Virginia Ironside's dilemmas: How to move on after ten years of marriage?

I'm single but live in a small town where the eligible men aren't for me


Dear Virginia,

Having been married for 10 years, I now find myself alone. Although it’s two years since I was divorced, I simply can’t get used to being by myself. I have tried to find someone new, but it’s very difficult as I live in a small town and I seem to know most of the eligible men (all of two!) and I’m not interested in them. I’ve never lived on my own before, and I just feel so very lonely all the time, although I’ve got a good job and a small circle of friends. I just feel I can’t go on like this for the rest of my life – it seems so narrow. Any advice?

Yours sincerely, Lisa

Virginia says,

They do say that in order for a relationship  to survive, it requires a great deal of work from both partners. This is, however, nothing to the amount of work required to make a go of being single. The first is like tending a small garden. The second is like digging for a drop of water single-handedly in the middle of the desert.

First, I’d question this need you have for a man and I’d argue that you should be trying to make yourself self-sufficient, rather than finding a man for mutual propping up. Once you’re self-sufficient, at least up to a point (none of us is completely self-sufficient, however much we kid ourselves), then of course you can go man-hunting. But then you won’t be looking out of desperation. You’ll be hunting from a far greater position of strength. And if you don’t find a chap, well, tant pis. You’re fine on your own anyway.

Having said this, I’d imagine that it’s all far, far more difficult to do this in a small town. And I wonder if you shouldn’t either think of moving or, perhaps, taking a sabbatical. Even three months doing voluntary work abroad would help stretch your independent muscles. Or get involved in some area outside your comfort zone. Become a mentor to troubled teenagers. Volunteer in a hospital. Help the homeless. You say you know most of the “eligible men”, but have you thought that some of the men you consider “ineligible” might turn out to be eligible as well if you got to know them better? You say you feel your life is narrow, but it’s you who makes it narrow. You’re not confined in a small cell. You do have a key to the door. You could get out and do all sorts of different things – it just takes courage.

Remember, too, that you may be feeling depressed, and I wonder if you’ve yet got over your divorce. You’ve not just lost a partner, you know. You’ve lost a future with a man, and a whole identity of being someone’s wife. You’re like an actor who’s lost the part of supporting role. Now you’ve been given the script for the lead and you feel terrified. You feel you can’t learn the words and you’re too nervous to go on stage by yourself. But it’s do-able, I promise.

One of the first things to realise is that although everyone around you may seem to be happy and settled, the truth is that most people are incredibly screwed up a lot of the time, and often feel very unhappy and lonely, even if they’re married. Take the initiative. Ask friends over. Set up a film club or a supper club or even a book club. Be pro-active and don’t wait to be asked. You won’t be.

And if you can’t bring yourself to do that, get a cat or a dog, not a man. It may sound a corny idea, but at least then you’ll have a relationship with something outside yourself, and that alone can help start to build much-needed feelings of self-esteem.

Readers say...

Keep an eye on those unhappy marriages

There is only one thing worse than being married and that is not being married. The statistics seem to bear this out: there are almost as many people freeing themselves from wedlock as there are tying the knot. So although there are currently only two eligible men in your town, there will certainly be more, and indeed there may be many wishing they were free even now.

My advice is to bide your time before rushing into another relationship, but to actively survey the area by attending as many functions and social events as possible. Christmas is a good time to be friendly, as many people will just see it as seasonal goodwill on your part. Indeed, there may be those in relationships that have already broken down who are glad of your extra attention.

It can be a bit like looking for your ideal home. If you are determined to stay in the area, then you look around until you see the property you want. Although it’s currently occupied, you make discreet observations about when it is likely to be vacant… and then when the “for sale” sign goes up, you move in! No sense in letting it go to someone else less suited to it, just because you weren’t better prepared. My advice is to have a shortlist of a few desirable “properties” as I’m told that there is no such thing as a perfect man.

Patrick Steel, Manchester

Cast your net wider

Try making two lists – one of what you like about your life, and one of what you would like to change. You may find that you are more bored with your home and small town than you realise, and so perhaps it is time to contemplate a move to a new life in a new part of the country, or even the world. If, however you do not want to change where you live, then you need to import a new partner. 

Think of what interests you most and look for someone with overlapping (but not necessarily identical) interests. You can try traditional routes such as internet dating, or try a singles holiday or a cruise, ideally one with a social hostess who can help with introductions. You will need to pack some posh frocks, courage and an open mind. At the very worst, you will have had a lovely holiday and met new friends, and at best, who knows? My own imported Derbyshire Ram is now firmly rooted in the Scottish Highlands, having bought into my life and community 100 per cent. It can happen. Good luck.

Verity Walker, by email

Next week's dilemma

My son’s been living with a much older woman for many years. It’s too late for them to have children, but it is not too late for him to have children by another woman. I absolutely crave grandchildren, not just for myself but because I’m sure he’ll be sad, further on down the line, to find himself childless and saddled with an invalid. How can I tell him that, although I really like his girlfriend, I think the long-term consequences of this relationship will be very sad for him and that he should now move on before he becomes an irreplaceable prop in her health and mobility?

Yours sincerely, Sheila 

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


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