Final offer

I'm a Christian, she's a follower of Ayn Rand. She's threatening to leave me if I continue to pursue the ministry. Is there any chance for us?

Published March 13, 2001 8:50PM (EST)

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am romantically involved with a woman who is perfect in almost every way, save one. She is an Objectivist (an Ayn Rand follower). I'm a Christian. When I avoid anything dealing with my faith, we have the greatest of times. I have no doubt in my mind that I would marry this woman if we didn't have such a deep-rooted difference in our fundamental outlooks on life. A little while ago, I thought I should end our romantic relationship. I tried, and she was devastated. She could not understand that I would break it off over a belief she sees as foolish and detrimental to society (if I have to apologize for the Crusades one more time, I'll be sick). Because I was genuinely fearful for her (and partly for myself), we decided to be more open about our beliefs and continue to try to work it out. In my heart, I vowed I would never leave her -- but I could never marry her.

This works out (sort of) since she really is not interested in marriage (ever), and I would sacrifice this for our continued friendship. That brings me to my problem. A week ago, she told me that I had to choose between her and my future plans (I'm studying for my divinity degree and plan on teaching religion and ministering in a church). She says that she is not asking me to give up my religion, only the ministry. I feel deep down that I want to be a minister and work with others through their difficulties. So, do I try to work it out with her? Do I choose a different career? Do I break it off with her? Is there even a right answer here?

Torn Between

Dear Torn,

The woman is trying to break off with you by presenting an impossible demand, and you should accept her gesture and decline to meet the demand and say goodbye. Nobody who loves you would present you with such a choice. Don't hide your faith. You'll need it after she's gone.

Dear Mr. Blue,

How can I knock some guy's socks off?


Dear Dating,

Be cool. Don't try too hard. Be quiet and funny. Speak succinctly and say what you think and don't say all that's on your mind. Leave early. And kiss him on the lips. And turn away and don't look back.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I have been with my boyfriend off and on for four years now (I am 26 and he is 33). I'm an Ivy League grad with a good job, and he was a house painter who then became unemployed and depressed, drank too much (still a niggling concern) and helped put me thousands of dollars in debt. We remained together to the despair of my loved ones who cannot understand his appeal and with whom he made little or no effort (he acknowledges being very intimidated by my academic friends and family). We broke up when he used my credit to get a cellphone, which he then used to place $700 of phone sex charges.

After a six-month separation, we are back together and he has been attentive, giving and unbelievably affectionate (as he always was, never had any complaints there) and has finally become more responsible, taking major strides to repair his credit and build for his future. He has even begun to pay me back, little by little. I also know that he loves me to distraction. My problem is this: I feel I cannot tell anyone I love that I am back with him because they know all he put me through and think I could do better. And there is part of me that wonders whether I should try to find another man. I love my boyfriend immensely (he brings out the caring, nurturing, affectionate side of myself I rarely glimpse), but I do not know how to bring him back into the fold. Should I see what else is out there, find someone who challenges me intellectually or just be grateful I found someone with whom I feel so comfortable and loved?

Torn in Boston

Dear Torn,

You're old enough to love who you love and to make your choice stick with your family and friends. I am an outsider who tosses out my two cents' worth and goes back to his hoop stitching. But since you ask, I say you should find someone who challenges you intellectually and who can hold his own in your world. I'm all for the Ivy League grad falling in love with the house painter, but he should be a house painter who treats her well, who endears himself to her friends and family and who has his life pulled together. It's not this gentleman, who is careening through his 30s and who has burned his bridges with your loved ones. You choose him and you are choosing a second career as an unpaid therapist, and this is a lot of rocks to put in your knapsack, my dear. If part of you is questioning this, listen to the question. At 26 you should not be carrying some guy around on your back.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am a 22-year-old college graduate, waiting to take a job in New York. The plan is to take an apartment with my partner there. We've lived together before, and though we are in love (whatever that means), a part of me is scared of the future. Lately, our relationship has been a bit rocky, due in part to the stresses of the move and the job search, but perhaps also to the fundamental differences that hamper or destroy all relationships. The thing is that I'm just as scared of marriage, kids and empty-nesting as I am of singles bars, creeping alcoholism and existential loneliness. Can you shine the light of your sagacity on this age-old quandary of youth?


