My boyfriend reminds me of my mother

He's trustworthy, loving and completely dedicated to me, but lately my carnal feelings have been directed elsewhere.

Published February 13, 2001 8:29PM (EST)

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm in a bit of a pickle. I have been dating my boyfriend for the past year and a half, and he's one of the most loving men I have ever known. His dedication to and affection toward me are unparalleled, except perhaps by my own mother. In fact, he reminds me a lot of her.

In this time, though, I've found myself wildly attracted to several other men and have felt carnal feelings that I never had with my boyfriend. I am an honest person, but now find myself at the beginning stages of an affair with someone I know I don't love but whom I want.

My boyfriend is incredibly trustworthy, energetic, creative, fun and hardworking. We've been talking seriously about marriage, but now I wonder if I'll always find myself looking elsewhere for good sex. I love him so much, though, that breaking up feels like cutting off my right arm. What's a girl to do?

Dangerously Close

Dear Dangerously,

Your boyfriend should not remind you of your mother. If, in our early courtship, my wife had said, "You are so much like my mother," I would have felt a certain tremulous alarm. Nothing against my mother-in-law, who is a fine woman, but it's such an odd metaphor. My feelings for my wife were (and are) carnal and passionate and wild. So should your feelings be for your boyfriend. This is a healthy place to start out. Of course it's also good if the boyfriend is someone you want to converse with and who cares about you and is loyal and so forth, but your lack of carnal feeling for him seems fatal to me. I don't pretend to understand the mysteries of relationships, but it seems to me that lust and passion and sex are how many men and women manage to fend off the natural shocks of matrimony and all that proximity and the inevitable bruises and the sagging heart. People can be married for a zillion years and yet somehow, God bless them, they still have the hots for each other. Nobody else can see it, but they can. This happens. I had a great-uncle who, at the age of 82, after almost 60 years of marriage, said that he didn't care to get a firmer mattress because then he couldn't "get purchase" with his knees -- meaning he couldn't make love to Aunt Millie with conviction. He was a devout Christian and had been married to only one woman but he was crazy about her. I think this is crucial.

Dear Mr. Blue,

My husband and I are expecting a baby, and we're very excited. We haven't told our families yet, because I'm sure there will be some comment about a baptism. My father is a pastor, and since he's baptized practically every other baby in the family, I'm sure he's champing at the bit to baptize ours -- his first grandchild, no less. The problem is that I cannot, and doubt that I will ever, be able to make the kinds of promises that a traditional baptismal ceremony entails. In fact, were it not for my family, I would have converted to another religion by now -- and I might still. There's a long and unpleasant history here. Thank God I have a supportive (and nonreligious) husband, since I expect to meet with disapproval and disappointment if we turn down this ceremony.

What to do? Is sticking to my guns worth alienating and/or dividing my entire family -- and possibly making my child resent me in later life?

In a Blessed Mess

Dear Blessed,

I feel torn about your situation: torn between recommending honesty, a bedrock value, and feeling that your child should not be alienated from your family at the very beginning, if possible. Yes, you will make promises at the ceremony to bring your child up in the faith and to resist Satan and all his pomps, just as you made promises to love and honor your husband when you married him -- which one makes knowing that there will come times when you fall short and are mortal and fallible. But more important is the ceremony of holding up the child for God's blessing and for the support and love of the congregation and the entire church of Christ. The infant is presented to the congregation, which, in behalf of all believers, agrees to provide love and support to this innocent -- according to the tenet that all children of God are worthy of our attention and love. ("As ye do unto the least of these, so do ye unto Me.") I urge you to look into your heart and try to find a way to put the long and unpleasant history on the shelf, in the interest of your child. But if you can't, you can't, and there is much to be said for not going through a ceremony that means nothing to you.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I've been dating a very interesting, sweet and intelligent man for about a month. We have become quite chummy in a short time and have spent a lot of time together. My new swain co-wrote a book about 18 months ago. I expressed interest, and he gave me a copy. (It's a short book on a technical topic related to his work.) Horrors! It is badly written. It is very very badly written. It is so bad that I find it very difficult to read. I know that he wants to know what I think of it, and probably wonders why I haven't finished it yet. What do I say? I'd love to think that this was the doing of some ham-handedly awful editor, but I don't think it is. I don't know what to say about this awful book, and I'm gonna have to say something soon.


