"You remind me of the story of Greyfriars Bobby, the dog whose memorial in Edinburgh immortalises the end of his life, as he waited on his owner’s grave until he died himself"

Dear Virginia,

I’ve just got over yet another obsession with a man. After a brief affair, he said I was too needy. I’m afraid he was right. This is starting to become a pattern with me. I’m 30 and I’ve always liked older men. They’re usually married and just can’t give me the love and attention I crave. One did talk of leaving his wife for me, but for some reason I then went off him. Last night, I met a guy who fitted the same pattern – he lives abroad and is only here for a few weeks a year – and I dread it all starting again. How can I get out of this hopeless cycle?

Yours sincerely, Laura

Virginia says...

If you’ll forgive me for putting on a therapist’s hat for a moment – and I hope my interpretation pushes you forward rather than sets you back – I suspect that your parents were not very loving. Or rather, they might have been loving, but you never felt they were. Home, for you, feels like an environment in which you live in a state of constant longing for some kind of love or consolation. The feeling of experiencing neediness is the only comfort zone you know. That’s why, when one of these men does actually, become available, you go off him. What you know best, what’s familiar to you, is the state of craving, not the state of fulfilment – which would be, for you, rather a mysterious and frighteningly unfamiliar state of affairs.

The other reason you go off these men when they become available is, I suspect, because it’s not these men’s love you’re really after at all. What you are longing for is parental love – and immediately the man of your dreams comes too close, you recognise him as a fraud in your own eyes. He becomes not what you want at all.

With therapy, you may realise either that indeed you never were loved, and have to come to terms with that. Or you may find that you were loved, but too many other negative feelings you had for your parents, such as rage, pity or fear, have hidden your capacity for experiencing their love.

At the moment, you remind me of the story of Greyfriars Bobby, the dog whose memorial in Edinburgh immortalises the end of his life, as he waited on his owner’s grave until he died himself. At the moment, you’re living in the graveyard, hoping against hope that your parents’ love will come to you via some romantic ideal of a loving and protective – and totally unavailable – man. You really have to sort all of your past, rather than expect to get what you think you want from any man. If he’s kind and loving, you’ll push him away. And if he’s not, you’ll just keep on pining, like Bobbie, in a way that can, sadly, never be fulfilling. 

Find a therapist. Now, in my time I’ve been very critical of therapy, only because I have often found myself in the hands of complete charlatans, many of whom have had a really negative effect on my life. But a good therapist is pure gold. Rather than chasing after another unavailable man, try to find yourself a really good therapist. (I’d go for a woman rather than a man, in case you set a man up as another unavailable amour.) You want someone who’s extremely bright, intuitive, kind and so well-trained that they’re prepared to break the rules now and again rather than stick to a rigid regime. It’s worth shopping around.

Readers say...

Work out what you really want

It does sound as if you are intent on committing yourself to men who do not want to commit themselves to you. One was prepared to, of course, but then you ended the relationship. Nevertheless, you clearly crave a lasting relationship, but I do wonder how much you are frightened of one. There is something about all this that makes me wonder if “it’s not what you want [ie, the failing relationships], but it’s the way that you want it to be” (ie, you’re frightened of failing in a relationship, so you seek relationships that will never succeed but collapse in a way that masks you fears and vulnerabilities). You are 30 and so this sounds like an entrenched cycle of behaviour that perhaps a course of psychotherapeutic counselling could address, although you may need to ask yourself and answer some difficult questions if the course is to succeed. Good luck and be brave.

David Strowbridge

by email

Find a therapist

There is a reason why you make these obsessional but doomed choices. I don’t know what that reason is and clearly neither do you. Until you do understand your motivation, nothing will change. It’s time to find a therapist you can work with – preferably female, to avoid the risk of confusing empathy with romance.

Ian Hurdley

by email

Take charge of your life

I feel for you. I used to be trapped in a similar pattern. As a young woman, I repeatedly fell for older women, often figures who were in authority – teachers, bosses – many of whom were in a relationship and/or unavailable in other ways. I was aware that this was a pattern with me, and even though it was often very painful, sometimes I used to laugh at how obvious the psychological origins seemed to be, as my mother left our family when I was eight, and I rarely saw her after that, and never really got on with my stepmother. I did have a good therapist for some years, and it was helpful to understand properly some of these psychological connections.

Now, at 45, I have been in a loving, equal and rewarding relationship for nearly 10 years – and I am so much happier. I think that what changed was simply that I tired of all the drama. I have to confess that the dramatic highs and lows of “forbidden” relationships were almost like a drug at times. But perhaps this is something that we outgrow. At 30, perhaps you would now like to stop being the star-crossed lover, and are genuinely looking for something more mutual and permanent. If you recognise the pattern, and really want it to change, this can be the start of a shift for you, where you can take charge of your life, rather than feeling like a helpless victim of bad love.

Name and address supplied

Next week's dilemma

After many years of drinking too much, I’ve decided, at 30, that I must try to stop. I can drink moderately for a while, but every month or so I go on a binge and black out – and have often caused havoc, while unaware of what I’ve been doing. I’ve managed to stay dry so far this year, but I’ve been asked to a stag do next month and I am dreading it, because I have a drinking reputation to keep up, and can’t think how I can prevent myself being tempted to start again. All my friends like drink and are looking forward to it as an opportunity to get really out of it. Any ideas?

Yours sincerely,

Colin

What would you advise Colin to do? To answer this dilemma, or to share your own problem, write to dilemmas@independent.co.uk

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