Several semi-irritated readers questioned Mr. Blue's integrity in offering "computer problems" as an excuse for not posting the column on time last week and wondered if the real reason might be moral turpitude or the failure of the aging columnist's medications. "Too much Zoloft?" inquired one.
The simple fact of the matter is that the Blue e-mail server software collapsed, sending up a cryptic message, "An unsupported function has been attempted," whenever I tried to go online. I am an A.T.&T. Worldnet subscriber and after many hours of dealing with their technical people, I believe I will sell my remaining shares. Long, long conversations ("The screen says WHAT? --- I never heard of that. Let me look that up.") with surly or clueless folks, punctuated by periods of lite jazz, and finally, Monday afternoon, I landed a techie who knew the problem and guided me through the maze, erasing the old program, downloading a fresh one from the Web, getting it cranked up. That's the truth, Ruth. I do not recommend A.T.&T. Worldnet, if you care to know.
Dept. of Corrections:
1) This is the last word on the tempest over "biannual" -- a reader writes: "You were correct to use biannual. Semiannual is also acceptable, but not necessarily preferable.
bi-an-nu-al (bie an'yue uhl) adj. 1. occurring twice a year; semiannual.
2) A woman in Seattle sends this salvo out the rear starboard tube: "I cringed at several points in this week's column. Prescient you may be, but dear sir, it is evident that you are a man. 1) In the name of all that is holy, there is nothing more off-putting than when one of your guy friends tries to kiss you. Or the hand that lingers too long. Women are funny creatures: We distinguish between men we want to sleep w/, and those w/ whom we want to remain platonic. Some guys never get that, to which I say: Keep in mind that women are hit on constantly by total strangers -- guys driving by, guys at work, guys at bus stops, grocery store lines, movie theaters, etc. Sometimes it's flattering, sometimes it's annoying and occasionally it's dangerous. We don't want to feel as if we have to remain on guard w/ our guy friends, so they should desist w/ this behavior or they will get a reputation w/ in the social circle as being skeevy. Rule 1: Women talk. 2) A cookbook for her 30th birthday? What the hell? If he does not remedy this situation immediately with, say, a romantic dinner for two and a long, almond-oil massage, drop him and do not look back. Unless she is a goddamned saucier, no woman in the annals of Western history has wanted a cookbook for her 30th birthday. This is indicative of deeply rooted cluelessness on his part -- not a good sign."
Gosh. I love it when women swear. They are so much more selective and artistic w/ profanity. As for her two points, however, I say, Balderdash and horsefeathers. "The hand that lingers too long --"? Where are we, in some Shaker colony? Pardon my French, but dagnab it, woman, how can people live w/ their hands tied behind their backs and muzzled to prevent kissing? As for the lady whose husband gave her a cookbook for her birthday, Mr. Blue has come around 180 degrees on this question. I now feel that a cookbook was TOO DANG GOOD for her. You can quote me on that. I think he should have given her a year's subscription to the National Geogoddamgraphic. But I love the word "skeevy" and am going to use it often, soon as I figure out what it means.
3) A Wiser Older Woman (W.O.W.) writes: "Regarding the letter from Pining Away, if a woman is seeking intimacy, having sex in the first week of meeting some guy, no matter how electrifying the connection, will short-circuit the relationship. Yes I know there was a 'sexual revolution,' and when I was in my 20s I participated fully, but I am a much older broad now, and am describing what I have observed over the last half-century. People who put the cart before the horse can have many exciting short-term sexual relationships that are over as soon as the novelty wears off. People who enjoy love relationships that last a lifetime tend to let them develop slowly. Just something I've noticed."
4) Last week Mr. Blue cautioned Damaged Merchandise, who has herpes, that he should carry condoms. A helpful reader suggests that he contact a singles group devoted to people with herpes and another helpful reader passes on the info: "If you have a genital sore, don't have sexual intercourse -- even with a condom. Wait until the sore heals. The virus can spread from sores not covered by the condom. It can also spread in sweat or vaginal fluids to places the condom doesn't cover. Having sex, even with a condom, will irritate the sores, and they will take longer to heal."
