Don't call us ...

Can I simply stop seeing people I don't want to be friends with, or do I have to tell them why?

By Garrison Keillor
Published August 22, 2000 7:49PM (EDT)

Dear Mr. Blue,

Is it good manners to avoid people you don't really want to see, or do you owe it to them to explain why? You meet people, see them a few times and then realize there's no great friendship there -- do you just stop returning calls or should you tell them what's going on? I have always believed this to be cowardly, but I know many people prefer to be ignored, rather than told. And how can anyone be expected to tell the difference between a friend who's busy and an ex-friend?

Social Grace

Dear Social Grace,

I come from reticent people and believe in avoidance as a tool of diplomacy and am not in favor of explicitness as a rule. Of course it depends on the situation. Your next-door neighbor who got into the sauce and kicked your dog and demeaned your children will need to be spoken to. Your weasel brother-in-law who lives two time zones away can be avoided. Ditto the folks from the office whom you invited to dinner and spent three uncomfortable hours with listening to their stale opinions -- why confront them? Just don't be available for a replay. The profound fact of modern life is that everyone is ferociously busy and that friendship ebbs and flows and nobody need explain much of anything; we can be grateful for them what wants to see us and leave the others to their own devices.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm 25; she's 23. We met a few months ago and began dating, and things became serious fairly quickly. Each of us has always hoped to find the one person to whom we wouldn't have to explain ourselves, justify ourselves, apologize for ourselves. Complete comfort, total understanding and acceptance. A wondrous thing. But something is missing, that rush of excitement when she walks in the room. That gaga feeling. It just isn't there. I fear that its absence -- despite a mutual physical attraction -- means she doesn't expand my world in that great way that love can. Part of me wants to end it and wait for someone who brings that heady, loose-kneed feeling; but the other part says, Grow up already. What do you think?

Wondering What Love Is

Dear Wondering,

I think there is something calculating about your letter. I think that probably your friend isn't feeling faint when you walk in the room either. Think about that for a moment. Maybe you're unable to go gaga over someone with whom you feel total understanding and acceptance. Maybe you're looking for Bambi the cocktail waitress with the stud in her tongue or Shondra the bass player in the Electric Eskimo Lesbians. You know, somebody bigger than life. Maybe you're realizing that total understanding and acceptance is not such a good deal and that there's a lot to be said for the dangerous broad with the wicked smile who elevates your blood pressure and makes your kidneys itch. I don't know. I can't live your life for you. Go live it and learn from it and if you discover something interesting, write back and tell us.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am 45, never married, now deeply in love with an amazing man who's 41, also never married. We've both been preoccupied with careers, travel and education. And we both have reached the point where we want marriage and family. We have been dating for five months, and I thought things were getting serious and then last week he made a flippant remark about not being able to find a wife. I called him on it, said it hurt to feel invisible. He said he had meant the comment past tense. But then he said he thought we were not seeing each other exclusively anyway, that he wanted to date other women.

Till yesterday, I thought he cared more for me. Now I wonder. If I didn't care so deeply for him, I would walk away. He's a wonderful man, curious about people and cultures, plays the violin and sings, writes, reads avidly, and he has no TV. I want to hang on to this man. Are there any simple solutions?

Glum and in Love

Dear Glum,

This might have been a conversation that simply jumped the tracks and left some sentences hanging in the air that are all too painful and memorable but that don't mean much in the long haul. People say things. Especially lovers. Maybe he drank some Scotch from a bad batch and it put him in one of those dour confessional moods that comes over a person sometimes around 11 p.m. The O What Is My Life All About sort of mood. Maybe it was a failed joke. Who knows? You'd do well to mark his comment and put it away and not brood over it. Trust your feelings, enjoy his company, and if he wants to pull away, let him do it on his own steam.

Dear Mr. Blue,

Is it a mistake to move to a new city, where I know very few people, so I can stay together with my boyfriend? We've lived together for two months, which worked out wonderfully. He's still in college and definitely needs to be a guy in college. Should we just go our separate ways, or make a go of it? And do you know a really good recipe for Key lime pie?


