Hey, big spender

My husband's monthly marijuana bills reach $500, and he refuses to save. What am I going to do about this financial disaster I married?

By Garrison Keillor
Published April 11, 2000 4:00PM (EDT)

Last week I told Saddened that people who caution their friends
against a romance usually pay a price for doing so, and several
readers wrote in to say that someone had cautioned them after
they'd become engaged and that they had ended the engagement and
were eternally grateful for the help. So there. Mr. Blue is
always happy if his dark assessment of human nature turns out to
be wrong.

Numerous blithe souls were in high dudgeon over my advice to the
mother of the sweet 22-year-old boy living a highly subsidized
life and spinning his wheels in college. The blithe souls felt I
was harsh to suggest that the mother set some stricter limits and
coax the boy to take the leap into adult life. I look back and
don't find the advice harsh at all, but of course applying it can
be difficult. It's no big deal to discipline a 2-year-old and
require her to take our hand when we cross a street, but by the
time a child is 22 and taller than you, it is awkward. The
problem may be exacerbated by affluence: Most of us have
witnessed that amiable stupidity of the children of the rich, a
dim schmoozy aimless quality that we wouldn't wish on our kids.
No need to be preachy about it and I don't hold myself up as any
great shining example, but damn, it's great when your kids really
take hold of their lives and you can be friends with them.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm 29 and love my husband, but he is a disaster financially. He
makes more than I do. He's a spender; I'm a saver. He spends a
large amount of money each month on marijuana, he wants to have
vacations in Tahiti, et cetera, and he refuses to save up for
them. I hate this. It's been going on for a year and a half, and
most of our fights are about money. He refuses to see a
counselor with me, believing "we should work through our
problems on our own," and then he plays the role of my
"therapist," interpreting my issues as expressions of my
"selfishness" and "narrow-mindedness."

I don't see what's
selfish or narrow-minded about asking him to not buy Tomb Raider
4 if he can't afford it and to quit spending about $500 a month on
reefer, and at least match what I save in our shared account
every month. He has gotten to where he inflicts long,
relationship-analyzing conversations on our friends, and that's
not fair to them. I'm almost to the point of starting to build up
a divorce fund if he refuses to go to counseling again.
Financially, I'm better off without him, and emotionally I feel
insecure and alone in our relationship. I need him to be
realistic about money if he's my partner. Please help.


Dear Heartbroken,

Arguments about money are the meanest kind, and
so destructive and awful. Separate your finances and try to save
the marriage, is my suggestion. Don't screw around talking about
money if you're constantly being misinterpreted and put down.
Split the household expenses down the middle and put your savings
into an individual account -- do what you need to do in order
to stop talking about money. Don't discuss it, don't plead, don't
argue, just take the subject off the table as soon as possible.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm a single, 47-year-old mother dating a man who is absolutely
marvelous in so many ways. We share similar wits and are
compatible in just about every area, but my children (12, 15 and
18) despise him, and the feeling, I'm afraid, is mutual and
growing. I've tried keeping these two parts of my life separate
but with little luck, and I'm growing tired of the animosity. Any


Dear Mom,

You can't dump these kids in favor of a guy. God would
not be in favor of this at all, and so you must dump the guy. I
say that a man who hasn't the wit to get on the good side of your
kids isn't worth your while. And a man so witless as to show his
animosity to your kids is asking to be given the gate. Throw him
to the dogs, air out the house and try again.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am 27 and have a good job in New York. My parents are
well-off financially, and still pay half of my exorbitant rent.
They have always expected me to go to graduate school, and now
I've been accepted into the best speech pathology program in the
country, but I really do not want to go back to being completely
dependent on my very controlling and unpleasant (albeit generous)
father. I want to be free, but I never seem to feel that way as
long as Daddy bankrolls my life. I do not feel passionate about
speech pathology, and I really want to cut the cord and become a
real adult and figure out what I want. Am I being stupid? Am I
foolish not to take my father up on his offer?

