Saturday 24 February 2018

Dear Mary: Stroke as a boy affected my life, but I'd love to meet someone

Illustration: Tom Halliday
Illustration: Tom Halliday

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

Question: I am a 40-year-old man. I suffered a full stroke to the right side in 1983. This had a devastating effect on my whole life, although I reckon I have crossed the Rubicon as much as to say "Life begins at 40". I had a lot to deal with down through the years, for which I am blessed to have had the support of a one in a million family - mother, father, brothers, sisters, a wide circle of relations and many good friends.

I have successfully navigated the education system - Intermediate Certificate, Leaving Certificate and graduated with a Certificate in Business Studies. I've had a good job since 1996.

I feel that I have done very well. The only slight problem I have is getting out there on the social scene. I have no hearing in the right ear - inner-ear nerve deafness which is stroke-related. My eyesight was also affected. I wear strong lenses and have no peripheral vision in the right eye. This makes pubs, clubs etc a nightmare. Negotiating steps and stairs is awkward, to say the least. Hence, I don't go out unless I am meeting a friend for the cinema or some light refreshments.

I went through a tough time a few years ago. There were stroke-related issues and it took some time to get the right information on pain management. Today I feel better than since God was a young person.

The reason I am writing this is that like the young lady who wrote to you a few weeks ago who wished to have somebody in her life, I too would love to meet someone to share my life with.

I am living in my childhood abode, parents still keeping me on the right track. Perhaps you could pass on my details to the young lady - I would be interested in meeting her if nothing else but to pass the time in pleasant company.

Mary replies: You certainly have done really well having had a such a devastating blow at the age of eight. Well done on that and it is heartening to read such positive thoughts in your letter. I have condensed your much longer letter for space reasons, but people will still get the general tone of your story.

It is interesting that every time I publish a letter such as the one you refer to the majority of people that contact me are males. They do not necessarily want to be put in touch with anybody, but they want to tell me of their loneliness and inability to find a partner. As one man put it, 'It can be difficult sometimes at family events or work outings when one arrives alone and has to explain for the umpteenth time why. It can be easier to try and avoid these scenarios and make up an excuse not to go."

As it happens, the lady in question chose the anonymous option and so I cannot ask her if I can pass your details onto her. But I hope that your story is an inspiration to other people, that despite adversity one can get on and make a success of one's life. I appreciate the difficulties that you have when going out socially, but I would urge you to continue to do so. Try not to think of it as wishing to meet a girl to have a relationship, but instead focus on what your interests are and look around your own locality to see if there are any groups that you can join.

When people have an interest in common, whatever it is, they welcome the chance to have a friendship with other like-minded people. You can, of course, meet people online, but it has disadvantages and I feel that you would be better off in a real life situation.

I do hope that you meet somebody special, and thank you for your letter.

Family won't accept I've cut them off

Question: In a nutshell I'm tired of my dysfunctional family dynamics and after years of family dramas had decided to break off contact with my family. This, as you can imagine, was not an easy decision, but one I have not regretted. However a parcel has just arrived in the post for Christmas from same family and it has left me perplexed. I am in no doubt that this being the season of goodwill I am expected to accept this olive branch, but seriously, will they just leave me in peace?

I have accepted that they are not interested in changing and have been clear in my recent past communications that as a result of this we cannot have a relationship. Everything has been on their terms for ­decades and it's a case of a leopard who won't change its spots.

I wish to make it clear to them that life is not a game with winners and losers. I have just wanted to live my life and have never wanted a situation like this to evolve where they try to push my buttons to get a reaction.

I have exhausted every avenue in the past to bring about a resolution and no longer seek to build bridges. How can I when the trust is gone?

I would appreciate your opinion.

Mary replies: Christmas time always seems to highlight family tensions, probably because so many people are making an effort to be with their families at this time because they genuinely love to be together. Therefore, those people who do not feel this way are reminded of their own particular circumstances and perhaps think about it a little more than usual. Reading between the lines of your email, there is a whole history of hurts and slights that are still raw for you, and I'm so sorry that this is where you find yourself at this time.

You obviously thought about cutting yourself off from your family for a long time before you came to the conclusion that they were not going to change. In actual fact, the only change that we as human beings can effect in our relationship with others is by changing ourselves. So, for example, if you live with a person who is excessively tidy and you wished they weren't quite so particular, then the only thing that can be done is for you to accept that their ways are not your ways, but you shouldn't blame them for being fastidious. This, of course, is an over-simplification, but illustrates the point I'm making. I presume you tried to change your attitude to whatever was going on before deciding that it wasn't going to work.

My dilemma in giving the opinion that you ask for is that I don't know anything about the actual situation other than that you were unhappy and had lost trust in your family. As a result, I can only say that you have to take care of yourself above everybody else, because if you are unhappy within yourself then your life will be miserable. And if severing all family ties is what makes you happy - or at least more happy than when you were in contact with them - then so be it. You can always return the parcel to let them see that you have not changed your mind. I do hope that you have some friends with whom to spend Christmas Day, or that you will invite some of them to visit you at least for part of the day. I know it is only one day, but it should be an enjoyable day nonetheless.

As I don't even know your age I don't know the age of your parents. On a cautionary note, how would you feel if you heard tomorrow that they had both been killed in an accident? I have seen people regret decisions they made regarding family when it was too late and they would give anything to have the time back again to make a different choice.

A very good book explaining and examining different family dynamics is Families and How to Survive Them by Robin Skynner and John Cleese.

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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