Saturday 16 December 2017

Dear Mary: I'm 40, single, and I feel left behind: will I ever find a wife?

Illustration Tom Halliday.
Illustration Tom Halliday.

Mary O'Connor

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

Question: I am aged 40 and still single and still haven't found my soulmate. I met  my ex online, we were together for a year, but I broke up with her as she had a few issues. I met another girl but it only lasted a few months. Some of my friends are married with families and have moved on, but I feel like I am left behind.  When I do meet a girl I do a bit of flirting and try to  be charming, but I'm lucky to get a second date. I can't see myself getting married.  What am I doing wrong? Am I better off single?

Mary replies: You are certainly better off being single rather than being in a relationship that is not working. I can appreciate that you would like to have somebody in your life, but my advice is to relax and allow it to happen. I realise that it won't happen if you are not in some way proactive, but what I mean is that you relax enough to let life take its course and in the meantime just be yourself. Your email sounds a little anxious and that anxiety will for sure be transmitted to any girl that you date. You shouldn't have to flirt and try to be charming - if you really fancy somebody and they you then the flirting will come automatically. Trying to be charming may well come across as you trying too much and being seen as insincere.

Given that the majority of couples seem to be getting married in their mid to late 30s, you are not that much out of step with your peers. You have already had a year-long relationship, so this should reassure you that you are capable of having a long-term relationship. So try to believe in yourself and focus on your good points. If you don't believe in yourself then nobody else will either. I presume you have sufficient interests and hobbies to make you an interesting person to spend time with. If not, then it is time to make some changes. But the most attractive feature in any person is to have an interest in what makes other people tick, what their world involves and what they feel strongly about. No girl wants to spend time with a guy who is self-obsessed and uncaring.

Next time you have a date try to think of it as just that, a date, rather than feel that you are interviewing a potential marriage partner. Love will strike when you least expect it if you are relaxed enough about it.

I'm at my wit's end over persistent vaginismus

Question: As a sufferer from vaginismus for years now, I am at my wit's end. I have sought counselling and used the trainers at home but this has not worked for me. No root cause was ever given to me.  I have been told I am the milder end of the scale,  but nevertheless it is still there.

The reason I am writing to you is to find out if you would recommend hypnotherapy, although it is something I am wary of. And if you would, is there a website you approve of or someone you could recommend? I would travel to any corner of the country to get help.

Mary replies: For those readers who don't know about it, vaginismus is a condition whereby a woman cannot allow sexual penetration, or indeed any sort of examination of the vaginal area, because the muscles at the entrance to the vagina go into an involuntary spasm. There can be many reasons for this, with predisposing, precipitating and maintaining factors all playing their part. For instance, a predisposing factor may be the fact that the woman was always told that sex was wrong and something that nice girls didn't do, and so actually attempting to have sex replays these old messages in her head. Among the precipitating factors it may be that she heard scary stories about actual childbirth when she was young and she then grew up with an irrational fear of becoming pregnant. Child sexual abuse is another precipitating factor that features fairly often in vaginismic women. A maintaining factor could be something very simple like the fact that the women tend to be worriers and tightening all sorts of different muscles comes very easily to them. There are also times where the vaginismus is unexplained, which appears to be the case with you.

In my experience, women with vaginismus tend to be very sexual people and enjoy a good and varied sex life, albeit one that does not include penetration. They generally seek help when they wish to become pregnant, or in some cases when for medical reasons they need to have a gynaecological examination. It is one of the great hidden secrets as it is not something that the sufferers speak about, other than with their partners. They feel quite abnormal and are always very relieved to hear that there are lots of other women with the same problem.

Over the years, I dealt with hundreds of cases of vaginismus and the majority of them responded to treatment. In this treatment, which is all done at home but on instruction from a psychosexual therapist, the woman uses dilators (trainers), which you did, to gradually de-sensitise the muscle-tightening reflex. I hope that your partner was involved in your treatment, as I always found the partners to be of enormous help both by being as supportive as possible and also by doing some of the 'homework' with the woman. Unfortunately, there are some women for whom the most common treatment does not work. They then feel even more of a failure and don't know where next to turn. You are wondering about hypnotherapy, but I haven't heard of anybody having had success with this for the treatment of vaginismus. However, somebody may get in touch with me as a result of your letter to advise me to the contrary, and if so, I would be very happy to hear from them.

Some centres in the US using Botulinum Toxin (ie Botox®) in vaginismic women have been giving very positive results, so this may be something you could pursue. Those doing the treatments in the US are board-certified plastic surgeons or consultant gynaecologists, and there are a number of articles published using this treatment:

You should consult your gynaecologist or plastic surgeon, if you have one already - if not ask your GP for a referral - in order to ascertain if they know of anybody working with Botulinum Toxin in this area. Just make sure that you are consulting either an IAPS approved consultant plastic surgeon (, or consultant gynaecologist. The procedure would likely need to be performed under sedation or general anaesthetic.

Sometimes moving to another therapist may help, and this is something that you should consider. It's not that there would have been anything wrong with the previous one, but rather that a new one may say or do something that will help you break through the barrier that is preventing you from being successful.

A very good website, which can go into much greater detail than I can here, and helps to explain more about the condition of vaginismus, is I sincerely hope that in time you are able to overcome your problem.

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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