Brief encounter

Breathless kisses, talking, laughing, making out. Now she won't call me back. Help!

Published January 30, 2001 8:00PM (EST)

Now I know why Mother got so quiet when politics crept into the dinner conversation. She hated to have a perfectly good meal disturbed by her loved ones' hissing at each other and sneering and interrupting and raising their voices. Dozens of hissing, sneering Shiite Republicans wrote in response to Mr. Blue's rather temperate letter to the Disgruntled Idealist (a Democrat upset by the election and the Restoration) advising him to Move On and go for long walks and read Marcus Aurelius. The undiminished rage of conservatives is noteworthy, seeing that their man is in the White House. They should feel warm and happy, but these are not happy people. They seem less interested in policy or government than in vindication and smiting. They are big-time smiters. I suppose the Shiites are angry because they had to be invisible through the campaign so as not to frighten the suburban moms and the moderate voters, and it's frustrating to be invisible. But is this Mr. Blue's fault? What sort of comfort comes from writing threatening letters to an aging tax-and-spend gun-confiscating bleeding-heart liberal?

Millions of good intelligent people voted for George W. Bush for perfectly good and intelligent reasons and I imagine they are feeling curious and hopeful about him. He is a genial man, not a hater, not a carpet-chewer like Mr. Blue's correspondents. I have a knee-jerk liberal friend who spent an afternoon with Mr. Bush and came under his spell and attests to his good humor in person. Somehow he will have to keep the haters at arm's length if he hopes to establish himself as president. The folks who wrote to Mr. Blue last week in Mr. Bush's defense are people you'd give anything not to have on your side.

Many readers took issue with my sharp response to Sleepless In Aebletoft about the difficulties of rerooting oneself in a different culture and language (in his case, Sweden). One especially sensible letter came from the Netherlands: "I was surprised at your answer to 'Sleepless in Aebletoft.' International marriages are happening everywhere, and surely they cannot all be hopeless. Of course, Sleepless is not going to be a Swede; he will always be an American in Sweden. But he may be a happy American in Sweden. Naturally he will have to learn Swedish, which shouldn't be a big problem, as it's a Germanic language like English. Once he manages to keep the friendly Swedes from trying to speak English with him, they will definitely appreciate and encourage his efforts to learn their language. Most important, in my opinion, Sleepless should enlist his wife's help with his integration in Sweden. She will have to encourage him to make phone calls to make restaurant reservations, to go to parents evenings in their children's school, etc., instead of doing those things herself because she is the native speaker. And of course, Sleepless has to go out and do things like play volleyball, sing in a choir or do volunteer work, to get to know people outside of his wife's friends and family. I am a 32-year-old Dutch woman, with a German husband who has been living and working in the Netherlands for six years."

Dear Mr. Blue,

I met a girl a few weeks ago and we took to each other, hung out, got familiar with each other, and yesterday we went out to lunch and afterward we kissed. A whole series of breathless kisses, clutching at each other's bodies. Reluctantly, she departed, but she returned later that night. We made out and talked and laughed and then the making out got heavy, she had an orgasm and we slept. Four hours later, around 8 in the morning, we were both awake and she told me she had to go. She had a meeting to go to. We kissed a few times and she left. That was last Saturday morning, and I haven't heard a word from her since. I've left her two phone messages and sent her one e-mail. She hasn't called me back. Am I just worrying too much, or is there something to my tumult of negative thoughts? There was no actual intercourse that night, but could she possibly feel as though she'd gone too far and is avoiding me for that reason? Help me. I'm in need of assistance in deciphering a gender I can never understand.

Thinking Too Much

Dear Thinking,

A sweet letter, about a sweet encounter. I'll bet that by the time I publish this, you two are back in touch. It's up to her to return your calls, of course, and if she doesn't, then you shouldn't call back. We all know this, right? We're all thoughtful people, and we all know that sometimes things go awry, and a person whom we adore finds it impossible to be around us, and when this happens, we suck it up and go on. We offer love to someone and he or she walks away and doesn't ever call back and we don't stew over it too long. Don't worry about deciphering a whole gender, just concentrate on being a good person. Part of being a good person is knowing not to lean on someone too hard.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am madly in love with a young man I met a year and a half ago, and he's madly in love with me. I think I could spend a good many years, if not my life, with him. When we met, he had a girlfriend, but we became friends and started having an affair and then he realized he was in love with me and broke it off with the other girl. Since we've been "official" we've been very happy, supportive of one another and the envy of our friends.