Daddy's Girl

Dear Daddy's Girl,

Write your daddy a letter and thank him for
his generosity to you and tell him you've decided against a
career in speech pathology. Tell him this in a definite way that
does not invite further discussion. And then start looking into
job possibilities in a smaller city where the rent is less
exorbitant. You owe it to yourself and to Dad to get off on your
own and surely you'll find him less controlling and unpleasant
when you do.

Dear Mr. Blue,

Our 25-year-old daughter has informed my wife and me that she
thinks she is inclined to be a lesbian. In fact, she has been
involved with a woman twice her age who we think is probably a
predator. We really aren't sure how to process all this in our
heads, and we are struggling to find a way to respond
appropriately to our daughter's struggles. We have a very good
relationship with her, but it still feels like a death in the
family. How do we help her and ourselves?

Concerned Parents

Dear Concerned,

It's an honor to have your daughter's trust and
no doubt you are worthy of it and you'll grow even closer to her
than before. It's the truth that parents tend to be closer to the
kids who are struggling than to the kids who sail through life
downwind. This kid needs you to help her keep her bearings. It
isn't a death in the family, and don't talk like that. A death
involves sitting around in a puke-green waiting room and eating
food out of vending machines and enduring other people's sympathy
and feeling a bleakness of spirit that goes on and on and on.
With a lesbian, you may have to put up with a lot of women's
soccer posters and power tools and a penchant for training shoes
and hiking shorts and chopped hair, but it's not anything like
death. It's not even like a sprained ankle.

Dear Mr. Blue,

My boyfriend and I are very happy together after about a year, and
about three months ago we discussed marriage very
briefly and decided to "see where things go." We're both around
30. I don't want to be pushy, but how long should I wait before
bringing up the topic again? I want to marry this man and spend
the rest of my life with him. He, on the other hand, likes the
freedom of being single (though he seemed interested in the
possibility of marriage), and I think he is scared of having
children and sacrificing his freedom. I'd like kids, but if we
didn't, that's OK too. I think we need to decide at some point
whether to get married or go our separate ways. I'm very
happy in this relationship, but these thoughts keep lingering in
the back (and sometimes more in the front) of my mind.

Happy, but Confused

Dear Happy B.C.,

Back in the old days when Mr. Blue was young,
young people leaped into marriage, propelled by nuclear hormones.
You married so you could have sex, simple as that. And once you
married, you sought to make the best of the situation, and in a
great many cases, this turned out rather well, considering.
Nowadays, young people get to enjoy sex first and then they have
endless discussions about marriage and torture themselves over
whether it's really really really the right thing or whether
there's a Mr. Better out there somewhere. Endless shopping, where
once we had the explosive impulse purchase. My advice is, See
where it goes. You're happy together and that's good and let some
more time pass and see what clues you pick up about the
relationship. Marriage is not some airless theoretical question:
Either you feel the powerful mutual urge to marry or you go along
as sexual partners. I don't recommend living with someone who
isn't committed to you, though. You get the drawbacks of marriage
and miss the advantages of singletude.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I ran wild and free in my teens and 20s before reluctantly
settling down at 27 with a guy I wasn't in love with, but he was
cute, safe and mad about me. And then when I was 40, Mr. Ka-pow
came along, and I shed the old relationship and embraced, for the
first time in my life, full-scale romance, mind-blowing sex and a
dynamic kinship like no other. After nearly two years, he
abruptly dumped me for someone else, saying we were "too right,
too alike" and that he wanted more "tension." I was devastated
and confused. Four months later I'm still frozen. Friends keep
advising me to just pick someone up and get it over with and I'll
gain back some of my old confidence. What do you think? Should I
wait it out until I feel it's right or just go for it? Life IS
too short, right?


