Mr. Blue had to deliver a eulogy this week for a dear old friend, one of those difficult jobs that somebody has to do and everyone dreads, especially the prospect of having your face turn to molten rubber and making a weepy spectacle of yourself. The trick, if you care to know, is to postpone the serious elegiac stuff for later and start out with the comedy. In this case, the Departed had been so good as to write, in his lifetime, thousands of wildly funny letters, and with judicious editing, I put together one that got waves of laughter from the mourners, the sort of cumulative build that comedians work for. The Departed, a musician, would have been terribly pleased. Too bad he had to miss the show. And miss it by only a few days.
The other thing you must do, in a eulogy, is give a simple account of the life and cite the virtues and hint at the shortcomings and absolutely do not talk about yourself or throw in too many long looping clichés. You let people employ their own memories and imaginations and don't get in their way and they will think you are a genius, when actually you're just a slow talker who uses small words.
My friend was 77 and had a good long run in this world, and the grief one feels is for one's self, at the loss of that old familiar conversation, the easy comedy routine of an old friendship. I have lost five old friends in the past 10 years and miss every one of them and there's no way to patch this up. With each one, there was a different conversation that we easily fell into every time we met and talk came so easily and now there is only this puny silence.
A reader offers this word to No Way Out (whose wife used to weigh 150 and now tops 220 and has been battling depression): This story sounds textbook hypothyroid to me. Hypothyroidism is chronically misdiagnosed and undertreated by doctors; so please ask NWO to direct his wife to this Web site, where she can get enough information to deal with her doctors as an informed patient."
A reader says that my answer to A Friend in Need (the single woman in L.A. whose married friends don't invite her over anymore) was off the mark. "While you may deign to socialize with single people, the vast majority of people who are married, especially if they have children, do not. Apparently odd numbers make people nervous. If you ask most single people around my age, they will tell the exact same story." Fine. That's your perspective. It isn't mine. I don't "deign" to socialize with single people, I like them for who they are. And I am slightly wary of couples, since their interest in coming to my house is not always equal. That's the real poison pill. So I'd always want it to be clear that a dead-weight spouse is free to send his or her regrets and the live-wire spouse to come alone.
Several readers point out that sex twice a year is semiannual sex, not biannual. Thanks for the comfort.
And many readers wrote in regard to the young wife distressed because her husband gave her a cooking pan for her birthday. They all agreed that Mr. Blue was much too indulgent with her. One said: "The correct response is, Get over it. What shallowness! Is this love? Can this man not have an off year?" Another reader says: "Unless my parents were wrong, it's horrible to complain about a gift -- any gift. He remembered your birthday and my (unsolicited) advice is: Keep your yapper shut. Oh, and I'm a woman." Yes, ma'am.
Dear Mr. Blue,
Why can my 50-year-old boyfriend only speak about sex like a 12-year-old? For example, "Show me your hooters" and "Bend over" and "Let me stick it in you" have become common in the two years we've lived together. It wasn't always like this, and the occasionally well-peppered conversation was initially quite funny. But as soon as I moved in with him all attempts at adult romance were dropped entirely. I am starved for the kind of thoughtful, lingering, pleasurable passion that any 35-year-old woman enjoys. I'm at the end of my rope. Help.
Somewhere back up the line your boyfriend got the notion that you were excited by blunt talk, so he slipped into this comic-book porn dialogue, and now you need to set him straight. You don't like it. So don't show him your hooters and don't bend over. Face him and say, "You make me feel bad when you say that." Dare to make a scene and have a skirmish and raise your voice if necessary. He'll apologize and make it up to you, write sonnets, strum a lute, whatever your fancy craves.
Dear Mr. Blue,
I'm a divorced, middle-aged man with the happiest of problems. Perhaps because I can hold a conversation, cook a French meal, dance the salsa and kiss with some style, I now find, much to my surprise, that I am "a catch." Oh, brave new world! So I'm dating around, a process that entails several walks down the garden path of romance with various women, right? Some walks may stop just past the garden gate, others may lead to the deeper bowers. What I want to know is, why, if you've reached the inner bowers with a woman and then decide she's not the one for you, does it seem the only way out is through the briars? Is there a way to be charming and fun and even intimate while dating, without leaving a trail of broken hearts?
