Mr. Blue is in California this week (full disclosure), and if the advice is more mellow than usual, more accepting, more whatever, that's why. The driver who picked me up at the airport was a man named Charisma. Real name. His mama loved him a lot, I guess. He loves it here. He said he has friends in Minnesota and that Minnesota is OK but the people there are too stiff for his taste. "Minnesotans don't tell stories on themselves, you know?" he said, wheeling toward Hollywood. "I mean, they'll tell stories on other folks but never on themselves. Like they never got drunk or did anything stupid in their lives. I don't like it when people can't let their damn hair down." I murmured something Midwesternish, like "Yeah, good point."
As I write this, I'm sitting on a friend's balcony in Santa Monica, looking up the coast toward Malibu, watching the roller skaters sail up the walkway along the beach and the waves roll in. She and I sat here and talked about the ephemerality of life and told stories on ourselves. Truly dumb things we did long ago that somehow we can't bring ourselves to regret. She said, "If you like your life now, then you have to be grateful for everything that got you here." Everything connected, the dumb moves somehow linked to the brilliant ones, a real California notion. I sat and dumbly agreed with this, though I don't agree at all. California has that effect on me. If I lived here, I wouldn't work another day. Couldn't. Would try. Every morning, would try to write a sentence. Soon give up. Pour myself another latte and lie back on the chaise and look out at the Specific Ocean and think vague thoughts about, you know, life and stuff and, like, plan the rest of my day. Relaxation, lunch, walk, nap, check e-mail, TV, late supper at Baha, relax, shower, head to bed. I've got to get myself out of here and back to Minnesota. Got to. Friday I'm out of here.
Dear Mr. Blue,
I really need to have sex with another human being. Are there men in the Midwest who can be hired for such things? I'm dragging toward completion of a very long divorce. I'm not looking for a relationship, just sex. I anticipate your advice will be along the lines of sublimation. Read good books! Throw yourself into your children, your church, your work, your garden! Scrub floors! Pump iron, so that when the time is right, you will not be worried about the texture of your thighs! And that will be good advice. Except I really do need to have sex. Men do this all the time, I think. So do the new young women. I'm not sure about middle-aged Midwestern moms, though. Still, there it is. And here we are.
Ex-wife of Bath
Are there gigolos in Peoria? I doubt it, but America is a wide-open bazaar, thanks to the Internet, and everything is at your fingertips. I have a friend who confessed to me that she replied to a personals ad online, a man offering erotic massage for women, and that, after talking to him on the phone and meeting him for coffee, she availed herself of his services and found it, in her words, "very weird and oddly satisfying." I don't recommend this, but that's not your question. I think that if you're in the market for sex, you probably can find it. I don't need to tell you about the risks, do I? Or do I?
Dear Mr. Blue,
Every morning I wake up feeling certain that today I will discover my calling in life, and each day I end up muddling through the same tedious life as the day before. Could this be my fate? Am I destined to lead a meager existence in this fast-paced world?
This sounds like a breakfast problem to me. Try a different cereal. Something with more bran, and put yogurt on it, and raisins. A glass of juice and a slice of whole-wheat toast. And a few calisthenics afterward.
Dear Mr. Blue,
I am 23 and am supposed to be applying to business school this fall, but after three years of working in the business world, I realize that everyone I come in contact with is boring. If I have to discuss stock options or e-anything at the next cocktail party, I am going to pull out all of my hair. I don't know what else I would do if I didn't go into business. But I dream of international travel and well-balanced, interesting people. Your advice would be greatly appreciated.
Prancing Around My Cubicle
Go to business school, if you can get into a good one, and hurl yourself into your studies, at least for a year, and see if you don't find a teacher who inspires you. Don't make a sudden U-turn based on your antipathy to some people you've met lately. It's good to be averse to bores but don't let aversion steer your course. Business is not a narrow profession, it's a culture, and success is predicated less on your knowledge of stock options and more on your ability to read people, process information and solve problems. A good business education can equip you for all sorts of careers, including ones where the subject of stock options would never arise. And then there's overseas business to consider. Polish up your Chinese.
Dear Mr. Blue,
I just turned 30, am a little more than halfway through training to be a surgeon and have been going out with a wonderful guy for almost two years. We both seem to feel that this relationship is the one. We talk about the future. Both of us want to specialize, but we want to work out a way to do it together, as close to each other as possible, or with the least time apart.
