Louise's daughter, Mary, is 32, but apart from one longish relationship, still hasn't found anyone special. She's irritated when questioned about men. But recently she cried when her best friend got married, saying she, too, would like a partner. Louise is worried for her and also wants grandchildren. Should she offer her daughter membership of a dating agency?

I've always held that if a woman desperately wants to get married, she can. She may have to make some sacrifices; she may have to give up fantasies both old and new - the dashing, rich knight in shining armour, or an equal, a friend, a new man with whom she can share absolutely everything. She may have to realise that although men like to be given the illusion that they're doing the chasing, the woman is usually the more subtle huntress who has to leave a very clear trail of crumbs to guide him to her turret. She may have to marry someone with little difficulties attached: someone foreign, considerably older or considerably younger or someone on the dole, and she may have to admit to her friends that she really wants to settle down and get them to introduce her to every single man they know. But in the end she'll meet a man for whom settling down and having children is almost more important than whom he is married to. And often she will have a better marriage than those who base partnerships on love and mutual interests because in this case their abiding mutual interest is in being married and reproducing.

Louise shouldn't make her child feel unattractive and desperate by offering her membership of a dating agency out of the blue. Her role is only to boost Mary's confidence, tell her how attractive she is, repeat the flattering remarks of friends, tell her how much she loves her and how clever, sensible and amusing she is, and how lucky she is to have her independence. True, a compliment from a mother, who is usually blind to her child's faults, is worth about a tenth of a compliment from anyone else, but it's better than a gift that implies that her daughter is at the end of her romantic tether. And of course her daughter broke down in tears when her best friend got married. Married women often find themselves filled with a confusing mixture of misery and pleasure when a close girlfriend gets married. They miss the special relationship that they have with a single woman.

As for the grandchildren, no wonder Mary's confidence is at a low ebb if she feels that her mother's interest in her romantic state is informed by a wish for an heir or a cuddly little person to bounce on her knee. Mary must feel like a baby machine pressured to find a bloke just to carry on the line.

Life has changed since Louise was young. Not every successful young woman wants to get married or, indeed, have children. Mary may feel the odd painful pang for the certain ease and relief of permanent company but only in the same way many married or co-habiting women feel the odd desperate longing for solitude and freedom.

Anyway, if Mary's dying to marry, Louise can be sure that she'll already have joined a dating agency and be meeting a mixed bunch of nervous blokes wearing roses in their buttonholes, or carrying a copy of the Independent (if they've contacted each other through our Lonely Hearts column) under clocks or in darkened pubs.

Louise should refrain from making remarks about men, grandchildren or time-clocks. She should mind her own business and allow her daughter to find the life she wants on her own. Perhaps Louise should think of getting some interest of her own instead of living her life through her daughter's anxieties. In fact, I wonder how she'd feel if Mary gave her a list of local activities and evening classes? Really chuffed, I'm sure.


The best thing I ever did

Many years ago I was in a similar position to Louise's daughter: good job, interesting life - but no husband. I wrote to a reputable marriage bureau, met a few men that were not for me and finally met a man I married. We have an excellent marriage, with two sons, lasting so far for 36 years. Writing to that marriage bureau was the best thing I ever did. For your daughter's sake, go for it.

Margaret Whitelaw, Surrey

Keep the pressure off ...

A mother and daughter write ...

I can feel some sympathy for Louise, as I find myself in a similar position. My daughter of 26, who is now a mature student, had a disastrous and costly (emotionally and financial) relationship three years ago. She is now getting back on to her feet and taking an interest in her future career and social life. She has not been out with anyone seriously since, although she does have some good friendships with men.

I do get upset and worried when I see her looking lost and disillusioned. Most of the time, though, she shows a positive attitude. I try to stay in the background, but let her know I'm always there should she need an ear or a shoulder. Too much pressure, I feel, can only bring distance into the relationship. I love my daughter very dearly and want her to be happy, but she has to live her own life and make her own mistakes. No I wouldn't give her a present of a dating agency.

B Holland, Bournemouth

When I started college as a mature student last September, I joked with my friends that if I couldn't find a man there, then I might as well join a dating agency. But somehow, although no boyfriend has appeared, I have yet to sign up.

I haven't had a date in three years, and before then my longest relationship only lasted two months! But I have managed to reach the grand old age of 26, hale and hearty, while watching all of my close friends settling down with their partners. Sometimes I feel insanely jealous, sometimes waves of loneliness blacken my sunny disposition. But, while I have my friends, for much of the time I don't care.

Your daughter becomes irritated by your inquiries. Do you let her see how worried you are? Do you not wonder at how upset this probably makes her feel? Being single is not a crime, and being different is wonderful. If she has moments, as I know I do, when it seems she is destined to be alone all her life, let her know there is no shame in this. And anyway, who knows what will happen tomorrow? She may fall in love next week, and marry within the year. I know people this has happened to.

So stop worrying, and if you want to offer her the present, then make a joke out of it. Make it fun. Because being single can be fun, if you stop making an issue out of it.

I may yet join a dating agency. The need for that "someone special" is often strong. But, being a fatalist, I think I'll wait and see what happens tomorrow. It could be more interesting.

Nicola Holland, daughter of B Holland (above)

Acknowledgment of failure

If you're thirtysomething, want a relationship but don't have one then it is very difficult not to feel a failure - especially when you've got everything else in your life under control. If you buy this birthday present for your daughter then you are acknowledging this failure and this will make your daughter feel a hundred times worse than she may do now. Be there when your daughter needs you, but don't push her on the subject of men and don't add to the pressure. Believe me, a nice bloke is difficult to find, but we can live with the search. What we can't live with is the feeling that we're letting our mothers down.

A thirtysomething single daughter


Dear Virginia,

My son is 11 and up to now has always been perfectly well adjusted with lots of friends and well liked by teachers at school. His grandmother died a couple of months ago and he seemed to take it very sensibly. But since there's been all this trouble with America sending rockets to Saddam Hussein he's become exceptionally nervous and almost phobic about a nuclear war. He rings me in floods of tears from school, he told me one night he felt like killing himself with worry, and though he's very rational and cheerful between these bouts, I feel so anxious for him. It's been going on for three weeks now, and when I told the headmaster all he could say was that he should see a psychiatrist. I'm against this, but my husband says we should take the head's advice. Have any other parents had children who went through a phase like this?

Yours sincerely, Jenny

All comments are welcome, and everyone who has a suggestion quoted will be sent a Dynagrip 50 ballpen from Paper:Mate.

Please send any relevant personal experiences or comments to me at the Features Department, The Independent, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London, E14 5DL; fax 0171-293-2182, by Tuesday morning. And if you have any dilemmas of your own you would like to share, let me know.