Can you make yourself like someone?

I love and care for my adopted child, but I don't always like him. Is this normal?


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Garrison Keillor
May 16, 2000 4:00pm (UTC)

Mr. Blue is glad to hear from any and all of you -- no problem too small for the giant brain
of the advice columnist -- but of late there have been numerous letters at the end of which
the letter writer says, "Please do not publish my letter. I'd appreciate it if you could respond
to this privately." Mr. Blue is not a therapist; his business is writing a column. Were I to
dash off letters of advice to individuals, I would cross a line I do not wish to cross. Every
word I utter is for the light of day and for the good reader to concur with or scoff at or rise
up in high dudgeon and fire off an e-mail that scorches my trousers. This is important
because I have no credentials whatsoever, no secret knowledge, no expertise -- I only have
my own experience and observations and a certain degree of Minnesota common sense.
Readers know this, so when you write in for advice, you know what you're getting. I bother
to explain this only because some truly heart-wrenching letters have come in, that I would
wish to respond to and cannot because the writers asked not to be published. Mr. Blue is a
whiz at disguising details to protect the innocent and does it all the time. But I simply cannot
be drawn into the therapy business, no matter how sad the matter at hand.

Dear Mr. Blue,

What do you do if you don't like your child? I adopted a child and simply don't enjoy him as a person, delight in him as an individual -- I'm not referring to caring for or loving (but the philosophical question arises, can you love someone you don't like?). I should say that this child, after three truly difficult years, was diagnosed with ADHD. I have made a lifelong commitment to the child, but I do not know if is possible to make yourself like someone. In every other situation in life, we can limit our time with those we find we don't enjoy (one's childhood family, avoid; job, quit; dating, dump; marriage, divorce). But you can't dump a child. In today's world, therapy is the answer to all problems. But can it help you to truly like someone?

Wondering

Dear Wondering,

Perfectly normal feeling on your part, nothing monstrous about it, but it's
not the point. Children are not our friends. Not until much later, if ever. We choose them,
they do not choose us, and we have powerful advantages in the relationship (maturity, for
one), and so it is inherently unequal. You have somehow misunderstood and placed yourself
on the child's level, where the question of liking is relevant. It isn't relevant to parenting at
all. You should, of course, discipline the child to avoid doing things that particularly irritate
you -- throwing cherry bombs in the toilet, strangling the cat, setting the drapes afire -- but you
can't demand that a child be likeable. He has a call on your love and loyalty that goes far
deeper than that. I think it'd be good for you to find a group of adoptive parents who get
together and discuss these things. Yes, you can love someone you don't like. It happens all
the time. People don't win our love on some sort of point system through personal charm,
thank God.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm almost 47 and he's almost 24. I'm living in NYC, finally recovered
from a divorce, the death of my father and the breakup of my band.
When I met him two years ago, it was like an angel being sent to me. When
I thought I would expire from the pain and confusion, we traveled aimlessly off and on for
over a year, sleeping outdoors, fishing, lovemaking. Like a dream. Now I've returned to my
life and am making back the money I spent, and he's still wandering, living in his old car.
He's so happy. We miss each other. When he comes to visit me in the city I feel
I have a bird in a cage, a pet on a leash. I go to work and he stays at
home until I return. Then when he can't stand it anymore, he goes off to pick fruit in
Vermont or live on an ashram. I suffer when he leaves. I cry and cry. I want to go to the
Chinese herbalist and take fertility stuff and get pregnant. I'm perilously close to never
having children. He's into it. I feel foolish and crazy, I'm so unsure of
my path. Sixteen-year-olds are hopelessly attracted to him; his mother is a year younger than I. What is my question? I can't even figure out what to ask.

Embarrassed

Dear Embarrassed,

It's crazy, of course, and I wouldn't want to stand in the way of
craziness, if that's what it takes to make you happy. We can't all lead the lives of
accountants and investment bankers. You do need to understand from the outset, though, that you probably can't count on this young man sticking around and helping raise the wee bairn. Forget that part of the equation. You may not be his long-term ashram, he may find other fruit trees, etc. And you will continue to age, while he may stay in a bubble for another
decade. So this has to be a sober, cold-hearted decision. If you really want a baby, and
you're up for doing it, and the Chinese herbs are favorable, then make a baby, knowing that
you'll probably be a single mother. And if I'm wrong, and he sticks around, then all the
better.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am divorced from a guy who had real problems with escapism and lying. I promised myself I would never get involved with another one like him. And now the man I've been seeing for
about 10 months, a wonderful guy who my two little boys love, seems to have the same
problem. He has a daughter whom he hasn't seen in about 10 years. When we started
dating, he made it sound as if he had always paid child support and never wanted to leave
her. Last month I happened to see an order for garnishment that says he owes almost
$16,000 in back child support. I was extremely upset that he lied to me. He apologized and
said that he had planned to tell me about it, but didn't think I'd be very understanding due to
"where I was at" in my own child support battle. He explained that he had some serious
health problems and was in the hospital for quite some time. He had no health insurance and was left destitute by his medical bills. He has since begun repayment and "does the best he can" to catch up on the back amount due. I told him that I love him, but do not trust him. He says he understands completely and that he messed up by not telling me about the back child support. However, we still see each other and he acts as though nothing has changed. One part of me is just too tired from handling my own divorce to help him deal with his problems, but another part of me thinks that this is a really great guy who is probably sorry for what he did. I don't trust my own judgment at this point, due to the constant lies in my previous marriage. Should I give this guy another chance?