Loath to Hurt
One cannot get through life without hurting people, as gentle as you may try to be, avoiding insult and cruelty. Nonetheless, there will come times when someone turns a tear-stained face toward you and says, "How could you?" The bowers of romance are particularly treacherous, as surely you know, sir, and old lovers have a way of becoming bitter enemies. You can find out about this in the pages of fiction, but meanwhile keep your romance on the light side, play it for laughs, don't push and don't make promises you can't keep.
I am a woman approaching my thirties without ever having been in a long-term relationship. I think I know the cause, and in the last year have opened up to people and life as I was never able to before. But. This last spring I became close to a man after only knowing him for one week, which consisted of an incredible night of sex and several passionate conversations. Since then, he has grown increasingly distant, without explanation, and to the best of my knowledge is seeing other women. I know that I should just let go, but I have never felt as strongly or spiritually connected to anyone in my life. The heartbreak from this has pushed me back by a couple of years, but I still want him. So my questions are: Does this kind of lightning ever strike twice? Am I completely deceiving myself? Or should I wait, and hope for the best? Aaagh! I don't know anything about this!
Take the gentleman's interest as a compliment to you and move along. Maybe he's terrified of intimacy, maybe he has some dark embarrassing secret (a bird tattooed on his butt, a proclivity for tuna melts, an obsession with surfer rock), maybe after the incredible sex your guardian angel spoke to him and said, "Leave that woman alone." You could take 10 years trying to figure him out and it ain't worth the work.
1) Let go. 2) Let go. 3) Let go. 4) Don't hold on.
Take the heartbreak as a sign that you're a living, breathing person with a big heart and, yes, to those with the capacity to love, the opportunity will come.
Dear Mr. Blue,
How do we tell a close friend that her new beau is Trouble? They met at a bar and she fell "head over heels," she says, in a matter of days, and he is the first man she truly feels "happy, comfortable and safe" with, but one by one, each of her friends has expressed concern since meeting him. He's been staying with her since the night they met, and hasn't returned to his expensive homes or his $70,000+/year job for three weeks, never has any money and none of his "arrangements" ever comes to fruition.
The list of stories goes on, and we've heard his biography listed to us over and over. Some of us think he's about to con her for all she has and then some. We know she probably won't hear a word we say, but we care about her well-being. How do we suggest she protect her heart and her wallet from this guy?
If you really care about her and you suspect that he's a con artist, find out who he really is. You do this by befriending him and ingratiating yourself and getting him to talk about himself at great length. You feign innocent fascination with his life story and keep pulling the details out of him and either it adds up or it doesn't. If it doesn't, use whatever leads he provides to track him down. And when you find out who he is, if he is a con man, tell her in no uncertain terms.
Dear Mr. Blue,
My wife's brother and his wife have asked us if we will agree to be the guardian of their two boys if the unthinkable happens. The boys are both high-spirited but basically good kids and we love them dearly. However, we have reservations: Can we handle those two boys in addition to our own boy? On top of that, my wife's sister has lately asked her the same thing about her two kids, a girl and a boy. Don't get me wrong, I love my nephews and nieces, but my wife and I don't make a lot of money and we're thinking of having a second kid ourselves. Are we being selfish to hesitate? Should we say yes on the hopeful assumption that it's one promise we'll never have to fulfill? Is there some kind way to say, "We're just not sure yet, but we love your kids anyway?"
You say yes, praying that the unthinkable will not happen, but knowing that should you be charged with the care of any of these children, God will provide. You would not, in a moment of horror and tragedy, watch your nephews and nieces shuffled off into the care of strangers. I think you would not. The parents are only asking you to affirm this now, for their own peace of mind. Do it and don't worry about it.
Dear Mr. Blue,
I'm 30, use a wheelchair and am single. Last summer my nondisabled live-in boyfriend left me for another woman. We were together for six years and I had no idea he had been feeling like leaving me for the last two years of our relationship. We fell madly in love and my disability was never an issue for him and never for me. We traveled all around Europe when we weren't working. He was my best friend and gave to me so unselfishly that I look back and wonder if I took his love for granted. As my disability progressed, he became my caregiver. And I look back to a few years ago when I became ill with vertigo and had to quit my job and kind of had a breakdown. I would cry a lot and I know it was really difficult for him to see me like that. I had always been a really strong person, and ambitious, and then I took to my bed, didn't call anyone, went on antidepressants. I think he never recovered from seeing me so weakened emotionally by something he couldn't see.
