This week: I want my girlfriend back

A few months ago Marc and his girlfriend of six years split up. Six weeks later she found someone else and doesn't want to see him. He still loves her and would have her back like a shot, despite everything. He says he knows they could work something out because they understand each other perfectly - she said he was the kindest person she knew - and he still sees her as his ideal woman. What can he do?

Many are the ways of reacting and coping with a relationship break- up, particularly quite a long one like Marc's. You can deal with it in the same way as Marc's girlfriend. She seems to have halved the pain she might have felt, by using denial. Yes, there was a relationship - but there is still a relationship, she seems to be saying. The only thing that's changed is the name. For Marc read Mr X. By refusing to see Marc she's trying to tell herself he never existed and doesn't exist now. This keeping of a relationship - any old relationship - but blotting out the details that it consisted of in the past is the way that many men seem to deal with break-ups. They want a woman, a family and a relationship and who that woman actually is often seems to make little difference.

Marc is dealing with the break-up in his own peculiar way which also involves denial. He's denying that his girlfriend is actually involved happily with someone else. In his eyes his girlfriend is still "ideal". Denying the fact she's sleeping with, whispering sweet nothings to, and planning her future with AN Other, Marc is prepared to sweep all that under the carpet if only they can take up where they left off. Totally unrealistic.

Now there's nothing wrong in dealing with break-ups like this. They're short-term coping strategies that take the edge off the pain of being alone. Slowly the truth may dawn - but only when each person is strong enough. Marc's girlfriend may suddenly realise that she is having a rebound affair which will, very likely, soon collapse. Marc himself may wake up one day and wonder what the hell he's doing pining after someone who finds it so unflatteringly easy to replace him and who has the nerve to refuse to see him even though they spent six long years together. And I hope that reading this will help him kindle a little spark of healthy anger about the situation.

It might help Marc too if, rather than dwell on the good times, he concentrated on the bad times as well. For instance, why did they break up? It can't have been because they were too ideally suited. There must have been some agonising moments, some ghastly yawning afternoons, silent walks or tense drives stuffed with resentment or irritation. Marc should dredge up these unhappy memories and pin them to his alarm clock so that when he wakes, he rises full of relief at not having to relive those frightful moments rather than misery that he's not re-experiencing the good times. Perhaps he could ask himself what he should be learning from this break-up. What went wrong? If it all seemed so right for him, why did it seem so wrong for her? Could it all be connected with this word "ideal" that he uses about his ex? Could all this pain be a lesson for him to learn that no one is "ideal"? Could it be that his "kindness" that his girlfriend talked about can be taken too far? For "kindness" should he read "weakness"? Is he perhaps too kind for his own good?

If Marc found a piece missing from a jigsaw, he'd spend hours searching for it. But when he realised eventually that it was gone for ever, he'd either live with the incomplete jigsaw, or start from scratch trying to reassemble it so that, despite the missing piece, it still worked as a whole. That is what Marc must do now

What readers say

If you really love her, let her go

Wouldn't life be simple if love could be turned on and off like a tap? The direction of our love is rarely within our control.

The best way to manage this powerful emotion is to offer it as a gift with the aim of enhancing the existence of the recipient and not asking to possess or suppress their lives. By adopting this approach Marc will be demonstrating both his generosity of spirit and his capacity for survival. By offering the gift of love to another person you have to recognise that it may not necessarily be returned and your own needs may not be met.

Alison Ashley, Herts

Know yourself before you try again

Marc must learn that you can't make somebody love you. He has had six years with his former partner, and obviously did not notice there was something wrong with the relationship. His former girlfriend did not leave him for another man, but because she could no longer sustain a relationship which was all one-sided.

I don't think he is naive or foolish, but he should stop nursing the hope that he will get her back. Nor should he look for a substitute for this woman - he will simply find himself in the same situation again. It will not be easy, but Marc must get to know himself before he takes on another relationship.

Pamela D. Playle-Mitchell, Lancaster

Heads move faster than hearts

I'm in a similar situation to Marc, only in my case my wife has suddenly left me after 22 years to live with a colleague from work. I fully understand Marc's dilemma; I too feel that my wife and I could work out our problems, but she tells me there is no hope. My head tells me to stop loving her and get on with my life, but my heart won't allow me to.

Marc is neither naive nor foolish to continue to love his ex-partner - you can't suddenly stop loving someone after so long together. Until you've got her out of your system it's just not possible to move on.

Ian Dickins, West Midlands

Don't stop loving, start living

I can understand some of the feelings you are experiencing. Two years ago, my boyfriend of three years dropped me very suddenly. My life turned upside down. He started seeing someone else, who had been a friend of mine, within a week and wanted nothing to do with me.

This was very hard for me to accept but I tried my best and found a way of getting through the days. When he wished to be friends after six weeks, I found I could turn down the offer because I had moved on a little to a point where I could accept that he was part of my past.

It is not easy to stop loving someone, even when they have hurt you badly. Still loving her is to your credit - it means that you are a decent, kind- hearted person. Try to concentrate on living, not trying to stop loving. You will feel great pain but you have to respect your ex-girlfriend's decision. Allow yourself to grieve over the death of a fantastic relationship and, in time, you will find new things to do and people to love.

Laura Burrows, Birmingham

Next week's problem: My daughter wants to live in a tree

Dear Virginia,

My daughter of 16 has got an enormous crush on Swampy, the tunneller at Manchester Airport. She reads everything about him. She says she wants to go up there and spend a week with him in the Easter holidays and live in a tree. She's absolutely determined to go and says we can't stop her. She's very responsible, but I'm worried as I don't know what they're like, or whether she'd be welcome, and I want her to spend the holidays working for her GCSEs. I'm also worried that she might be tempted just to drop out and join them rather than do her exams. What should I do?

Yours, Zoe

Comments are welcome, and everyone who has a suggestion quoted will be sent a bouquet from Interflora. Send 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.