Conflicted

Dear Conflicted,

Yes. Of course. It was weaselly of him to cut corners on the truth and
allow you to think something that wasn't true, but it sounds like a third- or fourth-degree lie
and an entirely understandable one, I think. Lying is a dreary habit, as you no doubt know,
and is terribly damaging to relationships; it also is a strategy that sometimes succeeds. You
wouldn't be involved with this man if the $16,000 debt were the first thing you knew about
him. And lying thrives when people are unforgiving. You should check on the veracity of
these other statements -- the hospitalization and the destitution, for example -- just to make
sure there is a shoreline somewhere, that you're not entirely out to sea here. And once you
establish the shoreline, then start over from there.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm 26, have a stable job, live in a nice apartment, have a few bucks in
the bank and a few people who are glad I exist. All my life I've run a straight line and done
what was expected of me. Now suddenly I'm yearning for adventure. All my
life I've dreamt about going to cooking school in Paris and swimming in the Cipriani
pools in Venice, breakfasts in Brussels and evening strolls in Prague. I
want to forget about the 401k and stock options and weep over van Goghs in Amsterdam
and sip coffee in Viennese cafes. My friends and family tell me I'm crazy, but I can't get
it out of my mind. If I don't do this now I'll never have the
chance to do it. But I'm a little scared to give up everything to chase a dream. So what do I
do, Mr. Blue?

Wanderlusting

Dear Wanderlusting,

Bless your heart for dreaming. If you were looking for someone to
throw cold water on it, you came to the wrong advice column. You're not crazy whatsoever.
You're 26 and single and you've worked and saved, and taking off for a year or two is the
most sensible thing in the world. We're not drones, bred for service to corporations; we're
living souls and the thing you crave, a big adventure, is something that makes life worth
living. My advice is, go and have a great time and you'll never regret it. Cooking school
may be a stretch if you don't speak French, but all the rest is doable. You simply liquefy
your assets and hire someone to pay the credit card bills every month and you hie yourself
over on a cheap flight and start wandering. You learn how to find very reasonable
accommodations and how to handle loneliness and how to deal with strangers and most of all you learn how to amuse yourself and have a good time. These are things you don't
necessarily learn in a small gray cubicle. And when you return, assuming you don't marry
the waitress who brings you your coffee, you'll be just as employable as you are now. God
bless you. And don't forget to buy medical insurance.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I've been dating a wonderful man for just over a year now. He is sweet
without being cloying and funny without being cruel. He shares my
irreligion and my desire for a child-free, simple, aesthetically pleasing
life. He cooks and is good with the cats. He makes my heart melt and my
toes tingle. He's a treasure. But I have a nagging fear about the future: I'm a
writer, just out of college, whose career is starting to go forward, and I've finished my first
novel; and he's a musician (working as a programmer for a couple of years) whose music is
stalled out, maybe because he has impossibly high standards.

I believe in his music and wouldn't mind supporting him for a few years to give him a
chance to create. But in the meantime, will disparate success spoil our love? He is more the
artist and I am more commercial. I dread the day he calls my novel "generic," and I also
dread seeing him frustrated about his own work. (He is enjoying reading my short stories,
though.) Am I being too neurotic? Is there anything I can do to stop my
nightmares coming true?

Thinking Too Much in Ann Arbor

Dear Thinking,

Yes to both questions. You're young, you are (I assume) in good health,
you're in love, you know what you want to do with your life, you're doing it with some
success and you and Mr. Wonderful have made a nice life for each other. Don't write these
dark scenarios for the future. Or if you must imagine dark things, invent scarier ones that
you can publish and make money from. Writers, my dear, are supposed to take their
miseries and neuroses and put them to good use. Invent a painter and a writer, and the
painter paints portraits of big-eyed waifs and these sell like hot waffles and the writer has
been working for 10 years on some impossibly cranky thing called XantiX and the writer
secretly pens a poisonous review of the painter's work and the painter is obsessed by this one
devastating review and can no longer crank out the waifs and the writer is so buoyed up by
her partner's despair that she finishes XantiX and it becomes an underground bestseller, a
book that America suddenly must own as a badge of sophistication, and then, of course, the
truth comes out. They're together in a beautiful mansion on a Caribbean island in a
hurricane, and the truth slips out like a wild beast, and here's where the soup thickens.
Wouldn't it be fun to write this? Wouldn't it be a lot more fun than worrying about you and
Mr. Wonderful?

