Virginia Ironside’s Dilemmas: My new man can turn quite nasty

Dear Virginia,

I've met a man I love very much. He's charming, my friends think he's gorgeous, and he never lets me pay for anything. But occasionally, if I don't want to do what he wants, he can turn quite nasty. Afterwards he always apologises. He isn't friends with any of his exes. He's also had trouble in a couple of jobs, which he says wasn't his fault. He's asked me to move in with him but I want to move in with the nice person he is really, not the nasty one he is occasionally! What should I do?

Yours sincerely,

June

If only we could cherry-pick other people's characteristics! We could have Tiger Woods without the infidelity, or Tony Blair without the yearning to go to war. Better still, we could cherry-pick our own characteristics. I can think of quite a few in myself that I would happily do without.

Unfortunately, we can't. We're lumbered with the whole picture. There is no "nice person" your boyfriend "really is", June. There is no nice person on the surface and a nasty one underneath, or vice versa. Your boyfriend is utterly generous, charming, vile and bullying all at the same time. And the truth is that you can't have the nice bit without the others. They are all joined at the hip like Siamese twins.

I have to say that from what you tell me, your boyfriend sounds to me rather dangerous. Charming and selfish – and, in the end, though you don't spell it out, abusive when thwarted. And I suspect that once your boyfriend has got you rather more under his thumb, without a place of your own to flee to, he may well decide to reveal rather more of his nasty side than the charming side you see at present.

It sounds to me as if he is something of a narcissist. I'm not a great one for labelling, but having looked up "narcissistic personality disorder" on the net, and been involved with a couple of people who share those characteristics, I can now spot them a mile off. And the first thing that lights up as a warning is that very word you use that makes him so fascinating: "charm".

Narcissists have a curious way of being able to tune into other people and deliver exactly what they want to hear. They're often rather good at doing imitations of other people, too.

And yet despite this apparent empathy, it never gets much further than this mirroring of other people's feelings. They can't actually ever give you what you want. They can be arrogant, and always convinced they're right – something that can be attractive in a man – but they can also get furious if their position is challenged in any way. Underneath, it seems they often realise they're different in some way, and harbour feelings of resentment and envy for others. They're excellent liars, they have no shame, and they can be dreadfully manipulative. And they are capable of being extremely angry and upset when thwarted. Sometimes I feel it's a real condition, as autism or Asperger's syndrome are conditions.

If this checklist squares up with this man you're with, don't for one moment think of moving in with him; wait at least another six months or a year. By then I think you'll get to know his moods and ways of thinking, and at some point the penny may well drop when you refuse to move in with him. I wouldn't like to be around when you break the news.

Readers say...

This could get ugly

I read June's dilemma to my 16-year-old son over breakfast. He replied instantly, "Run away, he's a bad guy."

Really, June, why do you assume that the "real" man is the nice guy and not the nasty guy? Although we want to believe that nasty traits are an aberration, and that if we are loving enough we will help the nice side triumph, this is rarely the case. With your man, it is a million-to-one shot. His history suggests vile treatment of previous women and an inability to be civil, even within work relationships. If not for his good looks and "paying for everything", he probably wouldn't be able to land a new victim. You may not have seen the very worst of him yet – violence may be awaiting you if you are living under the same roof. Take my son's advice and run away before things get ugly.

J Bassinette (and son)

London NW5

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Get out while you can

Does his nasty side ever come out in public? I'd be willing to bet it doesn't! This man sounds like the typical control freak who wants to own "his woman". This type of control can vary between limiting, or cutting, all other social contact, wanting to control your ability to have or express an opinion on any subject, dictating what you do, or wear – up to and including bullying and violence.

Women in violent and/or controlling relationships at first see what they want to see in their loved one, the nice, caring, generous person, not that occasional glimpse of the unpleasant or nasty side.

At best, this can lead to an unhappy and lonely relationship, watching what you say and do, your personality quashed by sarcasm, disdain and long silences, without friends and possibly isolated from relatives (as I have been). At worst, all the above plus physical violence. The nice person is not the real one, the glimpses of the "nasty side" are the real person, which will increase as you become more attached and less likely to leave, so do it now! Or like me, you could waste a lifetime wishing you had.

Name and address supplied

The simple answer...

Dump him. He's a sociopath.

Colin spencer

By email

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He'll wreck your life

Many years ago, I made the mistake of living with a man who got "nasty" if things didn't go his way. Before I moved in with him, he too paid for everything. It made him look good in front of friends and was also a form of control. The rows I had with this man were often scary – most ended in tears, often his, as he grovelled in apology at upsetting me. This was usually followed by some extravagant gift to make amends. I then felt awful for upsetting him, and believed him when he began saying things like "now look what you've made me do", as he laid into me with fists or feet. But in front of other people, he was charm itself.

Bit by bit, I realised how much control he had got over my life. I lost all my self-confidence and simply lived in his shadow, dreading the next row.

June, do not, under any circumstances, move in with this man. Angry men have agendas you don't even want to know about. They are a bottomless pit of need for approbation. If you don't come up to scratch in his eyes, he will take it out on you for letting him down. He'll put you on a pedestal by telling you how much he needs you and loves you, and thus begins a relationship of co-dependence that is very, very hard to get away from. For your own sake, get out now before the "nastiness" turns into violence. If you doubt me, try and talk to some of his exes.

Name and address supplied

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