Dear Wavery,

Why go for it? You've already gone for it and it
broke your heart. Maybe you should take this low spell as a
chance to reflect on matters. Your friends' suggestion seems
vaguely insulting, as if you're an old whore at heart and only
need a new trick to make you happy. Life gives us some
opportunities to get to know who we are and maybe this is yours.
No doubt you're attractive and fun to be with and could pick
someone up in 10 minutes, but why not give it a break, put your
old confidence aside and take some long solitary walks across
the moors?

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm a 27-year-old driving himself to distraction with
indecisive twitterpation. Recently I met a wonderful woman, who
is funny, intelligent, beautiful, a computer geek, who seems to
enjoy my company and flirts with me and we've spent a few
afternoons together just hanging out, and I find her quite
attractive and would like to broach the topic of becoming
something more than friends. But I am utterly confounded on how
to do that without sounding presumptuous and ruining the
friendship we have. Our mutual friends all think that she's
interested and just waiting for me to broach the topic. What
should I do, Mr. Blue?

Twitterpated Twink

Dear T.T.,

You find a moment when the two of you are alone and
feel close and there is a sweet lull in the conversation, and you
say, "I think I may be falling in love with you." It's sweet, not
too stupid, not over the top, and it gives her room to murmur
something vaguely welcoming, or shrink back in disgust and say,
"You try to touch me, you're in big trouble, buster." And if she
says that, then you feign surprise and pretend you were joking.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm 24, he's 32. I'm English, he's Chilean, we live and work in
Beijing. We've been living together for a year and I love him so
much it hurts. He's beautiful like sculpture and he gives me a
feeling close to joy. He is affectionate, but I see panic in his
eyes if I talk about "us" in the future tense. We will both leave
China in less than a year. He refuses to make any definite plans.
He has an ex-sweetheart and three kids in Chile and he says he
cannot make any definite commitment with me until he has returned
to Chile, and seen his children (one of which
he has never seen) and "sorted himself out." He says love takes
time and he needs my patience. In the meantime I ache with love
for this man. Do I keep waiting? Am I being unreasonable? Or am I
just gonna lose him in the long run anyway?


Dear L.,

You're in a beautiful romance and it's temporary, like
life itself, and don't waste any of the joyful present worrying
about the uncertain future. I know this sounds like a second-rate
fortune cookie, but it's true. Maybe the romance will have a
second act, and maybe not, but that is utterly out of your hands,
dear, and it's far too complicated to solve right now, so don't
do a thing about the future except to make the plans that are
sensible for you and let him do what he must do. He is being
honest with you, and be grateful for that. And enjoy the romance
to the fullest and when the lights come up and it's time to go
back to England, kiss him, turn and walk toward the door and
don't look back.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am a 26-year-old guy in a relationship for three years with a
man a few years older. I hate my job and want to realize my dream
of taking a trip around the world, spending a year, staying in
cheap hotels, eating peculiar food, getting lost in ancient
cities and being bitten by unusual bugs. I don't mind quitting my
job and I can save up the money; the problem is my boyfriend. He
is reluctant to take a year out of his life when he should be
building his career -- sometimes he wants to come with me, and
then he doesn't -- and meanwhile, my plans are on hold, waiting
for him to make up his mind. I am afraid that if I go without him, it will be the end of our
relationship, but I am equally afraid that if I don't
go at all, I will regret it for the rest of my life. What can I


Dear Traveler,

You're at the absolute perfect point in your life
to do this and you should. A person needs to give himself some
large experiences. If someday you find yourself stuck in a bad
job again, at least you can summon up memories of your Atlantic
passage on the freighter, your bus trip across Turkey, your month
in India, the little hotel in Alice Springs, the week in Sydney
and so forth. And when you do it at the age of 26, it's
indelible. Don't let the relationship hold you back. Plan the
trip, set a date, give your boyfriend plenty of notice so he can
come along if he wishes. And then go. With him or without him.
All of us old people who spent our 20s building our careers
wish you Godspeed.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I was a poor starving writer who, in a moment of desperation,
took a job with a start-up Internet company. Now, just a few
years later, I'm richer than my wildest dreams. Poor me, right?
Most of my friends are of the starving artist variety, and when
we dine out, I'd like to pick up the check, remembering all
too well what it was like to live under the yoke of money
worries. Is there a graceful way for me to pay the tab without
acting like Mr. Big Shot?