Dear Mr. Blue,

About five years ago, at age 23, I had a three-week whirlwind romance with a
boy and was devastated when he suddenly stopped calling. I pursued him until his disinterest
was painfully clear and then backed off. I've had longer, more
fulfilling relationships with other men since -- but every time I run into this
boy, I'm shocked again by how very, very attractive I still find him. Apparently he still lurks
in the corners of my head as some kind of sexual yardstick. Is this normal? Why can't
anyone else measure up?

Wan Lover

Dear Wan,

You find him attractive because he refused you. Disinterest can be a powerful
stimulant. Many a woman has ignored earnest suitors who flocked around her, fluttering and
fawning to beat the band, and focused instead on the distant elusive one who showed no
interest. Be grateful for the whirlwind experience, and glad he didn't waste your time, and
show some disinterest of your own.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am a 32-year-old woman living in Los Angeles. I'm very secure in my decision not to
have a child, not now or in the future. I'm not a warm, nurturing person. I
enjoy spending money on things like eye cream and expensive suede ottomans,
not Diaper Genies and preschool. My boyfriend of one year, who is the most wonderful guy,
wants to have three kids. Sometimes I think we should be honest and separate
now over the breeding issue. Other times, I worry that I am going
to lose a great guy and end up alone with my ottomans. Should I stick to my guns on this, or
should I drop the subject and hope my boyfriend can be appeased with a puppy or some
orchids?

Nobody's Mom

Dear Nobody's,

Honesty is all that's required of you here. You like him just fine and so you
have no reason to break up, and if he wants those three kids badly enough, he can figure out
how to go find someone to have them with. But if he's sticking with you on the assumption
that you don't really mean what you say, then it's going to be hard, hard, hard in a few
years when the truth dawns on him. You need to have a discussion in which this decision of
yours is placed on the table as a solid non-negotiable fact. You needn't hurl it at him, or
thrust it at him, but it needs to be out in the open where he can see it.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm a woman in my mid-20s who spent a year and a half dating a
wonderful man. We were a terrific match in most ways, but he decided to end the
relationship after months of indecision on my part. I couldn't decide whether I should
spend my life with him or not. We didn't have the same intense passionate
connection that I felt with a past boyfriend. The wonderful man was of course hurt by my
ambivalence, so finally he left. Now, for months, I have deeply regretted how things turned
out, and I want to get back together. I'm enjoying my solitude, and don't feel an urge to be
in a relationship, but I miss him. He's understandably wary of any reconciliation, though; he
doesn't want to get close only to be hurt again. What do you think?

Worrying

Dear Worrying,

I say, enjoy that solitude. The only way you can lure him back is with
implied promises that you can't keep. This relationship ran its course. Learn what you can from it and move on.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I have been in a relationship with a fellow writer for the past three years. He says he wants
to marry me and father my children, but produces no ring and no babies.
About every six months or so, I bring the subject up, and he says yes,
we'll get married and have babies, but nothing ever comes of it, so I,
coward that I am, drop it. But I'm 34, my eggs are drying up, and I'm beginning to wonder
whether I should cut and run. He and I are great together -- we laugh at the same things, we
hardly ever fight and he makes me feel complete in a way no other man has. I don't want to
think about life without him. And yet, I want to start a family before it gets too hard. I weep
at diaper commercials.

So what to do? Do I issue an ultimatum?

Tired of Waiting

Dear Tired,

Express yourself, girl. You're dropping the discussion before it even gets
warmed up. How is it that two writers can be so inarticulate about this great question? Sit
down and talk with him and express your feelings in a lavish manner. Lay it all out. If you
can't do this, then write him a letter about it. It's time. Don't issue an ultimatum, that's too
unpleasant, but if he is evading the question, then take this as a bad omen for the
relationship.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I was in a two-month relationship that was ended, by him. I love this person and wrote him a
letter letting him know this. He hasn't responded. I don't know if he never received the
letter, or didn't know what to say, or didn't find me important enough to respond to. Should
I e-mail him to ask if he received the letter?

