One is the loneliest number

My husband locks himself in the spare room and masturbates five or six times a day to videotapes and sex magazines.

Published May 31, 2000 8:22PM (EDT)

The Letter of the Week comes from a young woman who asks if multiple orgasms are common for women, or not so common, or fairly rare, or what? Mr. Blue says, They're common in the spring and fall, rare in summer and for some reason can be brought on by parsnips. There is a big influx of visitors in St. Paul in September and October, based on word-of-mouth about multiple orgasms (a high pollen count seems to facilitate matters, or bring on sneezing, which is almost the same thing). But if you can't come here and your m.o.'s are rare, well, so are a lot of other things, and you should be grateful for what you get.

A Southern gentleman takes issue with my advice to Conflicted, who found out that her beau had a $16K child support bill following hospitalization. I advised her to be patient and forgive him for not telling her about this. The gentleman writes: "A man does not let anything other than death stop him from taking care of his kids. Any male who has to be garnisheed to meet his obligations to his children is a creep and no woman should have anything to do with him."

My advice to the mother who didn't like her adopted child, who has ADD, also drew sharp responses. One wrote: "The important issue is ADD. I love my children but the last year I have dreaded being around my son. He constantly got into trouble and never calmed down. A few months ago, he was diagnosed with ADD and I finally agreed to drug treatment for the disorder. I was amazed at the change in my child when his medication dosage was adjusted properly. He is now happy, outgoing, affectionate, creative, and proud of his newfound self-control. Contrary to the picture that is often painted of children on Ritalin, he is not listless or any less spirited than he was previously. Children with ADD are suffering in their own personal hell, wanting to control their behavior but being unable to do so. These children are often outcasts among their peers and the targets of adult criticism. Please tell Wondering to pursue treatment for ADD for her child until she finds a course of action that works and be persistent. Also, tell her to find an ADD support group for herself and talk to her child's doctor about self-help books for parents of children with ADHD children. Frustration, feelings of failure, and dislike for the child are all common problems for these parents."

A gentleman writes, in response to a column a few weeks ago in which I pooh-poohed a young woman's urge to seek therapy for a vague feeling of unease: "You don't need to be a drooling depressive to seek professional help. I saw a great shrink for a year when things were going well in my life but I had this sense of occasional floundering. It was great to pay for an hour with a smart guy who gave me his complete attention, never told me what to do, and yet gave me an intelligent view I was free to consider or reject. I did clear away the debris from my head, and five years later consider the therapy one of the most important steps I've taken in my life."

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am married to a man who is pretty terrific in many ways, a good listener, affectionate, intelligent, funny, a hard worker, and I love him dearly. He is 44 and I am 41. I consider our sex life to be good, but we have a teenage daughter and a busy life and aren't able to make love as often as I am sure he would like. I work full-time, cook, clean, raise our daughter and that is the reality. My husband doesn't deal well with this. He masturbates, by his own account, five or six times a day, using pornographic videotapes and sex magazines, and, to my dismay, some old pictures of a naked ex-girlfriend (she was a stripper), and he belongs to a computer pornography club. He does this almost every day. He often locks himself into the guest bedroom door to watch his videos and masturbate alone. I feel insulted, lonely and hurt. I have tried to talk to him about this. He says he doesn't cheat on me and that this helps him take care of his needs so he isn't "bothering" me all the time. I know that people are built differently, but his behavior seems more like an addiction than anything else, and I do feel like he is cheating on me when he locks himself away with his fantasy women. I have suggested counseling, and although he has agreed at times, when he thought I was ready to leave him, he never follows through. I want to get counseling for myself, but we live in a small town and we know most of the people in the psychiatric field. I don't have anyone to talk to about this and it is eating me up.


