Thursday 19 April 2018

Dear Mary: 'My son 's PDAs with his boyfriend are way too much to handle'

Illustration: Tom Halliday
Illustration: Tom Halliday

Mary O'Conor

Relationship counsellor and psychosexual therapist Mary O'Conor offers relationship advice in her weekly column

Question: Our son is in his late twenties and is gay. He came out in his teens and we have always been supportive of him and I would consider our family to be open-minded and liberal. He has had a few relationships, one lasting a couple of years, and was single until a couple of months ago.

His new partner is a lovely guy and we are delighted to see him so happy. They are obviously madly in love and my son has said they really clicked and he has never felt like this with anyone before.

My reason for writing to you, however, is that they are so very affectionate with each other that it makes me uncomfortable!

We recently had a family gathering, and to be honest I was embarrassed by it - not the fact that they were a gay couple, but the constant hand-touching, hair-tousling and pecks on the cheeks really bothered me.

My daughter also thought it a bit inappropriate and made a remark to him about it, and he was annoyed at her.

We are a family with a normal level of affection, and are by no means prudes but I feel it was behaviour more appropriate of a 17-year-old than a professional in his late twenties.

I will admit I was embarrassed by it, but frankly, I would not behave in a way as to make him feel uncomfortable in front of his peers. They are as demonstrative in our home but I just ignore it, and it was only because it was a public event it made me feel quite disconcerted.

Our other children all have partners but do not have such PDAs going on!

Am I overly sensitive about this, do you think, and should I not say anything or is there a way to say it without hurting him and making me seem like I'm homophobic - which I'm not.

Mary replies: There is no way that your son can think that you are homophobic, as you have been totally supportive of him ever since he came out. He must know that your main wish is to see him happy - which is also true for all your other children - parents above all want their children to be happy, and part of that happiness often involves them meeting and falling in love with somebody and building a future together.

I agree with you that these public displays of affection are off-putting and can be quite embarrassing to witness. It doesn't really matter what the sex of the couple is, heterosexual or homosexual, the current popular phrase 'get a room' comes to mind.

I think it is because people of many differing ages were at your family gathering that it was so very inappropriate. Your son is obviously in the first flush of being in love, where everything is exciting and new, and he wants everybody to share in his joy. Even though he was unhappy when his sister said something to him about it, I suggest that you have a talk with him and explain your position. Tell him that it is not the fact that there are two guys involved, but rather the concept of couples being overly affectionate in front of others that is the problem. For instance, they would be equally unhappy if his sister and her partner were all over each other in company. By being that demonstrative a couple are, in a non-verbal way, saying that they are sexual together, and for most people that is simply too much information.

I drove through Dublin city on the night the recent referendum on gay marriage was passed and witnessed the euphoria of many men and women who were, for the first time, able to freely walk around holding hands or with their arms around each other. So we must not forget that the love that had to be hidden for so long can now be celebrated. However there is a difference between celebrating and constant groping, and this should be pointed out in a gentle way to your son because it really is time to let him see how things are from your point of view.

He probably would be very uncomfortable if yourself and your husband were to very frequently kiss and caress in front of him, so ask him how he would feel if the roles were reversed. He will, hopefully, be more restrained next time there is a family gathering.

My heartache over my daughter's father

Question: I feel a bit too down to word this properly, but I hope you'll make sense of it. I have a young girl and I am not with her father anymore. The problem is, I  still have feelings for him. He's a great dad, his family are so good to me and he calls and helps me a lot. 

He knows how I feel, but he doesn't feel the same, as he has a girlfriend. I feel desperate heartache, and I find myself crying from time to time. I feel so lonely and would love to have him with us, and this pain has been with me all these years. I don't know how to heal, but it is just searingly painful at times. I have no idea how to finally leave both him and the awful pain behind.

Mary replies: In a way, it is good that you still have feelings for him because he is the father of your daughter and your paths will cross a lot over the years, as you co-parent her. I feel that this is preferable to either of you hating the other person and trying to influence your child by speaking badly of each other to her.

I don't know the circumstances of your break-up but he has obviously moved on successfully, whereas you are still stuck in the past. It would be far better for both you and your daughter if you were also to move on, look on the past as a learning curve and, whilst being thankful that you have a wonderful father for your daughter, start looking ahead.

Try to understand that to be attractive to others you need to be both interesting as a person and interested in others. This means, perhaps, catching up with old friends, getting a new interest, joining a group or whatever takes your fancy.

Try to stay away from the computer, because this will only contribute to you being alone rather getting out and meeting people.

I realise babysitting may be a problem but you will have to find a way around this, and perhaps family would be able to help out.

As you get more involved in the world outside your own personal space, you will find that the ache gets less.

Sometimes it is very useful to designate a particular time each week in order to mope and be sad, with the promise to yourself that other than that particular time you will get on with living. So, for instance, pick Monday evening at 9 o'clock after your daughter has gone to bed. Immerse yourself in the sad feeling, and allow yourself to wallow and even to cry if you want to. Give yourself 30 minutes to begin with. Gradually, you will find that you need less and less time, until eventually it might be every second Monday. Remember that at other times when you feel yourself getting sad or despondent you should tell yourself that you will wait until the Monday and hold the thought until then. It takes a little bit of discipline, but you will find it very definitely helps.

Remember that you will only attract somebody new when you are ready to, so learning to look outward rather than inward is the key to moving on.

You can contact Mary O’Conor anonymously by visiting or email her at or write c/o 27-32 Talbot Street, Dublin 1. All correspondence will be treated in confidence. Mary O’Conor regrets that she is unable to answer any questions privately.

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