5) A single gent writes, in reference to several recent letters here: "An old friend, a Russian woman with a wonderful Slav pessimism, told me once that to find good love at all is a miracle, and if it doesn't last forever this is not a crime. She was so right. We would be so much better off if we could give up screaming at the memory of the one who has left for failing to live up to our fantasy of who they could become even if it was something they never hinted they could or wanted to be and instead try to learn something from it and be ready to accept love again if it comes."
This ends the admonishments of the readership.
Dear Mr. Blue,
This guy and I have been dating for about five months. To be frank, we're both terrific, smart, interesting, funny (well, I'm funnier), we get along great, we discuss marriage and kids and houses and our anticipated long future together, and he is the kindest person I've ever met, and it all feels very comfortable and "right," BUT -- he is a terrible kisser. Horrendous. All pointy- and probing-tongued. No tenderness or playfulness. Just a sticky, slobbering, needy, undisciplined tongue. I am a passionate woman who loves to kiss, but not this guy, no way. I've tried to make constructive comments like: "Oh, I really like it when you hardly use your tongue at all for a while" or "Don't you think some of the most passionate kisses are the most fleeting ones?" I've even said, "I need you to kiss me more tenderly now." Doesn't work. He doesn't get it. Perhaps he's just not hard-wired for kissing. (He's also tone deaf and has no rhythm, so maybe it's all related.) He is an attentive and creative lover. Just a lousy kisser!
How can I deal with this, Mr. Blue? I love this man, but more and more I find myself avoiding his company because I am afraid that I will have to endure his kisses. I don't know how to talk about this with him without hurting his feelings. And I wonder if it will just never change. Maybe it's not that he's a bad kisser, but that we, together, are not compatible kissers. (Although, frankly, I've kissed an awful lot of guys in my life, some better kissers than others, and I find it hard to believe that the one I feel most compatible with otherwise is the least compatible kissingwise.)
I'm afraid it's hopeless. There is no substitute for expert sensitive kissing and this guy is a tongue-thruster and it's too late to correct the problem. His previous girlfriends were unable to set him straight and now he's been fobbed off on you and I'm afraid you'll have to dismiss him and find someone who can perform this simple but crucial act to your complete satisfaction. (And you're right, you are funnier than he is.)
Dear Mr. Blue,
My boyfriend and I were together for six years, until we broke up last August. We've remained friends, and there has always been that feeling of "maybe" floating around in the air -- that we might get back together. We are quite different in personality. We sort of round each other out. We love each other. Our relationship is not an easygoing one, but it is honest and clear and true.
Now he tells me he has met someone he is interested in asking out. It hurts me to hear this. As a friend, I want him to be happy. The part of me that is the lover doesn't want him with anyone else -- that part wants to hang on and see if we can make it work. I don't know what to do. I know I love him. I don't know if we can fulfill each other's needs as a couple. He says he still loves me too. What do you think about trying again, Mr. Blue? When is enough, enough?
It isn't enough yet. Try again. His asking you, in effect, for permission to start dating again, almost a year after the breakup, is a clear indicator of his feelings for you. You're close to each other, you love each other, and why not see if the year's separation has made you a little wiser and kinder and more patient. This romance doesn't sound dead to me at all. Don't give up on it.
Dear Mr. Blue,
My wife of seven years and I are happily married, or so I thought. She keeps a personal journal and, while she was away, I innocently came across the journal and not-so-innocently decided to take a peek. In it I discovered some recent entries regarding her frequent sexual dreams about her old high school boyfriend. She also wrote about finding his e-mail address on the Internet and sending him a message. He replied and she noted that it was making her feel "restless." All of this was unknown to me. If I question her and admit to reading her private journal, I believe she will be justifiably furious. I am having a hard time, however, just pretending that I don't know anything. What should I do?