Dear T.T.,

Technical books are always badly written, so don't bother to offer a literary opinion. Style is irrelevant. Tell him you found it interesting and ask him about what it means. Invite him to teach you what he said in the book. If he can't tell you in plain language what he meant to say in the book, then throw him over and look for somebody who can speak English.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I have a boyfriend who works alongside his ex-wife in a business they created together. They have no children. Neither remarried. He cannot understand why she seems peeved at him all the time. He cannot understand why she should resent that he has a girlfriend. He is adamant that he does not love her romantically. He is adamant that she knows this. He acknowledges that they have a deep tie and affection for each other. He acknowledges that he values her.

I do not believe he will ever not have this woman in his life. They have been there for each other for most of their adult lives. On the surface she maintains the cold and disapproving front of an old maid, but the fact is that she would do anything for him. He is the center of her life. I feel very outclassed. I would never do the things for him that she has.

Am I sleeping with a married man? I believe he loves me. He says my fears that I am sharing him with her are groundless. Do you think they are?

The Princess & the Pea

Dear Princess,

Your boyfriend seems clear about his own feelings, and that's all that need concern you. What is going through her mind and what is the center of her life and how she views you are not things you need think too hard about. Of course it's an unusual story, this strong tie between them, but it isn't a story that's necessarily weighted against you. And it's hard to find a good and trustworthy business partner.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am engaged to marry a wonderful man, whom I love very much, but there is one small problem: a couple he has been friends with since long before he met me. I don't think the wife likes me very much. She's consistently unpleasant and makes very sarcastic remarks toward both me and my fiancé. He maintains that "she's just like that" and that I shouldn't take it personally. I'm a sensitive person, Mr. Blue, and I don't feel comfortable around people who are blunt and opinionated. I'm wondering how this is going to work out after I'm married. Should I grin and bear it, and socialize with them for his sake, or should I just flatly refuse to spend time with them?


Dear Confused,

If it's only an occasional encounter, don't make an issue of this. People drop into our lives whom we do not exactly choose -- friends-in-law and neighbors and co-workers -- and unless they hop up on the table and go boogeda-boogeda, we learn to accommodate them. A blunt opinionated woman who veers toward sarcasm does not seem beyond the pale to me, assuming she's funny, but if she wears on you, let inertia work for you. Don't initiate social occasions with Madame LaFarge, and when your husband suggests it, say "Mmm-hmm." Let him do the arranging, the heavy lifting, the cooking, when it comes to the LaFarges. My bet is that they will slowly sink from sight. Meanwhile, try to figure out how to be with her and not feel bruised afterward. Good training for when you go into politics.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I have been in love (the kind that fills your whole body and makes you nicer to people you dislike) with my very good friend for about a year and confessed it to him last week. He was very kind, said he was flattered, thought I was brave, was glad I was being honest with him and wasn't in love with me. Sigh. Better to know for sure, but still painful. My plan for recovery is to suffer, enjoy the pain for a while, write some sad music, keep dating nice young men, suffer some more and eventually feel OK. How can I keep this friendship from derailing? We have a long history of trust and confidence and have helped each other through emotional difficulty before.


