The one and only

He's my true love, but he's married. Is there just one perfect person in the world for everyone?



Garrison Keillor
September 5, 2000 11:00PM (UTC)

Dear Mr. Blue

After telling myself over and over that I would never let it happen, I have found myself in love with a man with a wife and two children. He has decided that he will stay in his marriage for the children. My question is this: Do you feel there is more than one person for everyone? I have always felt there is one perfect person in the world for everyone, and am suddenly very concerned that 12 years ago mine married someone else.

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Distressed

Dear Distressed

It is a lovely conceit, the notion that fate and the forces of the universe conspired to bring the happy pair together, but experience shows that love is a bond that is built by two people of harmonic temperaments. There are many perfect mates for you, probably three or four within a five-mile radius.

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Mr. Blue

I am cheap. My friends think this is unforgivable, but I am a student and have very little money. And I get a thrill out of saving money. My friends think it's uncool. I don't. I enjoy spending money on unique experiences, but I can't see spending it on ordinary things, like designer clothes or expensive food. Am I without class or just following my own drummer?

Fiscally Conservative

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Dear Conservative

Parsimony is a grand old tradition and a fine sport. Of course you have the perfect excuse, being a student, but there are plenty of wonderful eccentrics around who believe in getting their shirts from the second-hand store, who look on food as merely fuel and buy the cheapest kind, who enjoy Spartan living conditions and who get a kick out of living outside the consumer culture. More power to them. Cheapness becomes complicated if one has a family and foists it on them, but you're not there yet.

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Dear Mr. Blue

I am 52, pretty successful in all my endeavors, thankful for my wonderful son and splendid husband. I take care of my dear old mother, I watch out for my friends and cook them massive meals. I quit my day job to write, paint and take up the accordion. I am living off my savings and the proceeds from a screenplay I wrote. So what's the problem? I lounge. I read. I cook. I don't write, I don't paint, I don't play music. For the past 18 months. Nada. I was so productive for 30 years and now nothing. Is it menopause? I don't know how to get "hungry" again and produce.

Ennui

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Dear Ennui

I'd guess that you're loafing and I see nothing wrong with it, especially since you're being such a generous and loving mother, wife, daughter and friend. This happens to writers sometimes, if they're lucky. They go through a happy period of languor when they don't write much. The result usually is that, one morning, they wake up and hear the dogs bark and the birds sing and they pick up paper and pencil and flames sprout up from the page. Angels hover, men on horseback gallop past, cannons thunder from the ridge, tigers stroll through the kitchen. It's too bad you're not playing that accordion, though. The world needs more accordionists.

Dear Mr. Blue

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I'm in love with a guy who's funny and charming and kind and gentle and strong and brilliant who, last month, told me that a few years ago, he'd attempted suicide with a horse harness in front of his parents. It's a terrible story. I can't forget it. He had therapy and thinks he has moved on. But I can't stand him anymore. I am so ashamed, but that's my honest reaction. I feel sick about him, maybe because I can see he is not who I thought he was. I guess. (Two of my friends in high school killed themselves, and it is a difficult issue for me.)

I suggested he go back into therapy, and he did and now he's become a therapy-head, talking about "boundaries" and "self-affirmation" and "personal demons." It's awful. He wants to discuss his feelings for hours every night. I can't take this. Last week, I told him I needed a little space -- just a few days to myself. He agreed, but by the time I got home from work the next day, there were a dozen e-mails, four voice-mails (and 17 repeats on caller I.D.), flowers and a sappy card. I've never seen such neediness. I love him more than anything; I would be devastated to lose him; I don't want to hurt him. But I genuinely don't know what to do. Are these feelings of disgust something I will get over on my own? Should I give it time? I don't want to crush him or ruin things by reacting badly.

I don't know what to do.

Revolted

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Dear Revolted

Mental illness is the cruellest story, in which the person you love does reprehensible things, and thus love is tested to the breaking point. It would have been easier if you had gained this knowledge gradually -- if there had been some warning, some inkling, before this story was dumped on you. A rope can tolerate a gradual increase in stress and snap under a sudden one. And perhaps something has snapped here. Nobody can tell you what to do with these feelings. I doubt you can talk yourself out of them. This love was in the early blooming stage and then suddenly your friend swerved and needed you to be his support, his surrogate mom, his shrink, and you recoiled. I think that disgust is an honest feeling, meant to be trusted. Tell him you need to establish a boundary and spend some time affirming yourself and that this time you mean it. That's your honest reaction, whether he needs you or not.

Dear Mr. Blue

I am 44, happily married with three wonderful children, working as an office manager, which I'm competent at and bored with. It's a dead end. I've settled into a malaise: can't stay focused, procrastinate, feel exhausted. The thought of starting a new career daunts the hell out of me. I love nothing more than to sit around and read and listen to music. Sometimes I think there's a good novel in me somewhere, and I'll write feverishly for a few days and then put it away. My wife is unhappy in her career, too, and not sure what to do. We're relatively comfortable financially, and the idea of sacrificing it all in order to start over doesn't seem like such a good idea. Easier just to drift along in this job and retire eventually. It all seems so hopeless. Should I just shut up and count my blessings (and believe me, I have 'em to count)? Is this a midlife crisis?