What a shame you are burdened with this painful and confusing (and ultimately meaningless) information. Everybody experiences conflicting feelings and uninvited erotic fantasies and "restlessness" and in the privacy of a journal some people choose to lay it out in words. This does not make the feelings and fantasies real. You might get some comfort from subjecting your wife to a bout of courtship. The candlelit suppers in the outdoor cafe, the long walks, the heart-to-heart conversations in which you tell her how much her love and company mean to you. But don't go back to the journal and torture yourself again.
Dear Mr. Blue,
I'm 19 and miserable. I hate my college classes (even though I'm doing well in them -- engineering), I just broke up with my girlfriend and my parents are divorcing after my father cheated on my mother for two years.
I feel like I'm stuck in my classes because there's nothing out there that interests me. Every relationship I've ever been in only lasts for a short time and I'm constantly feeling lonely and in dire need of affection. I want to travel and find some adventure in my life, but this seems impossible.
Can you offer any advice on my situation? I haven't talked to anyone about this because I feel no one can give me the right answers.
The first advice is: Don't make big changes when you're tired and miserable. The second -- you have every right to be miserable, given what's going on. Be a friend to your parents and see them through the divorce, as you're able. Keep going in your studies. You're young and you have the precious asset of time, lots of it. So soldier on, at least for now, and do good work and try to get some perspective by having big experiences outside engineering. Whether you stick with engineering or wind up an English major, you want to become a whole person, not just a certified professional, so resolve that your 20s will be venturesome. There are all sorts of odd and memorable experiences that aren't so available to you after 30. Adventurous jobs you can do for two or three months and move on. Whatever you do, don't sit in a room and feel gloomy: Take your gloom outdoors for a walk. As for loneliness, it's like hunger: You stave it off with crackers and baloney sandwiches and then one day you walk into a magnificent feast.
Dear Mr. Blue,
I am sitting here in the small dim cluttered kitchen of my apartment in a Large Metropolis on the right coast and am clutching a cashier's check from my literary agent for a half-million dollars. It's royalties from my book that shot unexpectedly into bestsellerdom but I never, until today, confronted the fact that I was going to get rich off this. Over the past 10 years, I've subsisted happily on about $20,000 a year that I put together from freelance writing and editing and teaching a night-school class, and most of my close friends are in the same boat. I'm quite content in this boat. I'm single, 32, have what I need, and a one-bedroom 4th-floor walkup apartment is fine by me. My friends have been congratulatory about the book, in a pursed-lipped sort of way, and I dread losing them. So what in God's name do I do with all this loot? Other than shove it into a good mutual fund?
Exactly. First you buy yourself a silk/linen suit and take your parents on a 10-day cruise on the Aegean and burn off some of the windfall, then you buy a dark, lightweight wool suit, and then you salt the rest away. Well, maybe you should purchase a small oil painting, as a trophy of your success. And an air conditioner (for the painting). And a handsome desk, maple, six feet long, a Swedish design, with two slender drawers for pencils and pads and sundries. And some first editions to put on the desk. And antique bookends. And then don't forget to pay your taxes.
Dear Mr. Blue,
When I was a sophomore in college I met and immediately became close friends with a lively, beautiful, young woman. Five years later I still count her among my closest friends. In fact, I have become enamored with her on and off since almost the day I met her. However, I keep receiving mixed signals. Each time we have intimate and meaningful conversation, she pushes me away the next day. Perhaps this is because she was once let down hard by another guy who was also a friend. Lately this has become too much. I find myself obsessing over the details of each conversation wondering where I might have gone wrong. Is there any hope for me? Or do I simply have to find a way to move on? (I don't think I can simply be friends with a person as wonderful as she.)
