Virginia Ironside's dilemmas: My sister has a new boyfriend, but we don't think he's right...

'There is something creepy about him and we fear she’ll get in too deep'

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The Independent Online

Dear Virginia,

My sister has split up with her boyfriend of 15 years and I thought she’d spend a bit of time coming to terms with life on her own. But she’s met a guy online and says she’s fallen madly in love. They came to stay recently and, on the rare occasions they emerged from the bedroom, they were all over each other – it was quite embarrassing. She says he’s very romantic and sends her poems and flowers, but we took an instant dislike to him. There is something really creepy about him and we fear she’ll get in too deep. This is so unlike her.  Any advice?

Yours sincerely,


Virginia says,

After a bereavement, many people shut down, sexually. For months, they find themselves completely uninterested. But another sign of bereavement is one that most people keep very secret. It’s a huge surge of sexual feeling. Bereaved people can really go on the sexual rampage. It’s a mystery why they experience these feelings, but bereavement counsellors have often noticed it when people open up to them. But, understandably, it’s not something that people talk about very often or openly. After all, it wouldn’t be seen as very appropriate, were someone to ask you, after your father or mother had died: “How are you feeling?”, if you were to answer, “Incredibly sexy!”

I suspect the image of the “merry widow” has come about because of these feelings, and explains why widows often feel socially isolated after their husbands die. It’s because the wives of other men feel very wary of asking them round. They think, at some level, that the widows might be champing to get into bed with any man going.

It was even suggested recently that Nigella Lawson and Charles Saatchi were tremendously physically attracted after her husband died. And that only some time later did Nigella realise, once the feelings of bereavement had faded, what she’d got into.

Clearly, bereavement can change you, not just emotionally but chemically as well. There’s some anecdotal evidence that women who have been trying desperately and unsuccessfully to get pregnant for years will sometimes conceive just after a parent dies.

And often, after a person has died, their nearest and dearest will suffer genuine pains that mimic the symptoms of the disease the person died from – again showing how physical the effects of bereavement can be, as well as emotional.

I suspect that this curious reaction is what’s happening with your sister. I know no one’s died, but she’s still suffering from bereavement. She’s been left with a gaping hole after her broken relationship, and a part of her has been desperate to fill it with anything, even an unsuitable bloke. It’s likely that, in a year or so, it will all burn itself out. Once the overwhelming sexual feelings have died down, she’ll be able to see this man as he really is – as you do.

But until then, you can only stand on the sidelines. If you express your disapproval, your sister will only be driven, I suspect, further into his arms. So be civil, try to focus on his nice points – everyone has some, however tiny – and keep a cool head. But if you can possibly persuade her to wait before she does anything silly – such as asking him to move in, marrying him, or giving him vast sums of money – so much the better.

And when she does finally come to her senses, as I suspect she will, don’t blame her or say you knew all along that she was being mad, but treat her with kindness and understanding, realising that this affair was almost certainly part of a grieving process and, poor girl, she can’t really help it.


Readers say...

Rejoice in her happiness

Many years ago, when I was engaged to my husband, I was aware that my sister and brother-in-law didn’t really approve of my choice. I can remember to this day the indignance I felt when my brother-in-law asked me one day if I was really intending to marry this guy. I mumbled that of course I was, but I always wished I had replied, “Well, my sister married you didn’t she?”, because I never really took to my brother-in-law. Anyway of course we all rubbed along and after a time, grew to respect one another. Just like parents, we cannot choose our children’s partners, and only risk alienating them if we try to interfere. I suggest that you rejoice in your sister’s happiness, and if by some chance it doesn’t work out, then be there to support her.

Name and address supplied


Be there for her, whatever happens

Splitting up with a boyfriend of 15 years was a major, major event in your sister’s life and she deserves to be happier now. As she certainly seems to be, creepy fella or no creepy fella! My advice is to let her enjoy her present situation and say nothing. But stay around and be available to pick up the pieces if disaster happens again. And who knows? Maybe it won’t. Maybe they will live  happy ever after.

Helen Braithwaite, by email


He might be just what she needs

When I broke up with my husband after 10 years, it was horribly painful. I, too, wanted to start dating straight away, and in fact, I found great solace in going on dates again – it was such a long time since I’d seen myself in terms of sexual attraction. I had a few brief relationships, and some, I can see with hindsight, were with men who were not the most suitable. I dare say my friends and family thought I’d gone a little crazy, too. But I had some great times, made some good friends and enjoyed new experiences – it was exactly what I needed at the time. So I don’t regret any of it. It was several years before I met my current partner, with whom I’ve very happy. Your sister deserves to have some fun. Give her time.

Marianne, by email


Next week's dilemma

My son’s 30 and he’s never had a job because he’s been drinking. He refused to believe he was an alcoholic for years, but now he’s admitted it, but says he can’t help it because it’s a disease and can be inherited. I see this is confirmed by a lot of literature on the subject. But how can he be helped? We’ve offered to pay for him to go to rehab, but he keeps saying he’ll give up, and does for a week or so and then starts again. My brother was an alcoholic and my wife has alcoholism in the family, so perhaps there’s something in what my son says. What do you think?

Yours sincerely,


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