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Dear Virginia . . . Virginia says . . . Readers say . . . His feelings are clear You have three options You are going to be hurt Think very carefully

I met a man nine months ago and we started a relationship. He is 45 and I am 30. He has always made it very clear that he is never going to get married and settle down and doesn't want children, but we are so happy together and I am completely in love for the first time in my life. I feel I should broach the subject of taking things further, but I'm so frightened he will back off. I feel he can't have meant what he said. What can I do?

Best wishes, Evelyn

Virginia says . . .

Has it occurred to you, Evelyn, that one of the things you love about this man is his very unavailability? Have you tried to imagine what it would be like were he to start sending you flowers and begging you to move in with him? Are you absolutely certain you'd adore him quite as much as you do now? Could you cope with the soppy poetry, the endless texting, the goggle-eyed mooniness that goes with a man in love?

Anyway, did you not hear his words properly? Haven't you wondered why he hasn't settled down before now and why he bothered to clarify his situation so emphatically at the beginning?

The reason he's told you what he is like is because he has enough self-knowledge -- and, to be fair, concern for your feelings -- to know that this is how he is. You don't go around saying this sort of thing unless you've got a string of weeping women in your past, who have accused you of leading them up the garden path.

If you even mention the phrase "taking things further" in so much as a whisper, this man will be off as quickly as a rabbit in a Bugs Bunny cartoon. You won't be able to see him for dust.

The only way you might, just might, be able to get him to move a millimetre closer to you, and I'm not promising anything, is to move further away.

If I were you I'd simply say, in a very matter-of-fact, unemotional (if you can do it) way: "Look, it's all been wonderful. But time is running out and I know you're not in the settling down business -- which I am -- so I'm afraid I've got to look after number one. I've had a great time with you, but the biological clock is ticking and it's telling me it's time to move on. Why don't we have a final fling in Paris?"

This way you're showing you're in control of the situation, which is always attractive, and by making a date in the future -- even if it's only a fortnight away -- you will give him time to ponder his position. Don't assume that in Paris -- or wherever you go -- he'll fall to his knees and deliver to you a ring in a box, but secretly he'll certainly consider the option if he knows that this really is the last time he'll see you.

But I'm afraid, Evelyn, that the chances of his wanting to take things further are actually very remote. So don't hold your breath. And when you're in Paris have a look around. You never know -- there might be a nice French bloke just waiting for you.

Readers say . . .

His feelings are clear

Evelyn, you've got to confront him and assess how serious he is about his no-marriage, no-children standpoint, and try to find the reasons for his views. But at 45, he is unlikely to change them now, and you should be prepared for that. Don't carry on in the hope he will change, for as we get older our views tend to become more entrenched, not less so. If he's got this far in life and avoided marriage and children his opinions on the subject must be pretty strong, so carrying on in the hope you can turn him around may lead to a lot of unhappiness on both sides, however much you feel that you love him now.

Darragh, by email

You have three options

Which part of "he is never going to get married and settle down, and doesn't want children" does Evelyn not understand? She went into this relationship with her eyes wide open, and now has three options: walk away and try to find another love who does want all that she does; tell her boyfriend how she feels and, possibly, watch him run for his life; or wait and hope that domestic bliss with her will make him change his mind. What she must not do is nag or get pregnant without him knowing -- either of which will certainly end the relationship on a very sour note.

John, Malahide

You are going to be hurt

If a man gets involved with the proviso that you can only ever expect a low level of commitment he is not playing games, he is not playing hard to get, he is, in his own way, being completely honest with you.

Should you proclaim your undying love and try to (in his opinion) tie him down, you will not see him for dust.

The first thing to remember is you are completely normal, what you want is part of a normal happy relationship.

Unfortunately your love has his own issues with commitment, which only professional treatment will ever be able to reach the roots of.

Have fun with him but expect at some point to be seriously hurt, or walk away and look for an emotionally mature man to make you happy.

Roisin, by email

Think very carefully

Fifteen years may not seem much of an age gap -- but you are still young, and you may find that towards the end of your 30s your bodyclock will be chiming loudly. When he is 50, he will not have changed his views -- and he won't want a house full of nappies! At the moment, he is controlling the relationship. He has the best of both worlds -- an adoring younger woman, and freedom from responsibilities.

I always thought that I had no maternal instincts, and went out of my way to find men who didn't want children. Now I am in my late 50s, I have no children, and no hope of grandchildren. I face a very lonely old age, with no family to visit, nor young grandchildren to keep me young.

I suggest you think very carefully before deciding on this man for the rest of your life. If you don't marry, then you can walk away at any time -- possibly into the arms of a man who will adore you, and want to share the joy of children with you.

Otherwise, you may find that in your 50s, you have an elderly man to care for, and no help or support from any children. Don't throw your life away on someone who is seemingly so self-centred. He is free to choose not to marry and have no children -- but you must make up your own mind.

Ruth, by email