I favor freedom of expression. But you say you have been "enamored with her on and off," which is its own kind of mixed signal. Perhaps you are each confusing the other. There are wonderful friendships between men and women that are intimate and lovely and include sexual feelings that, either because they're semisubconscious or because we wish to spare ourselves the trouble, we don't express. Perhaps you're in the process of learning to do this. Of course you can be friends with someone as wonderful as she! Why limit your friendships to drones and frails? So be a friend, and let up on the postmortems.
Dear Mr. Blue,
My girlfriend and I have been together for nearly a year, and I feel at peace with her but worry about our future. She is wonderful, caring and considerate, and I have no doubt that she loves me very much. My main concern is our lack of common interests: I'm interested in politics, quirky movies, public radio, good books, etc. She has no interest in politics, enjoys formulaic romantic comedies and has little interest in learning for learning's sake. Sometimes it feels like she just flits from day to day without experiencing anything too deeply.
At the same time, she's the best listener I've ever met, is incredibly selfless and we laugh our heads off together. At the end of August, I'm heading off to law school on the East Coast. She wants to move out too, though we won't be living together. I have told her that I want her with me, and that's true, but at the same time I'm worried that as I pursue this intellectual adventure our differences will be magnified, and she will have picked up her life and moved East for me only to have our relationship fall apart.
Part of me doesn't want to be away from her for even a day. And another part thinks that perhaps my leaving the Midwest is a natural time for us to examine our relationship, and maybe we're not the most compatible couple. What do you think, Mr. Blue?
Part of me thinks that if you two laugh your heads off together, then everything must be pretty great. And another part of me thinks that you're trying to get away from her and are too nice to say it out loud. You avoid saying that you love her -- and being "at peace" with her makes it sound like she's deranged and on heavy meds. As for her interests, she is very young, as are you, and people can change radically in their 20s (and 30s and beyond). But it's your feelings that you need to articulate. First of all, to yourself. If you do love her, then go along with her plan. She isn't asking for a major commitment on your part. Maybe she's only using you as an excuse to get away from home and see the big world and once she's ensconced in the wicked East, she'll find some trust-fund brat who's crazy about her and she'll leave you in a heartbeat for life on a catamaran in the Caribbean and you'll stick it out through law school and join Ralph Nader and gradually take on his habits and coloration, in which case, 30 years from now, sitting through subcommittee hearings on the subject of air bags, dressed in your old navy-blue polyester suit and drip-dry shirt and clip-on tie and Hush Puppies, dutifully taking notes on your yellow legal pad, the memory of having once laughed your head off will be very very sweet.
Dear Mr. Blue,
I'm a published writer with a small history of success. However, I also have a terror of rejection, which has silenced me completely from time to time. I've just finished a proposal for a new book and, although I think it contains some of my best work, I plunge into anxiety the moment I think about what will happen to it when it leaves my hands. Any words of wisdom on how to deal with the terror of rejection and/or rejection itself?
My cure for the fear of rejection is self-deception and rationalization and fantasy, and this may not work for you. It doesn't always work for me. We all have 3 a.m. thoughts about our children being run over and about our books being savaged by predatory critics. Some of us have these thoughts every day. The phone rings and your heart flutters. You have a bright idea for a book and moments later you can see a torpedo of a review written by some bitter enemy you hadn't been aware of. You just have to endure these thoughts and then think about something else. Sometimes it helps me, sitting at my desk, to say (out loud), "And the Lady Byng Trophy for Earnestness in Fiction goes to --" and say my name and hear the applause in the Grand Ballroom of the Holiday Inn and walk forward and accept the small Lucite trophy. Sometimes it helps to write:
"Luminous and emotionally wrenching and wildly funny" -- The New York Times.
Whatever gets you over the hump. Except gin. Gin is no good for the fear of rejection. It only works to boost hilarity and then only for 15 minutes or so.
Dear Mr. Blue,
I am 31 and have been living with Theo for seven years. He is 40. We agreed a long time ago not to get married, as neither of us is particularly religious and we see no need to swear in front of a God that may or may not exist that we'll stay together forever, knowing that most people don't, and we don't want to obligate people to waste a Saturday watching us waste some money. Theo has been married before and it was a disaster. (And he is unable to say the words "I love you." Even when he's singing along to the radio and the line is "I love you," he can't sing it, he whistles it instead.)