My problem is, I have this awful retroactive-jealousy thing. We met after he'd graduated college, during which he was a semi-wild frat boy. I frequently find myself very upset about things that he did before he even met me. In moments of weakness I still get nauseated at the thought of him dating other people, doing crazy things and basically having an interesting life before me.

Am I just ridiculously young and lacking perspective? There are days and nights when I still can't let this go. Please advise!

Happy but Still Stuck

Dear Happy,

Jealousy of the beloved's past is one of the sweet pangs common in the early stage of love, a sort of greediness born of happiness, trying to extend the romance back into the past and bump off the rivals. Be happy and move forward and live memorably, and as your romance attains a rich history of its own and makes its own stories, the distant past will fade. It would help matters if he'd stop telling you about his interesting life and if you'd stop asking him to, though.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am a 30-year-old woman caught in a relationship that I'm not sure has a future. We've been building a life together for three years and recently bought a beautiful house that I adore more and more each day, but the relationship is starting to wear on me. He has a bad temper, and worse, there is a coldness on his part, a lack of affection. There is no real cuddling, no embraces. We have sex rarely, and he says he is just not interested in sex that much. He says that we are "past that part of our relationship where we slobber all over each other."

Sometimes I can see a future, when he's not so angry at me, and we're not arguing over stupid, petty things (like how long to brush the cat -- don't even ask!). However, I am starting to feel like I do not even care. We almost broke up around Christmas but agreed we wanted to stay together. He even agreed to go to his doctor to see about possible medication. (When he was on Paxil, he was better, seemed to get more joy out of life, but he couldn't take the side effects: ringing in his ears and such.) However, he hasn't gone yet, and I'm frightened that if I ask him, he will blow up again.

I'm not sure what to do -- is there a future here, or should we just pack it in? Much of our lives are entwined, through work, sports and our friends, so I am concerned about that as well. Please help -- I feel like I'm going crazy!

Fed Up With Not Enough

Dear Fed Up,

"Caught" in a relationship is exactly right. Your partner may be going through a rough spot and you're wanting to be helpful but you're afraid of his temper and you're hung up, unable to go forward or back. A beautiful house is a poor substitute for affection, and I'm afraid his coldness -- the line about being past the slobbering stage is truly boorish -- does not bode well for your future. Screw up your courage, wait for a good moment and tell him again that you think he needs to see the doctor and perhaps go into counseling with you. Offer this advice gently and affectionately and listen to what he has to say, but also measure his response carefully, and take your bearings from it. You can't make a life with a man who you are unable to talk to about serious matters. You can't marry a wall. Don't worry about the aftermath, about the unentwining that would need to be done: Focus on the immediate problem. The relationship continues through your forbearance and your reluctance to break off; but he needs to do something to show you where his heart lies. You can't go any further with him unless you get a strong signal.

Dear Mr. Blue,

My fiancé and I are planning our wedding. However, the thought of being up in front of everyone like that gives me nightmares. So does the thought of a reception/luncheon. I'm already getting stage fright, and we are just starting! Plus, I don't know how formal/informal it should be (we're working on a shoestring budget), and nobody from my family will be present (they live 3,000 miles away, and they're as poor as we are, so they can't afford the travel or time off work). I'm thinking both of these have a lot to do with my fear, because I'm a control freak who needs life as neatly arranged as possible, and I am totally out of my depth.

Do you have any advice to reduce my fear? I'm not afraid of getting married, just of the ceremony itself, and I'd really like to get over that, so we have a proper and memorable wedding.


Dear Terrified,

You need a couple of women friends to help you pull this off. If you're religious, then of course your religion gives you all sorts of guidance for the event. A proper Episcopal or Jewish or Catholic wedding is a grand occasion, with prompts at every turn, and the terrified bride walks through it with God's help and comes away moved and edified. If, on the other hand, you're inventing the whole thing from scratch, writing your own vows, holding the ceremony in a grove of redwoods at dawn with a flutist and some bell dingers and a Universal Life minister named Starflower Moonbright and a dance troupe called Orchesis, then you've got a big job on your hands. It's a shame your family can't attend. Is there no way? No possible way? No cheap airfares on the Internet? Say it ain't so. As for the wedding being memorable, my dear, don't worry, it will be. The old words about love and honor and sickness and health will stay with you forever. The rest of it -- the little sandwiches, the band, the dinners, the expensive gown, the bridesmaids -- you can alter as you wish, or dispose of entirely. The wedding is for you and your man, and nobody else. You stand up and declare your love in front of witnesses. Don't make it anything other than what you want it to be.

