Dilemmas: I think my spurned lover is stalking me

Len had a brief relationship with a girl whom he dropped to get back with his fiancee. Now he gets mysterious phone calls and someone thought they saw her car nearby, even though she lives miles away. Is she stalking him? Should he report it to the police?

WHAT VIRGINIA SAYS

When people are dropped suddenly after an intense relationship they can often feel powerless. I don't know anyone who hasn't, in her time, rung some loved one up and put the phone down, just to know they're there. For some reason, just hearing a voice answer:

"Hello" is comforting, and there is a certain feeling of power that accompanies it, which runs: "Heh, heh, I know exactly were you are at this moment and you have no idea where I am or who I am. You poor fool, I have you under my surveillance." Okay, it's crackers, but it can reduce some of the pain of being dropped by someone you were very close to. It's a secret and pretty harmless act of aggression.

Driving by their house, if that is what this girl was doing, is also common. I have toured round half London just to pass some ex-boyfriend's house. You check to see if the lights are on in the windows. You count the milk bottles. Sometimes, I've parked and just sat there, feeling comforted, like a loyal dog by its master's grave. It's tragic, but it happens.

It's the act of a sad, sick sack and rarely leads to a Fatal Attraction scenario. If the aggression were coming, Len would have found it out by now, with shrieked phone calls, mad letters, threats and his fiancee the victim of crazy scenes in the streets.

But why is Len so alarmed? Does he have an overdeveloped imagination or a highly-developed sense of intuition? Has he read too many stalking stories? Does he feel terribly guilty about how he behaved? Is the person who's ringing him up and putting the phone down really his conscience talking (or rather, not talking)? Or is he himself not over the affair, and, by fantasising that he's being stalked, keeping himself emotionally close to his original girlfriend? In other words, is he the one who's obsessed, not her? By asking if he should ring the police, when there's no reason to, is he trying to brand her as evil and crazy to avoid any responsibility for the affair? Is he subconsciously trying to get her locked away so that he himself can lock away her memory?

Or does he know the girl so well that he's right to be frightened? Perhaps she was aggressive and possessive while they were together. Perhaps he correctly interprets this current behaviour as the thin end of the wedge, in which case he ought to start dialling 1471, and keeping a diary of all the calls and sightings in case he has to make use of them later.

But my feeling is that these are simply the signs of a sad girl who's been hurt. The last thing he must do is make any approach to her. If he sees her he should probably cut her dead. If she is obsessed, she may interpret even the mildest of hellos as renewed interest. If she writes, he should not respond.

But until then, he should get on with his life and not panic about being stalked. And try very hard, if he ever has another affair, not to treat a woman quite so unkindly by coming on so very hot and then suddenly blowing cold.

WHAT READERS SAY

Give her time

Recently my boyfriend did exactly as Len did - he dumped me abruptly after a brief but intense relationship for his former girlfriend. I was devastated. And I - normally a very together person - found myself behaving exactly as Len's former girlfriend.

Give your ex time, Len. What she's doing is harmless. She's simply grieving. What stopped me was when my ex asked if it was me during on of my silent calls. I didn't reply - but I felt a bit stupid and it brought me to my senses.

If that doesn't work, threaten to get your calls traced - but be gentle with her. You've hurt her.

ANON

A guilty conscience talking?

It seems to me that Len is probably not being stalked by his former girlfriend but by an uneasy conscience. This shows all the symptoms of an emotional and sexual escape. Len has to ask himself why he felt the need dramatically to leave both his fiancee and his lover. Will he need to escape again? If, as sounds likely, he has not been entirely honest with either of them, he should exorcise his guilt by first being honest with himself about his fears.

SARA LODGE

Oxford

Just say sorry

Having been through a similar experience, I think Len should find a way of contacting his former lover. While stressing that there is no way their relationship can be resumed, he should apologise for the abrupt way in which the relationship was ended, and explain that although it cannot continue, he still cares about her and feels guilt for the pain he caused her.

LINDA

Leamington Spa

Next Week's Dilemma

Dear Virginia,

My husband committed suicide five years ago. He was suffering from an incurable disease. His father had done the same, albeit for different reasons. My own children, now married with children of their own between 8 and 14, want to tell them the truth, as they often ask for details of granddad's death. I think they're too young to know and to trust the oldest with the secret would be too much to ask. What is your view? Yours sincerely, Sally

Letters are welcome, and everyone who has a suggestion quoted will be sent a bouquet from Write to Virginia Ironside, `The Independent', 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL, fax 0171-293 2182, or e-mail: dilemmas@independent.co.uk - giving your postal address for sending a bouquet.

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