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Dear Mary: We have 'wedding photos' and children but we're not married


Illustration: Tom Halliday

Illustration: Tom Halliday

Illustration: Tom Halliday

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

Question: Please can you give me some advice and direction?  A decade ago, I met a wonderful man who swept me off my feet.  I fell madly in love.   My family are very  traditional and it was not possible for me to live with, or have a baby with, him unless we were married, and also I was not willing to upset my parents by doing this. 

My parents are very good people who have given me everything possible in life. The problem lies in the fact that he is married although they had separated long before I met him and there were no children from the marriage. He went on to another relationship and had a child. I met him after that relationship had ended.

I adored him and his child from the very beginning. He is very charismatic, charming, persuasive, manipulative and single-minded in his pursuit of something that he wants - and he usually gets it. I was in my late 30s when we met, so time was not on my side - he is about 10 years older. Even though I was devastated, I tried to end the relationship as I wanted marriage and kids. He came up with a plan - get engaged in Ireland and go abroad to get married, just the two of us.

He told me he was working on getting his wife to agree to a divorce but that it could take up to two years, and by then I would be too old to have kids which we both madly wanted. I got the wedding dress and we went abroad. Everyone thought we got married - we provided the 'wedding photos' but the ceremony was neither religious nor civil, just a commitment ceremony. He promised he would sort out his divorce - all these years later, still no divorce. We now have children. He gets really angry every time I bring it up. He is waiting for her to die as, according to him, she is in poor health. He doesn't want her to get property, pensions etc. as he says it is for our children.

I feel like he has used me, lied to me and deceived me. I die inside almost daily thinking about it and it eats me alive. I was such a fool to believe him and I feel like such a fraud. Some day this will come out, and I will die of shame at what I have done. I would love to leave him and lead an honest and free life but it would be too hard on the children without their father. The only people who know the real story are his parents and ourselves as I have never been able to speak to anyone. To the outside world, I have it all - nice home, car, holidays and children - but in reality I have nothing, as it is not real. Please help me.

Mary replies: I am sorry that you have been carrying this load for so long all on your own. That must have made it much harder for you, as once we share something with even one other person who is important to us, the load suddenly doesn't feel as heavy.

Following the recent referendum, it was wonderful to see so many people feel that they could finally be free to tell others the true story of their lives. You, however, don't feel that you have that freedom on a very practical level.

I think it is important that you seek legal guidance - for instance, his ex-wife would not necessarily get the house and his pensions in a divorce, and you may have certain rights as a co-habitant. So you should go to your solicitor and, in the strictest confidence, explain your plight and find out exactly where you stand if your partner were to pre-decease you, and what the children's status would be. I know you don't want everything out in the open regarding your own lack of marital status, but for your peace of mind it is important that you speak with somebody who knows the law.

But let us leave aside the legal position for a moment, and concentrate on you. You have done nothing to be ashamed of. Because of your traditional family background you were not prepared to go and live with your partner, mainly because of not wanting to upset your parents. But your desire for your own children, and your love of this man saw the solution that he suggested as being the best route. You thought it was a stop-gap measure until the divorce came through, although this is not how it has worked out.

But what you have is very real - a family - and nobody can take that away from you. You don't have a piece of paper making it legal, but you are a family none the less, the children are the product of you and your partner's love and you are doing your very best to raise them well. I'm sure you would be amazed at people's reactions if you were to tell them the truth - most of them would think it incredibly sad, as I do, that you are going through all this heartache. Then they would go back to worrying about their own lives and not give you another thought.

I understand that you will never want to tell your parents, but just try sharing your story with your closest friend whom you know you can trust. You will already begin to feel a little bit better, I promise you.

Your partner has been procrastinating about his divorce for an awfully long time, and now if his ex-wife is truly ill I can understand why he is not pushing. He seems used to getting his own way and there is not much that you can say that will change things. I don't think that leaving him is the answer because you will be the one to suffer, as well as the children, and it only further complicates an already unclear situation.

So please speak to a friend whom you can trust and visit your solicitor - you will be glad that you did.

He seemed to go off me after we had sex

I went to a grad mingle ... which is like speed dating ... before my prom to meet a date. I ended up with a date for the prom. Everything was going perfectly. We          always wanted to see each other and every time we kissed we felt love -drunk or love-high or even both. After the prom (a month later) we had sex -  he was a virgin - I was not.  I met his parents and now, a week later, he's stopped sending me lots of texts which he was doing and asking to hang out together.

I think it was like a plan of his to have a date for the prom, have sex and go. He doesn't seem to have a big sex drive or just doesn't like it at all, but honestly I don't care about that. I like him for who he is.

But now it's like all the magic of the prom has disappeared. I told him I felt like he was leading me on and that I understood that if he had a lot on his plate the relationship might be too much to handle right now. He replied in a text that he still wanted to be with me and it'll work out and he's glad that I'm on the same page. I said it'll probably work out better in the summer ... then he said hopefully he'll have a job. He still looks at me with admiration and we get on like a house on fire but something is dying out slowly. I don't get it! He says he wants to make it work but then he makes excuses. I want him to either end it or not. I really like this guy but I simply can't wait any more.

I'm 19 and he is 18 and I'm his first girlfriend. So basically...should I lose him? I think I'm done with relationships after this.

Mary replies: You don't necessarily have to finish with him, but you will have to stop being so anxious about it all. Take things at a slower pace, don't answer his texts immediately and be less available. This is his first experience of girls, he is only learning as he goes, and perhaps he was feeling a bit overwhelmed by it all. Get on with living your life, go out with your friends, be open to new relationships and friendships and that will make you more interesting as a person.

I realise that you may be feeling a bit bruised by your experience, particularly as he started being a bit more remote after you had sex. You both went to the grad mingle to get a date for the prom, and as a result you made a friend. More than likely, he will not be the one with whom you will eventually settle - you both will hopefully have lots of differing experiences before you do that.

From your email, I presume you are American and I have noticed that Americans tend to meet, fall in love and settle down very quickly. Their divorce rate is higher than in some other countries and I have to question the advisability of marrying so young. So please don't be too eager for a permanent relationship, instead enjoy the journey of discovery that you have started on. There is so much fun to be had along the way and you will look back on it all and wonder how it went by so quickly.

You can contact Mary O’Conor anonymously by visiting www.dearmary.ie or email her at dearmary@independent.ie 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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