Virginia Ironside's Dilemmas: I have a long-term relationship with a divorced man but I'm starting to feel like a mistress

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Dear Virginia,

For the last six years I've been having a very happy relationship with a divorced German man. Despite the distance, we see each other every couple of months, and he's met my children, family and friends, and they get on brilliantly. But he has a daughter of 25, and he always makes excuses when I say I want to meet her. I haven't met any of his family or friends. He's resistant to getting married and I'm starting to feel like a mistress. Do you think I should end it?

Best wishes, Zara

It's always difficult ending something when there doesn't seem a real reason, except a vague idea that things ought to be "going somewhere" and they're not. It's easy to break up when one of you has an affair, or he's spent all your money on gambling or you've attacked him with scissors on several occasions, but to break up just because things are sailing along reasonably happily but in no particular direction? Not quite a good enough reason for a major split, is it?

Obviously you don't like feeling like a mistress – but quite honestly, if you feel as if you're being used, remember that you're also using him. It must be quite nice to have this amiable character popping over every now and again, someone who, too, is so popular with your family and friends. If you gave him up, what then? Do you really imagine that you could just take your pick among the acres of decent blokes lying around in the fields waiting for you to come and pluck them up?

Obviously you'd like more of a relationship, but wouldn't it be possible to be happy with what you've got? And as for his daughter, do remember that daughters are really peculiar about their dads. I know. I was the daughter of a divorced dad. It's extremely difficult when they decide to marry again. There you are, thinking you are your father's special "little lady" (not an expression my father would have used in a million years, but you get the drift) and suddenly it turns out that you're not.

Your lover is unwilling to rock the boat. His daughter, even though she's 25, may still be hurting badly from the divorce. It's clear he's waiting for her to find a man of her own before he introduces her to you. And why not?

You've hung around with this man for six years. I'd wait another six before you start getting really antsy. And since pushing him and pressuring him doesn't seem to work (it very rarely does) why not try being slightly unavailable next time he suggests meeting? If he appears to be unfazed, then at least you know exactly where you are. And it would then that would be the time to start casting around for someone new – it seems you have lots of time – and only call it a day with your present lover when you've found one. If he really is just using you as a very happy and convenient addition to an already full life, it wouldn't be very hurtful. And you wouldn't have to experience that agonising moment of regret, that you might well feel, if you just dropped him at present.

Readers say...

Is he really divorced?

The fact that you are asking the question "should I end it?" suggests to me that this is the conclusion you have already reached. Distant relationships seem to work mainly because there is distance and quite possibly that is what has been so appealing to both of you over the last six years. It seems that actually

meeting his family and friends is a step too far for him. Maybe it would be good for you to explore why he is keeping you and the people close to him apart? It sounds like a classic case of married man syndrome to me! Are you sure that he is really divorced?

Julia Meanwell, Polegate, East Sussex

Respect yourself

You only see this man every couple of months after six years of going out with him. Is this all that you want? Don't you want to see someone more often, at least a few days a week? At short notice when you need a hug? Perhaps to move in together and build a home? You say he is resistent to getting married, but the first stage is surely for you to move to Germany or for him to move here. Clearly if you haven't met any of his family or friends, and he hasn't moved or ask you to move, and is resistent to marriage, then this man is quite happy with what he has right now – a woman to see every few months on a trip to the UK– and is not interested in anything more. Should you end it? Only if you respect yourself and believe that you have the right to happiness and the regular company and support of a good, open and sharing man. While you continue to see this man you are wasting years when you could be meeting someone special.

Heather Devine, By email

Find a friend, not a lover

What do you want from a relationship? Ask yourself whether you are ever likely to get it from this man. If not, try to find the courage to leave and give yourself the chance of something better. But if you stay with him, make it a postive decision: do it only because the benefits definitely outweigh the negatives. And do it with love and no expectation. You can't change other people; you can only change yourself.

Kay Gale, Twickenham

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