He's 72, I'm 40. No problem

He gives me money, pays my bills, flies me everywhere and swears he wants to be with me for the rest of his life -- as soon as he gets divorced.

By Garrison Keillor

Published November 7, 2000 8:40PM (EST)

Many readers disagreed with my response to the daughter of the man who was looking at pornography on the Internet. The daughter and her sister were disturbed about his habits, which they thought obsessive, and so was their mother, and the daughters were going into the fathers computer hard drive to check which sites he was visiting and for how long. I told the daughter that she should tell her father how she felt. I also said that she should stop spying on him. Each of us has the right to a private life. Everybody is entitled to entertain odd notions and say or do dumb things in private and not have everything be an Issue. Anyone who loves you will respect that. Look at this dreadful bloated book that J.D. Salingers daughter wrote about him. What an ugly sad thing it is, that the mans every quirk and peccadillo is hung out to dry by this immature and self-pitying woman. You dont have to read much of it to get the drift. Its all about cruelty. The daughter of the pornographee should say her piece to him and leave the rest to her mother and father to work out. If the daughter comes home and senses that her father is up to dark things in secret places, she can burst into song and walk through the house knocking on doors, but she shouldnt be sleuthing around after him.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I met a wonderful man during a business trip. There were 500 or more people attending this same conference, but we were attracted to each other. We talked and dined each evening, after which we exchanged phone numbers and promised to stay in touch. He has phoned three or four times a day just to say he's never met anyone like me, and wants to be with me for the rest of his life. He's 72, but he looks 50. He has taken very good care of himself. I'm 40 and look about 29. He gave me all his phone numbers to reach him on except his home number. I asked him if he was married, and he said we'll talk about that when we see each other. Since then he has flown me to several different states to meet him. Everything has been so nice. He treats me like a queen. He's given me several thousand dollars to use at my leisure. He has given me his debit card to his personal bank account, which I've used several times. He tells me all the time to get whatever I need. He wants to see me every month at his expense. He flies me everywhere I go. He has paid my bills all up to date.

But after meeting him this last time in Atlanta, he told me what I knew already -- that he is married. He says they were divorced and remarried several years ago, but that it's not working out. He says he wants to marry me after he divorces again in a few months. What do you think?


Dear Queenie,

Well, lets sum up what we know so far. You are the paid companion of a geezer who will get a quickie divorce, youll have 10 or so good years of spending the geezer's resources, he will die one night in his sleep and youll inherit his insurance and assets, and then get 20 to 25 years of comfortable widowhood, right?

How about this scenario? His wife and her carnivorous lawyers will pick him cleaner than the Thanksgiving turkey in the long and traumatic divorce -- in the course of which you will be called on to testify under oath about your relationship and the particular sexual services youve provided -- and you and he will then live together on your income and resources, and he has a stroke at 74 and is wheelchair bound for 15 grim years while you drudge as his nurse and purse, and then you face 20 years of widowhood in poverty. Not so attractive? If you truly love him and want to be with him "for the rest of his life," all scenarios should be equally acceptable to you. Are they? Think about it.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am a 42-year-old single mother of two. I have a wonderful and fulfilling life, but I haven't been with a man for many years and I am lonely. The problem is I am very shy, and I also live in a small town where there are hardly any single men my age anyway. I am undergoing physical therapy for an old injury, and the doctor doing the therapy is the man of my dreams! He is single and we have become good friends, but I have no idea if he is attracted to me. My question: Is it appropriate to reveal romantic feelings for a doctor who is currently treating you? If it turns out that he feels the same way, is it OK for us to date?


Dear Curious,

No, to both questions, emphatically. If your doctor is any sort of man youd ever want to date, his professional ethics would put the kibosh on any romantic relationship with a patient, even flirtation. If you reveal romantic feelings for him while he is treating you, he will sniff trouble ("Patient Sues M.D. for Sexual Harassment, Files $1.2 Million Lawsuit") and pull up the drawbridge. The only way to begin a personal relationship with him is to end your professional relationship. Get another doctor. Let some time pass. Then call him up and invite him to dinner.

Dear Mr. Blue,

Just over a year ago I moved to the big city. From time to time a friend of a friend or someone at the local bar who I have tried to discourage asks me out in spite of my attempts at polite distance. I'm a fairly social person, but I don't date much. Going out with someone I'm really not interested in just seems to prolong the agony. Not that it happens constantly, but when I'm really not interested, how can I turn him down without being ambiguous or unnecessarily mean? I hover between short and dismissive and the urge to give a 15-minute speech on how we don't have anything in common, but it's not his fault and I'm really really sorry.