I blame myself for his leaving. I became used to him like an old coat and expected he would always be with me. I have moved on somewhat, but it is still painful to process this loss. I am afraid that I will never find a new guy who will accept me like he did.
Alone and Trying to Move On
Don't blame yourself, though your analysis of what happened seems insightful and wise. He was a heroic lover and then something failed in him and perhaps this was related to your breakdown. As long as you were brave and enterprising and wheeling around Europe, he took inspiration from this and happily gave of himself -- you were his heroine -- and then came the messy sodden part and his courage failed. We all take our lovers for granted and they do become like beloved old coats; it's just in the nature of things. He didn't leave you "for another woman"; he simply ran out of steam and the other woman was a convenient lever to use to pry himself loose. I am sorry for him and for you, that this brave romance failed. I hope you hold onto all the fine memories of your best times together and don't burn them up in recriminations. Take care of yourself, sweetie, and every morning pull up your socks and make it a good day.
Dear Mr. Blue,
I am 52 years old, have been married for 24 years and have two grown children. But while my husband is very decent and well-meaning, I have been madly in love with another man for about five years now. Although we hardly get to see each other and have only spent a handful of nights together, the other man in my life is my one and only soul mate -- and I his. I will always love my husband, but I haven't been in love with him for maybe 10 years now.
My problem, of course, is how to resolve this terrible and tortuous problem. I have tried to put off making a decision for as long as I can, but my "other man" is growing restless with this situation, especially since we have been keeping our relationship unknown to the outside world. On the one hand, the last thing in the world I want to do is hurt my husband, who has dutifully put up with a lot from me and as far as I can tell, still loves me. But how can I resign myself to living the rest of my life without my most trusted friend, my reason for waking up each day -- in short, my everything? Any thoughts on this seemingly impossible scenario?
It would appear that you have made your firm decision and are only waiting for a good time to go ahead and do what you've chosen to do. What is the "seemingly impossible scenario"? There's nothing impossible about divorcing your husband and going with your soul mate -- it happens all the time -- and as for hurting your husband, you already have, surely. Best to screw up your courage and do the deed. But do pause for one brief moment of reflection and consider that what happened between you and your decent well-meaning husband may also happen between you and Mr. Raison D'être.
Dear Mr. Blue,
I am a single mother, 28, with two boys whose dad is a deadbeat. My job is stressing me out. I can barely pay for the basic necessities for my family. But I have this knack for rolling with the punches. I just take a deep breath and try to find humor in the situation and carry on.
My boyfriend for the past two and a half years is a good man. He has a good job. He's good with my boys, always helps out, buys groceries when I am low, mows my lawn -- the list goes on and on. We don't live together because we feel it would not be a good example for my boys. About 6 months ago, I brought up the subject of marriage. He says he doesn't know what he wants. His indecision revolves around the fact that my life is pretty chaotic and uncertain. Everything bad that happens to me, he broods on it for days or weeks while I suck it up and try to overcome my latest challenge. Now, we love each other very much, but this marriage issue has become a bone of contention between us. My way of thinking is that it's wrong to date a single mom for two and a half years, mow her lawn, get involved in her family life, implant yourself in her life as a necessity and then say, "I don't know if I want to marry you." He is a procrastinator in many aspects of his life, and I don't want to wait another five years or so while he decides what to do. I am considering breaking up with him now instead of waiting and hoping for him to come around. But I don't want to lose the man my boys and I love. Help!
So don't lose him. You brought up the subject of marriage, you heard his uncertainties, now drop the subject for a while and let the idea of marriage bounce around in his mind. You can't expect this man to leap at the thought the moment you mention it. Let him ponder. Have a good summer. Bring up the subject again some lovely fall day and see if the gentleman's thinking has clarified. Or if yours has.
Dear Mr. Blue,
I'm 36 and married to a terrific guy. Just about all of our married friends have kids, and any contact we have with them is ruled by the children and their schedules. I don't understand why these people, who once had lots of different interests, are now so fixated on their children. They don't go to museums anymore or to the movies, they don't even read. Their lives are structured around their kids in a way that is almost terrifying. I don't remember our parents being like this. Have things really changed? It's making us rethink our wanting to have kids ourselves.