Lucky One

Dear Mr. Lucky One,

You can pick up any check you like and
probably people will resent it and why not? If they're really
your friends, then go to the joints where they dine out and where
the check is small and it doesn't matter who pays, and skip the
ritzy cafes where the nouveau riche feast on the $18 grilled
cheese sandwich and the $32 chili. You can take them to a fancy
place and pick up the tab if a Big Occasion warrants it -- say,
for your pre-wedding dinner, for the christening of your child,
for the publication of your first book ("Call Me Mr. Big Shot") or
for the night before you are hanged. But check the NASDAQ first.
Those wild dreams may not have quite come true yet.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am friends with a wild, fun woman with whom I
work, and we have both recently found ourselves single. So she and
I are going out regularly, drinking scotch, meeting various men
and sometimes "staking claims" on certain men that each of us
fancies in particular. I have found myself thinking a lot about
one man that she has chosen for herself. He and I flirted a lot
when we were all hanging out, and I know that she isn't terribly
serious about him, but I somehow feel that to pursue anything
would be to betray the girl code. What do you think?


Dear Hesitant,

Your letter is terribly informative and confirms
what we guys have always imagined, that romance is no accident,
that women get together and conduct a draft and divvy up the
available talent and the next day a guy looks up and a woman is
walking across the room and smiling at him. This is why so many
guys don't bother to buy flowers or host candlelit dinners or
declare their love; they know it's all been prearranged, that a
single guy is simply waiting for consignment. As for your
question, my dear, you should take your guilty hesitance to mean
that it's wrong to pursue him. Your conscience is talking to you,
and Mr. Blue doesn't care to get between you and your conscience.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm 26 and living in Manhattan, which I love -- love my work as a
freelance editor and writer, love my friends, love the city
-- and by now I can't imagine living anywhere else. But I haven't
had a serious relationship since I moved here five years ago. I'm
not horribly depressed about it right this instant, but it makes
me wonder what is it about New York that does this to us? All of
my non-New York friends (ALL of them) are in love and
contemplating marriage. Have I become too self-absorbed and
career-involved? Or am I just too contented? I wouldn't mind
being an old lady in New York and going to noon concerts at
Lincoln Center. But I'd rather go to those concerts with my old
husband. What are your thoughts on the conjunction of New York
and romance?

Planning Ahead

Dear Planning,

You read Mr. Blue weekly and you still want to
have a serious relationship?? Dear girl, enjoy the pleasures of
singleness for a while. Walk around the corner to the deli on
Saturday morning and get your bagel and coffee and sit and read
the paper and plan your day. Go to Lincoln Square cinema for the
early matinee of that Bengali love epic you hanker to see and
roller-blade through Central Park and shop at Bergdorf's and look
at the pictures at MOMA and be grateful for the freedom of
movement, the chance to enjoy gallivanting around town without
having to explain to some tall literal-minded person exactly why
you're doing what you're doing. New York is a city that rewards
impulse. You head out on foot, following your nose, and you see
odd people leading theatrical lives in public and quirky
bookstores to browse in and on a sunny day when you're young and
unencumbered, it's almost too good to be true. You don't sound
self-absorbed to me. You sound like you're on a roll.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm 40 and have been with the same guy for 7 years. I love him
deeply and he wants to marry me, but I've been avoiding this
because I can't reconcile to being poor. I get up early, work
hard at my office job, pay my taxes, keep my car insurance
current and feed my little IRA. He is an actor in a
Shakespearean rep company: poor, lucky to be working at all,
nocturnal, no insurance or driver's license (though he does
drive), smokes dope, is cranky and his social skills are ragged.
All of my friends and acquaintances are health-conscious
upper-middle-class suburban people and are uncomfortable around
him, and we are never invited anywhere as a couple. His friends
are much kinder to us. But it's hard on my brain to play tennis
with my friends one day and sit in our tiny apartment with his
friends that night.

