Be careful what you wish for

I wanted an exciting man in my life and I got one. Trouble is, now he's got time for everyone but me.

By Garrison Keillor
September 12, 2000 11:07PM (UTC)
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In the interest of honesty and good journalism and the American way, it should be noted that the author of the wisdom that follows forgot his wallet on an airplane in Philadelphia on Saturday morning. He set it on the seat beside him and left the aircraft and now it's gone. And then, on Monday morning, having convinced a ticket agent at the airport that he indeed was who he said he was and having returned home walletless, he awoke to discover that he had left the front door of his home wide open all night, with only an unlocked screen door to protect his family from heinous criminals. One could cite other recent lapses but those will suffice for now. Let the buyer of free advice beware. Onward.

Dear Mr. Blue,


All my life I wanted to marry an exciting man with a fascinating life. Well, I married him. He's a politician who also writes and plays in a blues band, and dashes about doing good works, goes to parties with fascinating people, declaims passionately about important issues and gets important phone calls in the middle of the night. The trouble is, and maybe it's stupid trouble, that intensity hasn't been aimed at me for years -- and I miss him. Lately, I found myself drifting into an affair with a good-hearted guy I work with, which resulted in some clumsy fumbling that hardly felt sexual, only embarrassing.

I love my husband, but he gets so angry when I ask for more attention, because he feels that it shows I don't understand the things that he's about. Is it stupid and immature to expect my husband to treat me like a lover? We were such good lovers together once.

Sad and Drifting


Dear S&D,

It's a rough patch you're in but don't despair. Look to your own life and find your own fascinating people and your own important issues to be passionate about. Maybe Mr. Excitement has driven you into a corner and you've adopted the role of dewy-eyed supporter and lady-in-waiting and Holder of the Coat. Don't. And don't ask for attention. What you should ask for is a date, next Friday, for dinner. Don't beg. Make appointments with him. Get on his calendar. But the late-night phone calls are ridiculous arrogance. Unless you're the POTUS, there's no good reason to be doing business at 2 in the morning. Get an answering machine.

Dear Mr. Blue,


I'm a 24-year-old guy who ended a six-month relationship with a 21-year-old girl because we weren't the right people for each other. It was fairly amicable; she understands that we don't belong together, but she says there isn't anyone else she wants to sleep with, and she wants us to have "casual sex" from time to time. I have mixed feelings about this. My friends think I'd be crazy not to. What do you think?

Healthy Male


Dear H.M.,

If you continue sleeping together, then you haven't ended your relationship, you're still together, but, hey, it's OK by me. Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. And I'm all for casual sex. The idea of writing the sexual proposition in triplicate and then putting on a tuxedo and black tie so you can get undressed and hop into bed, it never made sense to me. And the tea afterward in the conservatory with the Postlethwaites and those little cucumber sandwiches. Ridiculous.

Dear Mr. Blue,


My family and I are very concerned about my brother; he doesn't exhibit passion about anything, is uncommunicative, has few friends and seems to live in a world of his own. I partly feel responsible for being a typically (perhaps excessively) domineering older brother when we were younger, but I'm not sure what my place should be in helping him out now. We just want to know that he's OK in there and doesn't need professional help to feel his emotions.

My Brother's Keeper

Dear Keeper,


You're not sure what your place should be? Good Lord, how about you start out as a curious bystander and work up from there? You seem not to know your brother well enough to supply even one specific detail about him. I detect smugness here: I think you're more interested in assuaging some slight sense of guilt and covering your butt than in knowing the brother. Maybe your brother is uncommunicative because he thinks you're a complete shit. You bullied this guy and now you're trying to be concerned about him? Try a little harder.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm a mid-40s single guy, tiptoeing through the dating minefield, wondering: How soon do you tell a woman that you have no desire at all to be a father? I respect those with the grit and determination to start the Long March of parenthood, but it's not for me. I wouldn't want a woman to invest time getting to know me, only to discover that we were 180 degrees apart on this. To be fair to everyone, how soon, and how, should this topic come up?