Dear Dismissive,

Im not a good speechwriter so I dont want you to write this down on a 3-by-5 card and whip it out and read it, but something in the neighborhood of "I dont think so. Im just not in the mood. Sorry" seems definite enough without putting too much on the table. If he presses you, then you have to put your foot down and say, "I dont think we have anything in common. Im sorry." And if he still presses you, then you have to insult him.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am madly in love with a man who is madly in love with me -- but he is almost always late. I suppose I could try to ignore it or laugh about it, but I don't like waiting in front of theaters or at train stations. I could plan on being an hour late myself -- or tell him we have to be somewhere an hour before we need to, but that all gets so complicated, especially when other people are involved. How can I handle this without having it interfere with an otherwise spectacular affair?


Dear Puzzled,

Its thoughtless and egotistical to make a habit of tardiness. (I know, I suffer from the same habit.) It doesnt help if you make these grand accommodations for him and wait and wait and let him get away with it. And playing games with the clock is childish. Dont schedule a rendezvous with him for a specific time. Arrange to meet him at his house, his office, a restaurant, not on a street corner. But tell him your limit is 15 minutes, and after that, if he's not there, youre out of there. After he misses a few connections, he should start getting the idea. Its called time management. It means that, if you said youd meet Lulu at La Maison de la Grande Cuisine at 19:00 hours, and it takes 25 minutes to drive from the Federated Organization of Associations to La Maison, then you start getting your ducks in a row at around 17:30 hours. You start winding up business. You start leaning toward the door at 18:15 hours. You dont schedule three more meetings, you dont take phone calls from blowhards, you dont let yourself be late. If he is unable to learn this and you still are madly in love with him, then your alternative is to forget about scheduling things, and tell him to simply call you whenever hes free. Nobody should stand in front of theaters and restaurants looking at her watch. It's no way to live.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I have been dating Mr. Right for a year. I have one nagging concern: his humble abode. Mr. Blue, the place is a sty. This goes beyond Sloppy Single Guy Syndrome. My beloved lives in filth. Not only are there dirty clothes, old papers and empty Chinese food containers covering every available surface (including the floor), but, I'm horrified to admit, the bathroom and kitchen are so covered in crud that I'm afraid to use them.

I have tried a few gentle suggestions to no avail. Obviously, he doesn't mind living this way. But should I be worried about the psychological makeup of a man who cares so little for the environment in which he lives? Or should I be content with the fact that his body and clothes are clean and that it's only his home that disgusts?

Neat Nut

Dear Neat Nut,

If the guy's clothes and person are OK and the earwax buildup is minimal and the underwear is clean enough so he won't be refused admittance to an emergency room, I don't think the pigsty is pathological. It's a trap that anyone can fall into who wasn't taught how to clean and got a free ride in his youth. The Army helped many men learn about cleaning, but evidently your guy didn't go through basic training. Most guys can be oblivious to dirty dishes, underwear in the sofa cushions, unflushed toilets, dust bunnies the size of ponies and other things that would send the typical woman up the walls. I assume he's trainable, and if he is your Mr. Right, you will be the trainer. Maybe you should start now, to see how apt a pupil he is.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I just learned that my boyfriend of eight years has cheated and lied to me for over a year. He was seeing someone else while he lived with me. He says he didn't mean to hurt me, and he doesn't know why he did what he did. He lied to me. He says he loves me but cannot commit to me or anyone at the moment. Now, I feel like such an idiot for having fallen in love with a liar.

I am very honest and would normally never think of hurting anyone. But now I want him to get hurt so badly. I know I would feel guilty if something actually happened to him simply because of my thoughts. But why did he cheat and lie to me? Do you think he honestly did not mean to hurt me? I am so angry at him, I wish he was dead. How can I stop wishing him dead? What can I do to forget that horrible experience?


Dear Angry,

We are our memories. I forget who said that but it's true. You will never forget the hurt this cad has caused you, but that chapter is over now and you must not keep going back and rereading it. As long as you continue to do so, your life will feel nasty, brutish and short. The remedy is simple but difficult to implement. You need to forgive this callous jerk for hurting you so badly and forgive yourself for wanting him to be hurt, and tell him to clear out and if he ever comes near you or contacts you again, you'll take out a restraining order against his ass so fast it'll make his head spin counterclockwise. When you can say all those things and mean them, you will feel better. Good luck.

Dear Mr. Blue,

My 18-year-old niece in the next state is four months pregnant and moving in with her boyfriend: Their intention is to marry sometime during the coming year. The young man is a high school dropout, and not prone to working unless absolutely necessary, preferring to watch cartoons instead if at all possible. I perceive my niece as a sensible, likable young woman except where this boy is concerned. Someone has given them a mobile home to live in for the time being.

