Sunday 21 January 2018

Dear Mary: Do I love my man enough to move in?

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: I am 37 years old. I found myself back on the single scene at 33 after a five-year relationship. I gave myself enough time to dust myself off before deciding to date again.  I began running, took up a professional development course and,  after some hesitation, I signed up for internet dating.

Life seemed good for a while, but gradually I began to realise that finding a guy in my mid-30s was proving to be more challenging than I had remembered it to be in my 20s. My social circle began to shrink as my friends began to marry and have children. Suddenly I was 36, and feeling quite alone. I joined social clubs, but found it quite exhausting after a while.

Then I met 'Tom'. We got chatting one night in a bar. He wouldn't have been my type, but we just hit it off. We started meeting up regularly and soon realised how much we had in common. We just seem to be on the same page on everything. Recently, he mentioned moving in together. I know we would have a happy life together, but I am very aware that he feels much more strongly for me than I do for him. I adore his company, but the 'spark' or physical attraction is not there for me. This saddens me greatly. I know I would struggle to meet someone I get on this well with, but sometimes I mourn the loss of a more intense physical attraction.

I want to have children, as does he, and I am not getting any younger. All my siblings are married and I feel this is my last chance. Would it be terrible to marry for companionship at this stage of my life? Would this be enough for me? I feel so cross with myself for not being completely satisfied with such a wonderful man.

Mary replies: You have written a wonderful letter outlining the reality of trying to find a partner when in your 30s. I honestly feel that you are being too hard on yourself with regard to Tom. There are all different kinds of love, one of which is really fancying somebody so much that it takes your breath away. There is also the slow-burning comfortable sort of love where the person is your best friend, you trust them implicitly and you know they will always be there for you. There is nothing wrong with either of these types of love, they are just different.

The big question regarding Tom is whether you actually enjoy having sex with him. If you don't, then I feel that the relationship doesn't stand a chance. If, however, you like making love with him, but you just don't have the butterflies that you were hoping for, then things are looking good.

As for him feeling more strongly than you, there is usually 'the lover' and 'the loved' in a relationship and in this case he is the lover and you the loved. Again, there is nothing wrong with that, just differences in levels. It probably feels very good for you to be loved so much, so relax and enjoy it.

So, with the caveat that you should enjoy your sex life, I would say go ahead and give it your best shot.

Such good men are fairly hard to find!

I need closure on an abusive relationship

Question: For the last few years I was in a relationship  and we recently broke up. At the start it was exciting and we got along famously. Soon into our relationship, I found out I was expecting his baby and we were both thrilled, if not a bit taken aback. 

About a month later we went into the local pub and out of nowhere I was assaulted. After this incident I miscarried.

While my partner was supportive, he would not be one to show his emotions and prefers to sit in silence and ignore the issue or drink his way out of it. I had to deal with the trauma of the miscarriage. My parents were a constant presence, spurring me on and being mindful of what I had go through.

Around this time I began behaving erratically and drinking myself also on a regular basis. I was on leave from my job at this time. The following months were challenging, as I would be extremely upset and have flashbacks and was very fearful in social situations.

I went to the doctor, who prescribed antidepressants even though I didn't want them. So our lives progressed, and then my partner had serious health issues and had to take time off work.

I left my job as I had a very long commute and began to look for work nearer home. I went for lots of interviews, but got nothing. However, my boyfriend told me he wouldn't support someone that was out of work. He kept on at me so I eventually told him I had obtained employment and every day I would get up and pretend to go to work. Then he started to demand to see where I worked, to see payslips and so on.

This is when I got into the awful habit of lying. They weren't big lies, but lies so I didn't have to listen to him giving out or berating me.

I had intended to make a claim against the establishment that the attack occurred in, but it went outside the statute of limitations. From then on I was asked persistently if I'd made a claim and how much I expected to get. He said I would owe him a lot of money when the claim came through. I contributed most of my social welfare each week to help with the day-to-day bills.

There were constant arguments over money and he was drinking a lot. His moods became more erratic and I felt like I was walking on eggshells. One day he would be in flying form and the next he would be in the sitting room with a hoodie on and would ignore me for hours, or even days, until I came up with some money. I borrowed from other people in order to keep the peace.

During this period my lying became increasingly worrying. I would exaggerate a lot of things to try and make him look at me in a better light. He would come across loving one minute, then as cold as ice the next. He shouted at me a couple of times when we were out with friends. He was relentless over the money situation, always saying that I owed him.

I used to sit and cry or be filled with terror at the prospect of him coming home and used to pray he would fall in drunk so he would just go to bed. He also had a penchant for telling me I was cheating. I never did, but I do have male friends and I have maintained good relationships with my ex-boyfriends.

Some of our arguments started getting physical and we were served with eviction papers by the landlord. He said it was due to my partner's roaring and shouting at night and not fair on the other tenant. The other tenant didn't even intervene the night I was locked out in the back garden or the night I was pulled to the kitchen floor. I got permission to stay until we found somewhere else to live.

My partner left in January and moved in with a family member. He has now informed me that he is going to a solicitor and the guards to say that I stole money from him. I am at my wits' end and feel like ending it all as I don't know what to do or where to turn. Please can you help me to put into context what sort of a relationship this was.

Mary replies: This was such a bad relationship in so many ways and I think you should be grateful that it is over. I am so sorry that you had a miscarriage - that is a really difficult experience for anybody - but even then your boyfriend wasn't supportive or caring when you needed it most. A recent letter writer was being bullied at work, and here we once again have bullying, albeit in another form.

This man made you act in a way that was deceitful, and for what? To keep the peace? Nigella Lawson used the term "intimate terrorism" when speaking of her treatment at the hands of Charles Saatchi and I'm sure you can relate to this. I have to ask, what were you getting out of the relationship? Nothing, as far as I can see, apart from the times when he was showing his other side and being nice to you.

You are close to your parents so you know what a loving relationship can be like, and indeed you are still friendly with previous boyfriends. So when you compare this relationship to other ones, you must realise that it was lacking in just about everything.

What you had with him was an excuse for a relationship, he treated you appallingly and you put up with it. He did you a favour by leaving and I urge you not to have anything further to do with him, but to get on with your life as best you can. Not all men are like him and you deserve better. I'm sorry to be so negative, but I found myself getting angry on your behalf when I read the many details which I didn't print here due to lack of space.

'If he gets the guards on to you and accuses you of stealing, I suggest you get a solicitor yourself. Hopefully it's an idle threat.

As always, the Samaritans are at the end of a phone on 116 123.

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.

Sunday Independent

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