Secure, solid, stable -- boring?

I love books and artsy movies and he's strictly business. I'm a liberal Democrat and he's a Republican. Is there any way my relationship with this dependable man can work?

Published April 4, 2000 4:00PM (EDT)

Mr. Blue is sitting at his desk trembling in shock, young people,
having realized that he has just saved a small document onto his
laptop and thereby erased his column for today. Yes. A bad
moment. The computer asked (Y/N) if he was sure he wanted to
replace SALON.APR and Mr. Blue was sure, and thereby a whole lot
of work went back to being protons. (Is there a Mr. Green whom I
could write a sorrowing letter to and get back some sympathy and
a word of wisdom? Yes, I know, the word is "backup.") Maybe this is
the price of a long vacation in Rome and London, or maybe my job
skills have atrophied and I should find less demanding work. Oh
well. Onward.

Dear Mr. Blue,

For the past two years I have been in a solid, committed
relationship with a solid, committed man whom I love, who is
everything my boyfriends in the past were not: dependable,
emotionally stable, financially secure, loving and loyal. I am 24
and he is 25. The problem is, we have very little in common. I
love books, artsy movies and the like, and he is strictly
business. He works in the financial world and would be perfectly
content with a world devoid of many of the things I feel so
passionately about. I find our conversations -- well, boring.
To make matters worse, I am a liberal Democrat and he is a
Republican. I am steadily building a life with this man, a
prospect I find both wonderful and worrisome. I cannot imagine
loving a better, kinder soul. But I often wonder what it would be
like to love someone who shares my interests. Is it possible to
make such a relationship work? Or should I cut my losses
before we get any deeper?


Dear Torn,

I'm all in favor of bipartisan romance, but your
letter raises two red flags, and you should ponder them. First,
you seem to link your love for this man to the behavior of the
bad boyfriends in the past; and second, to say that your
conversations are boring is -- well, sort of devastating. No?
Maybe you need to educate yourself in the subjects that this
solid guy finds interesting. Republicans are basically excited by
three things: earning money, the Clintons and the moral decline
of the United States, but perhaps he has some other interest,
like fly-fishing or the bond market or the works of Louis
L'Amour, that you could learn about. Otherwise, you know, there
are financially secure Democrats around who read books and go to
artsy movies. In fact, many of them are in the book and artsy
movie business.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I have been happily married for over a year now. My husband is
affectionate, funny and agreeable, and except for occasional
money woes (and who doesn't have those?) we hardly ever disagree.
My concern is that so many married people keep telling me to
wait, that this is only the "honeymoon"
period. Are these people right, or are they just terminally
negative? Are there any signs I should be looking for now? I
don't want this happiness to end.


Dear Clueless,

Your friends have a dark sense of humor. Ignore
them. Don't base your life on the unhappiness of other people.
This is the time for you and your sweet husband to be free and
adventurous with each other, not worrying about what happens
next. You want to cut loose and have big experiences together --
float down the Snake River, drive Route 66, hike the Appalachian
Trail, bum around Europe for a month, do whatever suits your
fancy -- and learn to have a great time together. Hit the
heights, so you know where they are. The absence of discord isn't
the crucial thing: You want to discover a mutual lightheartedness and joy in each other's company and learn how to create it, and learn the habit of daily cheerfulness and agreeability and humor. Don't look for trouble; it'll come on its own. Enjoy your life.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm a 50-year-old divorced mother of an 18-year-old daughter.
Fifteen years ago I moved from New York to Jerusalem with my husband,
and now I'm middle-aged, without a partner and my daughter is
an Israeli about to do National Service. I'd love to move back
to New York, but she is adamant about staying here. Unfortunately,
there are no eligible men in my age range in Jerusalem. The problem is, even
though my daughter is "grown-up," she is also handicapped and
more than a bit insecure and needs me. Also, I'd be fairly
miserable without her -- she's funny and has a great slant on
things and can always prop up my mood. We have a really great
relationship. Can I ask her to leave country, family and friends
to try out a new life? Should I resign myself to being
partnerless forever? Should I try harder to convince her?

Stuck in the Sand

Dear Stuck,

Stay put for now, make do and don't subject this
terrific kid to a lot of stress. At her age, things can change
fast, and in a couple years, or three, or four, she could be
completely independent and not need you except for occasional
amusement. Or she might be in a mood to try Manhattan. But don't
lean on her now. And don't "resign" yourself to anything. Take up
belly dancing, ride horses bareback through the surf, climb
mountains, learn Arabic, anything but resignation.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I've been married for five months to the best guy I've ever known
in my life. We are in our late 20s, settled in a nice
apartment, saving for a house, considering getting a dog; in
short, acting like grown-ups. Also, I just got my first-ever
full-time writing job. So, statistically speaking, things are
good. The only problem is that we don't seem to be intimate much
now that we've gone off and gotten hitched. There's lots of
hugging and kissing and cuddling while we watch movies, but not
much beyond that. My husband is tired a lot and our schedules
just don't seem to mesh. I know that "they" say marriage brings
an eventual decline in the frequency of sex, but after only five
months? Yikes. What am I doing wrong here?