I can't picture us married, but I can't imagine being with
anyone else, either. He's a financial disaster but a great person
--- smart and funny, kind, thoughtful, and we still have fun,
go on dates, enjoy the same things and love to talk. But the
divided life scares me: the soccer mom world of my friends on one
side and the Bohemian Theatricals on the other. What to do?

Stage Door Jane

Dear Jane,

What to do? You love him and he's good company so you
stick with him, I guess. But you're right to dread poverty. The
bohemian life is a hard life. You can be snide about suburban
soccer moms all you like and it doesn't change the fact that a
life of bohemian poverty starts to get very very thin in a
person's 40s. And in your 50s it really starts to stink.
You see old impoverished actors and unpublished writers and
failed rock 'n' rollers hit 50 and face the facts and it isn't one
bit pretty. The facts are: They loved the way of life and the
righteous feeling and professionally they weren't that good. Just
because you stay up late and smoke dope and are cranky and don't
have insurance doesn't mean you're a great actor. And so you face
a midlife crisis of large proportions. Either you find a
dignified way to change your life or you become one of those
legendary wrecks whom people admire from afar and who are sheer
hell to be around. I know artists, dear friends of mine, who
wearied of the boredom and drudgery and hard work of being poor
and who went off to 9-to-5 jobs and felt rejuvenated by them and
the sense of order and sociability that they give. And I know
artists who sank deeper and deeper into despair. It's a hard life
and there's not much you can do to lighten it. But don't let
yourself slip into the role of patron and banker and house mother
and apologist: He's grown-up and you can look him in the eye and
negotiate terms. And if the bugger can't learn to be charming to
your friends, this is a problem.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I recently stopped denying to myself my romantic interest in a
dear friend of mine and told her about it. She said she was not
at the same point I was but that she did not rule out the
possibility that her feelings could change. What on earth does
that mean and how should I proceed?

Dazed & Confused

Dear D&C,

She was dazed and confused by your big swoop at her and she
fended you off while winking at you. The ball is now in her
court. You can only play your side of the net, she has to play
hers. You can't manage a romance; you can only hurl a few
rosebuds her way and, of course, write her the occasional sonnet,
and now and then you could stand under her window with your mandolin
and sing her some Renaissance air or other. And if she doesn't
return the ball, then look around for someone who can.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am a successful, attractive, single 30-year-old woman with lots
of friends and interests, but I find myself uninterested in
dating men. I'm not a lesbian, I like men and have lots of male
friends who I like to spend time with, but I just can't work up
any passion or physical attraction for them. Five years ago, I
left my live-in boyfriend, and since then, I have not been able
to concentrate on a man long enough to have a meaningful
relationship. I spent my late 20s traveling the world,
working abroad, having brief affairs, and now I'm trying to
settle down and I would like to learn how to love a man
long-term. I don't have an exceptionally traumatic past, so I
can't figure out why I'm so reluctant to get serious with a man.
I date them a couple of times and get as far as a kiss and then
lose interest, forget to call and break things off. I don't want
to end up alone, having missed out on one of the
great joys in life. What can I do to open my heart a little more?

Distracted Dame

Dear Distracted,

Sorry, but I don't see the problem. You were
busy in your 20s and now you're trying to settle down. So
settle. But a person doesn't open her heart as an act of will,
out of principle; she opens it to a specific someone, and you
haven't found the someone yet. You're 30. To me, a guy in the
gathering shadows of the twilight of life, you seem to have time
on your side. Enjoy yourself.

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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