Saturday 20 January 2018

Dear Mary: She had an affair with a married grandfather before she met me

Illustration Tom Halliday.
Illustration Tom Halliday.

Mary O'Connor

Q: My girlfriend is in her late 20s and I'm in my early 30s. I am happy in our relationship and I think she's great. However, in her past she had an affair with a 65-year-old married grandfather - she was friends with his family. She told me about this early on in the relationship, and even though initially I thought I was ok with it, as time went on I found I wasn't. I find it immoral and very hard to accept . . . and totally out of character for her. She was not in a relationship at the time. I think it has come to a head now because we actually bumped into him one night recently when we were out and she told me afterwards who he was.

I found it very hard to understand what she saw in him. Apart from the very obvious age difference, he wasn't even good-looking, and my stomach turned when I thought of them having sex. What drives an attractive woman to have an affair like that which can only hurt others? She says that it just happened but I find that hard to believe. I had been thinking of getting engaged - we don't live together for various reasons - but now I'm not so sure.

A. I have to admire your girlfriend for telling you about her history with this man. It would have been much easier for her to say nothing, particularly as it was early on in your relationship when she didn't know how serious it could become.

You are taking the moral high ground here and I have to ask what makes you feel you have the right to. Almost everybody has things in their past that they wish they hadn't done - that is what maturing is all about. No doubt you also have some things that you are not proud of but that doesn't give anybody else the right to sit in judgement on you.

We are attracted to people for different reasons and thankfully not all of them have to do with looks. She may have admired the way he thought about things, he may have made her feel very special, he may have made her laugh. Or she may have found it interesting to have somebody more mature in her life. All of this is just speculation on my part as I don't know either of them. But rather than speculate as to why she had the affair, I wonder why you have to keep looking backwards instead of forward, particularly as you say that her behaviour was totally out of character. It may come down to a question of trust and how much you trust her. Because if you don't trust her then there is no point in going ahead with the relationship and you may as well call a halt right now. There would certainly be no future for you if you were constantly questioning her movements and she would very quickly become aware of your lack of trust. I also don't think there is anything to be gained on your part by imagining your girlfriend having sex with him, or indeed anybody else. That is giving yourself unnecessary grief.

Don't even contemplate getting engaged until you are prepared to put all of this behind you. Your girlfriend certainly has - she was able to tell you about it and also introduce you to him, and she didn't have to do either of those things. So question yourself as to how you really feel before you ask her that all-important question. It's all up to you from here on in.

We want a baby, but my boyfriend won't see the doctor about infertility

Q. I have been with my boyfriend for four years. We have lived together for one. I am nine years older and he comes from a very traditional Catholic background.

We are trying to get pregnant, but the thought of scientific intervention puts him off. I have tried to explain the longer we wait the harder it will be, but he thinks if we keep trying it will happen. I am afraid that if it doesn't our relationship will be over, because he does want children and I won't be able to. To make things worse, I'm an only child and always longed for brothers and sisters. Because of this, I had hoped to have at least three children and now there is the possibility that I'm not even going to have one.

How do I get him to face the age difference and go to the doctor? He says he will, but weeks go by. I know he hates doctors for any occasion but I am at the end of my rope.

A. It is very difficult for people who are trying for a pregnancy and not succeeding to see at the same time that lots of their friends are getting pregnant with apparent ease. I can understand why you have reached the end of your patience. You have a boyfriend who doesn't want to do anything at all to help you in your desire for a pregnancy - other than the obvious one of having sex with you.

Although you don't tell me your age, there is probably very little time to lose, as a woman's fertility starts to diminish when she is around 36. I don't know if you are aware of the existence of ovulation kits which help to pinpoint the days when you are at your most fertile. If you haven't already done this then you should start using one. You should also consult with your GP. At present you don't know why it is that you are not becoming pregnant. It could be that one of you has a problem or it may be simply unexplained infertility. But you need to know what is going on. Your doctor will refer you to a fertility expert who will do some tests. At the same time, to speed things up, your boyfriend will need to submit a semen sample to see if he is producing adequate sperm. An easy way for him to do this is to ejaculate using a condom and then transfer the semen into a sterile container, but your doctor will explain all this to you.

I have to question your boyfriend's lack of support with all of this. I don't think it is acceptable that he at the very least will not go to the doctor. I realise that as he is much younger he does not have the same sense of urgency that you are experiencing, and anyway men can father children well into their 60s and there are many examples of men becoming fathers in their 70s.

But at this point in your relationship, and knowing how much it means to you, he should be doing everything in his power to help. A first step would be for him to accompany you to the doctor on your first visit. You are not asking him to do anything at that point, other than to show that he is supportive. It also means that he can hear at first hand from your doctor what can lie ahead. It may be that you will need medical intervention, but first of all you need to know why you are not naturally becoming pregnant.

If he continues to do nothing and refuses to accompany you to the doctor, then you will have to consider the long-term viability of the relationship. You would always be blaming him for not taking some initiative and he would be unhappy with the lack of children. This to me does not sound like the basis for a happy partnership, and is something that you will have to give some serious thought to. I sincerely hope it doesn't come to this, but there has to be some compromise if you are to go forward.

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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