I told him a few years ago that I might want kids one day and he didn't say no even when I said: I want my first child at 33. Imagine my surprise when I brought up the subject the other day and he said, "No, absolutely not, never." He said, "I hate children. I've always hated children. I hated MYSELF when I was a child, and all the other children I met and have ever met since." Not true! He is so GOOD with children. Children like him and he's so kind to them and plays with them for hours. Anyway, I said, "What am I supposed to DO with that information?" and he shrugged. He hates emotional conversations. He said, "Maybe we are amicably splitting up. You have to do what you have to do. I don't want to hold you back." And he said, "If you leave I will miss you for the rest of my life." And he cried. And I cried.
I'm scared to death, to tell you the truth. I'm on the cusp of throwing away the best relationship that I've ever been in, and for what? A CHANCE that I might meet someone else to love and this person might feel differently about children and together we might have one? The thing is that I'm not DESPERATE to have kids; I want to have children with someone I've known and loved for a long time. Someone like Theo. I don't want to leave him, Mr. Blue, I don't.
But I don't want to spend the rest of my life resenting him for preventing me from having the family I always wanted.
I don't know what to do. I don't want to leave here. I'm not good at being alone, in fact, I'm a raging hypochondriac, and when I'm alone, I'm much worse. Theo is my best friend. Do I sacrifice my dream of having a family and stay with my best friend and the love of my life? Or do I take a chance and possibly end up miserable and alone?
Heartbroken and Terrified
This is a self-answering letter. You pose the problem, you make a show of uncertainty and then you pose the question in such a way that there is only one answer. You want to have a child with him and he doesn't want one and that's the long and short of it. There is no way to maneuver him on this issue and you wouldn't want to even if you could. And so I recommend that you stay with him and indulge yourself in a good fit of melancholy. Brood over this and don't keep it a secret from him. Give vent to your feelings. He told you how he feels and now it's your turn. Mourn for this child you're not going to have and then let go of it, if you can. And if you can't let go of it, then I guess you pack your suitcase and go off on a big adventure. Sometimes these adventures are given to us and we don't get to turn them down. And leave Theo to whistle along to the radio.
Dear Mr. Blue,
My boyfriend is honorable, brilliant, hilarious, charming, sensitive, an excellent lover and a stud-muffin to boot. Our five years together have been the best of my life, and I am so very lucky to have him.
That said ...
The old green-eyed monster, jealousy, has reared its head over a girl he used to love before we found each other, who is younger, thinner, prettier than me, and is flighty and an unbelievable flirt. I, who put myself through college, have no patience for girls like this.
A few weeks ago she called in a panic, needing help with her computer science class, and he spent about 15 hours that week helping her study. During this time about half our conversations were about her. I tried to get him to realize that I just don't like him rescuing ex-flames of his, but he is really bothered by my jealousy and resentment. "She is not a threat to you, she is not interested in me, there is no way I would do anything," he keeps repeating, and I believe him 100 percent.
So what do I do? Could I at least tell him that it hurts and makes me mad when he spends so much time with her? I mean, the only person who he should be rescuing is me, in my opinion. Fifteen hours with this little girl in a one-week period! I'm being irrational, right?
I know about jealousy firsthand and know what a monster it is. It easily gets to be a habit. You start out agonizing over him spending 15 hours one week tutoring Lolita and pretty soon you're agonizing over him being gone for more than 20 minutes to the grocery store. And jealousy makes you look bad. Pitiful, needy, slightly wacko. A few steps away from the grocery cart with the big plastic bags full of salvaged treasure. So you refuse to go down that road any farther and you turn around and come back. Bury this issue. Be your old charming self. If he wants to take up with Miss Belly Button of 2001, let him do it.