Dear Rejected,

Where does the gentleman find the time? You'd think he'd get bored by now. It sounds like an addiction all right, and so you really need to air it out and bring it into the open. Secrecy supports the addiction, and openness helps to bring it under control. You might start by telling him you're curious what he's looking at and ask to see it: You'd like to know what it is. (Maybe you don't want to know, but it may bring him to his senses to look at a video along with you.) You should make an appointment with the therapist you're most comfortable talking to, and tell your husband he is invited to come; whether he does or not, you go and lay out the situation. In a calm and reasonable way, tell him he is running a huge risk with the teenage daughter. If she comes across this material, she will be grossed out and consider him a pig and will be slow to forgive. And finally, be kind. Your husband feels enough shame without you adding to it. Let him know that you love him.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I've been best friends with the same three girls since junior high. We're in our early 20s and living all over the country, but we've remained very close and stayed in touch. This winter I learned that one of them has been dating a divorced man in his 30s who has several young children.

Their relationship has become very serious very quickly, and they've talked about getting married. She says she loves him and loves his kids but she's not 100 percent sure. The rest of us are horrified that she would be in such a relationship, and we don't know what to do. (The psychotic calls from the ex-wife in the middle of the night, the fact that he doesn't ever plan to move from that small town and that he went on a month-long business trip and left her to take care of the kids, etc.) We've expressed our concerns casually to her, but she's kind of shrugged them off. We don't want to alienate her but we're all terrified that she is in over her head.

Do we express our fears more strongly and risk having her cut ties with us? We don't want her to feel like she can't come to us or confide in us. Could this really be love and could he really be "the one"?


Dear Worried,

Yes, he could, and yes, it could, and no, you shouldn't. Let her blow off steam about the ex-wife and the trip and anything else and don't intervene. If your friend can care for several small children for a month and still love a man, it's probably serious. Don't offer advice unless asked to, and then be circumspect. You're entitled to express your sympathy and concern in some general way, but I don't see grounds to be so fearful, frankly. And if we were all careful not to get in over our heads, this would be a nation of celibate shepherds gathering berries and living in yurts.

Dear Mr. Blue,

After 47 years of living a very emotionally confused life, I am finally waking up to life and its great and humbling truths. My relationship with my husband has been for the most part congenial, but I have torn feelings toward him. On one hand, he's been my salvation, seeing me through many rocky times. On the other hand, sometimes I can't stand his all-knowing, sarcastic attitude. My question is this: Do you think it would be selfish and ungrateful for me to hope for a better relationship with someone other than my husband? I love my husband like a brother. Should I be satisfied with that, and not presume to think I deserve more? I am truly grateful for his love and care. Should I resign myself to a life of quiet desperation? I have nobody waiting in the wings for me, nor do I contemplate any grand passions in the future. I guess this is hypothetical.


Dear Athena,

Who knows what you deserve in life, but desperation and resignation are not recommended, except for poets who need it to fill out their oeuvre. You're a monument of patience to have stuck with the sarcastic omniscient guy for 47 years, but perhaps sarcasm was his method of keeping the emotional confusion at bay. You can deal with sarcasm by meeting it head-on with an earnest demand that it be put in a drawer and brought out only for special occasions: It's adolescent, it kills conversation, it doesn't create anything. (He may be unaware of it himself.) Fight the sarcasm, and see if its diminishment makes you any happier. It's good that you're careful to acknowledge the good side of this sturdy marriage, the loyalty, the affection. If a grand passion came walking in the door in the form of a tall man with smoldering good looks and a big erotic imagination and a platinum credit card, it would surely make for an interesting summer, but eventually you'd have to deal with his humorlessness, or his propensity to lie about his past, or some other deficit. You might contemplate some other sort of grand passion, though. The greatest grand passions are not between men and women, but passions for God, for work, for art, for ideas, for some endeavor or body of knowledge or place in the world, and such a passion could cure this desperation. There is no happiness like that of the possessed. Perhaps you've been harboring such a passion and have postponed it, shunted it into a corner. Rediscover it.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I've been in a relationship for a year with a beautiful, smart, sexy, kind, savagely funny and cultivated woman who takes my breath away. We're both about 35. We moved in together last month. She has a stunning erotic imagination and dresses to kill, with a body to kill for. She loves art, history and music, and has a quick wit that never leaves her, no matter how dark the situation. I've been so lucky to find her.

