. And I laugh a lot. I have found that many men ask
me out based on my looks and then are turned off by my personality. I
like my personality. I have tried to be cool and aloof, and it lasted a few
minutes and didn't feel right. Should I tame myself down for the first few
dates, or should I just be me and let the dice roll where they may?


Dear Teetering,

Generally it's wise not to strategize in matters of the
heart, and to simply be yourself, but "loud" and "talkative" and "laugh a
lot" describes a broad range of behavior, at one end of which you find a
harridan who talks your face off in a voice that can remove wallpaper and
shrieks at her own jokes. Do you have an internal monitor that tells you if
you're getting out of hand? Men have a hard time with shrillness: It's not
that we dislike assertive women, it's that a certain pitch distresses us. You
hear it sometimes in a crowded room, a woman shrieking and cackling,
and you can see every man in the joint cringe and smile in gratitude that
he is not with That Woman.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I have a wonderful younger sister who has, for about two years now, been
seeing a loud, overbearing buffoon. He is always offending someone and
he often upsets her, though she doesn't tell him so. I do not believe that
their relationship is healthy for her, and I do not approve of it. Her
happiness is very important to me. My parents are both responsible
people and have met her boyfriend, and I think it is their business to
intervene, and not mine. What's a big sister to do?


Dear Worried,

If you really want to wreck this romance, be a friend to the
boyfriend. Don't be aloof, don't reject him, don't criticize him to your
sister: This will only cement the relationship. Befriend him. A friend can
do so much more damage than an enemy can. Be a pal and learn his
secrets and praise him to your sister. Faint praise, the poisoned kind that
can destroy him in her eyes.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am 22, a recent college graduate who just broke up with the man I
thought was The One. Part of the problem was that I was quite depressed. I'm
working on the depression with therapy, etc., and it's more under control; now what
needs to be decided is where I go next. I have the chance to go to New York or go
somewhere I've never been before, where I don't know anyone: Portland,
Ore., which, from what I can gather, is just the greenest place on Earth.
What do you recommend after a hard breakup?

Getting Back on My Feet

Dear Getting,

If you have New York and Portland to choose between, you
have a choice that any of us could envy. New York has Central Park and
the Metropolitan Opera, and Portland has roses and the Willamette River
and Powell's, a great bookstore, and one could extend the lists of assets
and liabilities, but it really comes down to 1) work and 2) what are you
looking for? The best reason to go to New York is to find good work and
to get the hard-knocks education that a big city offers: You learn a lot
about people in New York that you won't learn in, say, Minnesota. Life is
a lot looser there; you can have ice cream for breakfast and nobody cares;
you can walk around with a weasel in your pocket, or sing arias, or walk
on your hands, and people pay you no mind. New York is phenomenally
expensive, as you know, and life can be dramatically lonely -- it's no
place for someone susceptible to self-pity, I think. If you have a pretty
clear idea what you'd do in New York for the first year, then go ahead,
but if you're at loose ends, Portland might be an easier place to figure
things out. On the other hand, there's always Rome.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am a 21-year-old woman in love with a man who proposed to me on
Valentine's Day, but my problem is I need affection, and he is the shy type
and doesn't know how to give it. I have told him that he needs to put his
arms around me and kiss me because it is what I need. I need to be
complimented too, but he says he can't think of anything to say and his
mind goes blank. I can't marry someone who won't show me love or tell
me what it is that he loves about me. But I love him with all my heart
and will have a hard time telling him to hit the road. I don't know what
to do. Could you please help me?

Love Sick

Dear Love Sick,

You're in the midst of a beautiful dilemma that,
hopefully, will last your entire life. You love someone dearly and you are
trying to get from your beloved what you need. This is my situation, and
my wife's situation, and my mother and father's situation (they're 84 and
86), and everyone else's situation who is lucky. Even Italians. You can
stimulate this shy young man by treating him to a show of emotion. Tell
him you love him and that you feel he doesn't care about you, and
produce some tears for emphasis, and don't be afraid to raise your voice.
Don't be subtle about this. Put the hay down where the goats can get it. If
he is too dense to take simple direction, then maybe eventually you'll have
to point him to the highway, but meanwhile, act up and raise your voice.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I've fallen madly in love with a woman whom I adore, but she's Catholic
and I'm Jewish. We both feel tremendous ties to our respective religions,
and my parents are strongly against my marrying a non-Jew. So starting a family with this
woman would possibly tear another family apart. I also feel I have a duty
to my ancestors who've sacrificed so much to perpetuate a Jewish lineage.
I know children of interfaith marriages, and I have yet to see one where the child is
instilled with any sense of Jewish traditions. So what should I do?