Dear Mover,

I live in Minnesota and we make pumpkin pie up here and sometimes apple or banana cream. For Key lime pie, you don't ask a Minnesotan, you ask someone who talks funny. As for moving with the boyfriend, yes, it's a mistake, and go ahead and make it. What's life without a few mistakes? The worst ones are mistakes of omission. The aunt you loved and always meant to visit and then she ups and dies. The big adventure you turned down, the letter you should have written and didn't, the boyfriend you could've moved to a new city with and didn't because it was a mistake. I was in Oslo recently and thought to myself, Why don't I settle here and make a new life as a Norwegian? and I didn't do it and now I am haunted by this. I'll buy you coffee and pie sometime and tell you about it.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am so confused. I am getting married in less than two months and I truly love my soon-to-be husband and cannot imagine hurting him, but I have this sinking feeling of "This is it?" I keep telling myself, Take a deep breath, it's only cold feet, but I don't feel content. My greatest fear is that after the cold feet and after the wedding, this feeling of discontent will still exist -- and then what? Do I walk away and possibly live a life of regret? Or do I walk down the aisle and hope for the best?

Anxious Bride

Dear Anxious,

It's no consolation, but, believe me, it's common to have the heebie-jeebies before a wedding. I know, I've been there, more than once. The Joyous Occasion approaches and you hear that shrill violin pizzicato that signifies danger in the horror flicks -- the young couple abandoning their auto on the dark and lonely road and heading for that dark house with the shadow flitting behind the curtains -- and you wish you could hit Rewind. A few strands of advice. 1) Down deep you do know your own heart and if you truly love this man, then you probably do truly love him. Give some thought to marriage -- private prayerful thought -- and see if these panicky thoughts are based on anything real or if they are simply a sort of trembling. Take a week to yourself and ponder this. 2) Mention your trepidations to a close friend, just to hear yourself talk about it. 3) Know that there is no shame or embarrassment in postponement of the Joyful Occasion. It happens. You're not trapped aboard the ship.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I just graduated from college, and have a job waiting for me in five months. My family is letting me live with them for free, but I feel like I'm wasting this opportunity -- I've saved up about $1,500 and would like to go live somewhere for a few months, get away. Any suggestions? And how do I justify this to my family?


Dear Itchy,

How about Norway? On second thought, $1,500 isn't going to pay for three months in the World's Most Beautiful Nation. So you might have to settle for Waco, Texas. A person can learn a lot from a few months in west Texas. Mainly it makes every other place in the world look pretty good. After Waco, the Bronx feels special. Jersey City feels like Paris after a few months in Waco. Don't try too hard to justify this to your family, or they'll suspect that you're trying to put one over on them. Just tell them you're going away for a few weeks to see a friend. After a few weeks, send a postcard and tell them you're having such a good time that you're staying longer.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I've wanted to write books for years now (I'm 32) and have been told by friends that I have talent in this area. I've started several stories and I really like the characters and scenes I've created, but my problem is developing plots. Am I hopeless? Once I have a plot (flimsy though it may be), how do I develop it further? Help! This is a dream of mine and I really don't want to let it go.

Lost and Confused

Dear L&C,

He read her letter again and folded it and stuck it in his pocket. He walked across the kitchen to the back door and stood there a moment. He wanted to respond to her question about plot development but it was almost noon, and he had promised to meet Tom at the liquor store at 12:30 and bring the ski masks. He had never robbed a liquor store before (he was a liberal, after all), but what with the pittance that Salon paid him for his advice column -- $5 for a right answer, $1.50 for an incorrect -- he was desperate. His gutters needed replacing, the washing machine was walking across the basement floor, the car was on its last legs, he was out of gin, his child needed a new pair of shoes. He thought of Lost and Confused waiting for an answer, and he thought of advice he could give her (Give up writing and start raising purebred sheep and you will have no lack of story in your life.), and then he opened the door and walked to the car and got in. Don't do it, he thought. Go back in the house and answer that poor woman's letter. He backed the car slowly down the driveway and into the street. Don't do it, he thought again, and put the car in Drive and headed for the liquor store, knowing he would do it and that life would never be the same for him ever again.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am in a quandary. I am 31, soon to be divorced, and I am thinking about leaving the East Coast and moving back to the Midwest. I love my friends here, but I miss my hometown. My big concern is my tenuous relationship with my dad and brother who are verbally abusive and argumentative, which is one of the reasons I left town. I don't plan on seeing them much, but I don't know if even getting near them is a big mistake. Am I making a huge mistake even considering moving back?