Boring Newlywed

Dear Boring,

It's a problem of communication. You're both very
nice people and perhaps were a little too well brought up and so
you find it awkward to indicate frank erotic interest to your
partner and you sit on the couch watching movies and wishing the
other one would make a move. Every couple has its own code --
some people put Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring" on the CD player,
other people use code words like "pickle" or "corned beef," some
people issue sex certificates good for redemption by either
partner with six hours' notice, some people schedule sex
(Tuesdays and Fridays at 10:15 p.m., and the first Sunday of
every month), some just sit picking insects off each other and
grunting -- but people do work it out somehow. If you're
cuddling, you're on the right track: Just locate the relevant
buttons and move ahead.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm a professional writer, a pretty good one. For the last year,
I've been working on a memoir about my relationship with my
father. Suddenly I realized that everything I've ever tried to
write was really about him, and I discovered within myself an
ability to remain focused and dedicated in a way I never thought
I'd be capable of.

Though this is definitely a labor of love, my
dad has never been in danger of winning the father of the year
award. He's had a drinking problem most of his life, and much of
what I need to express about our relationship won't be
flattering. I love working on this book and I'm certainly not
writing out of revenge, but when I imagine my father reading it,
guilt can drive me away from my writing desk for days. Is it
wrong to expose another person's mistakes, even when those
mistakes caused you a lot of pain? And if not, at what
point do I allow him to read the work? I certainly don't want his
first encounter with it to be in a bookstore!


Dear Tattletale,

If your purpose here is to expose your father's
mistakes and your own pain, it sounds vengeful to me, and perhaps
your guilt is well-founded. Of course you have a right to deal
with your own life including his part in it, but the book will
have to be its own justification. If it's a terrific book, then I
suppose you can feel it justifies the pain you'll cause him, and
if it's simply cruel and all about his unworthiness, then you're
simply an angry child. You might tell him you're writing a memoir
and that he's in it, and you might discuss these things with him,
even if you've done so in the past. And when you finish the book,
you might hold onto it for a year or two or four or five and make
sure it's what you want.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I need a man's point of view on this. I've been in a relationship
with someone I work with for 14 months. I am in love with
this man. But I don't know if he's crazy about me or doesn't have
any room for me (more of the latter than the former). He'll talk
about us taking a trip, etc., but nothing comes of it. He'll
make plans to have dinner, but when I show up, he's already had
dinner. He asked me to accompany him on a trip to Europe but has
backed off. He sent me flowers for Valentine's Day but made plans
with another couple to have dinner at their home (without me).
It's the mixed signals that are driving me nuts. I'm starting to
feel lonely in this relationship. Please help me.


Dear Consternated,

I can only offer a guess, but even if one
allows for some social immaturity on his part, it does seem that
you and he have differing views of your relationship, and to him
it's pretty casual. And maybe he's indicating a loss of interest.
So take a step back. Don't call him. Take a break. Let him figure
out how he feels and you go on with your life. You don't need him
to take you to Europe. Take some vacation time, if you can, and
find a cheap ticket and head off to Europe on your own steam, and
don't be shy about letting people at work know about it.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am 36, have a good job and a master's degree, am nice looking,
financially stable, bathe every day and can't get any dates. Women
tell me I'm wonderful, but they turn me down when I ask. I do not
understand this situation I am in.

Nice Guy

Dear Nice,

Let's just assume that you've been working too hard at
that good job and you've become a dull boy. You've taken on
nerdish qualities without being aware of it. Buy yourself some
classy clothes and get your hair cut, not at Bob the Barber with
the colored pole but at the glossy place where slim-hipped
stylists in black turtlenecks charge you $100.

Your sexual
anxiety may put women off, too. Women tend not to be attracted to
needy men who women can sense will need a lot of bucking up and
remedial education. So learn to be more diffident. Don't look for
a Date. Hang out with women you like, and invite them to group
things, parties, big group dinners, that don't imply coupleship.
Learn to allow a woman to take the lead in a conversation, and in
a friendship, and you be Mr. Cool.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am in a quandary about a dear friend of mine. Less than two
years ago she married a man whom I thought irresponsible and not
nearly good enough for her. Now she's on the verge of filing for
divorce. I have sat through so many weddings that I feel never
should have taken place and then watched as my friends eventually
regretted their decision. I wonder if I should have said
something at the time. It feels dishonest now that I didn't.
My quandary is that I feel so sorry for her and want to be
supportive and respectful without seeming happy that she's
finally getting out from this terrible situation. I just
want to be there for her now that she needs my support and I'm
wondering how to do just that. Any advice?


