Don't touch me there

I've tried to tell my boyfriend what I want during sex, but he can't seem to get it right.

By Garrison Keillor
Published August 15, 2000 7:52PM (EDT)

Mr. Blue missed a week because of a cruise of the Baltic Sea with Mrs. Blue and Baby Blue that included a stop in Oslo, one of the world's great cities. Walking around the town on a sun-drenched August morning, looking at sculpture in the Vigeland park and 16th century stave churches in the outdoor Folk Museum and sitting down to a lunch of open-face sandwiches and a pint of Ringnes, I got a strong impression that Norwegians have no need of a Mr. Blue, or Herr Blaa -- that when they have personal problems, they simply put on hiking boots and a knapsack and hike 30 kilometers into the forest and think things through; and that among these educated, bilingual, well-traveled, tolerant, liberal, prosperous and progressive folk, Mr. Blue would be something of a dodo. But then so would George W. The Norwegian mind cannot quite fathom such a spectacularly unqualified candidate as he. Which is one more good reason for Norwegians to live in Norway and us to live here. We're better able to tolerate the politics.

Dept. of Happy Endings: Last fall, Knocked Up wrote in to ask if she was obligated to tell her rather casual boyfriend that she was pregnant by him after a one-night stand. I said that this was up to her. A torrent of mail followed, most of it from men, much of it burning with rage. The outcome of the story is truly sweet. She told him and he was generous and good and happy about it all and they moved in together and he got a job and the baby was born a few weeks ago and is beautiful and all is well, no thanks to me or to you. God bless the mama and papa and the wee bairn.

A New Yorker sends along some additional tips on How to Make It in the City So Nice They Named It Twice -- this for the reader who wrote asking for that: "Live downtown. It's cheaper and cooler and you'll feel like you're in the city, not near it. Find out where the Angel's Share bar is. Take people you want to impress there. Go to the Hamptons once so you can tell people you're over that whole scene. Wear thrift-wear vintage clothing but spend money on great shoes. Make friends with the coffee cart guy near your building. There will be days in N.Y. when you will be incredibly thankful that at the very least, the stranger you greet each morning remembers you like your coffee light, with one Sweet'n Low, which may be the only nurturing you get for a while. Do not eat the warmed-over food at the deli; it's expensive, and you'll feel awful after you eat it. Find a friend with a car. Drive to big suburban superstores every six months and stock up on paper goods and sundries. Store these under your bed. This will save you hundreds of dollars compared to Manhattan prices, and this will pay for three or four great pairs of shoes a year."

Dear Mr. Blue,

I have been dating a man for about six months. At the beginning there was a delicious sexual tension between us -- he was the most passionate lover I'd had. But after the first few months, he began to focus exclusively on his favorite spots -- areas of my body that turn him on but do nothing for me -- so I tried to tell him what I wanted, and now he feels performance anxiety whenever we make love. The electricity is gone. He often does the things I have asked for, but with little skill and enthusiasm. His timing is off. He jumps all over the place and can't seem to figure out the natural progression of just making love. I am getting more and more frustrated, and losing interest in sex with him altogether. He is a wonderful person and we care about each other very much. What do we do now?

Feeling Frustrated

Dear Feeling,

This reminds me of an old limerick:

There was a young lady named Pease
Who murmured one day to her squeeze,
"It will heighten my bliss
If you do more with this
And pay less attention to these."

Communication between lovers is, of course, all well and good, and people should tell each other what they want, but this is not auto repair, my dear, this is sexual passion, it's beauty and the beast, it's opera and ballet, people panting and gasping and going out of their minds, and the slender thread of fancy may easily be snapped by one of them adopting a too-pedagogical tone in bed -- e.g. "Don't pour the oil directly into my navel, pour it on my sternum and let it run down into my navel, you ignorant peasant." This is enough to take the starch out of any man. Instead of issuing explicit directions, it should be enough to moan when you're pleased and shift your body when you're not. Don't give up hope, though, simply because the gentleman is a little self-conscious. People have enormous recuperative powers. Take a break from sex, go to a movie, dinner, read a classy book, take in a ballgame, attend a prayer meeting, whatever you like to do -- you do like other things than sex, don't you? -- and relax and regroup.