Boreal Bachelor


Dear Boreal,

You could wear a Zero Population Growth pin on your lapel on the very first date and that might urge the topic forward, but what's wrong with a woman getting to know you, not as a stud but as a person? It's one of life's civilized pleasures. You meet, you eat oysters and champagne, you converse about various matters, you listen to Gershwin, you dance, you walk around, hold hands, converse more, and this you enjoy. Not until the third or fourth date should she lean forward and say, "You haven't had a vasectomy, have you? How is your sperm count? Can we talk genetics? Fill out this family health history. And could I see a financial statement?" And you say, "No way, babes. Ixnay on daddyhood. Remove it from your mind." And she will, but with pleasant memories of the time spent dancing and romancing.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am a call girl, a high-priced prostitute. Now I have a wonderful man in my life who says he loves me, but if he knew I was in the business he would never trust me again. I want advice on whether to come clean and tell the truth, or pray I never get caught in lies or with a client.



Dear Deirdre,

Given the choice between truth and a lie, it's hard not to recommend the truth, which is so often a bracing tonic and a way of blowing the cobwebs and detritus from one's life and reorganizing it on new principles. Without the truth, we tend to live smaller lives, like sheep, looking forward to the next clump of grass, the next haircut, the next chance to hump or be humped. Telling the truth is a way of raising our sights a little bit from the turf we're chewing and see the horizon and maybe even look at the stars.

Dear Mr. Blue,


Two months ago I met the woman of my dreams and fell deeply in love. I now find out that she once was a rape victim. A crude advance by a colleague of hers has brought back painful memories of the past, and she has become withdrawn, quiet and depressed. What do I do? All I want is for this woman to be happy again. I know I cannot solve her problems. But I simply don't know what the right course of action here is.


Dear Anguished,

Just be there. That's two-thirds of what you can do. And be your normal cheerful loving self. Guard against going into Oprah mode and becoming the host of your true love's distress. Be patient if the withdrawal lasts longer than would seem appropriate, but be watchful for hints of serious distress. Tell her that if she wants to talk about it, you're available any time day or night. Be an entertainer and propose diversions to get her out of the dark corner. And tell her that, with her permission, you'll call up the colleague and tell him to shove his head up his butt and tell you what he sees.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I wanted to write to you about the massive burdens and pain that I endure. The great intense and sharp stabbing depression in my life, that almost visible ghost of sadness that follows me like an unpaid traffic ticket. But I realized, well, what the hell, you don't really care, and anything you would say would be clever but pointless. The problem is, I still want to write to you, despite the fact that it can serve no useful purpose, my life will still be pointless suffering. What should I do? That is, besides get therapy, i.e., to buy someone's time to listen to me and pretend to be interested?


Dear John,

I'm going to assume that you are not now seeing a therapist, and I urge you to do so. It's clear from your words that you need to do this. Of course it seems pointless to write to a column written by somebody you don't know -- perhaps it is -- but comfort comes in many forms, including the intercessions of strangers. The therapist is such a one. And you have used the word "depression," a medical term, rather than describing your suffering in religious terms, and so I take you at your word. Don't worry about the therapist's intentions -- call your community mental health center, or talk to your family or family physician, or walk into a public hospital, but do what you need to do to find a psychiatrist.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am a 37-year-old man, and I have never been asked out on a date with a woman -- sure, they've cooked for me, suggested outings, etc., but never have I experienced getting a call from a woman with a plan to pick me up, take me to dinner and then out to the theater or something. I've done this lots of times for women, and I can't help but think it would feel good to get the same in return. What gives with these females? I'd think that they would want to give what they seem to like to get.

