Monday 22 January 2018

Dear Mary: My passionate lesbian lover is back in my life - but she has a husband

Illustration: Tom Halliday
Illustration: Tom Halliday

Mary O'Connor

Q: I had a very passionate affair with another woman about 30 years ago. We were both in our late teens/early twenties and it was amazing. I think she was as mad about me as I was about her but it had to be so secret. The word lesbian was not even understood by many people way back then.

But one summer while I was working in the USA to save money for my following year's college and living expenses, her parents made a match for her with the son of her father's business colleague, and when I came home after the summer she just told me that she couldn't stay with me. I was devastated.

I emigrated to the USA and was happy enough there. I had a few relationships but nothing that lasted and nothing that meant anything to me in the same way. Two years ago, my mother got very ill and I had had enough of my life there so I came home to look after her.

A few months ago I bumped into this woman again, and it was as though time had stood still. I was just as crazy about her as ever and she looked gorgeous. But she had married a guy and had a couple of children and a very good life and I could not imagine that we could ever take up where we left off.

We were polite to one another and charming and said that we should keep in touch. Then two weeks ago she called me and said we had to meet. We met and it was as though the years had never mattered. We went away for a weekend together and it was heaven. But then she went back to her husband and since then I have been getting mixed messages. She loves me - she can't leave her husband - she has to think of her children - she can't live without me etc.

I am so confused. I don't want to break up her marriage but can we really carry on a clandestine relationship in Ireland with nobody noticing? I don't think so. She can't leave Ireland but my mother died last year so I could leave. Do you think I should ? Would it be better for everyone?

Please help.

Mary replies: You must now be in your 50s and you seem to have carried a torch for this woman all through the years. It is a pity that it doesn't have a happy ending, but that's how life is. She has taken the more conservative route while denying her sexuality, so in all probability she is at times unhappy when she thinks of what might have been.

It is very unfair of her to give you all those mixed messages because this gives you hope and you are therefore unlikely to do anything in the way of looking for a new love. You will have discovered that it is a very different Ireland to the one you left all those years ago. Now in Ireland you do not need to hide your sexuality and can truly be yourself. Of course, this option is not open to your ex because she still has a lot to hide.

With regard to leaving Ireland or not, I think you should do whatever would make you feel better, because your happiness is what is most important to you. I agree that it would be next to impossible to have an undercover affair with her while she remains married, and anyway you would not be happy because you would worry about the consequences.

If the only reason for leaving would be to get away from her then you should consider what it would be like returning to the US, having left once already. If you decide to stay, however, I think that it would be utterly futile to expect that she will have a part to play in your life. It may sound cruel but your best chance of getting on with your life would be to cut all ties with her, don't answer her calls or texts and change your number if necessary. You have to make yourself open to the opportunity of meeting somebody else, and this will not happen while you are hoping for a happy-ever-after with your former love.

Should I finish with my boyfriend?

Q. I have just finished my Leaving Cert. It's a great feeling! I think I did well and am really looking forward to going to college. But I have a problem. I've been going out with this guy for two years. He's in a school near me and our families know one another, so it's very comfortable. It has all been very middle-class and respectable.

Then I was in Dublin recently on a Saturday with him, and the Gay Pride parade was on. I am not gay and not interested in other girls that way but I thought the whole thing was fantastic. Seeing all those people dancing in the streets and kissing and hugging was wonderful. My boyfriend, on the other hand, thought it was coarse and rather disgusting.

I started looking at him in another way. I'm only 18 and I know that I will probably end up getting married and having children and a pretty normal life. But I would like to be able to go a little crazy for the next few years in college and meet lots of people and do things I would never think of doing. I won't go mad (I'll get my degree and all that) but I want to see what the rest of the world is like. I want to go to all-night poetry sessions, work in a theatre, fall in love with an artist (for a while!), go to Bhutan or Madagascar. I can't see the boyfriend with me in any of this. Should I dump him?

Mary replies: I am always a little perturbed when I hear of a couple getting together at a very young age. There are so many pitfalls, one of them being dating exclusively and not experiencing different traits and differing personalities in what really are the formative years with regard to relationships. So two years is a long time to be dating when you are around 17 or 18. I also think it is good to have even a moderately 'wild time' in the early teens so that by the time you eventually settle down you are not feeling that you missed out on a lot of experiences. You seem to be coming to this conclusion yourself, and so I think that it is indeed time to re-assess the situation.

However, I hate the term 'dump him'! He has done nothing wrong and deserves to be treated with respect so that he can be left with his dignity intact. I realise that in this 'instant' age relationships can be terminated by text but it is not something that I agree with. So I think that you should talk things through with him and suggest at least a break given that you started at such a young age. Explain that you would like to feel free when starting college as you want to have lots of different experiences.

At the same time it would also be a good idea for him to learn what life is like as a single person having for so long been part of a couple. I know that often guys find break-ups very difficult, particularly if they don't see them coming. Girls at least have their friends with whom they can talk about their emotional life, but guys don't find it as easy to discuss their feelings.

So try to be aware of all this when you have the conversation with him. It will not be easy - you obviously have a fair bit of history together by now and your families will have become used to treating you as an item. You may even be blamed for being heartless in ending the relationship, but from what you have told me I think it is better that you go with your gut and say goodbye to him.

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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