Style Sex & Relationships

Tuesday 16 January 2018

Dear Mary: I've had girlfriends, but I keep running away from relationships

Illustration, Tom Halliday
Illustration, Tom Halliday

Mary O'Connor

Q: I am 33 years old with a good permanent job. I obtained my degree by studying at night while working by day. I am from a rural area but I work in Dublin. I am considered to be attractive (so they tell me!) and of athletic build. I played hurling and football at inter-county level.

I was never attracted to nightclubs or dance halls because I do not drink alcohol, and when it comes to dancing I have two left feet and I am extremely self-conscious. I enjoy one-to-one conversations and have many interests. After a year in Dublin, I met a girl through my sporting circles. She was an extremely beautiful girl, both inside and out, and we were very much into one another, with similar interests. After about 20 months together she mentioned in passing to a friend that she hoped we would soon be engaged. When I heard this I broke it off, although it broke my heart, and maybe hers as well. It took me over six months to overcome this.

The same thing happened with two further girls who were lovely but I finished both relationships though I found it devastating to do so. Then I met a really bubbly girl at a friend's wedding. Both of us were single and free and we started dating. We are still in that relationship after 3ƒ years. She is the type of person who lights up a room without actually knowing it. She is very positive about everything she believes in and supports. About five weeks ago while at a conference she accidentally met one of my former girlfriends. My girlfriend happened to mention my Christian name and the other girl recognised me. My former girlfriend wanted to know if she knew the personal reason why I finished our relationship. Since then my current girlfriend constantly asks me the same question.

I have never lived with the four girls, and when on holidays abroad I stayed in the same room but never slept in the same bed or slept with any of the girls. This is not to say that I wouldn't have liked to, but I have told them, individually and at an appropriate time, that I would not sleep with them until I became engaged as only then would we have a formal commitment. They seem to have accepted that. This means that I am celibate.

All four of the girlfriends introduced me to their families at their homes at relevant times in our relationship, but I have never introduced the individual girls to my family because we are a dysfunctional family. I have four siblings, one with special needs. My father was a model farmer up to 25 years ago, but for the past 20 years he has turned into an alcoholic. He drinks night and day at home until he falls into bed, drunk. He has no interest in anything.

My mother is away with the animals and birds. She is big into animal rights and has all sorts of pets and it is not unusual to see cats jumping across the breakfast table running from a dog, or a cat with an injured leg being treated by mother on the table while somebody is eating breakfast. There is never any variety of food and vegetables in the house, except maybe potatoes, milk and tea bags. You could find Father stretched out on the couch, asleep drunk and snoring while Mother is working on an injured cat or dog. There is no relationship between our parents and definitely no affection. The only positive thing is that they are passive and peaceful people. Sadly, nobody ever comes to the house to visit. Not one of us can communicate with Mother.

Both my sisters are married with children. One sister and her husband visited once at the beginning of their marriage but have never visited since. She communicates by phone only. The other sister is married in the area and her husband and his family are used to the goings-on of our parents.

My youngest brother has taken over the farm. My sisters and I have regular meetings trying to come up with solutions to our many problems, but it is very hard. I personally have a major mental block about our family's situation. I am now thinking about looking for a transfer to our offices in London. In that way I can break off the relationship with my girlfriend of 3ƒ years. I cannot visualise bringing my girlfriend down to see my family. I cannot imagine how she would feel about me when she sees the state of our family house and my father and mother. I would imagine that she would run from the place.

It is an ongoing living nightmare for the last 15 years and I am not able to mentally handle it. My girlfriend has constantly asked me to get engaged and live together and have children, but that is a leap too far as far as I am concerned.

I would appreciate your advice and wisdom.

Mary replies: I've tried to condense your much longer letter while not leaving out any relevant points. I find your descriptions of terminating such wonderful relationships incredibly sad both for you and for the girls involved. I am really glad that your two girlfriends met, because it has forced you to write to me and pause for thought rather than you taking flight as usual.

Nobody divulges family secrets at the beginning of a relationship, but as time goes by and it becomes apparent that things are becoming serious people usually go to the next level of intimacy by sharing things that they are not too happy about. In fact, one of the more usual secrets is that one of the parents is an alcoholic. I believe that you should have confided in the girls about your family situation when you had known them for, say, six months. Each of the girls seem to have had lots of lovely qualities and surely understanding would have been one of them. If the positions were reversed, would you have judged them any differently if they had parents who were dysfunctional? Probably not - at least I hope not.

You have very successfully repeated family patterns in remaining sexually and to a large extent emotionally withdrawn in your relationships. But while your parents have a dysfunctional relationship - and I can't go into all the reasons for this due to pressure of space - both your sisters have successfully got past this and are married with children.

So right now, make a decision to stop running. It would be a very good start if you were to introduce your current girlfriend to one of your sisters and her family and then at an appropriate time tell her some of your family history and your reasons for not sharing it with her, or the others, up until now. I am convinced that you will receive nothing but understanding and sympathy. You can be sure that she has imagined all sorts of reasons for your previous break-ups, including that you may be gay, and if anything will be relieved when you tell her the real reason.

In time you may find benefit in talking to somebody professionally about your family history.

I use Viagra but I can't ejaculate during sex

Q. I am a man in my late 70s, and I use Viagra about once a week.  The problem is that I cannot ejaculate during intercourse. Is there any solution to this?

Mary replies: It's lovely to hear that you are having regular sex and I'm sorry it is not working out as you would like. Viagra is taking care of the erection but different nerves are used in ejaculation so it does not follow that ejaculation will occur. Due to the ageing process extra stimulation is often needed before penetration in order to achieve ejaculation and you should discuss how this could best be achieved with your partner. A one-off visit to a sex therapist could also be of great benefit to you and you can find one in your area by calling the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy at 01-2303536

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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