Just friends

After the romance fizzled, we became closer than ever, but I miss the sex and he doesn't seem to. Is there any hope for generating sparks betweeen us?


Garrison Keillor
May 2, 2000 8:00PM (UTC)

Dear Mr. Blue,

I've just turned 50, much to my own surprise. I lived for 20 years in a
loving relationship with a man who was bisexual. We were the best
of friends, but the sex evaporated when I was in my mid-30s, and odd though it may seem, apart from a few brief flings I've been celibate ever since. Now I'm involved with another man whom I truly love, and I desperately need your advice.

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A year and a half ago, he answered a personals ad I placed, and at first there was a great romantic intensity: We fell into bed on the second date. Then we didn't see each other for six months, then we started seeing each other but not romantically. Now we're very good friends and I've joined him in his business as a partner. We spend most of our time together: We work together, we eat out, we ski together, we share our finances, our thoughts and feelings, we laugh together and we enjoy each other's company thoroughly. People who come into our shop always assume that we're a long-established couple.

I love this man and I would like to have a sexual relationship with him. It doesn't seem important to him to take that step again. I don't know what moves I should make. From a male perspective, what's going on here? He is 52, and I don't see any evidence of him being interested in anyone other than me. I'm
virtually certain that he hasn't slept with anyone since the time we slept together, and I certainly haven't either. It seems to be something he doesn't miss, while I definitely feel the lack. I don't want this to be the way I live the rest of my life. But is this something that, given my age, I should learn to live with? I don't want to give up the warmth and affection I do have, but is there any hope for generating some sparks?

Too Old to Be This Dumb, Too Young to Be This Old

Dear T.O.,

From my male perspective, this guy has done pretty well for himself: He answered a personals ad and found a great friend and business partner and pal. One could do a lot worse. The romance sparked and fizzled and he has chosen not to revisit it but he has hooked up with you in every other respect. Perhaps he is thinking of all the couples who have sex and who aren't good friends at all. Perhaps it wasn't a deliberated decision so much as a sense of wrongness about having sex with you. This doesn't have anything to do with your age or his. (Though there could, of course, be physical and chemical causes of a loss of sex drive, but this is not your concern at this point.) If you want to pursue this man, go ahead, but do it gently. Tell him you love him. Be physically affectionate, playfully so, and after you eat out, if the situation seems right, kiss him. You can read a lot in the response to a kiss, and if you're not getting a clear reading, try a long lingering kiss, and run your hands down him as if you were frisking him for weapons. (Why be subtle? You've already been to bed with him, for heaven's sake.) You'll know how he feels about this, believe me. He will endure it with good humor or he will shrink from you or he will respond. He may be hesitant, if he's been celibate for a while, but he'll respond if he's interested. If he's not interested, drop it.

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Dear Mr. Blue,

All my friends and co-workers tell me I'm the "funniest person [they've]
ever met." I'm not a stand-up guy, I don't tell jokes (I don't like them), but
I think I manage to work humor into conversations quite well. But this is
more or less something that just happens, mostly because I'm stimulated by
the pleasure of good conversation when I'm around my friends, and so when
I'm happy, I'm funny. But when I sit down to write, I become a Serious Guy, and my ability to be funny, or whatever it is I am when I'm with my friends, just
evaporates. And my writing is mind-numbingly tedious to read. What can I do to write as if I'm in the midst of an interesting conversation with friends, with all the laughter and lights and uncertainty? There's lots of spontaneity in
conversation, little of it when I sit down to write. What to do?

Serious Comic

Dear Serious Comic,

If this is you, Dave Barry, you big weasel, get lost. Quit yanking my chain, buddy boy -- I've got solid evidence on your drug habits and I'll spill my guts to a U.S. prosecutor if you don't quit writing me these dorky letters. On the other hand, if this is a letter from someone other than Dave who really is trying to write funny stuff, my heart goes out to you. I am in the same situation [you] are in. I too have regaled [my] friends and co-workers with witty repartee that reduced them to puddles of snot, and yet, sitting at this very laptop computer, I often become tedious, such as right now, for example. Do you want to know the problem? Your friends who think [you're] the "funniest person [they've] ever met" are drunk out of their gourds, but you (when you sit down to write) are not drunk. And neither is the reader. This is the big reason most humorists fail. Drunks don't read books. What to do? Make more friends and tell them jokes. The funniest joke I know is the one about the two penguins standing on the iceberg. One says, "You look like you're wearing a tuxedo," and the other says, "What makes you think I'm not?" This joke gets funnier the more often you tell it. Maybe you could try writing about penguins, I don't know.

