Virginia Ironside's Dilemmas: My partner died a year ago and I have been having an affair with his friend. He recently had a one-night stand with a mutual friend - should I take him back?

Dear Virginia,

My partner died a year ago, and I’ve been comforted by an old friend of his. We started an affair, but didn’t talk about commitment. Then he told me he’d had a one-night stand with a mutual friend, and I dropped him. Now, I’m more unhappy than I was over my partner’s death. Do I take him back? He wants to see me on whatever terms.

Yours sincerely, Nona

A drama like this, while always agonising, can be, at the risk of sounding Pollyanna-ish, quite useful. It's as if a new beam of light has been shone on a relationship, enabling you to look at things from a completely different angle.

You've been puttering along for a while in a vague, non-committed, open-ended way, and now his action has put the whole thing on the line. You're surprised by his action, and you're surprised by your reaction. So what exactly is going on?

Are you perhaps a lot more involved than you thought you were? And is he, knowing now how much he risked losing, suddenly aware that you mean much more to him than he thought? Whatever the answers, they're bound to be useful.

Now, it's very rare in life that we come across someone we feel comfortable with, both conversationally and sexually. So it does seem a terrible shame to throw this man aside, a man who remembers your late lover, and who shares with you, presumably, something of your past. Now he is actually begging you to get back together "on any terms".

Which sounds as if perhaps his reaction to what he has done, and how you have reacted, have surprised him, too.

It would be useful to find out what this brief fling meant to him. Was he actually aware that he was in danger of falling in love with you, and had this one-night stand as a way of testing your feelings for him? Funny way to do it, I'll grant you, but there it is. Or did he sleep with this woman protectively – to show himself that he was still free and not hooked on you emotionally?

There's also the fact that he told you. Why would he do this? If he didn't feel remotely guilty, there would have been no need to confess. Perhaps this was a way for him to say: "Look, I like you and am fond of you, but by doing this I'm telling you loud and clear that I have no interest in you as a long-term partner."

Either this incident will have made it clear that you are both far more deeply involved than you both thought, or it might, like a horrible dowsing of cold water, make you realise that he's not interested in the way part of you, clearly, is.

Either way, if you do consider seeing each other again, it will be on very different terms indeed. The relationship has now changed chemically. Perhaps you will no longer want to sleep with him. Or perhaps, as I suspect, you may try to return to the old relationship but this time you will realise that this man isn't who you thought he was. Maybe he is the cad you suspect him to be. Maybe not. It may well be that in future you will just find you're not getting enough out of it all to bother continuing.

I know all this sounds a bit glib – one door closing, another opening, that kind of thing – but actually it is probably more a case of your getting used to an entirely new set of circumstances in an entirely new relationship – a relationship that might be completely unfulfilling and not worth maintaining, or one that's fruitful and inspiring. But it's only by returning to it, and finding out where you both stand, that you can find out.

Readers say

Don't pursue him

When a partner dies, the bereaved can feel abandoned and let down. When your lover slept with someone else, this opened again a wound that has not yet healed, and it needs time to do this. If you did not discuss commitment with this man, he may have thought that yours was an "open" relationship. Still, do you really want to be with someone who is into casual sex and can so misread your character and needs, after years of friendship? You deserve a lot better. Please don't pursue him. You don't need to add to your grief. When you are ready, you will meet someone who shares your values. I don't know if you have already considered this, but bereavement counselling can provide great support and comfort through the dark times.

Christina Burton

St Leonards, East Sussex


Try to start afresh

Sadly, and perhaps in grief because of the loss of her partner, Nona has allowed herself to drift into another relationship (or affair, as she puts it) without thinking about how exclusive she wants it to be. This may have been a source of comfort to her at the time, but a shoulder to cry on has led to something else, something more serious. Since both parties are adults, it is unfair to lay the blame for her boyfriend's one-night stand solely on him – neither of them spoke about commitment before.

Nona should now take some time to go back to basics. It is not simply a matter of taking him back or dropping him; rather that they should both assess if and how they want this relationship to progress. It appears that they both want to see each other again and it would be a shame not to start afresh, with clearly defined boundaries to avoid any further misunderstandings in future.

Mei Ling Mak

Hampstead, north London


Face up to your pain

In the first year of grief, it is really hard to believe that the person is actually gone, which is why it can get harder, not easier, as time goes by. Perhaps your upset over this man's action is not really about him but the start of the real pain for the loss of your partner. Maybe you need to talk to someone about your partner.

As to your friend – can you keep him as a friend without any sexual involvement? Do you really want to be committed to someone who has one-night stands? And, in truth, was he not in fact some kind of distraction for you? If you allow yourself to face up to the pain of your loss, you will be much better equipped emotionally to cope with new relationships in the future.

Karen McMullan



He's not a nice man

He doesn't sound like a very nice man, or a very good friend to your deceased partner. I know these things happen, but to then sleep with a mutual friend beggars belief.

John Stroud

By Email


Talk it over with him

It's possible you have been blocking out your grief while having your affair with your partner's friend. So it is hitting you harder now that you have dropped him. Please don't shoot yourself in the foot; if you are happy with him, and he was honest with you about his one-night stand, why not talk with him? Explore each other's feelings; why did he want to do this? How do you really feel about each other? Gentle exploration and time will help you both see how things are. You have both lost someone close and dear to you, and you need to communicate to find out if what you have is real and strong enough to overcome what you have both been through with the loss of your lover/friend. I wish you both the best.

Caroline Bucknall


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