I have always wanted to do plastic surgery, which is to general surgery what a full-bodied Bordeaux is to plonk. It's another three years of training, however. My dilemma is that I've been offered a place in a plastic surgery program at the other end of the country. That would mean a long-distance relationship for three years.
After a life thus far devoted to education and goal-oriented behavior, I feel this incredible pull to slow down and enjoy myself with the person I love and a life I enjoy. I am torn. My boyfriend encourages me to go for the program, if that's what I want. He is willing to tough out the three years. I think maybe it's better sometimes to enjoy what you do have, rather than always trying to get more. I am not sure if he really sees the long-distance relationship for the ungainly beast that it can be.
Your comparison of Bordeaux vs. plonk sounds slightly tinny to me, as if you borrowed it for your own. It sounds like a guy phrase, something tossed off at a party, not anything deeply felt. Whereas your line about the "tremendous pull to slow down" strikes me as genuine. That's my first reaction to your letter. So I question whether the plastic surgery program is really what you want to do or what you think a person ought to do. Of course next year your boyfriend might be offered a spot in a distant program and jump at the chance and you'd have to live with the ungainly beast anyway. But I applaud a brilliant 30-year-old feeling a pull toward love and the good life. You could apply the old Truck Struck test: If you were struck by a truck and lay dying in the street in a couple of years, which of these two lives would you rather be living?
Dear Mr. Blue,
I'm 47, still very pretty, slender, sexy, smart, good-humored, etc. etc. I have been married once and now another relationship has ended unhappily, and I'm about to give up on ever finding anyone. Could you please offer some words on the importance of persistence and optimism? For me, both are in short supply right now.
Ms. Blue Too
Dear Ms. B.T.,
It's OK to feel down in the dumps after a romance has come to a bumpy end. It's the pits. Day after day after day, you wake up feeling lousy and you think, Never again. No more of this fairy tale; give me the simple honest solo life. And then one day you feel a half-inch better. Or even a few millimeters. And better is better. And as you feel a little better, you naturally gravitate toward others, you lean in closer, you feel sexier, more humorous, and the result is that, voilà, somebody gravitates toward you. You talk, you walk, you dance, you hold hands, you put your lips together and touch in interesting ways and you recover the ancient vocabulary of love that is one of life's sweetest blessings. To sit and look at the sunset with your arm around someone whose arm is around you is a great comfort. Nobody would close the door to such pleasures.
Dear Mr. Blue,
I grew up in a small Southern town and wanted to get more from life than what everyone else settled for, so I moved away. I promised myself I would travel after college but, instead, I fell in love with a musician 21 years older. It was love at first sight. Three years later, I realized that my soul mate was an alcoholic. I was preparing myself to break up with him, but then he vowed never to touch alcohol again. I couldn't bear to kick the man while he was down, so I agreed to stay. We got married and he has been sober for three years. We get along fine, but lately my urge to travel and see the world has become so strong that I am incredibly unhappy. I cannot suppress my wanderlust anymore. Furthermore, I realize that I do not love my husband as a wife should. I love him more as a best friend. He would be devastated if he knew this and I fear he would resort to drinking again. I feel so selfish for wanting so much and I feel so guilty for staying with him out of sympathy. I just don't think I have the guts to break his heart. What should I do?
I don't know what you should do. Honestly. No idea. Your sentence about not loving your husband as a wife but rather as a best friend is a sentence I don't know how to read. The alcoholic life is a complicated story, replete with devious offshoots and effects, and I'm sure you could benefit from joining a group for families of folks in recovery, maybe seeking some counseling for yourself. I don't believe that wanderlust is the root problem. It's simpler than that: whether to stay with him or leave. You seem trapped in a complexity, and whether you decide to stay or leave, you need to figure out your unhappiness. I'm all for glib advice but none comes to mind.
Dear Mr. Blue,
About five years ago I contracted a very mild case of genital herpes. I have read up on the disease and think I've intellectually come to terms with it, but it makes me feel unavailable somehow. So I tend to back away from a romance rather than risk telling her. What are your thoughts on this?
It's an odd problem, indeed, to be floating down the white-water river of romance, heading for the falls, and to feel obligated to tell your partner, in the thrill of the moment, that there is a spider in the canoe and that it bites. Human ingenuity responds to a challenge, though, and the course of true love never runs smooth, and so on and so forth. Maybe it's a matter of timing. You don't rush, you flirt up to a certain point and then you float, and then you flirt more, and then you coast, and somewhere you achieve a moment of weightlessness when you can murmur the simple truth, and the rest is up to her.