Dear Ambivalent,

Ambivalence is sensible at your age. Call it caution, call it perspective, but you want to avoid diving off the cliff until you can scope out the shore and take some depth soundings. And you want to stroll freely for a while and enjoy yourself in the big city. It's terribly important for one your age to learn how to be on her own and amuse herself and not depend on a partner. I wouldn't try to talk you out of ambivalence for all the world, darling. I disagree about fundamental differences being necessarily destructive, but am not sure what you mean, so won't quibble. And I'll leave it to some other guy to try to talk you into marriage and kids.

Dear Mr. Blue,

My father divorced my mother after 38 years of marriage. There is a corrosive hatred on both sides and they are almost penniless. My father, who is 59, makes a small living as a salesman, but piddled away all the money from the sale of their house five years ago. He also has chronic leukemia, the kind you can live with but that tires you and creates health complications. My mother, who is 57 and a bit agoraphobic, lives with my sister and has a very small income from taking care of her kids. My father refuses to pay my mother alimony, and my mother, in turn, wants her three children to cut him out of their life. My sister has already done this. My father definitely has problems (physically abusive, alcohol and drug abuse), but I can't agree to my mother's wish and resent her for even suggesting it. I have come to terms with who my father is and cannot turn my back on him now that he is sick and poor. My mother cannot stand the idea of my seeing him, particularly with my young daughters, and now refuses to talk to me or see me if I see him. She is adamant about this as she believes the simple act of having dinner with him tells him I don't mind that he refuses to give her alimony. How do I retain my relationship with my father without alienating my mother? And how do I help my mother overcome her fears and move on with her life?

Daughter of Two

Dear Daughter,

This is a sad story and there is no simple way out. And there's no way to save your parents from themselves. They're beyond your control, believe me. Your strongest duty is to your daughters, to keep them clear of this ugliness. Unfortunately, mortal enemies love to share their bile with those near and dear and enlist allies and argue their case, and this is nothing for young children to have to witness. There is a messy compromise somewhere and it might be along these lines: You continue to see your father but privately -- it's not your mother's business who you see -- and you keep your daughters clear of the skirmishing, and you make clear to your father that this miserable situation is due in large part to his cruelty and carelessness. Don't abandon him, don't abandon her, stick to your principles, don't get embroiled in your parents' war -- refuse to listen to one talk about the other -- and protect your children.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I have been seeing a wonderful man for almost three years. At Christmas he proposed and I could not say yes fast enough. I truly love this man. He is talented, intelligent, romantic, handsome, thoughtful and caring. However, we fight frequently and about the most inane things! Stupid things that have no significance to the big picture. My fear is that this bicker-banter will continue post-wedding. How much fighting is acceptable? Neither of us has had a prior relationship that compares to what we have, and this will be the first marriage for both, I'm 35 and he is 42.


Dear Worrying,

Some people bicker and seem happy enough with each other, but I'm old-fashioned and constant sparring for meaningless advantage strikes me as a lousy way to live. When you marry, you relinquish a lot of territory and you learn to defer in small matters. You two haven't learned this. There's nothing to be gained from fighting for small potatoes. You make a stink when your feet are seriously stepped on or you're being treated like furniture. You stamp your foot and make your point and then it goes away. In other matters, learn how to smile and say, "OK, flocked wallpaper, then."