Dear Mr. Blue,

When do people with jobs and children and laundry and dirty dishes and dogs that need to be walked find time to write? I have about a dozen unfinished articles and short stories in notebooks and on floppy disks, as well as half of the outline of what is eventually going to be a really neat novel. But by the time I get home from work I want to play with my baby daughter who's been in day care all day, and, after she's bathed and fed and put to sleep, dinner needs to come from somewhere, and meanwhile the dog is begging for attention. My husband adores our daughter and loves to play with her, but he won't bathe her or feed her: He says, "You're so much better at it." I find that I have to squeeze in my own writing when I'm at work, when I should be doing what they're paying me to do. How do people do it?

New Mom

Dear Mom,

People do it by fighting for time, fighting against their spouse, their children, their employer and, of course, themselves. Life seems to conspire against us, to appropriate our time -- everyone wants a piece of us, rank strangers call up and demand a few minutes, our children crave our attention, our spouses complain if we absent ourselves, our employer wants us to give and give and give and then attend the company picnic and go to the Human Resources seminars on power sharing, and if you want to own your own life, you have to do battle with these folks. And you have to cheat yourself. Stake out a day for your writing. Start with Saturday. Or Sunday. Nail your flag to a part of the weekend and say, "Here I write." Start with four hours. You can accomplish a lot in four hours, especially if you have a week to get ginned up for it, making notes, storing up material. Extend it to eight hours. Or 12. As you become productive, and finish things, and (God help you) actually earn money from things, you'll be emboldened to push harder. I started to push hard when I was a young father and working at a radio job and I stayed up late at night, writing on an old Underwood typewriter in the basement while my wife and infant son slept upstairs. I felt guilty about it, of course. But the people we love are resilient, and they survive our neglect, and may even thrive on it. I wish you well.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm at that age where I can't decide if I'm too young or too old (I'm 35) and I live in Kuwait -- which most Americans probably think is some exotic country with tents and camels and other clichés. In reality we are a modern nation with all the trappings of modern life. I was brought up here, but educated in America. I work here in banking and I find my work very rewarding. Yet I feel restless; I want more out of life than what my country has to offer. I need culture; I need mental and emotional stimulation. Kuwait used to be one of the cultural hubs of the Arab world until the fundamentalist nuts gained power and took us back to the dark ages. I just want to pack up and move to New York or London and live a full life before I hit 40. I'm single so there aren't any emotional attachments keeping me here.

Should I do it? Or am I just being unrealistic? I mean, what value does my experience in Kuwait carry overseas? I have no idea. Probably not much. Sigh ...


Dear Trapped,

You're not trapped, except by inertia. Take your résumé and head for London and apply for work. You'll find something. And the move will be a tonic for you. Perhaps you'll return to Kuwait, perhaps not. But you shouldn't pass up the chance to live life. The fundamentalists are entitled to their views, and you are entitled to yours and to your own life. As for your credentials, they're worth far more than you may think.

Dear Mr. Blue,

My wife of 30 years is a super math teacher, is very funny and enjoys being with me. We read to each other, laugh at/with each other, go to church with each other, clean house together. She has gained weight slightly more than double since we married in 1970, and her hair is white. She forgets where she leaves her purse. She has five cats and three dogs. I pack her lunch before she heads off to teach the unmotivated high school students she loves and then have to chase the car to insure the lunch goes to school with her. I recap the tooth paste, pick up dirty clothes and turn off all the lights that were left on. I am amazed that I STILL LOVE HER! Best of all, we still sleep with each other. I enjoy the smell of her hair, the softness of her skin, and warmth of her snuggle against my back. I doubt I could ever find another that would endure my faults and compliment me in public as she does. Please help me stay as excited tomorrow as I am today.

Ain't Lookin'

Dear Ain't,

I am sure that she will be your source of heat and inspiration and purpose for a long time to come. You have something that is precious, and though you're alarmed by certain dimensions of the love affair, nonetheless you betray no loss of zeal. My dear man, you have landed in the sweet spot of the land of matrimony, and you should go right on enjoying it, dirty clothes and toothpaste caps and all.

By 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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