Corn Girl

Dear Corn,

The voice of cautious old age (that's me) says to take things one step at a time. Do the divorce and let the dust settle and get yourself into some state of equilibrium, and then think about where you want to live. Don't let the sadness and queasiness of divorce be the engine that is driving you home. I'm sure you can deal with your querulous old man and your unpleasant brother. But try to get a clearer idea of what you expect of a new life in the old hometown. You can go home again, but you need some reason to go, other than nostalgia.

Dear Mr. Blue,

My sweet potato and I have been dating for five mostly happy years. Now I've moved to Seattle, and he's working on moving out to be with me, but I'm not sure I should let him. Because I know I want to have kids and he's not sure he wants to. From the beginning, I've been clear with him about this. Now at the five-year point, I've started pushing the issue, and he feels exasperated, and tells me he doesn't know what he wants. Am I silly to hang around hoping he'll see the light, or is there a little sliver of hope?

Glamour Girl

Dear G.G.,

There's hope, of course. Where there's grass, there's hope. But haven't you already sort of said goodbye? Sometimes life accidentally shapes itself into a coherent story line and we should accept this. You're in Seattle, he's not, and rather than continue a play that seems to lack a second act, now is a logical time to say, Good luck and thanks for the memories. In a sweet way, leaving some room for him to see the light.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am 43, divorced with two pre-teen girls, and I live in the city. I'm in love with a man who lives in the country about six hours away. We met two years ago and had a wonderful time laughing, talking, running naked through the woods, but lately, he has withdrawn to a point where he cannot make the effort to communicate with me. He works very hard and is under a ton of financial pressures and feels badly about his situation. I have a full life where I live, but I can also imagine moving there. I am financially independent. It has been six months since we've seen each other and I've finally got it planned for me to go over there for a few days by myself soon. I guess I want to resolve who he is, and is there any hope, or whatever. I am attracted to this man like you would not believe. Why do I feel the need to "resolve" his feelings for me vs. his overwhelming life?


Dear Torn,

I should be asking you that question. You seem to be reading this man at a distance. He's not communicating with you but nonetheless you have drawn certain conclusions about his feelings. You should be careful about that. He may simply be done with this romance for his own mysterious reasons and he may not welcome this invasion of his life. I can't see that your aggressive pursuit of him is warranted. Six months of avoidance would seem to mean "goodbye."

Dear Mr. Blue,

A couple of years ago I unwillingly ventured into my 30s, and I have had to face the fact that my work is stagnant and stultifying. It involves computers, of course, and it also pays rather well. I have wanted to be a fiction writer since childhood. Frequently, I have even wanted to write, but the urge soon passes. My wife is a witty, compassionate, physically striking woman, and after nearly a decade together I am still madly in love with her. But I fear I have not become the person she thought she was marrying. Among her past lovers are a successful musician and a writer, and each time one of them produces something new the work quietly appears in our CD player or bookshelf. I cannot help but feel that in bringing these works into our home she is keening for the life she could have had. How can I, a major underachiever, figure out what my true life's work is?

Dharmically Impaired

Dear D.I.,

There are mediocre novelists out there wondering what sort of computer programmers they might have become had they only the courage to try. There are struggling musicians who envy bus drivers. Your life work doesn't lie somewhere in the future, it's what you did yesterday and will do tomorrow. Perhaps your true life's work is your marriage. You're lucky in love and this is worth paying attention to, improving the time with your wife, making a graceful life together. (Plenty of novelists could envy a graceful and enduring marriage.) Don't worry about your wife being unfulfilled by your work, but if you find it stagnant, then the good pay gives you a chance to save up your pile, quit the job and do something else. Like taking your wife on a long meandering trip through Europe in September, a trip from one cafe to another to a pensione to the night train to Venice, whose only purpose is to enjoy the company and the conversation amid splendor and the blessed language barrier.

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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