Today I received an invitation to a housewarming party at my brother's house in that same town, complete with the colors the gifts should be to match the couple's respective rooms. Is this a new 2000 tradition, couples who are moving in together sending out invitations and making it a social and gift-giving event? Or am I correct in thinking it's tacky.


Dear Auntie,

Tacky, yes. Unwed teenagers living in a borrowed trailer house and watching cartoons while awaiting their child? But your poor brother is trying to make the best of an agonizing family dilemma, and it's no time to be imposing high standards of taste. These sad kids need all the help they can get if they're ever to get out from behind the eight ball. Be kind. Accept the invitation to the party graciously, bring a gift, one that doesnt come in a particular color, that is clear glass, and tell the young couple that you wish them the best.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I have a weird problem: I'm getting divorced and I'm (inappropriately, I guess) happy! But nobody else around me is. My husband and I were married for 20 years, the first 15 of which we were very much in love. Then one day, my love for him dried up and wafted away -- and with it, every ounce of kindness and affection. I thought I was insane. I went on antidepressants. Whined to therapists. No results. I slept a lot and gained over 50 pounds. Then I kicked the pills, packed my things and left. My daughter came with, but my son stayed with his dad. Wouldn't you have thought he'd be glad to be rid of me? An overweight drug addict? But no. He is sad. He cries all the time. He wants to try again. He can't understand how love could just "disappear." I truly don't know, either, but it did.

I can never go back. I walk around my new neighborhood after work, just smiling to myself. I sleep well. I let him have all the money, and I work full-time now, so I wouldn't have to take any alimony or child support. Will he be all right, do you think? I went with him to get new glasses before I left, so he'd be more appealing. He's not a bad looking guy. He just cries all the time. I know, because people never miss an opportunity to tell me.

Helplessly Happy

Dear Happy,

Your husband suffers from that love that alters not when it alteration finds but bears it out even to the edge of doom. I wouldn't worry about him if I were you. If he's the man you describe, some woman may be snapping him up even as we speak. I'm more concerned about you. You may be jeopardizing your hard-won ecstasy by subjecting yourself to your daughter's emotional needs (I assume she's among one of the unhappy ones). I recommend sending her to live with her dad, who has the capacity to love without his love "wafting away." You need this kid like a fish needs a moped.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I read your column every week, but I simply can not empathize with any of the writers to your column. Everyone seems to have a problem, yet my life is great. Should I be worried that the "bad stuff" is on its way, or just be thankful that I'm so lucky?


Dear Happy,

The bad stuff is all around you this very minute. It is raining down on your head, piling up in your corners, lurking in your closet and under your bed. Youre able to not see it, but it's there, every nasty bit of it. Jonathan Swift said that "Happiness is the state of being well deceived." When you wake up, you will not remember that you wrote to Mr. Blue. You will not remember this answer. You will feel refreshed and blissful. Do not look under your bed.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I have been a voracious reader since the sixth grade, in almost every genre: history, biography, science, philosophy and all types of fiction. I've eagerly devoured the complete works of Ursula Le Guin, Jean-Paul Sartre and Patrick O'Brian. I've happily trudged through obscure volumes on military history, one third of the Buddhist canon, the Gnostic gospels, Douglas Hofstadter, Edward Tufte. I've even had a regular diet of the quaggiest science fiction. Now, at the age of 41, I am tapped out. Nothing piques my interest anymore. My bookshelf is stacked with a couple of dozen unread books: "The Poisonwood Bible," "Accordion Crimes," "Beowulf," "Tales of the City," "Harry Potter," all started and left to gather dust. I go to a favorite bookstore and browse for hours and leave with nothing. I am no longer interested in reading and that grieves me terribly. I think that I'm at a point of intellectual saturation. (Otherwise, life is wonderful.) Any suggestions how to break this spell and get my groove back?


Dear Burned,

It is hardly a sin to be aliterate. There's a whole world out there that writers write about that you can discover for yourself. Cooking, music, unwise romances, Provence, foolish affairs, the accumulation of vast wealth, love that you know you'll regret, just to name seven things. If you were once a "voracious reader" you will surely return to it eventually. I can't help but notice, however, your eclectic reading list doesn't include Mark Twain, Charles Dickens or A.J. Liebling, three highly pleasurable authors. You might consider jump-starting your reading habit with a lit course at a local college. You would get a defined reading list, a schedule by which to complete the reading, an opportunity to write about your reading and stimulating fellow readers with whom to discuss your reading. If this fails to stimulate your reading, well, there's always ill-advised romance.

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.

MORE FROM Garrison Keillor

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Books Writers And Writing