Dear Mr. Blue,

For two years I've worked as an editor for a small publishing house. In September I plan to move to Montana, find a cabin and work on my novel. Today, three weeks before my departure date, I was offered a huge promotion with an accompanying raise in salary. The advantages -- health insurance, disposable income -- are obvious. Should I take the leap and hit the road anyway, or take the offer as a challenge to try to balance the writer's life with the perks of traditional employment?


Dear Hesitating,

A handsome quandary indeed. A cabin in Montana, as you know, can be a lonely place indeed. The state is full of grizzlies and gun-toting Aryan militants on the lookout for a young novelist to pick off. On the other hand, a publishing office can be as territorial and political as a nunnery: You leave the office one day as a champ and hero and a credit to your race and you come in the next day and people avert their eyes and don't invite you to meetings and you have no idea what transpired overnight. Your ass is grass, that's all. This happens all the time. On the other hand, your novel could be a monster bestseller and earn you buckets of cash. On the other hand, with buckets of cash, you could wind up emotionally devastated with a serious cocaine problem and serve two years in the slammer for possession and emerge a broken shell of yourself. The ramifications just go on and on and on. A person could write a book about this sort of dilemma. A novel about an editor torn between his writing career and the security of the cubicle. I wouldn't go to Montana to write it, though. How about Norway?

Dear Mr. Blue,

I've been married to a great guy for three years. We're both in our 30s and have a small baby whom we dote on. Our jobs are difficult but rewarding. My husband is fun to be around, is kind and funny, and I'm in love with him as much today as when I married him. But we seem to have lost the zip in our relationship. We come home, we're tired. On the weekend, we're tired. The baby is fun, but tiring. We hardly ever have any romantic time alone. I'd rather sleep than ... well, you know. Will this ever get better or are we doomed to being comradely roommates?


Dear Tired,

Yes, it gets better, and no, you're not doomed. A person can only do so much, and you shouldn't punish yourself for not doing more. Between raising a small baby and working a difficult job and the ordinary business of daily life (cooking, cleaning, killing rats) and the duties of citizenship in an election year, there isn't much time left in which to rub lemon on your breasts, put a rose in your teeth and dance the fandango in your frilly black underthings. But affection counts for an awful lot. Hand holding, kissing, etc. You can execute a pretty magnificent kiss in about a minute and a half, with another two minutes for the buildup and 30 seconds for the afterglow. That's four minutes total, for a Hollywood feature-film-level smooch. You could do it while the bottle is warming. Once in a while, when the mood is calm and the lights are low, turn to your guy and say, "I hope you know how crazy I am about you." Or words to that effect. He may not know and would be thrilled to hear this. And it's worth going to heroic lengths to give yourself an occasional Night Out. One in which you dress up and go to dinner and talk about things other than the beautiful baby. This is one of those great luxuries that are actually a necessity. And then, when you're in the mood, go to bed naked and hope to get lucky.

Dear Mr. Blue,

My husband of five months (we've been together six years) recently informed me that his first love just moved back in town, now divorced, and he thinks he may still have feelings for her. I appreciate his honesty, but I am absolutely devastated at the thought of his feelings for me being challenged. How should I handle this?


Dear Aghast,

Face up to it right away. Don't wait to see what develops. Tell him quietly and firmly that he must decide now which road to take, marriage with you or flirtation with her. Don't preach and don't beg, simply state your terms. He must promise not to be in contact with her -- absolutely no compromises, no lying -- or else he must abandon the marriage. Don't let this become some long, drawn-out drama; it's too boring. State it as a simple choice, give him a deadline and keep your word.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm mid-novel, on a roll and trying to get the whole story out of my head onto the page. Yet I'm still the one in this household wondering if we have enough toilet paper and thinking that we really need to clean out the fridge. Is this just Life and I need to suck it up and write around the corners, or do I need to throw my laptop and sleeping bag in the minivan and take off for three months, leaving my husband to worry about toilet paper and getting kids to swimming lessons while I finish the book?

