Saturday 18 November 2017

Dear Mary: I'm divorced, he's recently bereaved; and small minds are judging us

Illustration by Tom Halliday
Illustration by Tom Halliday

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

Question: I do hope that you get the opportunity to read my letter and would be delighted to hear your views. I am a separated/divorced lady in my mid-fifties, with three wonderful adult children all living reasonably close to me. I separated some years ago after a very difficult marriage. I have a good job and am financially secure. In the recent past, I met a very kind, wonderful, caring man who is a similar age as me. I am tremendously happy and we are both enjoying this relationship. When I met this man he had lost his wife to cancer one year previously. He speaks about her in a loving manner and is a wonderful father to their children. He feels he has the right to move on with his life as they both had time to prepare for the eventuality. However, I feel people in general, even some of my friends, judge him for moving on so quickly. I am a very sensitive person by nature and sometimes find this difficult.  I can talk to him freely about this but find the judgements of others difficult at times. His children are not aware of our relationship, and I am fine with this, as he feels they are not ready just yet.

Mary, is there a right or wrong time for bereaved people to move on with their lives? I accept we are all different. Your advice would be greatly appreciated.

Mary replies: You are absolutely right - we are all different, people grieve differently and react in diverse ways when somebody they love dies. I think it is great that you have met such a lovely man and are having a second chance at happiness.

People will always talk about other people and it happens the world over. If they are not talking about your man then they will be talking about somebody else. I realise that it is difficult for you to feel that he is being judged because it really is very unfair. He was lucky to have time to discuss with his wife what his life would be like after she passed away, and I am confident that she would have encouraged him to get on with living and find somebody new with whom to share his life. You are both relatively young and hopefully will have many years ahead. It might help the next time you feel one of your friends is being judgemental if you were to say that he had discussed everything with his wife before she died and he has her blessing.

In my experience, those men and women who get into relationships relatively quickly after their spouses die are people who had happy marriages and therefore have no regrets. On the other hand, those who felt guilty about their marriages often say that they don't feel entitled to have a new relationship.

But above all, it is nobody's business apart from the two of you as to when you started your relationship. Just be happy that you have found each other and enjoy yourselves and let those small-minded people continue being small-minded. There may even be a hint of jealousy when they see how happy you two are. I feel sure that when he feels the time is right he will tell his own children about you, and I agree wholeheartedly that there is no need to rush this as they are probably still grieving the loss of their beloved mother.

I don't know how to talk to a man

Question: I'm in my early 30s and haven't had any real romantic relationships. I've only had a couple of relationships. To be honest, calling it a relationship would be an exaggeration, even though I would have loved nothing more. In both cases I felt the guy had lost interest and started saying he was busy etc. Up until my late 20s, I always believed that  it was my looks that  kept men away. I believe now it's my personality, because I can be quite shy and anxious.

Sometimes I don't know how to talk to a man, as silly as that sounds. I was the awkward teenager who never really got chatted up in school discos, nights out etc. Sometimes I find it hard to forget about this. I find I either talk too personally  about myself or not at all. I spend hours listing all the things that guys don't like about me.

As much as I would like sex, it scares me; and I would like to feel secure with a man but any man I come across is happy for sex but not my company. I had sex a few times but it always hurt. I wonder if I'm too much of a mess and give a bad vibe that drives men away. I have been trying online for dating. I'm sorry if this seems all over the place but that is how my head feels. Thank you for reading this.

Mary replies: It doesn't sound at all silly to say you don't know how to talk to a man, I hear that a lot. I also hear from many guys who say that they are no good at talking to women, so it's not just a female thing. Of course it must be very difficult when you feel shy and anxious and you must envy people who don't seem to have any problems when it comes to chatting to the opposite sex. I believe the secret is to be interested in the person you are talking to, no matter who they are, and try to remember that it's not all about you! If you have a tendency to self-obsess then the other person realises this and quickly becomes bored. We all like talking about ourselves and the secret of good conversation is to be a good listener when the other person is answering whatever you have asked them about themselves. I agree with you that too much self-revelation too soon is a bit of a turnoff - keep the conversation light at the beginning until you have had at least a couple of dates .

Instead of listing the things a man may not like about you try writing down the things they might like. This is much more positive and constructive.

I'm glad that you got over the idea that it was your looks that kept the guys away, and in time you can learn to change your belief that you are dull and uninteresting once you have some good experiences. It's all about practice, so take every opportunity to chat to people in different sorts of situations - for instance when you are in a queue somewhere or going on a short journey on a bus or train. I emphasise short journey, as most people have experienced being seated next to a non-stop talker on a long journey when near panic sets in wondering if they are ever going to stop to even draw a breath. I realise this would not happen with you as you are at the opposite end of the spectrum, but people might be slow to respond if they know they will be a captive audience for a number of hours.

Sex can be painful if the woman is tense and unaroused. It's only natural to be a bit tense about sex at the beginning, and as you have only had it a couple of times I can see how this might be an issue for you. For sex to be enjoyable you should feel good about yourself, and, from vibes you will have picked up, to know that the guy feels good about you. Don't rush into being sexual too soon, and instead let the attraction and the excitement grow.

Remember also that it is no harm to use lubrication if you feel that you are not going to be aroused sufficiently to produce your own lubrication, especially when sex is relatively new to you and you have had some bad experiences.

So relax, concentrate on learning all you can about the person you are talking to and things will start to improve.

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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