Dear Romantic,

Keep your distance from him while you're recovering from this. Whatever you do, don't go to him for comfort or advice. That would be manipulative, in my book. A year is a long time to be intensely in love and not tell about it, and I wonder if this romance wasn't a beautiful mental composition that you enjoyed in an abstract and speculative way and didn't dare expose to cold air, knowing it would shatter. It lived in your imagination and got lovelier and lovelier until it became much too good to be true. Far worse than his rejection would have been some sort of grumpy acceptance -- "Hey, I love you too, let's have a romance!" -- which would break in due course and leave you really injured. Cut short the suffering, skip the pain and don't write the sad music. Get out of your room. Date young men and learn something about affection and fooling around and laughing your head off, and when you feel lighthearted again, call up your old historical friend and have lunch and talk about school and people you know and don't mention your old episode.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I fell so deeply in love six years ago with a guy whose marriage was on the rocks. As our love grew sweeter, the stress at his home lessened and the upshot was, the wife gave him an ultimatum. I had to go. Without a fuss I disappeared. Nine months later he called again and we resumed. The deal is this: He calls, I respond. I can't not. Everything I ever felt emerges fresh. I'd go through fire for him. And then I do. And as soon as we come together, as soon as we reach ecstasy, he begins his rapid descent into guilt, anger, depression. Then he's gone again ... until? This has been going on for four years, hundreds of times. The only thing that changes is the speed with which he deserts me anew. I know, I know, my children, friends and therapists all have said the same thing. Just say no, goodbye, see ya 'round, unless you have something to offer. It doesn't change a thing. I am totally rational unless he speaks to me, writes to me or is in my presence. I don't want to get over him. I want to break the cycle. Maybe I just want someone to tell me what I want to hear. You are my only hope. A new angle. Light my tunnel.

Drained of Hope

Dear Drained,

You're still hopeful and so who am I to extinguish your hope? You know what's going on. The guy is a lousy lover. If you measure these things by the pleasure given, this guy is in the sub-basement. But you don't want to give him up. That's OK by me. It's easy for me. I'm not there. You're the real person here and you are suffering. It's easy for me to say, "Go ahead. Wait. Maybe next time it'll be different." I'm writing to you from a dining room table downstairs from a bedroom where my wife is sleeping, next to the room where our baby daughter is asleep. I wish you were reading this column in a house where someone was sleeping whom you are devoted to and who is devoted to you.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I love my husband; we've been together for 23 years, and I'm not quite 40 yet. He is an amazing father to our son, a good partner in life. He makes me laugh, has a nurturing spirit. Problem is our ex-sex life. In the last four years, we've averaged about 1.5 times a year. The last three times, he wasn't able to maintain an erection. Since he's not much of a cuddler or a talker, I often feel totally cut off from any sort of intimacy. I can't imagine life without him, but I don't know if I can live the rest of my life under these conditions. He says he masturbates frequently, so I know it's not a case of impotence. I've tried dragging him to couples therapy (yielded short-term results, but he refuses to go again), taking a lover (resulted in a proposal when all I really wanted was a sexual outlet), putting energy into work (doubled my wage), gardening (the scent of herbs and flowers was pretty close to sexual ecstasy). Lately I've been exercising -- sometimes three times a day. Our son is 10, so I don't want to divorce for at least nine or 10 more years. But lately I have been thinking of leaving the relationship, and my husband with custody. Then I panic and become short of breath. Should I divorce, and go totally against my values of keeping our family intact? How can I live without the two people I love most in the world?


Dear Lonely,

You love him and that's a fact and the thought of bailing out of this marriage makes you short of breath. So stay, and dedicate a couple of years to improving things. Surely, 23 years deserves a couple of years' slack to try to bind up the ties, given your man's good qualities. Start out by taking a critical look at yourself, your body, your appearance, your attitude, your mind. Do what you need to do for yourself -- lose weight, run, jump around, cut your hair, take singing lessons, whatever makes you feel good. Once you feel solid about yourself, then you can start to address his problems. He may need to venture down the counseling path. He may need pharmaceuticals. He needs to come a couple of steps in your direction in terms of intimacy. Maybe it's simple. Sometimes it is. People feel defeated by shame and shyness, and then one night they come together and one of them has brought a bottle of aromatic massage oil and the effect of lubrication is truly amazing. This does happen. You're lucky to be with a good man, and now it's your good fortune to find ways to ease him over the ridgeline and into the land of pleasure. One and a half times a year is, of course, dismal and unhappy. But it's dismal for him as well as for you. I hear that Viagra is a wonderful drug and very reliable. And it's easy to obtain. Can you give him a sample packet for your anniversary? Or your birthday? Or Arbor Day?

