Virginia Ironside's Dilemmas: Does my depressed boyfriend deserve better?

"It has hardly anything to do with you whether the other person gets better or not."


Dear Virginia,

Last year, I finished a long relationship with a boyfriend who was ill. He never did what the doctor told him or tried to help himself, and eventually I called it a day. Recently, I fell in love with a lovely guy, but he’s depressed.

After a while, he became so dependent on me – I was buying all his food, and he kept popping over, needing help – that I couldn’t work or keep up with other friends. So I ended that, too. But now, I can’t sleep at night, missing him and worrying about him. I feel selfish and cruel, because he might have got better. Should I ask him back?

Yours sincerely,


Virginia says...

I’m sorry to go instantly into Professor Freud mode, but could it be that you had a parent or sibling who remained poorly for the whole of your childhood? It is this situation that usually prompts Lame Duck Syndrome – and you’re clearly suffering from it badly.

The theory goes that, because of circumstances beyond your control, you’ve learned how to be a carer all your life. The techniques have been instilled in you from an early age, and over the years, you’ve got better and better at it. You end up as a kindly, sympathetic person – but, because they remind you of childhood, love and home, you’re always drawn to people who either aren’t well or who have some kind  of handicap.

There’s a catch 22 to all this, though. Because if they refuse to help themselves or simply won’t get better, you’re left feeling, as you probably did as a child, inadequate and wanting. You’re desperate for them to recover, but they won’t or can’t and you feel it’s all your fault. All this takes you back to the familiar feelings of childhood.

On the other hand, if they do recover and suddenly become independent and happy, you start to feel rejected and useless. For you to feel loved, you need permanently to be on the brink of helping them get better. There must be occasional lights at the end of the tunnel, to keep you going, but basically they’ve got to remain dependent.

The flaw in this childish thinking is that it actually has hardly anything to do with you or your behaviour whether the other person gets better or not. Your first boyfriend, the one who refused to help himself or take any doctor’s advice, was clearly hell-bent on self-destruction and you were powerless to prevent it. The second one has turned out to be much the same. You were even buying his food! How could you have continued?

I think you’ve been very brave and self-preserving to have ended this last relationship. You realised that it would never work out, and you mustn’t go back on your decision. He’ll soon find someone else to latch onto, I promise. I’m afraid there are any number of people cursed by the Lame Duck Syndrome.

The person to help now is yourself. Why do you pick these hopeless cases? You’ll probably always find hopeless people a bit attractive, but do they all have be what seem to be professionial no-hopers?

Helping others is something you’re good at. Try to treat this as a gift. But when you’re in the middle of helping others, don’t forget about helping yourself at the same time. 

I’m sure that you’re only missing this  guy because of the person he reminds you of in your own past. I think that you should find a sympathetic counsellor with whom you can unpick these problems – because they will be able to help you not to feel so guilty when you give up, very sensibly, on a lost cause.

Readers say...

Don’t do it

Look after yourself first. You’ll be no good to anyone if you allow yourself to be overwhelmed. I used to be the same as you, but eventually realised I was doing nobody any good. There are times when you have to say no.

Sara Neill

by email

The fault is with you

The answer to your question about asking your former boyfriend back is a firm no. You should be asking a question of yourself: why you cannot sustain relationships and why you can give only short-term love and comfort to those who need it, when you profess to love them. Loving means giving and needing each other. Until you recognise this and see the fault as being within yourself, then far from feeling selfish and cruel for ending the relationship, it would be selfish and cruel to others for you to reignite this relationship or start another until you analyse yourself and learn what love is really about.

RL Davey

by email

Seek some therapy

You evidently seek, and appeal to, partners who are needy. Then they get too dependent, and you see that the relationship has become unbalanced and unsatisfactory. The question is, what has happened in your life to make you like this? I think you need to seek therapy to find out, before you tie yourself to a needy partner permanently. You deserve better. Good luck!

Alison Mace

by email

Spend some time on your own

I get the feeling that you are already aware that there is something about you that is attractive to – and attracted to – people who are overly dependent. This has stifled your happiness in each of these relationships. You say that you are missing your boyfriend – but you also say that you are worrying about him, so maybe what you really miss is the feeling of looking after him and being needed. If you think this is a pattern with you, why not spend some time on your own for a while to work out why you’re doing this and how you can have happier, more equal relationships.

Adele M

by email

Next week's dilemma

The other day, I took my 14-year-old goddaughter shopping. Afterwards, to amuse her, I showed her an old photo album, which included a photograph of her mother with her first husband – the marriage had only lasted a couple of months. But she seemed very upset and after I’d dropped her home, her mother  – my friend – rang, furious that I’d shown her the photo. She had never told her daughter that she had been married before being married to her dad. I feel terrible, but at the same time, isn’t it her fault for not being honest with her daughter?

Yours sincerely,


What would you advise Linda to do?  Write to Anyone whose advice is quoted or whose dilemma is published will receive a box of Belgian chocolates from (


Someone should tell Lady Gaga that porno-chic is out
Don't blame foreign players for England's demise at the World Cup
When will Britain admit to its alcohol problem?


React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Parts Advisor

£16500 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the leading Mercedes-Ben...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer

£27500 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Telemarketers / Sales - Home Based - OTE £23,500

£19500 - £23500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Experienced B2B Telemarketer wa...

Recruitment Genius: Showroom Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This global company are looking for two Showro...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A teenage girl uses her smartphone in bed.  

Remove smartphones from the hands of under-18s and maybe they will grow up to be less dumb

Janet Street-Porter
Rohingya migrants in a boat adrift in the Andaman Sea last week  

Burma will regret shutting its eyes to the fate of the Rohingya boat people

Peter Popham
Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor