Ducking the issue

My married lesbian lover wants me to move with her to Europe, but she won't even consider a divorce. Should I go?

By Garrison Keillor

Published December 19, 2000 8:00PM (EST)

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm a 28-year-old lesbian involved with a married woman, 42. She's a wonderful person, intelligent, passionate, everything I could ask. Well, except for the married part. Her husband has been aware of the situation from the start and is entirely supportive. They have a young son, and she says that's why they're still together. She was extremely affectionate from the start, quick to pronounce her love, but she refuses to consider living as an openly gay couple. She says her career is too important (she's a big bank executive), and she can't upset the relatives who take care of her son. She tells me I should accept her life the way it is. She was recently transferred to a European city and has asked me to come and live with her. I feel this is ducking the issue -- as she has no plans to change her marital status. I love her and would like to think there's a future. Do I stick to my guns and tell her, "No divorce, no me"? Or go along in the hopes she might change over time?

Tangled in Blue

Dear Tangled,

She is moving to Europe. You're not. You stay here. This solves the problem. The arrangement that you wanted was not in her portfolio. She wanted to have an affair with you and she did; now she's off to Europe. Say goodbye. There are a lot of terrific gay women who don't have husbands, hundreds of thousands. I know several of them personally. Get out of this French novel and into a wholesome American gay romance.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm 25 and have been battling depression for years. My parents are very strict conservative Catholics, and refuse to entertain the idea that I have different opinions, thoughts, ideals and feelings than they. If I showed them the "real me," more liberal, not adhering to a church, they would make me unwelcome in their home. So should I not tell them the things about me that I know they would disapprove of? Or should I accept that we just can't be in each other's lives without constant fighting? I love them and respect them, but does that mean I have to give up my own beliefs just to stay in a family that doesn't want to be around the person I am anyway?


Dear Torn,

It's painful, but you need to take a step away from this family and become your own person. It's what life is all about. Don't worry about showing them the "real you." And don't bother fighting -- you won that fight, you grew up, it's not an issue. Your family needn't know everything, and parents tend to be irrational about your sex life, your mental health, your finances, your religious and political beliefs, so don't bother bringing up those things. What's crucial is that you get out of orbit so you can figure out who the real you is. The rebellious child is often more deeply attached to her parents than the distant beloved child, one whose appearances are rare and who is joyfully welcomed and her path strewn with daisies. The love of your parents is nothing to scorn, and it's stronger than ideas about politics and religion. But whether you maintain civil relations with these folks or not, it is up to you to create some sort of family of your own. We should all enjoy a family life with those who love us as we are. Sometimes this cannot be the family into which we were born.

Dear Mr. Blue,

For the past 18 months, I have been with a woman who comes from a world very different from mine. She's a Coloradan, from a ranching family, and has a wonderful 6-year-old daughter from a previous relationship. I'm a lifelong East Coaster. She dropped out of high school; I graduated from an honors college. She's a licensed massage therapist; I'm a newspaper editor. For all of these differences, we have been very happy together. She's a smart, attractive, compassionate woman, and I love her.

Eight months ago, we moved in together. I picked up most of the living expenses. That doesn't bother me in the slightest. But she's afraid that she's "dependent on me." So she's decided to move back to Colorado where her family is, and I have to decide if I want to follow her there. She needs to live in a less "busy" area. I can't decide if I could handle country life or not. All of this reminds me that for all that we've shared, she's still country and I'm still rock 'n' roll.

Her daughter and I have also become close, and I would be thrilled to be the kid's stepfather. My concern is, should a lifelong city boy like myself pack it in and move out West for love, or have we finally reached the point where the gap between our backgrounds has become too wide? Should I stay or should I go?

Fidgety in Florida

Dear Fidgety,

You don't say if she asked you to come to Colorado or how warmly she asked, or how persistently, or how she feels about you, and so forth. It sounds as if she's uneasy about the romance; maybe you two have gotten too tight too fast, maybe the daughter is talking too much about you, and the mother is uncertain, so she's high-tailing it back to familiar ground. I'd count to 10,000 before following her there and I'd count v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y. And then I'd ask for a recount. High school dropout massage therapist and college-grad newspaper editor? Anything is possible, but these are slim odds to justify a guy picking up and moving to ranch country. Throw yourself into your work and abuse the Republican political establishment in Florida for its betrayal of the voters, and if you can get yourself fired, then maybe you could fly out and visit the massage therapist and see how she's doing.

Dear Mr. Blue,

About a year ago, my apartment was broken into and my computer was stolen, which contained my novel in progress -- all 298 pages of it. I backed it up on a disk that I left in the disk drive. All I had left was a 90-page hard copy, and copious notes and outlines. I loved my novel. I still love my idea, and my characters, and everything I was trying to say in my lost work. But a year later, I can't seem to make any progress, or regain my motivation. I sit with a pad of paper in front of me for hours and only manage to write a couple of pages of lukewarm prose. How I long for those mornings at 3 a.m. when my inspiration could not be deterred. How can I get back on track?


Dear Blocked,

You've got to create a new work out of that old material; you can't re-create what was lost, especially not after a year. Your frustration lies there, in peering into the mists and trying to remember what's out there, even as the Lost Work becomes larger and lovelier as it recedes. Put all this stuff aside for a year. Do something else. Finagle a way to take a month or two off in the fall of 2001 so you can give the project your full attention. And try not to think about it until then. It's sometimes amazing what you can achieve by setting work aside that you've been grappling with -- you return to it with fresh insights and confidence after a passage of time. The Lost Work is in your head and still percolating, and when you get it down on paper, it'll be even better than before.

Dear Mr. Blue,

When I married my wife 10 years ago, she was a strong, independent, intelligent, self-reliant writer. She's still intelligent, I think, but she has thrown aside her career, her self-reliance and her independence, and has become a cartoon of passive domesticity. She quit her job and took six months off, only to emerge as an aspiring figure skater. I must now shoulder all the living expenses. Last night (which prompted this letter) she told me she can't set the alarm on our new alarm clock because electronics are "guy things." She used to have opinions on literature and politics, but now only wants to discuss shoes and clothes. This is making me a little nauseous. I still love her, but I'm losing respect for her. I long for a partner to have an adult conversation with. What can I do about this behavior before it harms our relationship?


Dear Exasperated,

The lady has relaxed and is taking life easy and enjoying things she always wanted to do, such as skating. She has shed that hard, ambitious career-woman persona and is enjoying a less opinionated life, not so dependent on electronics. You can have adult conversations with her, but first you need to learn more about figure skating. And shoes. Large subjects, both of them. Perhaps she is secretly writing a wicked satiric novel about domesticity, in which case you'll be a leading figure. Her new cartoon life is simply a form of research. Watch what you say. Don't lose respect for her, or she may teach you to have even more. To be the butt of her novel and to be sued for divorce and to thus miss out on sharing the millions in royalties would be a cruel fate for any man.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm with a man who treats me so well, makes me laugh every day, and I adore him. I could consider marrying him, but I'm not sure of his intelligence. He knows a lot about sports and the financial world, but I can't get him to read a newspaper. He is so ignorant of current events -- things that any adult of average intelligence knows -- sometimes my jaw drops to the floor. We're both 24, and I'm hoping he'll wise up with age. We don't have communication problems, and are never at a loss for conversation. Still, a small but important part of me looks down on him. I want him to be my husband. I want him to be more knowledgeable. Please share your thoughts.

Smarty Pants

Dear Pants,

Put the thought of marriage out of your mind for a while. But consider this: Not many 24-year-old guys have interesting opinions about current events, nor do most other people. Most people are just repeating stuff they heard elsewhere. When it comes right down to it, do you prefer a pretentious guy who recycles stuff from the Sunday morning gasbag shows or a guy who makes you laugh every day and treats you well? Daily laughter is a great good compared to the tedium of chewing the political cud. On the other hand, a guy needs to know a few things if you're going to take him out into adult society. The 50 state capitals, at an absolute minimum, and the books of the Bible, and a vague timeline of history and literature. Give him a World Almanac and test him on the basics. You could do this in the nude and pique his interest.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am a young woman deeply with in love with a wonderful young man. We have been dating for three years, and I care for him and admire him. We've been talking about marriage for some time. Unfortunately, he has serious financial problems. Between credit card debts, student loans and rent, he goes deeper into the hole every month. I take care of his groceries, gas, dry cleaning and incidentals, and it's starting to add up. I make a good salary for one, but it gets tight for two. He is reluctant to do anything about it. He won't ask for a raise or look for a new job. Every time he complains about it, it burns me, but I keep my mouth shut. He says he will not marry me until he can afford a ring, but at the rate he is going, I don't think we'll ever get married. Is he stalling? What can I do?