I agree with you. Soccer, for example, is pernicious, a game organized for the benefit of parents and hated by most of the boys and girls dragooned into playing it. And yet intelligent parents spend hours and hours watching this absurd and boring game. Why? Because our children are fascinating to us. It's the plain truth. So if you want to be friends with mommies and daddies, you'll have to be accommodating. Maybe you should offer to baby-sit for your friends and take the kiddoes around to museums and movies and let the parents stay home and have sex. You'd learn more about children and you'd endear yourselves to your friends in a big big way.
Dear Mr. Blue,
I had a friend years ago who brightened up my life. He was selfish and bossy and a little shallow, but he was a hell of a lot of fun to be with, and I have never laughed so much with anyone else.
Then another man entered my life, and my friend, although he was gay and had no romantic interest in me, seemed jealous and possessive. He took an instant dislike to my new boyfriend, who I was falling in love with, and the two of them got into a huge argument. We were all young and immature, and my friend departed in a huff, and we have never seen or spoken to each other since.
So here we are, eight years later. I married the boyfriend, and I love him dearly, and we are very happy. But I miss my old friend and the fun he brought to my life. Our class reunion is coming up, and he might be there. I'd like to say something to him, about how we were young and stupid, and that I'm sorry about how it all went.
But my sister ran into him a few years ago and reported that he still harbors a strong dislike for my husband. I feel uncomfortable about trying to renew a friendship with someone who can't appreciate the man I love more than anyone in the world. What should I do?
Don't make big overtures to the old friend. Be cool. Don't say you're sorry about the rift because it's likely to be misinterpreted as you accepting blame for it. And that would be disloyal to your husband. Don't imagine you can re-create a magic interlude of eight years ago. That's not available to you. You're very happy with your husband and that's good enough.
Dear Mr. Blue,
I'm a 23-year-old graduate student in statistics having second thoughts about my career path. I don't find the work terribly interesting. My true passion is reading.
If I was all by myself, I might consider starting all over and studying literature. But I am happily married, have a mortgage and my wife and I want to start a family. What careers exist that would allow me to involve my passion for reading novels? And is it too late to switch careers?
Lover of Fiction
Don't switch careers on the basis of an illusion. The only career that pays you to read novels is the honorable profession of book reviewing and it pays peanuts. You should go ahead and do it in your spare time and see how you like it, but meanwhile keep the day job. The study of literature, in graduate school, is not about reading novels, it's about criticism and scholarship and that's a very different kettle of fish. Like the difference between Huck Finn and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
I'm a kinda attractive guy, 62, about to retire, with a record of four failed marriages. I'm also a recovered alcoholic with 15 years of happy sobriety, a battered husband and I have herpes.
Women seem to find me charming, entertaining and funny for short periods of time, and then they bail out because of bad experiences with drunks or because of the herpes thing. In addition, many of the women I have dated in the 48-62 age group are, frankly, a little bitter and sometimes downright angry at men.
That anger scares me a bit due to my experiences with out-of-control spouses, and the idea of having a woman under the same roof for an extended period is too frightening to contemplate.
So, where does a guy like me go for affection, romance and even a monogamous relationship? And please, don't give me that "church group/bowling alley/bookstore" stuff!
Don't get huffy. Mr. Blue hasn't recommended bowling or church groups or bookstores to anybody, ever. (On the other hand, a nice dart club or a window seat at Starbucks or a Unitarian church might do the trick, but never mind.) And it sounds like you're meeting women OK on your own. So some of them have peevish things to say about their exes and formers. That's your opportunity to be sympathetic and show that you're a different kind of guy, a caring & sharing & sensitive guy. Just keep going along amusing them for short periods of time and enjoy those periods. Having herpes means that you must carry condoms and offer to use one. You don't want a monogamous relationship right now (that often leads to living under one roof), you want to have fun. So do. If a woman bails out, too bad for her. Keep on trucking.
Dear Mr. Blue,
A beloved old friend is on the brink of marriage and has asked me to be his best man and make the customary toast, which I dread doing, because he has repeatedly confided his ambivalence about this wedding, his lack of respect for his fiancée's intelligence, savoir-faire, looks and taste in books, and far worse. And now he implores me to toast their happiness? Where do my responsibilities as best man begin and end?
The best man is the groom's confidant and right-hand man and, if necessary, valet and chauffeur. You look out for him before and during the ceremony, and then you hand him over to his bride. Your beloved old friend trusted you with his innermost qualms and you should ask him, "Are you sure you really want to do this?" It's a friendly question to ask. And if he says he does, then you do your part to make it an elegant wedding. And if he's not sure, then you challenge him to do some hard thinking.