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm 29 and have been with my husband for almost eight years and married to him for almost five of them. I met him when I was 21, a shy, insecure young woman from an unstable background. There were never any sparks for me. No heart-pounding anticipation of his phone calls or head-in-the clouds daydreaming about making love to him. He was a nice guy who seemed so stable and rational and he was in love with me. The thing is, I never "fell in love" with him. Well, here we are now, with a house and a gorgeous son we're crazy about and a couple of cats. We've had our ups and downs and we've gone to counseling to work on communication, etc. I've gone to therapy to heal the pain of my past. I've grown up from that shy, insecure young woman, yet none of this has given me the hots for him. I care for him like a brother, but I don't have those feelings of attraction to him and never have. I want to feel passion for my partner for life, Mr. Blue. Lately I've been considering my alternatives. An affair? Life on my own? Divorce? Help!


Dear Dragging,

This is a chill note, to describe your partner of eight years in terms of social convenience; I hope you are exaggerating. Perhaps you are punishing him for having rescued you, perhaps you have him handcuffed to that insecure young woman you used to be and you want to get rid of both of them. But if you want to get out of this marriage, you can, and if you describe it in flat and emotionless terms, then who could disagree with you? Have the divorce first, then the affair, then life on your own.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am married to the man I should be married to. I love him very much, and he loves me. We are both successful in our careers and mutually supportive of one another. We have been building a good life for ourselves and our three children.

But my husband has a temper that has been getting worse. When we were dating, he never showed the full capacity of his temper to me. But starting around our second anniversary, there have been many outbursts. He screams and yells. Things are thrown, including a glass dish right near my head. Walls are punched, leaving holes that need patching. Many things are intentionally broken.

As well, there have been several incidents of extreme road rage that have put me and my children in bad situations.

This is frightening for both me and my children, who are still very young. My husband acknowledged once that he has a problem with anger. We need to address this issue, and I believe that only professional counseling will help. I do not know how I can phrase my comments so that no blame or anger toward him is expressed, as the last thing I would want to do is cause him to become more angry and belligerent. I perceive the issue as one within the family, not just his problem. How can I address the problem without damaging his feelings or our relationship?


Dear Distressed,

You are not responsible for his angry outbursts. It's a scary situation, but if you dare not talk to him about this and insist that he see a counselor, then you must leave him (at least temporarily) for the safety of you and your children. The behavior is unacceptable. Whether he is alcoholic or depressed or misused at work, he needs to see a therapist with experience in anger counseling. What he is doing is damaging to your family, and to your relationship. An incident of "road rage" can bring a felony conviction that will put sharp brakes on his career. It's painful and humiliating for him to admit to this problem, but your good life is starting to crash down. Tell him to be a man and own up to it, or pack up yourself and the kids, and walk away until he gets control of himself.

Dear Mr. Blue,

My job is the envy of my friends. I make a bucket of money and as for advancement, the sky is the limit of my advancement. Most people struggle all their lives to get the opportunities I have fallen into at the tender age of 25. But I hate it. I hate the grayness of cubicle land. I hate programming. I hate working 60 to 80 hours per week. And I hate hating this place. Life should be about joy and exploring the facets of oneself while learning to love others, yes? Swallowing my pride everyday, denying myself freedom of expression, harboring resentment toward everything here is taking a terrible burden on my soul. In many ways I despise who I've become since I started working for this company. I've got one year left on my contract. I have no wife, no kids, no house, no dog. I want to run away screaming, but have no idea where to head. My mind changes daily about what I want to do (academia, art, social activism, suck it up and make money). Where, oh where, do I find the inspiration for a life I'll enjoy and how do I get the confidence to make this a reality? I have little faith in God, country and apple pie. Sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll have left me bored. What else is there?


Dear Floundering,

There is Montana. There is Wyoming. Fabulous places. There is the Democratic Party, but I suppose that demands faith in country. There is a school somewhere, in which wonderful kids languish for want of people to care about teaching them. But I don't mean to preach. Corporate life can be stultifying. Overwork is deadening to the spirit. Cubicles are gray. Programming is not (so far as I've heard) a joyful business. But if you don't have the inspiration to do something else and can't figure out what is worthwhile, then stay in your cubicle and make money and salt it away and stifle yourself until your anger starts to stimulate the brain.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am 31 and feel that I create deadlines with my ages. At 20 I should have done something I was nowhere close to doing. At 25, failure was still excusable. At 28, I could still take risks. At 31, I'm doing what I've always told myself I would do and I'm happy. I want to know what you thought when you were my age. What were you doing and what did you think you'd be doing next? What were you afraid of? What did you hope to achieve? Did you look to anyone for guidance?