Capulet Montague

Dear Capulet,

Mr. Blue doesn't have a lot of faith in the power of mad
love to work miracles, and you don't either, apparently, and so you've
made a good case for saying goodbye to this adorable Catholic woman and
finding a Jewish woman to fall madly in love with. So that's what you
should do.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am 44, married to a man who has two beautiful daughters from a
previous marriage. He and I married when I was 38; I had long since
given up any hopes of marriage, let alone having children. I have now
been pregnant four times, and have suffered four miscarriages. I am living
unhappily on the horns of this dilemma. I am despairing and inconsolable
and am ready to leave this marriage for a life of spinsterhood as befits my
status. How does one live with this without turning to stone or nursing
endless fruitless sniping bitterness about the good fortune of others?


Dear Grieving,

I don't have the experience that would give me any grasp
of what you're going through, and whatever wisdom I could offer (let time
pass, cleave to your loved ones, take a deep breath) would be so glib as to
make you want to hurl stale rolls at me. The first thing to do is to find
women who've had miscarriages -- perhaps there's a group of such
women that meets regularly -- and share your experiences with them and
commiserate and air out your despair. Four miscarriages is a lot of grief
to endure, and don't endure it alone. Of course there is hope that you
might conceive and carry a baby full-term, even at 44 and with your
history, and perhaps you want to pursue this -- consult a fertility
specialist, put yourself at the mercy of the wonders of science -- but
whether you do or don't, you must deal with this pain and try to turn it to

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am 45, divorced for 10 years, and last October I met a man on the
Internet. We knew almost immediately that we were meant for each
other. He visited me, and two months later I visited him. It was blissful
and we both felt we were falling in love and were soul mates. Then he
told me that he and his wife are going to marriage counseling to see if
there is anything left to save. He says it is just a formality and that once
he is through with counseling, he will be able to fall in love with me, but
right now is just not available. Should I hang around, continue talking to
him every day and wait until this is officially over, or do I need to cut the
ties now?


Dear Confused,

There is no tie to cut. There is only a story that you were
told, that you believed and enjoyed, and now you return that book to the
library and take out another.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm a 45-year-old woman happily married to an artist whom I consider my
best friend. No children, by choice. I have satisfying freelance work and
we live in a cheap, light-filled, fifth-floor walk-up filled with art, books,
movies, music, cats and souvenirs of our travels; and a spectacular
panorama of San Francisco out the bay windows. We don't have
money but don't seem to care much.

It seems like days and days and days can go by without my leaving the
apartment. My idea of the good life seems to be puttering around the place
unwashed, reading a book here, listening to an opera there, petting the
cats, gazing out the window, e-mailing, watching tapes of "The Sopranos,"
thinking about my book. I worry that this is somehow ... wrong. Is my life
pathetic inertia? Will I end up lonely regretting a life unlived?

Happy & Anxious

Dear H&A,

If you're having a good life there in your fifth-floor walk-up,
enjoy it and God bless. Please don't give up bathing entirely, and please
don't entertain fantasies about the Sopranos being your own family, and
please don't make the cats your confidantes. Talking to yourself is OK,
especially in Italian. But do get outdoors at least every other day, so that
you don't start building a wall between In Here and Out There. And you
need the exercise.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am a big mess right now. I am 27, a professional woman, attractive,
well-educated, outgoing, with good friends. I have been dating a man for
almost two years and we've been incredibly happy together, but after a
couple fights recently, I left for vacation with a friend for a
week. (My boyfriend couldn't go because he was starting a new job.) Upon
my return he tells me that he's thought about our future and doubts that
we're right for each other, doesn't think we "bring the best out in each

I am so confused and heartbroken. I feel that this is so unfair that
he's making the decision himself, rather than working it out, that he's
ready to give up on us! Aren't doubts normal in a relationship? I love
him. Up to a week ago he seemed completely in love with me. I've told
him how much I love him and want to work things out. I've said
everything I can say. What do I do now? And if we do break up, and my
heart gets broken worse than I feel now, is there any chance I will meet
and fall in love again in time to get married and have kids, both of which
I desperately want? I feel I may have wasted A LOT of time with this guy,
who despite his words of love was never going to really
commit to me. I just can't imagine that there is someone else out there
who is worth my time. I'm at the end of my rope.


Dear Broken,

Let the gentleman have his head and find his own way, and
if he decides to return, he'll return wiser, and if he carries through on the
breakup, then consider it a done deal and be grateful that the blow-up
came now and not 10 years from now. You love him and of course it'll
be hard, but don't make it any harder than it has to be. Enroll in Mr.
Blue's 90-Day Drill for the brokenhearted. Eat lightly, get lots of
exercise and push yourself to new physical goals, avoid alcohol, withdraw
a little from social life and apply yourself to learning something you've
long wanted to learn -- French, swimming, arc welding, Japanese
cooking -- and subject yourself to some healthy introspection, an
examination of your life, your virtues and weaknesses, your habits. It's a
desolate time and put it to good use. In a year, you'll be able to imagine
meeting someone else. Somebody from Italy.

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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