And then there's the jealousy and the lying. I've had seven previous lovers, most in long-standing, monogamous relationships. She's had something like 90 lovers and hasn't been faithful to anyone for more than a year. The last one she is still married to, being unwilling to finish the paperwork for the divorce, and she corresponds with him by e-mail and maintains a strong affection for him. Her continuing dalliance with him has sucked much of the joy out of my life with her. We're together almost constantly; I'm fairly sure she's been faithful to date but I get suspicious when I catch her in occasional stupid lies: She can't seem to understand the foundation of trust. If she weren't so stupendously wonderful, I might want to leave her. But she is perfect for me when I am with her. I'm at a loss to know what to do.


Dear Tense,

Sounds like the year is up, and you're worried. Perhaps for good reason. The woman has an ambitious imagination and who knows where it may lead. It is up to her whether she chooses to be faithful to you -- you can't demand that she be, or construct a defense against lies, and so you should treat her as a wonderful temporary phenomenon, a firefly in the tall grass at sunset, and prepare yourself for the day you come home and find her gone. Take short views. Put Mr. Previous out of your mind. If you think about him, he'll grow into a giant. Ask her no questions and she'll tell you no lies. Be stupefied by her perfection and enjoy your life and don't kill anyone for her, including yourself.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm 15, and this fall I'm going to a special residential high school for my last two years of high school. I'm the oldest child and the first to leave home, and my mother is absolutely devastated. Oh, she's happy for me, because she knows this is what I want, but on the same note, she's upset that I'm leaving her two years early. I, on the other hand, am THRILLED to be leaving. I'm totally sick of living at home with my family. My two younger sisters irritate me no end, and my parents are incredibly controlling. Should I feel bad for being happy about leaving when my mom is so upset?


Dear Ecstatic,

You go ahead and be happy. Your life is your own to experience, and your mother has hers, and independence is nothing to apologize for. You're lucky to be able to fly the coop early. It'll be a great experience, and you'll come back home for Christmas and find out that your mother has recovered from her devastation and your siblings are now the stars of the show and you'll discover that leaving home is the easy part -- the hard part is coming back and finding out how little they missed you.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I have a friend from college who has never had a boyfriend, and only a few close friends. She complains all the time about this problem, lamenting Friday and Saturday nights alone with her cats, and while I sympathize, I know the reason for it: She is uncomfortably obese. If I could just broach the subject, my friend would be so happy -- can you help me?

Dying to Help

Dear Dead Help,

Obese folks are quite aware of their weight and its social effects. She'll let you know if she wants your help with it. Meanwhile, I believe that, while obesity can be a social hindrance, it isn't the only reason for a constricted social life.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I have been dating a fantastic man who I am very attracted to, except for one thing: flatulence. When we spend time together, he invariably creates a stench so repellent I have to open a window. He does this surreptitiously, so I don't have an opportunity to address it immediately. How does one broach the subject tactfully?

Turned Off

Dear Turned,

I referred your question to our medical department, a lonely man holed up in a cabin in the back woods, who says: "This is a biological problem, not too complicated: Either he has eaten something that the intestinal bacteria convert into bad fragrances, such as eggs; or he has a defect in absorbing some kind of food. Incompletely digested food is transformed into aromatic substances by bacteria, and there's just one way out. Next time the odor fills the air, simply say, 'I was reading the other day that intestinal gas is a medical problem that can often be diagnosed by a gastroenterologist.' You need to be able to talk about things like this if you have any notion of making a life with this gentleman."

Dear Mr. Blue,

My sister has been going out with the most wonderful man for the past five years, and they are getting married in July. I am incredibly happy for them, and wish them nothing but the best. But there's something nagging at the back of my mind. For years, she's gotten ribbing on how almost exactly her fiancie and I look alike. I haven't let it bug me, until recently. People say we look like brothers, and it makes me shudder when I think of the logical conclusion. I'm not sure whether I should mention this to her since I don't think it's going to do anything except to make her upset at me. Should I just keep my mouth shut and wish them well, or mention this to her?


Dear Shuddering,

Don't you dare. Don't even think about it. You can shudder all you like, you can go write a Gothic play about incest, but "logical conclusion"? Huh? People are yanking your chain, joking.