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Dear Mr. Blue,

I am 35 and have been with my wife (dating, living together, then married) since college. We've had our struggles, but we have two beautiful children and everything seemed fine until the past year when I got laid off and went through a business failure and suffered various financial problems. It's been depressing. My wife, however, is doing very well.

I have suddenly become worried about our marriage, based on her increasing communication with an old friend and mentor, one of her college professors, with whom she had a very intense relationship. She tells me it was never sexual, though they exchanged poetry and long letters and have stayed in touch over the years, and when he's in town, she tells me when she is going to meet him for drinks and dinner. I have no interest in denying her this friendship. He is very sensitive and spiritual and I admit he probably gives her things I cannot. Recently, I saw an e-mail from him to her where he says, "I miss you too," and comments on how stressful and hectic life is. This immediately set me off and brought back a flood of bad memories from a time before we were living together when my wife cheated on me. I found out about it from reading her diary and we had a huge fight and didn't see each other for about a month. Then we got back together. She said that this experience allowed her to realize her true love for me. But over 10 years later, this incident continues to hurt me. I should be over it and I'm not.

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This is the issue: I love my wife but am not sure how to give her what she needs. I think I treat her very well and that we have a fairly intense relationship. I am a very involved father, helpful around the house, etc. Yet I need to figure out how to make my wife have those romantic feelings with me that she has with her old mentor.

In Need

Dear In Need,

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Your wife is not having an affair with her old professor, so don't imagine she is. She is merely reliving her youth and letting the old windbag flatter her and bestow his gaseous profundities on her over wine and shrimp linguini. "Very sensitive and spiritual," my foot. You have a generous imagination: You've built him up to be the Dalai Lama and he's just Bill Moyers with hair in his ears. Never mind him. Don't get all frothed up over his e-mails. Don't get in earnest discussions with your wife over this. To be paranoid about this old codger is the very opposite of romance and makes you look terrible. I don't know what happened 10 years ago, but it was before you and she were living together and so it's irrelevant; the statute of limitations is in effect. You may not be over it, but don't talk to her about it -- it's very very old news. Focus instead on your daily life and your family. Try to make some sweet and beautiful moments. If this sounds trivial, I don't care, it's the truth. The terrible thing people do in a crisis is to clench up inside and stop living. You already have a romance with your wife; you're living it every day; the children are evidence of it. Live your life here and now. Plant some flowers, talk with your children, tell jokes, put Bach in the CD player, fix big salads and make yogurt dressing, read poetry, take long walks -- do all the simple graceful things people do to mightily improve a day. These things have power over ghosts. They can't solve your financial problems but they can help dispel your fears and open up your mind to the beautiful possibilities of the future. Enjoy the summer.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm 28. After teaching high school for five years, I went back to graduate school this year. It's a good program and it's what I really want, but I find myself incapable of enjoying it due to my lack of confidence. I have always been shy, but it has never been so much a problem as now. I can barely bring myself to talk to my professors, I put off doing necessary things because I feel unable to deal with people, etc. I can rarely even bring myself read the comments on my papers. Speaking in class terrifies me. I take the small mistakes I make too seriously and beat myself up about them endlessly. Although I've written one final paper this semester, doing the others seems impossible. Writing has become excessively difficult. I am almost incapacitated by guilt and pressure to do the things I have been avoiding. Strangely, all my grades so far have been excellent. I really do like school and especially the writing. I want to succeed,
but I seem to be preparing the opposite result.

I wonder if my lack of confidence stems from the overdue end of a three-year
relationship almost a year ago. I should have stopped it much sooner. I can't believe I subjected myself to so much bad treatment and misery and now I
question my intelligence and judgment in general.

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I've never had these problems before. How can I get my voice back, Mr. Blue?

Too Shy

Dear Too,

Sorry you're suffering such a rough patch right now. Your loss of confidence probably has less to do with the bad romance than with the five-year hiatus from college. That's a long time to be away from the circus, kid. Writing papers at a graduate level is serious work, and it takes time to get back in the groove mentally. But your skills are still intact, and your basic smarts and your drive to succeed, as shown by the fact that your grades are excellent. Your letter is a pretty good example of beating up on yourself. (Some people do this all their lives and call it "perfectionism".) One small suggestion. Whether you're religious or not, try observing the sabbath, the day of rest. Choose any day, but stick to it for a year and be strict: no schoolwork whatsoever. Don't even think about it. No guilt on the sabbath either, because you are obeying a higher edict than grad school. It's a day of rest in every way, the day that we owe to our creator and to ourselves, to lift our hearts from the grind and behold the beauty of the world and fulfill our souls. Beat up on yourself for six days, but on the seventh thou shalt not beat. It's a small thing and difficult, and if you can manage it, it can help your situation.