Dear Mr. Blue,

My husband and I will have been married for 25 years this fall. We have two kids, a daughter who is going away to college in August and a son who is 15. Things used to be really good. We danced around the house, laughed ourselves senseless at each other's jokes, took ice-skating lessons together, held hands at the mall, saw foreign flicks. I'm not sure when it got bad, but it's been really bad for several years now. There is no screaming or arguing or throwing things, just hurt and frustration on my side.

The problem is that he still seems to be happily married and I'm the miserable one. I've tried to talk to him about my unhappiness (he makes me feel like I'm just part of the system that keeps the household running, he doesn't want to do anything but watch sports on TV, he's not interested in sex, he doesn't bathe as often as he should, he farts, he belches, etc.); he cries and promises he'll try to do better. He does, for a short while, and then reverts to his old ways.

Last fall, I decided I was going to leave him when my son graduates from high school, in June 2003. I felt a lot better. I even started to lose some weight. Just recently, I was out of town on business. I spent three nights alone in a motel and realized that I was happier than I had been for a long time. I don't think I can wait until my son graduates to leave. Since I've made this decision, people have been telling me that I look beautiful, that I glow.

What do you think? Will my leaving harm my son? I do worry about the effect on him. Incidentally, there is no boyfriend in the picture. I have been faithful to my husband through the years of his neglect (except for some mild flirtations and some lusting in the heart -- I figure I'm entitled to that).

Depressed, Neglected and Bored

Dear D., N. & B.,

This strikes me as ordinary marital weariness, the sort that you solve through intimacy and conversation and patience, and in the meantime, you shouldn't feel bad about enjoying solitude. Maybe you need to enjoy a good deal more solitude before you can start to repair this marriage. Spend some more time on the road and enjoy your time in motels. And one of these nights, you might write him a letter about the marriage and how you want to preserve and uplift it and what is needful. Write him a letter when you've been away for a while and give him a chance to read it and absorb it before you return. I'm sure that a healthy 15-year-old boy can weather his parents' divorce and not be terribly harmed by it. He's not the problem. The marriage is worth addressing for its own sake. It's a shame to let a perfectly good romance go to pieces and nobody try to put them back together.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm involved with a wonderful woman who is a writer. Unfortunately, she hasn't written a word since we got together. I think her writing is very good, and she has the potential to become successful, if only she would start writing again. (It's been several years.) I feel partially responsible for her lack of productivity: We have a good relationship and it seems that she'd rather spend her time with me than alone writing. I've gently mentioned my concern a couple of times, but I'm hesitant to push. How can I supportively encourage her without nagging and making matters worse?

Partner of Erstwhile Writer

Dear Partner,

Your writer friend is entirely, entirely responsible for herself and what she writes, and your responsibility for this is slightly less than your responsibility for the snow or the rain. Don't be concerned whatsoever. Don't bother to encourage her. Be a gorgeous lover and enjoy the time and don't assume you know anything about what she is or is not doing in her writing life.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am a corporate lawyer. I make a lot of money and am considered by my colleagues to be good at my job. But I hate it. I hate the stress and the billable hours, and, worse, I find the work stupendously boring and insignificant. I have always wanted to be a writer. I write for my own pleasure, but I have never submitted anything for publication.

But now here I am, with an opportunity to break from this career and move on to something else. I could quit the high-stress job and try to find something part time that would allow me to write, I could stay where I am and try to squeeze in more writing time, or something else. What do you think?

At a Crossroads

Dear Crossroads,

You don't need to break off your career in order to be a writer. A writer is simply someone who writes. You can do this anytime, under any circumstances. Most writers, before they would break out of their day job, would try to get an inkling of success, and that would be good for you too. Squeeze in your writing time and see where it leads you.

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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