Dear Virginia, I've had a relationship with a man for a year. It's been on-off, and from the start he said he really wanted a younger woman who could give him children. He's even confided with me about suitable candidates. But he always said he loves me and if I weren't too old to have children, he'd marry me. Now he's found someone else and he wants me to be at the wedding. Part of me wants to go and cheer him on, because he's partly like a son to me. Part of me wants to go and create a scene, because I do love him. And part of me doesn't want to go because it hurts. What should I do? Yours sincerely, Catherine

Funny. I've had exactly the same feeling when asked if I'd like to walk over burning coals. Part of me wants to so that I can be hailed as a hero. Part of me wants to so I can reveal the whole thing as completely painless and therefore not worth doing. And part of me doesn't want to because I fear it will hurt too much. And do you know which option I always take? You've got it. I don't do it. Because quite honestly it doesn't matter whether I walk on burning coals or not. It's not going to make one jot of difference to me, so why risk the potential agony?

So you go and "cheer him on". You'll be one of 100 friends who are wishing him well. And your piping voice simply won't be heard amongst the clamour. I suppose you're hoping he'll take you to one side in a shady cloister, hand you a rose he's picked from a bush, and say to you, as he looks meaningfully into your eyes: "Your being here makes all the difference in the world to me. You'll never know how much," before he whisks his bride away on their honeymoon, leaving you feeling – what? Well, a miserable old cast-off, that's what – because that's really what you are.

Or let's say you go along and make a scene. I don't imagine you're talking of shouting, "Stop the wedding!" in the middle of the service, like in the old song, I imagine you mean that you'll be found sobbing your eyes out, as your ex says "I do", and whispering, to anyone who'll listen: "You see, I love him!"

All of which will leave you feeling – yes, you're right. Miserable old cast-off. Exactly the same result. For God's sake, hold on to your dignity. Don't send a present or goodwill wishes. Just send a polite note saying you're busy. And don't be tempted to go and hang about outside the church, waving silently like some meta-mum or cast-off lover.

We all know that whatever he says about children, that's not the real reason he's marrying this other woman. It's because he loves her more than he loves you, whatever he says. He sounds to me, quite honestly, a bit of a slimy charmer who got out of being with you by making it your fault (your age) rather than his (his indifference to you). And I bet in a year or so, when his marriage is foundering, and you meet him again and see him without the veil of romance clouding your heart, you'll be thanking your lucky stars not only that you didn't attend the wedding but, even more of a lucky break, you didn't marry him yourself.

You'll feel terrible

Listen to the part that says, "Don't go." Your man has been very rational and honest with you and, to his rational mind, the perfect wedding must include you – a person he holds in the highest possible regard. But this isn't a rational forum; it's an emotional wedding. You will feel terrible and so will someone else – the bride.

Mike Hockney

By email

Write him a letter

Don't go to the wedding; he is not your son to cheer on, and to make a scene would be selfish and undignified. It would not be fair to his new bride to have a resentful ex lurking around at the wedding. Instead, write to him to say although you will not attend you wish him all the best and will always keep fond memories of your time together. You could write a separate letter (not to be posted) with outpourings of your anger, sadness etc, to get it out of your system. Then buy a new outfit, make plans for your own future, and get out there again.

Sylvia Parnell

By email

He's used you

Catherine, time to get real. You were a boost to his ego when he felt he would never meet a woman to give him children. Please don't confuse this with real love. You have identified already that he feels like a son. Sons grow up and their mothers are proud at their weddings. If you go to the wedding you will look like a sad old trout which will hurt you more than the hurt to your wounded pride you are currently suffering. Book a holiday a long way from the wedding, preferably where you can mix with a more suitable age group. Actually, you might also spare a thought for his intended. Does she know the sad old ex has been invited to the wedding?

Jan Thompson

By email

Walk away now

I'm sure I'm not the only reader who thought, "Diana, Charles, Camilla," on reading this dilemma. Catherine says this is an on/off relationship and her "partner" has been quite open about his future intentions. She doesn't say how his future wife feels about the situation. Does she know the lie of the land?

Catherine, walk away now. This man has been having this cake and eating it. You've condoned this behaviour and you don't seem to know if you're lover or mother. I think you're probably fooling yourself about the "son" thing. Please don't go to the wedding. It's unfair on both you and his fiancee. You should break off contact with this man for the forseeable future. Only have any further contact when you are certain you can look on each other as old friends. Book a holiday around the wedding date and put some distance between the two (three?) of you – literally and metaphorically.

Name and address supplied

Next week's dilemma

Dear Virginia,

It feels like our whole family is in mourning. Our daughter failed to get the results she needed to get into university earlier this month, and she is hugely disappointed. She's always been top in everything academic and has a great social life and this is really her first big setback. She's become extremely depressed and just stays in her room and any suggestions we make about trying again next year are, she says, out of the question. We have all reassured her that it doesn't matter and that we love her, but she is so cast down. She even refuses to see the doctor. Is there any way we can help her through this time? What do you suggest that we do? Yours, Geraldine

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