He's gotta have it

My father's addicted to Internet porn and the whole family's upset about it. What should we do?

By Garrison Keillor
October 31, 2000 10:15PM (UTC)
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Dear Mr. Blue,

My dad has developed an alarming addiction to Internet pornography over the past three years to the point where he sits down for several hours each night at the computer looking at his porn sites. This has affected the whole family. My sisters and I are extremely angry with him for disrespecting our mother so horribly. She has confronted him once or twice about it, the last time quite forcefully (telling him he needed to shape up or ship out). He agreed to stop, but did not, of course. We have checked up on him and seen that he still is logging on every night, no change whatsoever. What can my sisters and I do? I desperately want to confront him about it, but one sister counsels against it. She feels that it is my mom's issue and not ours, although we are deeply distressed by it. What do you think we, as a family, can do? Is counseling a realistic solution or option?



Dear Distressed,

I'm sorry, but your father is entitled to look at whatever he wants to look at. You have no business checking up on him. I suppose you're entitled to tell him about your distress, but that's all. Be kind and loving to your mother and let your poor father be. Maybe it's an addiction, maybe he needs help, maybe ... maybe ... maybe. But it's very distasteful that you "checked up" and went into the computer and trailed him. If you want to tear him away from whatever he's doing in that room, then invite him to the movies or a ballgame, get out the Scrabble board, deal a hand of poker, be amusing. Don't be a spy.


Dear Mr. Blue,

I am a married woman in my 40s who made a big, big mistake last year and had an affair with a much younger man I met at work. He ended it after a month because it was too intense and scary for him and he hated the moral dishonesty. I suspect I'll never see him again because that's the way he wants it. The trouble is that I have not been able to get over it. I've been in therapy; I've thought about all the reasons why I was attracted to him and why it needed to stop and never should have begun. But I can't stop longing for him. He is in the room every time my husband and I make love. My husband (who knows nothing about this) is a good man whom I love and admire -- but who is not the fun, lively man I married -- and for whom I no longer have feelings of passion. We have been together 15 years and have children to whom we are devoted. I have no desire whatsoever to end my marriage. But how do I forget about this guy? He was so gorgeous, so smart, so funny, so sexy. Just thinking about him while I write this makes my head spin -- and all the while I know he'd rather have a root canal than see me again. What can I do about it? Time is not healing this self-inflicted wound.

Still Mourning Lost Youth


Dear Mourning,

It's too soon to get over such a large experience. If you had fallen off a high cliff last year or been aboard a plane that made an emergency landing in a wheat field, you would not be over it yet either. I don't know that you can forget this guy; I do know that with the passage of time he will become dimmer and lose detail and will no longer sit in the corner when you and your husband make love. I know that for a fact. Gorgeous and smart and funny and sexy is pretty memorable, though. And of course the brevity of the affair makes it even more so -- you weren't with him long enough to learn about his fatuous and boring and dopey side. It's there, believe me, even if you didn't discover it. It's hard for your husband to compete with such a movie star. But your marriage to the good man is what will heal this wound, and the power of your husband's love for you and yours for him. You can make things fun and lively, if you decide to. Be a little less devoted to the children, a little more to each other. I wish there were a simple three-step procedure instead of this vague bromide ("Give it time") but try the bromide, dear. And find something to occupy your mind if it is jouncing around.


Dear Mr. Blue,

On a recent visit to the grocery store, my girlfriend immediately began eating the Brussels sprouts straight out of the plastic container from the deli counter as we were standing in the checkout line. I said I found her behavior somewhat wolfish. She protested that she was starved, and that there was nothing wrong with eating something that had already been weighed. I felt she should have waited until we reached the privacy of the car. She says I'm anal; I say she's hoi polloi. We agreed to defer to you.

Prudently Private


Dear P.P.,

I'm with the girlfriend. She's not cheating the store by munching from the container, and since when does one need privacy to eat? Frankly, I find a hungry woman terrifically sexy. A woman who hovers over the buffet and snarfs up the shrimp. A woman who grabs a Brussels sprout off my plate and devours it right there in front of me. A woman who isn't shy about taking big bites and letting a little juice drip down her chin. Defer to me, sir. Your girlfriend is a rare find. Cherish her.

Dear Mr. Blue,


He entered my life about three months ago and he is so great and I am crazy about him. He's in his mid-30s, I'm in my late 20s. The first few weeks were magical. But then it turned out that he had already planned a vacation and houseguests and he has a new high-powered job and needs to prove himself. I've seen him a total of eight hours in five weeks. He calls from airports, e-mails hurried-yet-tender blips, but I miss the romance. I feel I deserve more, but I don't want to be a nag and scare him off. My friends have only confused me more. My single friends say no one's that busy and I deserve better. My married ones say he's a keeper and urge me to keep our encounters lighthearted and fun and to stay busy myself. I really like this guy and feel it's only his busy schedule that's in our way right now, but at the same time I'm tired of feeling frustrated.