Not Wanting to Be a Cheapskate

Dear Not Wanting,

You're not a cheapskate. You're in a lousy situation that is only clouded by the fact of your free hand with money. Withdraw the subsidy and you will clarify matters and give the gentleman a chance to see what's what and figure out who he is. It's unconscionable for a wonderful young man in good health to be sponging off a woman and allowing her to pay for his Big Macs and putting gas in his car. Put your money in the bank. Tell him you can't support him. Interrupt the movie. Bring in reality.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am engaged to a wonderful man whom I met several years ago through mutual friends. During the course of our courtship, we broke up twice over some fairly sizable differences. He felt as though he should be my whole world, and I felt I could not give up being me in order to be a part of us. We resolved this, I thought, but now that the wedding is planned (six months to go), his old attitude has returned. We argue constantly about my friends and my faith. Anything that I do or say and anyone that I know must, in some way, belong to him or have come from him in order for him to accept it without question. I am at my wits' end as to how to make him understand that being Mrs. Him does not mean that I can't be Me, short of breaking off the engagement. Might you have any advice?

Mrs. Me

Dear Mrs.,

I do have some. Break off the engagement. That line beginning "Anything that I do or say" is a damning line. It's a formula for more misery than you would believe. Learning about the mate is what engagements are for, and you shouldn't ignore what you find out. Constant argument is a terrible, terrible sign. It predicts nothing good. Please put this relationship out of its misery and find someone you feel cheerful and funny and free with. Life is short. Don't enlist in the Thirty Years' War.

Dear Mr. Blue,

A little girl who is one of my 6-year-old son's friends wears a thin, dirty coat with a broken zipper. The sight of her shivering at the bus stop every morning is upsetting. Her family situation is kind of shaky, and her mother and stepfather are not very involved in their children's lives. I don't know if they can afford to buy her a decent winter coat -- or whether it has even registered that she needs one. (They do seem to be able to scrape up enough money for cable TV, cigarettes and booze.) And maybe she likes her ratty old coat. Should I tactfully point out to her parents that she needs a new coat? Should I just go ahead and buy her one? Drop one off anonymously on their front porch? Or stay out of the picture?

Perplexed in Pittsburgh

Dear Perplexed,

I vote for getting the kid a coat. You can find a perfectly good warm winter coat from a used clothing place for a few bucks and you can tell the kid, "Here's a coat that looks like it might fit you, Wanda," and tell her it looks good on her. Do it today. Send it home on her with a note saying, "I got this from some friends and it looks so nice on your beautiful little girl." Don't ask the parents' permission first -- you'll only encounter a mountain of defensiveness -- and don't ignore the child's need.

Dear Mr. Blue,

My boyfriend and I have been together for two years; the first year was bumpy, the last year blissful. Now we have broken up because he was "not sure." I know how much he loves me and I did want to marry him. He says he would rather be unhappy on his own than possibly resentful of me in the future. He is 34 and has lived on his own for over 10 years. He says he's never loved anyone as much as he loves me. I think he's chicken. I am 28: I'll get by and maybe fall in love again. I love him, though, and wish I could change his mind. Should I wait and try again in a few months or should I just let him be? I want to seize our chance and share a life with him.


Dear Solipsist,

Only the gentleman himself can change his mind, but you can give him room to think, and that's what you should do. Let him marinate in unhappiness in his bachelor quarters. Let him lie awake at night brooding, recalling happier times. Don't write, don't call, don't drop in. Go have fun with other people. And in a few months, if you like, drop him a nice handwritten note on creamy paper: "I still think of us. Do you? Are you any surer now?" Words to that effect. A man does not like the feeling of being steered in matters of the heart. Your boyfriend is being honest with you. Give him room.

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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