Virginia Ironside's Dilemmas: 'I'm worried that my daughter's boyfriend split up with her because of me'

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Q. Dear Virginia, My daughter's boyfriend has split up with her. She's 20, but he's 35, wants to get married, and says she's too young. I'm not convinced this is true. During the summer, I had a back injury, put on a lot of weight, let the house go, and was pretty bad-tempered with pain. Now I'm worried that he may have thought my daughter was going to grow into someone like me, and that I'm the real reason he was put off. Do you think I'm right to feel guilty? Yours sincerely, Annie

A. I have to say that I think, out of all the people feeling guilty at this very moment, only about 10 per cent are "right to feel guilty" – right to feel that if they hadn't or had done something, then things would have turned out differently, and better. Guilt is a funny emotion, and is often used as a kind of substitute for the much more awful feeling of powerlessness.

Do you really believe that someone of 35 is sufficiently full of foresight to imagine a young girl turning into her mother? That is the sort of thinking of old people, people like you, not young people. This man just hasn't lived long enough to get into that pattern of thinking. If your mood or behaviour had actually crossed his mind, then he'd be much more likely to imagine himself as a knight in shining armour, rescuing your daughter from a mad mum, than as someone who was at risk of chaining himself to a future nightmare.

Not only that, but presumably he's known you before you were in pain. Presumably he knows that you are capable of being reasonably good-natured and fun (assuming you are, of course) when you're well. He may not yet be old enough to take the very long view, but he is old enough to realise that when people are ill, they're never at their shining best.

I think you should take his reason for not marrying your daughter at face value. He says your daughter is too young to get married – and she is. He has been very responsible and mature in realising that most girls of 20 are simply incapable of knowing who they're in love with. And he also knows that they're likely to change dramatically between the ages of 20 and 30 – and by that I don't mean that he fears she'll be turning into an old bat; just that she will change, and that her taste in men will change as well. And anyway, aren't you slightly relieved that she's not getting hitched to someone 15 years older? It might be fine now, but when she's 55 and he's 70, it would be another kettle of fish.

It wouldn't be good for her to marry anyone at all now, not even someone of 20. She is just not grown-up enough.

The truth is, I'm sure, that actually you had no power or influence at all in this situation, however much it may gall you to acknowledge it. It was nothing to do with you – it was to do with her and him.

Try to be pleased that this relationship has taught your daughter a lot, without hurting her too drastically, rather than lie awake at night imagining it was your fault.

Readers say...

She's well rid of him

If your daughter's partner was put off by a woman tormented with pain, then shame on him; she is well rid. But I don't think the split has anything to do with you. Either he met someone else and is letting her down gently, or the relationship just ran its course. I think you are feeling guilty for your behaviour during the illness. Talk to your daughter about it, and reassure her of your love.

Christina Burton, St Leonards, East Sussex

What of his parents?

The 35-year-old man may have done Annie's daughter a favour by ditching her. At 20, the girl is young and inexperienced. And the age difference could become a problem. If they have children, he will be in his fifties with teenage offspring, and it requires a special sort of man to remember what it felt like to be 16. By the time he retires, the daughter may have a good career and be full of energy. Could he handle that? Never mind whether the daughter may "turn into Annie"; what are the man's parents like, especially his father? All possible role models need scrutiny.

Name and address supplied

Stop blaming yourself

How can you possibly believe this is your fault? If the man truly loved her, nothing would have put him off; not age, not a fat, grumpy mother, nothing! He simply doesn't want to be with her any more. Stop blaming yourself. Be there for her, and rest assured that a new, more deserving lover will soon come her way.

Sandra Griffiths, Lowestoft, Suffolk

Talk to him about it

Tell him! Tell him exactly what you fear, as simply as you have in your letter to Virginia. Say it's not in your character to behave as you did after your injury – which, I assume, is true. And, in my experience, it makes sense for a man to look closely at the mother of a possible wife. Your daughter can support you if he's up to agreeing that he may have been influenced in the way you think.

John by email