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Muddled

Dear Muddled

Get a new job. Don't let this boring one become a big psychological morass that sucks you down into self-doubt and some long angst-ridden walk into the dark. Life needn't be a noir movie, sometimes the problem is simple. Start a job search. Write your risumi, ship it around, watch the ads and make the rounds of agencies. Don't think about making a big dramatic change, think about a small and pleasurable change. A new boss, new colleagues, a new cubicle, a new route to work.

Dear Mr. Blue

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I've been married for 10 years, a happy marriage except for one thing: children. We have none. He wants them, I have no interest. In fact, other people's children irritate me with their noisy tantrums. My husband was pretty understanding about this at first, but lately we've had some ugly arguments. His relatives put a lot of pressure on me about this. I feel like I'm walking on eggshells. For the first time in my life, I'm happy in my work -- I'm a freelance writer -- and I've offered to divorce my husband so that he can find a woman who is willing to have babies. He keeps saying it's a little late for that. Now he's given me the unofficial ultimatum that he wants to see me pregnant by the middle of next year. What now?

Besieged

Dear Besieged

You have no interest in motherhood, and so don't go there. Don't be pregnant next year; start to figure out the next phase of your life, which may be as a single woman. Figure out how you'll support yourself, where you'll live, what you'll do, and move toward that life gently but forcefully. It's a painful transition, but it's more painful to waffle and allow yourself to be drawn into arguments. There is nothing to argue about. You have one vision of your life, he has another. Yours is the one that counts, since it's you walking around in your skin, not him.

Dear Mr. Blue

I am a 25-year-old graduate student, in love with another graduate student who broke up with me a couple of months ago. He said he didn't know where I fit in his life. An odd thing about our relationship: Everything that took place -- dates, phone conversations -- took place at my instigation. He was willing, but he never initiated anything. We have remained friends, but the pattern continues; he never asks me over or asks to come over here. However, if I fail to return his calls, he will keep calling and leaving messages, so he's not just trying to blow me off completely. It just hurts too much to be his friend. But I am weak and I cannot give him up. Why is he doing this to me? He knows that I am in love with him. He knows that I am still sexually attracted to him. If he doesn't want me anymore, why doesn't he tell me? Why does he still call me darling, dear, sweetie? Why? Why? Why?

Hurt, Confused & Weak

Dear H.C.&W

The gentleman has you situated very nicely in his life: He has the pleasure of your friendship, your loyalty and the thrill of knowing you adore him and covet his company. It's glorious to be the object of adoration and not have to love in return. It's pure pleasure. You call and he can hear that longing in your voice and know that you'll do all the inviting and arranging and he can sit tight. He's the passenger, you're the driver. He's the prince, you're the courtier. Why should he change this?

Dear Mr. Blue

I'm a 28-year-old woman filled with dreams, ideals, passions and the desire to experience all the wondrous adventures that life has to offer. My husband is a kind, loyal man, but he does little to make our relationship grow. I've attempted to make our marriage richer, more enjoyable -- no go. I've tried so hard to encourage him to express himself -- nada. Is there more to marriage than this? Or should I be content with what I already have?

Stuck in Denver

Dear Stuck

Everyone is filled with dreams and ideals and passions, my dear. Even the traffic cop on the corner and the cleaning lady and the dairy farmer, and even your stolid husband. Some people are less likely to dramatize their feelings, and so, to you, they may appear drone-like, but this is not the reality. What do you mean, you "encourage" him to express himself? Some encouragement may, to the encouragee, seem patronizing, insulting, a sort of harassment. If my wife told someone that she was encouraging me to express myself, I'd feel I'd been put into the child's chair. Marriage is a partnership, a continually fascinating waltz, and you can't haul your partner down a road he's unwilling to traverse. Take some time to get to know your husband better, and see if you can't find where his ideals and passions lie.

Dear Mr Blue

For the last year I've been involved with a man who is unhappily married and has two young children. I am divorced. (We are both 40ish.) Lately he's been telling his wife he wants a divorce, and she has fallen apart. He is now all over the board emotionally, trying to figure out what to do. I love him dearly but I told him I think we should part for a while until he gets his head on straight. I've asked him not to contact me, which he is obliging. I have struggled with the morality of this relationship from the beginning and have told him this over and over, but our connection and chemistry is of a once-in-a-lifetime quality and we deeply love each other. Was this the right thing for me to do?

Bailing by the Bucketful

Dear Bailing

This is a story with no happy ending, I'm afraid. You're right to back out of it, and at least you've won a reprieve from your struggle, but you are leaving a window open, hoping that he will return as a free and unencumbered man, and I'm afraid that this is not to be. But you didn't ask me about the future. The answer to your question is, yes.


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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