Writer/Mom/the Housecleaning Fairy

Dear W.M.H.F.,

The minivan is an option, it really is. But before you pack up the sleeping bag and speed away, try staking out the four or six hours of the day that are most fertile and promising for you, and let your family know that this time is now yours and yours alone. String up barbed wire around those hours and make a sanctuary in which to write and enforce your privacy. And then when the time is up, come out with a glad heart and rejoin the circle. Let them run out of toilet paper; they can use pages from the Sears catalog or leaves from the forest. Let the fridge go to mold and corruption; they can order pizza. Write the book.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm 42, divorced, dating a guy, 51, never married, who's intelligent, kind, affectionate, moral, dependable, gainfully employed and crazy about me. I'm crazy about him, too, but I feel sour about the arguments we have. Arguments about him driving too fast, being late to meet me, not cleaning his house or jogging clothes, wearing old tatty shoes, not throwing out old or used things, keeping months of old newspapers. Whenever I raise an issue to discuss, he gets angry and says, "That's who I am," and that I should accept him for who he is. I don't think he grasps the concept of compromise.

We're a great match in so many ways, but I'm trying to imagine a life with this man and I don't know what to do.


Dear Confused,

You're harassing this kind man and you call it Raising an Issue to Discuss? Well, lady, he is raising an issue with you and the issue is your controlling nature. Lighten up. Be crazy about him and ignore the old newspapers and the tatty shoes. If his driving seems dangerous, tell him to slow down. If he's unable to be punctual, then arrange to meet him at his house, rather than waiting for him at a restaurant. The rest is meant to be ignored.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am 26 and have not had a relationship for about three years. I am reasonably attractive, funny and a little reserved, and I just find that I don't feel any spark with anybody I meet. I just feel like I am growing cold. I also think my job is rather silly. I help write programs for an advertising agency. I don't really like programming and I couldn't think of what else to do, so I have decided to go to Europe for six months with money I was saving for a down payment on a house. Now I am in the process of selling my stuff or lending it to friends so I won't have to have anything in storage. I find that I don't need this stuff and am feeling happy and free. Yet, I still have no answer to my problem, and I fear when I come back nothing will have changed. Am I tilting at windmills?

Wistful Wanderer

Dear Wistful,

It's good this is happening to you now and not when you're 40. So many men have the ability to paper over the big questions and maintain the semblance of an ordered life straight on into middle age and then suddenly wake up feeling cracked and sad and lost. A man needs to have at least one good crisis in his 20s, to test his mettle and give him a sense of reality, and here's yours and you're facing it bravely and resourcefully, along lines that Thoreau would have approved ("Simplify, simplify"). You shouldn't worry that, in six months, nothing will have changed -- things already have changed and will continue to, and this six-month sabbatical will give you enormous space in which to think and reflect and ruminate, always a good thing for a man to do now and then. Good luck to you. And may I recommend Norway as a place to visit. It's the most beautiful land in the world, and a lovely and graceful society. The ferry from Copenhagen to Oslo is cheap and you can go almost anywhere in Norway by train. Paris is nice, too, in a way, but no trip to Europe should miss Oslo. And Bergen. And Trondheim.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I got married at the end of May, and ever since, I haven't been myself. I feel despondent, uninteresting, can't carry on conversation anymore, can't get my work done, and I am just not happy. I'm losing touch with all of my friends. What's worse, my husband and I don't seem to have any interest in each other all of a sudden. We find nothing to talk about at night. I just don't know what's wrong. I used to be happy and organized and enthusiastic and energetic, I think. Why is marriage suddenly turning me into someone else? I love my husband and I'm committed to our marriage; I just don't want to spend the rest of my life feeling like this.

Not Myself

Dear Not,

The first door to knock on is that of old Mr. Depression, the wide ride with the gummy teeth and the sour breath who may have made you his pal without your knowledge. A big joyful occasion like a wedding can be a crisis, same as a big grievous one, and throw you for a loop and leave you feeling enervated and confused. Find a shrink whom you feel comfortable talking to (that's crucial), and bring out for examination your feelings of the past few months and see what he/she says. This sounds like some garden-variety crisis and you ought to bring it to professional attention before you go further and deeper. In my day, of course, we soldiered through these black moods with the help of rotgut whiskey and wild women and outright violence, but I understand they have drugs now that can help.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I have been having an affair for over a year. Do you think it is possible to be happily married and be falling in love with another man?

On the Town

Dear Town,

Uh, no. It's possible for you to have a whee of a time but you can't be happily married to an unhappy spouse, which your spouse would be if he knew about the affair, which in some way he does. You're walking a tightrope while carrying a giraffe and a clawfoot bathtub on a balance bar, and it's pretty thrilling, but you have to know when to stop.

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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