Dear Floundering,

Sometimes a person really can be that busy. If you had a good feeling about him at first, if it seemed even semimagical, then hang onto that and take your married friends' advice. Have a little faith. But it's one thing to have his new job take up his time, quite another for him to plod ahead with previous plans for a vacation and houseguests. See if he can't fit you in there somewhere. If the truth is that he's not crazy about you, then you need to cool your jets.


Dear Mr. Blue,

Is it ever OK to disturb someone who is reading in a cafe or restaurant? I've often noticed someone reading a book or article I enjoyed and have sometimes (if the person was attractive) thought about interrupting them to mention it. But on the other hand, I know when I'm reading in public, it's sometimes because I don't want to be disturbed. Any guidance?


Dear Buttinsky,


It's sometimes a very good idea to interrupt someone who's reading in a cafe. For example, if his pants are on fire, or if you're his long-lost brother Louie from St. Louis or his attorney Bernie with good news about a big out-of-court settlement. Interruption is also justified if he is reading your book and drinking your coffee. I don't think it's a great idea to interrupt an attractive person who, say, is perusing St. Paul's Epistle to the Colossians and say, "Hey, that's one of my faves, especially the love chapter. About the tinkling cymbal and all." A homely person might appreciate it, but an attractive one is likely to see right through you.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I have been dating a man for over eight years. We are both over 50; he had never been in a dating relationship before me. He says he wants me to move in with him but first he has to make room and clean his house. I haven't seen a lot of progress in that area since he said that two years ago. Every time I bring up the M-word, he gets a headache, but at the same time says he couldn't live without me. I realize I sound like a total dunce, but I don't have a clue what to do. I have been called "too nice" by most people, who say to get rid of him or "hold his feet to the fire." The over-50 part of me is afraid of being alone. I'm torn between not wanting to hurt his feelings, not wanting to be alone and finally not wanting to wait around for the rest of my life. He's also one of those persons who talk about what he should have done, never what he should do.

Lady in Waiting


Dear Lady,

You need to speak to this guy and tell him that life is now, it's not in the past, and he needs to start living. This is a pep talk, not a sermon, and you can give it and not refer to yourself and the M thing. But you should, for your own dignity, take a step back from him. Eight years is a long time to dangle. No need to break things off, but don't be so available and companionable and accommodating. Don't be sitting by the phone waiting for him to bid you approach. Stop being an item. Find some other people whose company you enjoy, devote yourself to friendship for a while and let this confused man try to get his head straight.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am 27 years old and I'm afraid that I have lost my spark. I used to have a thirst for knowledge and an insatiable desire to travel and experience new things. All of that is gone now. I am bored to tears by everything.

Part of this I fear is the result of my attempt to cram myself into a computer job that doesn't fit me. I have a wonderful relationship with a loving man, but that is not enough. There isn't anything that I want to do with my life. I am already on my second career path. The first was marine science and even that didn't hold my interest for more than a year. I can't go back and get another master's degree, nor do I want to.

I don't want to grow old and bitter. I am lazy and have a bad attitude most of the time. How do I get my groove back?


Dear Jaded,

A bad job can mess you up in all sorts of ways, and if you're an adventurous and curious person trying to stuff yourself into an automaton job, then it's no wonder your spark is gone. Find something else. Two wrong turns is no big deal -- just keep turning until you find yourself on the right street. Don't look too far down that career path: Try focusing on next week. And November. And don't be bitter. You're much too young and innocent. Bitterness is for sour old coots like me. If you have a bad attitude, one way to deal with it is to get out of your cocoon and see how the rest of the world lives. Get in touch with people in real trouble and get some perspective. The sick, the oppressed, the deranged -- you can learn from them.

Dear Mr. Blue,

My husband and I are in our mid-50s. An acquaintance of my husband's likes to come over and visit with his wife, who is a major talker. She can sit and pontificate the entire evening. She appears to see herself as a griot and does not respond well to interjection. You cannot get a word in edgewise. After a couple of hours, I simply got up and said I needed to go to the store, and I left and drove around in my car for 15 minutes just to get some peace of mind. You would think they would notice that we felt rather beleaguered. When they finally left we were exhausted beyond belief and felt as if we'd been hit by a verbal hurricane. It took us days to recover from this monomaniacal, monologistical onslaught. Now they are pushing for another get-together. Is there a polite way to tell Betty to talk less?


Dear Wary,

No, there isn't a polite way to say, "You talk too much." Not really. If a person is missing the built-in social sense that tells her to let other people have the floor, then rudeness is what's needed, e.g., "Shut your pie hole, Betty, give your trap a rest." If you had found her fascinating in some way and if she had a big sense of humor, maybe you could venture to say this, but apparently you didn't and she doesn't, so don't.

This is an acquaintanceship to drop. A person only needs a few good friends, and Betty is not going to be one, so don't waste her time or yours.

