Dear Virginia, I was very unhappy when my boyfriend of three years suddenly dropped me. It’s taken me six months to get over him and I still don’t feel I’ve recovered. I really thought we might get married. Now I’ve got a new boyfriend, who I like a lot and who’s kind and considerate. In many ways he’s a much nicer person, but I still hanker after my old boyfriend. But my ex got in touch recently and when we met he said he’d made a terrible mistake and wanted to get back together. Do you think I should risk it? I feel so torn – can’t stop thinking about him! Yours sincerely, Moira
Virginia says... I can't help feeling very wary, I'm afraid. It's quite true that, knowing you're getting seriously involved with someone else, your boyfriend might have suddenly realised what he's lost. He may have looked around a bit and discovered that actually there's no one who comes up to your standards anywhere to be found. He may wish he could put the clock back.
But – and this is a real possibility – he might be one of those unhappy people who, the moment they get too close to anyone, wants to push them away. These people are known, rather scathingly, as "commitment-phobes" but as one who is myself extremely cautious about getting too close to anyone, I feel they should be pitied rather than condemned. Ask yourself: what was his relationship like with his mother? If he isn't relaxed with her, and feels ambivalent about his parents, it's probably because at some point in his past they hurt him deeply. Or, to be accurate, he felt they hurt him deeply. Whether they did or not doesn't really come into it. That way, he associates love with agonising pain. It's a horrible situation. He's longing to get close but at the same time terrified of being hurt. In the same way as children of abusive parents often go for abusive partners, because the abuse feels, in some distorted way, like "home" to them, so people like your boyfriend can really only love people when they're quite a few degrees away from them.
At this moment, you're a few degrees away from your ex. Now the boundaries are clear and you're not completely involved with your boyfriend, it could be that he suddenly feels free to love you – as I'm sure he does – because there's no risk of being too close. The moment you left your boyfriend – who you admit is much nicer than your ex – and started talking marriage to your ex, he'd scarper again. And he probably wouldn't even know why.
I'd have coffee with your ex. In public. In the cold light of day. Don't even dream of making it an evening date and a make sure you leave on the dot. Ask him if he wants to get married. If there's any shilly-shallying at all, or mumbles about "waiting and seeing", forget it.
But if he says he's certain you're the one and starts talking about rings and weddings, then you might consider it. But whatever you do, don't rush into anything. You've got too much to lose. "Niceness" may not feature as a top characteristic in your list of what you want in a boyfriend, but it's exactly what you want in a husband. And father of your children.
Move on without him
A reality check is in order here. After a break-up that caused you so much pain, you should not risk being hurt again by this guy. He took up three years of your life, which was more than enough time to make a serious commitment. He had his chance, and now he's simply toying with you. Today you're older and wiser: for your own self-preservation, you have to take control of you emotions. Let him go, and focus on your new relationship. Move on and don't look back.
Give him a chance
I know a woman who dumped a lovely boyfriend for spurious reasons after a happy two years together. Six months later, regretting it, she called him, and when he readily, and forgivingly, agreed to meet she was so overwhelmed with relief, she had to lean against the wall to prevent falling to the ground.
That woman was me. That forgiving boyfriend has been my glorious and beloved husband for 30 years. We all make a foolish decision sometimes. Don't hold it against him.
Next week's dilemma
I've got two friends who I really like, but they often find it hard getting on with each other and are always falling out. Elisa showed me an email she'd written to Valerie, written in the heat of the moment – but luckily she hadn't sent it – and I said she couldn't possibly send it and I re-wrote it. She sent it off and now Valerie has received this email, and has asked me how to reply. In one way I feel pleased with myself to be playing the role of peacemaker, but in another way I'm feeling I'm betraying both of them and wish I hadn't got involved. Can you advise?
What would you advise Eleanor to do? Email your dilemmas and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Anyone whose advice is quoted will receive a £25 voucher from the wine website Fine Wine Sellers (finewine.sellers.co.uk)