Writer Girl

Dear Writer,

When I was 31, I thought I had a lot of time. I was writing fiction for the New Yorker, a big ambition of mine, and even better was making a living at it. I was looking for something to do next, which turned out to be "A Prairie Home Companion," which I started the next year. I was afraid that my marriage was on the rocks. I hoped to write a novel. I didn't expect guidance from anyone and didn't show my work to anyone. I didn't believe that anyone really makes long-term plans. I believed that life is intuitive and things come up suddenly and you grab them or you avoid them.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I work in the IT industry and have dated my share of IT geeks. My problem is that the guys never call me to ask me out -- they just e-mail me from work. I've just started dating a nice young man who does this, and I'm bummed because I long to hear his voice. How can I get him to call me without becoming one of those women who's trying to change her man? I like him fine, but I thrive on conversation, and enjoy talking with him.


Dear Extrovert,

If you want him to call, don't answer his e-mail. If he doesn't get an answer and he still won't pick up a phone, then maybe you're not important enough to him. It's good to put a man to a simple little test early on. No sense wasting time with one who's all gas and no flame.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I have a good friend who I've known since we were 13 years old. We're now 48. I appreciate her and love her and she holds a place in my heart that belongs to no one else. However, we are really different. She's married, a mom and a housewife. I'm single, have a career and am more independent. At times I feel my friend is still in the high school mode. Almost every time I go to visit her and her family, she finds some reason to pull out our high school yearbook. I find this rather curious but I usually go along with it. I do love and appreciate her, but I'm not fully me when I'm with her. Lately she complains that I'm distant, a complaint that seems odd to me, almost like that of a lover, not a friend. I feel she is probably bored with her life and needs a scapegoat. I think she has not treated herself well enough, not that I have not treated her well enough. But I don't know how to respond to her complaints in a loving way without hurting her feelings? Any thoughts?

Old Friend Who Has Moved On

Dear Old Friend,

Indulge your friend in her nostalgia, even if you don't share it, and don't respond to her complaints, except to tell her that she holds a place in your heart that belongs to no one else. That's all that needs to be said. It's an old precious friendship and don't subject it to psycho-pop analysis. And what's this nonsense about not being fully yourself when you're with her? Don't high-hat your old friends, just because you're living a snazzier life and have nicer shoes and read hipper magazines. I find the phrase "Moved On" rather snooty in this context. It sounds as if you have indeed become distant, and you need to rethink the value of old friendships. This woman knew you before you started reinventing yourself; keep her for reference, against the day you want to go back to being who you are.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I was a dope-smoking moron in high school who dropped out to have my daughter and marry her good-for-nothing father. By age 19 I had realized that all that stuff that had whizzed through my ears that my parents had said about the value of education was true and that if I was going to have any kind of decent life I needed an education. And I experienced some sort of awakening of intellectual curiosity about the world. So I got a GED, went back to school, fell in love with it and got my degree in English two years ago. Ever since, I have longed to go to graduate school but my family needed income. So I found a secretarial job. My husband was happy that we could get a new car and the latest video games, but I do not feel that this life is right for me. I just want to go back to school and be a happy student again. I am 28 and feel my young adulthood slipping fast. Is it worth it to go back to school, if it means going into debt? Am I just lapsing into a selfish mode of existence again?

Struggling With a Decision

Dear Struggling,

Don't settle for work that is less than what you can do. You pulled yourself up out of the swamp once, and you can do it again. You know what it takes. It isn't selfish to want to find your life's work. Figure out the finances, do what you need to do to make ends meet, sell the car and go back to school.

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.

MORE FROM Garrison Keillor

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

Books Writers And Writing