Dear Mr. Blue,

My husband left me for a mutual friend and married her as soon as our divorce was final. He went from being a wonderful man to a cruel, devious, treacherous lout. He was my first love, the only guy I've ever slept with, and basically I worshiped him. It's been almost three years and I've yet to feel "normal." I cannot imagine being with someone else. I'm 37 and I feel spent. I do not believe I am capable of fully loving someone again. I truly feel that part of me is just used up. I do not want to spend my life alone, but at the same time I can't imagine ever allowing someone into my heart and soul to that degree again. Growing up together creates a bond that I do not believe can be captured again when starting over at 37. When I took those vows I meant them with all my heart. I felt it was a defining moment in my life and now my entire adult life has been erased. Every memory I have is now tainted. I miss being part of a team. I miss having someone care about what time I get home, I miss Home Depot excursions, I miss all those "couple" things. But deep, deep down I believe the part of me that could love someone completely is just gone. I see so many people able to go on to new relationships with such ease. What's wrong with me?


Dear Spent,

There's nothing wrong with you. But a great wrong has been done to you and a part of your life is gone that you can never recapture. You yourself, however, are not diminished. You can't repeat the past and find another first love, but you are capable of more, not less, as a result of this agonizing experience. There is nothing wrong with you except perhaps a loyalty to the lout that goes beyond reason. You're not used up. You're not defined by marriage to him any more than you're defined by him himself. You have an even greater capacity to love. The capacity to love is not a theoretical quantity existing apart from a person to love. Love is particular, not general, and whether you find another man, or you find someone else to bestow love and care upon, you will eventually find a way to express it.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I have a chance to go into the Peace Corps for two years of animal husbandry work in Niger. I have been fervently entranced by the African continent and by animals since I can remember, so this would be an amazing opportunity. But there is an amazing guy I've been dating for five years who cannot be replaced. He recently moved to Chicago to be with me till I leave, and although we've said we'd stay together while I'm gone, I don't know if that's fair to him. I am 23, he is 27. He wants to settle down soon and have a family. So do I go to Africa and pray we come out all right on the other side? Or do I let that dream live in National Geographic specials and settle down with this guy now so I don't lose him forever?


Dear Torn,

I gather that you've taken the first steps toward the African tour and now are suffering last-minute qualms, which is quite normal. Nobody takes such a big step without feeling a backwash of doubt. I vote that you go for the experience. You're young, it's your time to have a big venture, you can't save it for later and it's the sort of venture that can open up your world and that you'll remember for the rest of your life. The amazing guy himself supports this. All that stands in your way is a case of the jitters. Those disappear after you get on the plane.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am a 27-year-old woman and have been floundering for most of my life. I have a degree in English from a prestigious university; I am truly loved by my wonderful family and friends. And yet my life has been mostly a failure. I have had nothing but short, miserable, doomed relationships. I go out to bars and men never come up to me, and if someone does, he ends up being way too young, way too goofy or way too into sex. I work in a large corporation, go to graduate school at a large university and am involved in local film work. Still, I am not meeting any men who are mentally my age and have similar interests. Where are all the real men and why do they not want to talk to me? And it's not like I'm not social. My family and friends say I intimidate men, but I'm sick of hearing that! I'm a good, down-to-earth person with a lot to offer. Do I actually need to drop what I think are reasonable standards?

My other quandary involves my career. I have no idea what to do with myself. I've worked as a bartender, a truck loader, a researcher, a tech writer and, for a couple of years now, a secretary. Every day I have to work with people who aren't as smart as me and take orders from them to perform menial, mindless tasks. They make so much more money than I do. But I am not even remotely interested in a corporate career. What I really want to do is be a filmmaker. But I'm so busy with my secretarial job and finishing this damn M.A. in literature that I don't have the time or the energy to devote to writing. I end up getting home at night between 6 and 7, eating, showering, preparing for the next day, watching TV because I'm tired and don't feel like doing anything else, then going to bed and doing it over again. And weekends are always filled with stuff I can't get done on the weekdays, and they go by so fast. How can I create a better life for myself that will include a good relationship and a fulfilling career? And I need to do it soon; I'm a mess. Please, help me prioritize and make sense of this jumble. I have become way too self-conscious about my situation and I feel so overextended that I end up doing nothing instead of something. My discontent is growing and my patience is dying.

Lonely and Stuck in Pre-Production

Dear Lonely,

You're going through a bad patch and it's important not to let loneliness and fear start dictating to you. The advice they give is usually wrong. Get the M.A. done, first of all. You've invested in it so finish it off. Postpone other decisions until then. Postpone the relationship, too. Just soldier on and take the prize, and with it will come a nice sense of accomplishment that will make everything seem a little cheerier. And you know that the world values degrees, whether you think it's all so important or not. The job, of course, is a dead end, so you shouldn't stay in it too long. Bartending or tech writing is preferable to photocopying and making coffee. But there's something even better out there for you. You're young yet -- a person can afford to churn around in the 20s, especially if you're venturing into risky territory like filmmaking. Couldn't you skip the TV at night? A filmmaker shouldn't be zoning out on inferior stuff: A filmmaker should be in the thick of things, hanging out, listening to the eccentrics and down-and-outers and the dreamers and the innocents, taking notes, gathering up impressions of the world so you can someday make sense of it in movies. Stifle your discontent until you get the M.A. But meanwhile shop around for a nice boyfriend -- someone who's fun to be with and has a good head on his shoulders. He could make this rough stretch a little less rough, even if he's not a paragon.

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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