Distressed

Dear Distressed,

Yes, do, if you want to, though you know the probable answer: He got the
letter and doesn't know how to respond because he simply doesn't feel the way you do. It's
hard for him to say that he doesn't love you. But if you want to corner him into saying it, I
suppose he will. On the other hand, what if he can't say it, and what if, out of misbegotten
sympathy or hope or some terrible need to be a nice guy, he resumes with you, what have
you accomplished? He ended it. The end is the end. No explanations necessary. Don't look
back, I say.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am a 22-year-old woman, torn between the emotional love of my existential
wanderer, who is studying snowboarding and playwriting in Montana, and a puritanical
suitor, who is well on his way to a law degree and a home with two dogs in the Dallas
suburbs. I stand in the middle, facing a decision that will shape the rest of my life.

Pondering

Dear Pondering,

Thanks for sharing, but you don't sound torn at all. Someone who is truly
torn would have written at least 900 words on the subject, and your letter clocks in
at just over 50. You're not facing any decision at all. If you're in the middle, then that puts
you somewhere in Kansas, I believe. Learn about wheat farming. Forget about these two
clowns and shape your own life. Become somebody.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm a 30-year-old first-time novelist who had the unimaginable
good fortune of obtaining an excellent agent. She has sent my manuscript out to a major
publishing house and I am waiting for word. Three weeks have passed and I haven't heard a
word. I understand that the publishing business operates glacially. And this agent has treated
me well -- has been enthusiastic and returns my calls quickly. However, I'm completely
freaking out from anxiety, insomnia, stress headaches, etc. I don't
want to look like a pathetic, neurotic first novelist (though that is exactly what I am), but I
want to know what the hell is going on. Obviously she'd call if she had an
offer, but do you think it's possible she might not call right away if
we (I) were rejected? How long should I wait before I call to check
up? Is heavy sedation in order?

No News Is Bad News

Dear No News,

Put all this energy to some use and make a story out of it. Not a story about
a novelist but one about a man who has written a scorching letter to the editor of the local
newspaper and who is beside himself all night, waiting to see if it's printed, going over and
over the text in his mind, worrying that the paper will edit his best lines. The letter is a
jeremiad against the city for its lax maintenance of boulevards. To the man with the stress
headache, it is a work of art. There you are. A free idea from Mr. Blue. Go write it. And
leave your agent alone. She's representing you, so let her represent. Three weeks is nothing.
Three months is not that long. Do you really want to suffer over each and every boob who
turns up his nose at your novel? No, you don't. And let me give you some unsolicited
advice: When the novel comes out, don't read the reviews. Have someone put them in an
envelope for you and read them five years later. This will save you a great deal of suffering.

Dear Mr. Blue,

My boyfriend recently got a job in the big city and I am quitting my dead end job to go with
him. On one hand I'd like to get a job as soon as possible. On the other hand I have always
dreamed of being a writer and think this is the time. I have some experience, a few contacts
and a lot of ideas, and I think that I should give it a try. And yet I'm terrified at the thought
of failure, imagining myself staring into my computer and having lost all my bright ideas.
What does it take to be a writer? Talent? Perseverance? Confidence? I have the talent and am
a stubborn person, but how do I get the confidence to just do it?

Ambitious

Dear Ambitious,

I'm guessing that you're talking about freelance magazine writing,
nonfiction. If you think now is the time to try, then probably it is. Writing demands
dedication and maybe it's better if you don't hedge your bet, don't get a day job, but try to
go at the writing straight on. But the human imagination does not necessarily respond to
ultimatums, and if one burns one bridges and sits down at the computer and says, "Write!" it
ain't necessarily going to happen. But you know that. Why are you terrified of failure?
Failure is part of life, certainly endemic in the writing biz. One needs to be ready to abandon
ship and launch another. We fail every day. We simply don't tell anyone and thereby
maintain a certain aura of credibility.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I've always had an overwhelming compulsion to be nice to people. This has
been misunderstood as an invitation to intimacy. Many years ago I
decided I was completely clueless in the mechanics of dating, so haven't.
Recently, though, I've noticed the landscape is thick with prospects, but
I'm planning to go to seminary, so being a "partner" in anything other than
full immersion is not on the menu. Can you suggest some subtle yet
effective ways to impart this early in a conversation?

Christian

Dear Christian,

Generally speaking, I don't favor answering a question before it's been
asked, but if it puts you at ease, you could initiate a conversation about religious faith early
in a date. You and the young man arrive at the restaurant and, by the time the bread basket
is brought to the table, you turn to him and tell him about a fascinating passage in the epistle
to the Ephesians that you've been thinking about all day. This will put him on notice that you
are who you are, a valiant woman, and not who he might like to imagine you to be, an easy
lay. And the epistle to the Ephesians is actually pretty interesting to talk about.


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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