Dear Saddened,

I don't know of anyone who cautioned a friend
against a romance who didn't pay a big price for it, frankly.
When people get into the millrace of a big, improbable love, they
don't look for cautionary advice, they look for endorsement.
Maybe there's some Machiavellian way to keep our friends away
from that cliff, but it's problematic, since the friends and
their lovers tend to make themselves scarce. You don't see hide
nor hair of them for months and then you get the wedding
invitation. As for your divorcing friend, you simply resume the
friendship and you do not bring up the topic of the marriage and
when she talks about her husband, you listen and you don't
comment. She's not looking for historical analysis, just your
company, your affection and a little hopeful good humor.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I was engaged to a guy after dating him for a couple of years.
Unfortunately, the engagement only lasted six months and we broke
up. This was almost three years ago. But I'm still in love with
him. I've been with my current boyfriend for almost a year, a
great person, but I'm not in love with him. I am incapable of
falling in love with anyone else, and I'm not sure I want to. I'm
going to be moving out of state in a couple of months and I'd
like to see him before I go. Would I look like a total fool if I
called him and asked if we could have coffee or something before
I leave?

Still in Love

Dear Still,

An invitation to coffee is never a bad thing in my
book. It's a civil thing to do. If more people invited more
people to have coffee, this would be a better world. We would sit
and sip and realize that, despite our stubborn natures and
tumultuous desires and all that is perverse in our makeup, we
are all eminently likable and basically decent. But that's all
a cup of coffee is going to teach you. That he's a nice guy,
your old flame, and that you have good taste in people. Three
years is a little long to carry on this one-sided romance. Why
live a tragic opera? I recommend comedy. Much better lines, more
fun and the sex is better, too.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am concerned about my oldest son, 21, who has flunked his way
to almost finishing sophomore year at a large Midwestern state
university. I love this earnest, wonderful, sweet young man who
obviously isn't interested in academics, but is smart, not
afflicted with ADHD, has thankfully passed beyond a period of
high-school interest in pot, lives rent-free in an apartment
owned by his granddad, works part time at a gas station, goes to
wildly unusable classes (Latin and human sexuality), has no money.

I wonder: Do I shell out tuition and give him something for
living expenses and continue the free ride? Or insist he come out
to California where we live and take a two-year course in
something tangible like Web page design? Or cut him loose and
just hope he doesn't get sucked down into the quagmire of his
situation? We are well-off and can help him for a few more years,
but I really don't know when to politely bow out of active

Loving Mother

Dear L.M.,

If the sweet boy is making no progress in school (and
it would appear he isn't) then give him another semester, another
year at the most, but that has to be the end of it, and he must
decide about Work, what sort he wants to do and what training he
needs. Nobody of sound mind and body who is 21 years old should
be living rent-free; it goes against nature and is damaging to
his dignity. If the boy doesn't have money to pay rent, then he
has services to offer his granddad.

It's not good to shield the
child from the fundamental realities: stoves burn, knives cut,
apartments cost. Your idea about offering him a two-year-course
in Web page design is sensible enough -- there's a big growing
industry out there and you can get real jobs with no college
degree required -- but the success of the plan depends on your
son's willingness to stop coasting and get traction. It can be
hard on a kid to have well-off parents willing to bankroll a few
years of dreaminess.

On the other hand, some kids take longer to
bake. Whatever you do, try to do it without raising your voice.
No stalking back and forth and gesturing to the heavens. You help
him firmly over this last high ridge of childhood, and he'll
glimpse the promised land of Adult Life where you can do dumb
things, take your chances and never have to ask Mom for money,
and he'll be glad to go there.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm a 41-year-old guy, divorced for 10 years, enjoying dating,
but I don't know how to break up. I dread hurting anyone's
feelings, whether it's been one date or one year: Saying "I don't
want to see you anymore" is the hardest thing in the world. So I put it off way too long, or resort to subterfuge, which
ends up being more hurtful. Instructions, please.


Dear Gutless,

Don't prolong a breakup. Don't pretend to discuss
matters when you've already made up your mind. Breaking up isn't
an indictment, it doesn't require long hearings and the
presentation of evidence, not the simple sort of breakup you're
talking about. Usually, one person initiates the breakup on
behalf of both partners, and you don't need to say, "Fie on you,
O hairy-legged troll, shadow my door no more!" It's more
like, "You're a wonderful person but we're not right for each
other, and why go deeper and deeper into these woods?" And then
break, cleanly and firmly. One breaks up with another out of
respect for them and a refusal to inflict pain, not out of anger
or contempt. One breaks up because one is brave and doesn't fear
loneliness so much as one fears cruelty, especially one's own.

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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