Dear Virginia, I’m 20 and at university. When I was 10, my mother went off with her lover and I’ve lived with my father since. I wasn’t very happy when he met a new woman and she moved in with him, but he’s just told me she’s pregnant. He seems pleased – but I feel so upset and jealous I don’t know what to do. I know he has his life to live and his girlfriend wants a family, but I just feel depressed and angry. Should I discuss this with him? I don’t want to cause a rift. Yours sincerely, Beth
It's not surprising, honestly, that you're feeling so depressed and angry. First of all, you were abandoned by your mother – and although you don't mention how you felt about it, it's never nice to be left by either parent, but by a mother, perhaps, particularly, if for no reason other than that it's such an unusual situation.
Then your father, with whom you lived alone for so long, met another woman – and this can't have failed to upset you and made you feel marginalised, however irrational you know your feelings were. Now, you feel again excluded. From being a once-happy family with two parents when you were small, you are now being slowly edged out, on the perimeters of a new nuclear family, to which you are connected by what seems like an increasingly fragile thread.
Of course it's true that your father will be able to love his new partner, the new baby and you equally. And while love itself may have no bounds, in practice you will not get as much attention and closeness with your father as you have now. This is just a fact. There is no getting away from it.
I'm afraid I am not offering much consolation here, nor much remedy, but only an endorsement of your feelings – and that endorsement will, I hope, make you feel slightly better. It's true that you may find the new baby sweet and cuddly, and that when it grows up you may have a kind of "aunt/niece or nephew" kind of relationship with it. And the more people you are related to and feel close to, the better. But this half-sibling will never feel like a real brother or sister, not just because it has a different mother but because your shared memories will start only now, because you are so much older.
If I were you, I would certainly have a talk with your father and let him know how you feel. I don't think it will change anything, but his acknowledgement of your feelings might make them feel slightly less painful. Even if he says he will always love you best, it won't change anything. The fact is that his day-to-day duties now lie with his new family. You are being very slightly pushed out. There is no more to be said, except to acknowledge it, with great sadness, and realise that life is, I'm afraid, full of these unhappinesses, and that nearly everyone has similar losses to deal with in their pasts and their futures, however chirpy they may appear on the surface.
Love conquers all
I know it sounds like a cliché but time really is a healer. Last year, I had a very similar situation, I was in my final year of university and my mum announced that she and her fiancé were expecting a baby. My own father had moved to Australia before I was born so I had lacked a stable father figure my whole life. Although I really liked my mum's new partner, my immediate reaction when she told me the news was to cry. I felt jealous that this new baby would have both a mum and a dad around, and I felt almost like I was being replaced. I was always close to my mum and after almost three years of university, I felt she was coping with me growing up by having another child.
However, as the pregnancy progressed, I felt less angry and jealous. Now that my little sister is 10 months old, I find it hard to imagine that I ever felt so resentful. I realise that your situation is slightly different, as it's your dad's girlfriend having the baby, but I really think that when the baby comes, you will feel a lot of the anger and jealously lift. Although it's hard to have a sisterly relationship with a child who is 20 years your junior, I've found that you can develop a very different but just as special relationship, more like that of an aunt. You can have a hugely positive impact on this baby's life and instead of feeling like it's your dad's life and you should let him get on with it, maybe you could find a way to have a role in the new family dynamic as an adult.
Meanwhile, I think it is important that you voice your feelings to your dad in a calm way. It's not your fault that you feel this way and he is sure to understand this, having been the only stable parent in your life.
Trust your father
I worry that uncaring moralists are going to say nasty things, but Beth, I'm on your side. For a few moments, I am going to pretend that I am your wonderful, wonderful father:
"We were both devastated when your mother left. I had no idea what to do, but I've seen you grow from a girl to a young woman, smart enough to go to university. I'm so, so proud of you and I love you so much. Perhaps one of my mistakes was not to share with you my own feelings and desires, but I saw it as most fortunate that a new woman came into my life, at just the time you were setting out on your own journey in life. Now she is to have a baby and yes, I am very pleased.
"Perhaps because of the hurt you are suffering, you will decide to indulge in extreme forms of behaviour to test my love for you to destruction. Let me warn you; you will fail. Parental love is indestructible.
"Soon you will have a little brother or sister. I'll love them just as much as I love you. You ask whether you should discuss with me your depression and anger. Don't be silly. I have had you to myself for 10 years. Do I not know from your every look, your every gesture, exactly how you feel? No; what I want you to do is come to me, throw your arms around me, hold me very close and say the four most beautiful words in the English language: 'Daddy, I love you.'
"Please cut out and keep this letter. If I have not reached you at this moment, I will, and this will remind you that I'll always be waiting to welcome you home and I will always, always love you."
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Next week's dilemma...
Dear Virginia, I’m a single, professional woman. I rarely socialise, as I work so hard, but I’ve got a circle of friends Imeet at weekends. I’m not desperate for a boyfriend, having had an unhappy (childless) marriage – but I do miss sex! A friend told meshe rang up an escort agency and paid for sex with an escort. She said he was perfectly pleasant – he had a steady girlfriend – and it was great. I’m tempted to try, though maybe it’s rather a “sad” thing to do. Would it be a mistake? Yours sincerely, Naomi
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