Resume being happy for them, and if the resemblance preys on your mind, go shave your head, grow a moustache and get black horn-rim glasses.

Dear Mr. Blue,

My girlfriend and I have been very serious for three years. We're very happy. But there's a problem with her ex: I'm convinced he is still in love with her. Last year he sent her his new CD full of songs about their relationship. A photo of her on the back. And a photo of her legs on the actual disc! She told me I shouldn't feel threatened -- he's just a sensitive singer-songwriter (like me) working some stuff out. (It's a crummy CD.) Last week she ran into him on the street, and they had a conversation, then some follow-up phone calls, about their past and healing, and getting a friendship started -- and I'm like, Remind me again why you need to be on good terms with this guy? My question is, Just how selfish am I acting? Am I acting this way because I don't want her to have been in love before she met me, or am I just afraid she'll reconcile herself to this guy? That would be because I'm insecure, right?


Dear Jealous,

You're no more selfish than I, and we medium-selfish guys do experience some retro-jealousy toward previous beaus; we're guarded if we meet them, and we're not interested in hearing throbbing lyrical accounts of the depth of their feelings. If I came across a CD with my wife's legs on it, I'd probably grab a butter knife and go looking for the guy. I'm glad it's a crummy CD (of course it is), and that's to your advantage. If she wants to be friends with this drip, it's her business -- you can't ask her to divest her previous life -- but you can get revenge anytime by playing the CD at home, the worst cuts. She's not going to reconcile with him, so don't torture yourself.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am a struggling writer feeling a little discouraged because two lifelong friends recently decided to be writers and both have agents interested in their work, and one is on the verge of signing a deal. I don't think I'm jealous of my friends, but in some way I think there's only so much success to go around and they're getting it all. This feeling is causing a block. I'm sitting at my computer looking at 10,000 words and wondering what the point is. I have the characters, I want to tell people what happens to them, but the pressure my friends' progress creates seems to squeeze every idea out of my head.

Help me, Mr. Blue, I don't want to give up writing because trying to makes me miserable.


Dear Listless,

Don't wimp out now, you'll hate yourself for it. Put aside the 10,000 words and start writing about your friends. Give them new names and identities but keep the agents, keep the deal and write about how success ruined them in every way. Bring in marital problems, impotence, compulsive gambling, alcoholism, amnesia and finally gross plagiarism, which makes their names mud. This might be fun and therapeutic for an afternoon, or you might find that it's really what you want to write now.

Dear Mr. Blue,

Should spouses attend high school reunions? My 20th is coming up, and my wife and I are arguing about it. I would love her to come and meet the old friends, but I know it would be boring for her and understand if she wants no part of it. She feels hurt that I am not more insistent on her coming. I do want her there, but not if she'll be rolling her eyes and looking at her watch. She wants to be there, but not as the outsider at an insider's ball. Neither of us can resolve the conflict.

Weary Alum

Dear Weary,

Reunions are boring for everyone not part of the original union. You'll be fascinated by the very sight of these folks, their double chins, their hairy hands, and she won't know them from a bale of hay, and why would she want to be there? She'll never be anything but an outsider. A nice evening in the hotel room reading a book seems civilized compared to witnessing an orgy of nostalgia by middle-aged people trying to be 17. Of course, the invisible motive is jealousy: She doesn't want you flirting shamelessly, trying to realize some 20-year fantasy. And that, of course, could keep her alert and focused through a long tedious evening.

Dear Mr. Blue,

My boyfriend and I had a fight, during which time he slept with his ex-girlfriend, then we made up and things were great until the ex reported she's seven weeks pregnant with my boyfriend's baby and intends to raise it herself even though he doesn't want it.

He is now very, very angry and declares he will go on with his life as it is -- no interaction with the baby or mother -- and continue to have me as his girlfriend.

I suspect he'll soften and eventually find a role for himself and the baby. Both of us are in our late 40s and we like each other a lot, but should I leave before he's involved with a lot of decisions that could possibly leave me without him for many weekends or forever?


Dear Wistful,

A man who impregnates a woman and then pretends that it has nothing to do with him is not a good bet as a boyfriend. Too bad you made up. You should unmake.

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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