dilemmas

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this week's problem

Vicky has been having an affair with a married man for two years. He has two small boys and says he'll leave when the time is right. He keeps promising to make a decision, but nothing happens. He has now said that 1996 is "our year". Vicky increasingly mistrusts his promises and her friends beg her to forget him, but her time-clock is running out and she can't live without him

There's no way that Vicky's boyfriend could be described as husband material, let alone father material. Anyone who can leave two small children, unless he or she is physically kicked out or the marriage is totally unbearable (and there's no evidence of that), must be lacking what I call the "moral gene" (true, this characteristic may not literally be genetic but it's an extremely useful way of describing the enormous number of people who have a bleak, cold windswept steppe in their hearts where there should be a conscience). Vicky can't get round the fact that this man is a two- timer. He's a man who has affairs when married, a man who can't stick with his promises, and there's no guarantee that were he to leave his wife, he wouldn't repeat the pattern when he started a new family with Vicky.

Even if her lover stays with his wife and tries to make a go of things, which is what he should do, he is only a reformed two-timer, but if he finally does the right thing, then where will Vicky be? Miserable, with none of the glow of striking the first moral blow by giving him the boot before he could get his foot in.

I'm aware of sounding like a Victorian preacher, but we're often harder on people when we've been through similar situations ourselves. I certainly broke up my own family - husband and baby - for another man. It was an affair that came to nothing. And although my marriage was completely on the rocks, to run off with another person is an easy, sleazy way of ending a relationship. If Vicky's lover has to split up his family, he should have the courage to move out and be on his own for six months at the very least, resolve the ending of the relationship and make arrangements about the children on his own, rather than use Vicky's emotional skirts as a way to ease the pain of separation.

And what, if he leaves, of his and Vicky's future relationship? A relationship that is an illicit affair changes completely as it becomes open, OK and public. All the naughtiness and fun goes out of it, and with the new role comes responsibility, something that Vicky's lover does not seem to possess exactly in spades. And how will Vicky cope with two boys every weekend (they will absolutely loathe her), with the ex-wife ringing up half the time, with money to pay out in maintenance for the children, with a new baby on top of it all?

How will she cope with knowing what unhappiness her and her lover's action has caused all round? For it has to be said that it takes two to tango, and that Vicky isn't a blameless victim. "Spotless" is not exactly her middle name.

Faced with a real person, crying her eyes out, in my sitting room I would be far more sympathetic than I am in print. I'd understand the fears, the pulls, the need and the desperation. I would hope desperately for Vicky's happiness, knowing that good men are hard to find and that sometimes it seems as if a bad one is better than none. I'd be more charitable about her anxiety about biological time-clocks. But still I'd ask her why she could make a relationship only with an unavailable man, and I'd ask her if the reason she wanted a baby wasn't prompted more by selfishness than the desire to have a child by a man she loved.

And at the end I'd still have to say those dreadful schoolmistressy words: "Vicky, you know in your heart of hearts what is right."

readers' responses

I can't answer your question as to whether married men often leave their spouses for their lovers, but I can tell you what it was like for me as a woman who experienced a similar situation to yours, and from both sides: first as the single "other woman" in the life of a married father, then, after he left his wife, as the betrayed "legitimate" partner of the same man.

As his mistress, I just knew that I was different, and that once he was with me, I would be able to help him to be happy and satisfied in a monogamous relationship. All infidelities would stop; we would be together for life.

I assuaged any guilt about threatening their life as a family by convincing myself that if he was sneaking around behind the back of someone he was married to with no compunction, why should I blame myself for my part in it? After all, I had nothing against his wife, I didn't even know her.

He eventually left his wife and child and moved in with me. I had a baby with him. Two years later I discovered his affair with a married woman, and in a rather unpleasant manner.

The blow to one's self-image when one finds that history has repeated itself is indescribable. Realising that one has been living an illusion is very destabilising. It made me question my perception not only of past relationships, but of all things, wondering what else in my life I was blind to?

In addition, it was quite frightening to face the prospect of raising my two-year-old son largely on my own, working full time, having a limited budget (especially as we hadn't been married), limited social life, etc. Those worries took their toll on me and consequently on my son, the most innocent party of all.

It took my lover's affair to teach me that as his mistress I had hurt his wife and his child.

Madelyn Dupre

France

I suggest Vicky asks herself three questions:

1. Can I have any genuine love for a man if I am intent on breaking up his family life?

2. Can I trust a married man who has an affair?

3. Am I fit to be a parent if I am intent on splitting the parents of three young children?

Instead of wondering whether she can live without this man, she might make her new year aim to love rather than to be loved. If she then found someone else to marry and give her children, it would be a bonus.

John Goodchild

Liverpool

My husband is leaving me with two girls. They are both suffering intensely. My parents are distraught. My husband's parents are distraught.

If you marry your lover, you will be marrying a man capable of ignoring the pain of those who love him most. Maybe it is because he is not like that that you love him.

Anon

Lincoln

I have been there and, believe me, there is only one way to go and that is out. Reread "our year" as "his year" - a wife, home, three children and you - and rewrite 1996 as "your year" before you run out of them. Get up and go before you have to use a Zimmer frame to do it.

Christine Leaman

Shropshire

I have been married twice (first time one year, second time three years) and I've twice left the wife for the other woman. I know that I'm in a minority for doing so - most men will continue affairs for as long as they can.

When confronted by the wife, they nearly always drop the mistress. It's quite possible that your lover's wife knows you exist and begrudgingly puts up with it.

In the past, I have been a firm believer in "the grass being greener on the other side", but I would not have jumped ship so quickly if I had had children.

Geoff Pesche

Ealing

next week's dilemma

Dear Virginia,

I have been married for 10 years and our childless marriage is over. My husband and I live in separate parts of the house, although I still cook and iron for him. I feel angry and resentful of him all the time. We only communicate to row, and for the past six months I have only had one thing on my mind - to get him out of the house.

Last week, however, he told me he had found somewhere to live. He will be moving out in a month. And I am seized with terror - terror about being on my own. Suddenly, anything, even bitter rows, seems better than the void that I will step into once my husband is gone. Bar joining clubs and getting lodgers, neither of which appeals to me, can anyone give me some reassurance about my fears?

Yours sincerely, Sian

Comments are welcome, and everyone who has a suggestion quoted will be sent a Dynagrip 50 ballpen from Paper:Mate. Send experiences or comments to me at The Independent, 1, Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London, E14 5DL; fax 0171-293 2182 by Tuesday morning. If you have any dilemmas of your own you would like to share, let me know.

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