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Dear Mr. Blue,

I am involved with a wonderful man, the love of my life. The problem is, he's asked me to marry him, and though I love him, I am fraught with angst in that he has two small children (aged 6 and 9) from a previous marriage. I am 40 and have one son who is 18 and off to college this fall. For years, I had envisioned myself being child-free at this point in my life and able to concentrate on the things I put aside for all these years. Am I being selfish?

In Distress

Dear In Distress,

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If he is indeed the love of your life, then you are to some extent bound up with small children, not as a mother but as a sort of aunt-with-portfolio. Contemplate aunthood. You can be an Aunt or you can be an Ant: An Aunt is more forbidding and foreboding, with her hair up in a bun and a pince-nez and a starched jumper, and the Ant is the fun one who plays "Chopsticks" with you and teaches you hearts and solitaire and tells you mildly ribald jokes. Your choice. Your original vision has been upgraded. Be selfish and go ahead and concentrate on those things you put aside, and simply allow for the fact that two little kids may occasionally interrupt you. You're smart, you can handle it. You don't casually chuck an L.O.L. over the side.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I've been dating the same girl for almost six years now. We were nearly married two years ago, but she called it all off (with no warning) a couple of weeks before the ceremony. We were apart for half a year. When she contacted me again, I still felt horribly attracted to her and we started dating again, more casual and cautious this time around, but still exclusively. A few weeks ago she told me she wanted to move away; she was unable to give any real reason -- just that she felt she had to.

I just turned 30, and my friends are getting married and having kids. I'm starting to feel like time's running out for me. This woman is a gem in many ways, and I think we could be happy together if she wasn't galloping off to the Midwest. I'm at a loss as to what to do. She's unable to say why she's going, how long she'll be there or what she plans to do there. She says she'll be gone at least a year. Should I try to sustain a long-distance relationship with this woman? Or should I break it off cleanly now and take my chances in the dating pool again?

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Undecided

Dear Undecided,

The affair with Miss Ruby Sapphire is over. She broke off the engagement and now she's going away on a mysterious mission to the Midwest -- maybe she's met a dairy farmer on the Internet, maybe she's simply fond of flat land and tall corn
-- but the message seems clear enough: It's goodbye. She's breaking it off, not you. Just make sure you don't try to glue it back together. Put on your snazziest trunks and do a cannonball into the dating pool.

Dear Mr. Blue,

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I am 18 and in love with a guy of 20. We fell in love two years ago. We have dated off and on since then, but he has very strong religious beliefs and he goes to a very strict Baptist college. He tells me we can't be together because of his faith, but when we're together we just fall in love all over. Then, when he goes back to school, he writes me these letters saying, "I'm sorry, we need to be just
friends, I can't be with you like that." I know he still cares for me a lot, and he's all I think about. What should I do? What do you think is up with him?

Lost in Love

Dear Lost,

He's going through the throes of erotic longing, which are only heightened by religious prohibition, and the effect of all those Bible classes and gospel meetings evaporates pretty quickly when he gets around you, Delilah. I don't know what you should do. If you want him, stick around and keep writing to him and steaming up windows with him and eventually you will land this fish. But then, in honor of his having put up such a good fight, you should remove the hook and
toss him back. You don't share his religious beliefs, and this doesn't bode well for the long run.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm tall, horsy, 38, never married, a tomboy who can fix almost anything, refinish furniture, pick stocks and even once drove a school bus. Now I'm seeing a new dream guy who has everything to offer, but doesn't. I'm seething inside, and getting hurt more than I'd like to. I think he has an innate hostility toward some abstract notion of feminists, and thinks that if women want equality, they have to be equal, whereas if they want chivalrous intervention, they have to pick up the dry cleaning and act wifely. What do you think? And how can I learn how to charm him?

Overcapable

Dear Overcapable,

Are we talking about sex here? Is this what he's not offering? We're not talking about dry cleaning, I hope. And what sort of chivalrous intervention are you seeking? This is very mysterious. First of all, seething is not good in romance, so stop seething and stop getting hurt, and if you can't, then find someone else, perhaps one who offers 90 percent or so. It may help to stop seeing him as a dream guy and see him instead as a friendly buckaroo or gentleman caller or
bowling partner or handsome hoofer. You know what I mean? You're not an abstraction of a feminist and he isn't a dream. As for charming him, it simply comes down to showing him that, in addition to refinishing and day-trading and small appliance repair, you're very attractive up close, at six inches, say, and even more attractive at two and one and zero. You can be tall and horsy and a tomboy and a seething feminist, but these aspects fade when you go into a
close-up. There is a whole ballet of affection, using the hands, the lips, the voice, that takes place between two people in close proximity, and the expressiveness of this dance makes almost everything else fade away.


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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