Feeling Rotten

Dear Feeling,

Of course you're right and it's unfair and we men ought to go on strike for reciprocity, or at least you should. Stick to your guns, stay home, wait for a phone call, and if a woman calls with some vague idea about amusement, don't say yes unless she says the magical words, "When should I pick you up?" and gives clear indication that she's footing the bill. On the other hand, the antique social convention whereby Man proposes and Woman disposes has worked pretty well for us over the years, even if we think we deserve better. This convention reflects the biological fact that in the act of procreation, which dating theoretically aims toward, Man is the one who must be physically aroused for the act to take place. Granted, with a dude as young as you, this is generally no problem -- 37-year-old guys commonly experience physical arousal at the sight of cleavage in cloud formations -- but nonetheless, it's why Man has been designated the initiator. Because he knows who he has the hots for, and if he doesn't, then what's the point of it? As for your question, "What gives with these females?" I really have no idea. I've devoted my life to the question and am nowhere near the answer.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm a 27-year-old freelance writer in California. Two years ago, I started dating this funny, handsome and devastatingly intelligent man. It's like God saw my secret wish list and said, "OK, here he is!" We ended up together, and now he tells me that his job requires him to move to Southeast Asia -- indefinitely.

I don't know whether I can go with him, whether I can find work there too, or even if he wants me to go with him. I know he loves me and so I assume so, but he's out of town for a month and refuses to discuss the subject via e-mail or long-distance phone calls. I am sitting here going quietly insane because I can't think of anything else. My deadlines are marching past like cartoon silverware with little legs and three-fingered, gloved hands. The thought of leaving my friends and family and the job and the city that I know and love depresses the hell out of me -- but so does the thought of breaking up with this guy. Then I think about being in a strange city with him, surrounded by people who can't speak English, and the thought is both thrilling and frightening -- I would be dependent on him, at least for a while, to an extreme degree that I'm not comfortable with. And yet I think about staying here without him, and visiting the same familiar shops and restaurants without my arm entwined around his, and I just feel, for lack of a better word, sad. Help me. Should I stay or should I go?

Asia Calling

Dear Asia,

There are times when no rational decision is possible, and this may be one of them. And so you intuit a course of action and hurtle into the dark. Scary, thrilling, but you sound like a woman who can handle this sort of crisis. First of all, calm down. He is the one going away, not you, so this is his crisis. He must decide whether to ask you to come with him. Let him decide without any prompting or weeping or davening from you. He needs to weigh his own feelings in the month he's apart from you and when he returns, he'll probably know what to do. If he decides to go alone, then have a farewell dinner and send him away and cry for 72 hours and go into survivor mode for a few months and come out of it a Better Person. If he asks you to come with, if he really wants you to come with, if he says, "Please please please please please O baby please," well, why not go? You're young, you're a freelancer, it's a chance to see the world and make a life without Starbucks or "Sopranos," and why not grab at it? You can get along without English, if you need to, and you can meet plenty of interesting people who do speak English, people you might never meet in California. There is jet service between Southeast Asia and here, so if you find life unbearable, you can come home to the city that you know and love. But if he wants you to come along, and if he wants to support you for a while, then why not go?

Dear Mr. Blue,

I've been dating a man who makes me feel things I've never felt. For the first time in my life, I want to give to someone and make them happy instead of just gratifying my own needs. But he's been slow to initiate any sexual activity. We kiss, hold hands, etc. But it always seems like I start things. He says he likes me, that I'm "special" and he doesn't want to do the wrong thing. My idea is that if you care for someone, you want to sleep with them. But it seems like he's the type of guy who wants to wait because he cares for me.


Dear Confused,

You have stumbled upon a defector from the sexual revolution, a pacifist who sat out the war and has his own ideas about things. He seems to have gotten your attention, and that's the first step in dating, and now who knows what he may do? You could get a letter from him, announcing that he's joined the Franciscans. You could find a message on your answering machine saying that he fell in love with Bruce. Or you could go on feeling things you've never felt and keep trying to seduce him and finally, one day, succeed. Or you could both join the Church of Christ and marry and settle down and have babies. It just goes to show that women are attracted to men who are resistant to their charms. This happens all the time at my house. I throw myself at the lady's feet, compose sonnets and set them to music and sing them in my piping tenor voice, accompanying myself on the lute, and she says, "That's nice." But when I pop open a beer and settle down in front of the TV for the Vikings' game, she is overwhelmed with passion. You can set your watch by it.

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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