Wednesday 17 October 2018

Dear Mary: I haven't the confidence to find a new man

Tom Halliday's illustration
Tom Halliday's illustration

Mary O’Conor

I am writing to you about loneliness. I am a 53-year-old woman separated for 11 years. My four children were young at the time. I went through a difficult legal separation and paid an extortionate amount of money for it.

However, I have managed to cope and am proud to say that I went from having only temporary part-time work to being a leader of a team.

I love my work but still feel responsible for my family. Their dad stopped paying maintenance shortly after the legal settlement and still causes emotional chaos. I feel he may have a borderline personality disorder and he is typically irresponsible and cruel. He has moved 10 times in the last 11 years in various countries and had a second family that he has now left.

I have tried to navigate the family through it all but find his endless carry-on exhausting.

I have had a few relationships through the internet. One broke down after three years as he was overwhelmed by depression and was resistant to getting professional help of any kind.

Another relationship broke up due to distance and the third man was kind and gentle but I felt it lacked an intellectual spark and a sense of humour - I did not get the feeling of butterflies and excitement.

The end of this relationship seemed to start a deeper loneliness. I realise 11 years have passed by and my social network consists of married friends who are now looking at moving to older age. I look at this vista alone. I feel the best part of life is passing me by and that the balance of my life is weighted toward work and responsibility.

I operate well in work, and people would view me as competent and extrovert. Come the weekend, I feel my loneliness acutely. My youngest is nearly 18 and I know that my child-rearing days are coming to a different stage. However, I feel I lack the skills to develop a healthy social life due to the stigma I feel as a separated woman and my lack of confidence as a result.

I would love male companionship again but realise it will not happen on my couch at home.

Your thoughts would be very much appreciated if only to shift my thinking and nudge me forward.

Mary replies: You have achieved so much already in your life, and congratulations for all that you have done. Apart from being a single mother for a long period of time, you have managed to advance work-wise and also had some good relationships.

Any woman facing an 'empty nest' will empathise with your feelings of anticipated loneliness.

Any mother without a husband to share this loneliness will empathise even more.

It is also very true that weekends are by far the loneliest times for single people. So try to be proactive in planning things for your weekend, even simple things like inviting a few friends to share a meal with you in your home.

The relationships you had all had their own reasons for ending but they did happen, and you are therefore capable of having other relationships.

I cannot believe that you have a stigma as a separated woman - that is being very unfair both to yourself and to other separated people.

You chose to separate because it was the best thing for you and for your family.

Instead of lacking in confidence you should be proud of yourself and how you have dealt with life's blows.

Look forward with optimism to what may be ahead. Then get out there and explore the world.

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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