dilemmas

This week: I want my lover to leave her husband For seven years, David has met his married lover for champagne, caviar and sex at a hotel. She's scared to leave her `MCP' husband. David, now divorced, asks, is it cruel to give her an ultimatum? And if she did leave, would their relationship survive?
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Ultimatums are nearly always cruel, because they usually involve someone making a decision about which they're only 50 per cent certain. And since David's lover is frightened of losing her male chauvinist husband, the last thing she'll need is more pressure from yet another testosterone- filled member of the human race. And it won't work, anyway. If you shout to a frightened dog, cowering under a chair: "OK, that's it. Either you come out or I leave the room", it will remain cowering. There is no such thing as a kind ultimatum. They're always brutal and emotionally violent, in however quiet and sweet a voice they are offered, particularly when they offer abandonment as one of the options.

This doesn't mean that some ultimatums don't have to be given. "Either you stop drinking or I leave" is an example of being cruel to be kind. But David's ultimatum is a weak, self-serving one. In the highly unlikely case, anyway, of Caroline leaving her husband now, she would only be 50 per cent committed to David, and constantly feel in the back of her mind that she might have made the wrong move. And indeed it might well have been the wrong move. A highly-charged sexual affair, particularly most of which is spent in the anonymity of a hotel room, embellished with caviar and champagne, is quite a different bag of tricks to a proper relationship which involves putting rubbish out, sorting out pairs of socks, and crucial matters such as whether one can bear the other leaving the top off the toothpaste tube, and who has their finger on the television remote control.

At least David's lover has worked out some kind of modus vivendi with her male chauvinist husband, and though it may be less than perfect, no doubt she gets some pay-offs - he sorts out the bills and the car, mows the lawn, and drives, perhaps. And just because he's a male chauvinist pig doesn't mean that he doesn't love her very much indeed.

No, if David really means what he says and if, as seems also rather unlikely, he truly loves her, he mustn't bully her out of her marriage; he must tempt her. He must offer her titbits, make the alternative to staying with a frightening male chauvinist more appealing than staying. He must seduce her, and seduction means a great deal more than glasses of champagne, caviar and sex. Seduction means constant compliments and reassurance, allowing her space to make up her mind, and support in everything she does. Indeed, seduction often means real love and kindness, of which David seems to be in rather short supply.

Why, anyway, is he putting the pressure on his lover to make a decision he could perfectly well make himself? That's the coward's way. It is also highly manipulative, because it means that whatever decision she takes it will appear to be all her fault, and David will remain the passive partner in this relationship. If he were a really good man, he would either say: "OK, I'm going to stick around for another few years, whether you like it or not, because I love you; you needn't even see me; I'll always be there." Or he should say: "This relationship is no good for either of us, and I think for the moment it's best if we part. It will be easier for me, because I find your being married and unavailable unbearable."

David's lover's husband may be a male chauvinist pig, but David needs to read Rudyard Kipling's "If" and learn how to be more of a man. A real one

What readers say

A happy marriage is unlikely

It seems to me that you already realise that attempting to force your lover to leave her husband is not a good idea. You say you feel lonely and would like a "proper relationship". Pressurising someone into a relationship does not sound like the makings of a "proper relationship" to me.

Can I assume that you had this kind of relationship with your wife at some stage? Given that your marriage ended three years ago, you have not had much chance to reflect as a single man upon your marriage, and examine what has motivated your behaviour and resulted in this situation.

I suggest you hold out for something more positive than your current situation, which on the face of it is unlikely to transform itself into a stable marriage.

Name withheld

Cut your losses and find someone else

You fibber! You so much don't want to marry this woman. Your letter is littered with contradictions.

You want her to leave her husband and commit to you and yet you insist on calling her your "lover" (Crikey! How racy!) with all the frisson of illicitness such a word entails. This is the trouble though, isn't it? What started as an extramarital fling (for both of you) has ended up with you single and wanting more of her, while she's still quite happy with your occasional liaison and home life with her husband, male chauvinist or otherwise. In fact the only statement that rings true from your letter is that you are lonely (and, I suspect, regretting the end of your marriage) however much you are friends with your ex-wife. Consequently you may well be better off cutting your losses and trying to find someone who can give you more of themselves than a few hours a month in a hotel room.

Jamie Same, London SW12

Stay with what you've got

David's seven-year itch is back again. He's already uprooted one marriage and is poised to repeat the act regardless of the harm he would inflict on his present partner and her (reportedly) MCP husband. She obviously derives pleasure from their established liaison but would surely cease to be the same delectable accomplice in a marital partnership. He should stick to his bit of smooth and keep taking the caviar et al.

Name withheld

You've made your decision already

There is too much that is neat and cosy about David's circumstances to predict anything other than disaster ahead. The agenda of so-called lovers meeting twice a week for seven years, albeit for champagne and sex, while one of them is happy to continue living with her husband, suggests a lack of real passion and commitment.

I'm afraid there's more reason for gloom. It has always been my view that everyone should have as much sex with as many partners as personal philosophy and circumstances permit.

The problem is not with sex itself, but the deceit that so often accompanies it. Whether this reflects weakness, or something less palatable, it is unlikely to enhance the long-term viability of a relationship that breeds it and perhaps feeds off it. David is conspiring with his lover in deceiving her husband.

People have affairs to satisfy different needs but almost always there is the feeling of a need to compensate for something apparently lacking elsewhere, and that spells exploitation, not long-lasting love. Whether an affair develops into something more substantial, usually follows a simple but painful assessment, and a decision as to which relationship is the more disposable. After seven years, I would have thought the answer here is already obvious.

Lionel Skingley, Oxford

Next week's problem: how do I choose which job to take?

Dear Virginia,

I'm 27, and have been offered two jobs. One means working with a group of women in a legal centre. I'd be the youngest. I'd be working long hours but it would be very rewarding as they're helping people with real problems.

The other job, in the legal department of an advertising firm, is better paid and I'd generally be more with people of my own age.

I know that I'm lucky to have had two job offers, but can you and your readers give me any ideas about what might weigh the balance in favour of one or the other?

Yours sincerely, Debbi

Letters are welcome, and everyone who has a suggestion quoted on this page will be sent a bouquet from Interflora.

Send your personal experiences or comments to me at the Features Department, `The Independent', 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL (fax 0171-293 2182), to arrive by Tuesday morning.

And if you yourself have any dilemma that you would like to share, please let me know.

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