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Virginia Ironside's Dilemmas: Too young for the Women's Institute?

Our reader seeks company while her husband works away from home, but women see her as a threat and men are only after one thing

Dear Virginia,


My partner works away a lot so I spend most of my time on my own. I’ve been depressed and suicidal in the past following a bereavement, but I’m now ready to get out and make friends. I’ve tried volunteering, joining campaigning groups and clubs, but in a group of people I seem to be ignored. I’m also very conscious of being a woman alone. Women seem to see me as a threat and men to think I want a one-night stand. There are thousands of women who live like I do but society doesn’t seem to offer us anything. I’m a bit young for the WI. Any ideas?


Yours sincerely,




Virginia says...

I have to say I don’t think you’ve done a lot of research, if you’ll forgive me saying so. The WI is absolutely packed with young women, and if you think they’re a gang of toothless old jam-makers, you’re wrong. They’re constantly campaigning and discussing contemporary issues – there’s nothing they’re not up to.

And what about book clubs? Not my cup of tea, I grant you, but if you go for a group that is only interested in the affairs of the mind and generally Higher Things, then the last thing they’d be thinking about is sex. Even better, what about a university course to get trained up for a job you’re interested in? Or, if you have no children, the best time-filler of all, work with kids. There’s volunteer reading in schools or training to be a teaching assistant.

But what are these weird circles you’re moving in anyway, in which everyone is thinking about sex? Are you living in part of a swinging belt and the penny hasn’t dropped yet? Or are you so staggeringly attractive that when you come into the room men gasp and women hug their husbands to them? If so, then develop a less flirtatious manner, ditch the make-up and when you’re with this gang, dress like a dowdy librarian from the 1940s.

I’m wondering, anyway, if you’re not misreading the signs for some reason. I’m not doubting people find you attractive, but the idea that all men are lunging at you or all women are shunning you sounds rather distorted. Has this always been the case with you? Are you making a general rule as a result of a couple of passes from blokes and a lack of eye-contact from a few women who just don’t really get on with you? If I’m right, you might find that counselling could help sort this out. Check on how this all squares up with your past. Perhaps your father was flirtatious with you and your mother was jealous – it’s a glib theory but one perhaps worth pursuing if it rings a bell.

And let’s say you’re just one of these women who can’t help being attractive to the opposite sex, even when you assume the guise of an elderly Estonian peasant who’s lived all her life being beaten by the elements , then don’t take it all so seriously. Swat the unwelcome advances away with a brusque: “Oh, for God’s sake, grow up!” And if you’re pursued further, threaten to tell your partner. Unless all the men you know are total sex maniacs, word would soon get around you  weren’t available.

Readers say...

It’s him you need

I used to feel like you do. You will find that people accept you best when you know who you are and do what you enjoy doing. First of all you have to find something that pleases you, not other people. You don’t mention children so I assume there are none. Is there a reason you cannot travel with your husband? Or could he work nearer to home? How are things when he is there? Is it something you could discuss?

The WI isn’t like it used to be, and maybe you could host suppers for your volunteering buddies. But fundamentally I feel that you would like your husband home more. So tell him. Meanwhile, enjoy being able to do what you want, when you want.

L Webb, By email

See real friends

Are you sure you aren’t imagining it? How do you know that women think you are a threat and men think you want a one night stand? Maybe you should try and do things with your existing friends such as go to the gym or on walks. Joining groups and clubs can take a while to make friends especially if you are shy or introverted.

Nowmi, Stafford

Next week’s  dilemma

Dear Virginia,

I know my marriage is over. We haven’t had sex for years, and though we rub along, we have nothing in common and I don’t love my husband any more. We have two children – twins aged 10  – and he’s not even that interested in them. It’s just that I daren’t make the first move. I’m so frightened of what he would say or do. And I’m frightened of being on my own. How can I overcome this paralysis, which, if I don’t do something about it, will go on for the rest of my life? It’s such a terrible prospect.

Yours sincerely,


What would you advise Frances to do?

Email your dilemmas and comments to dilemmas@independent.co.uk. Anyone whose  advice is quoted or whose dilemma is published  will receive a £25 voucher  from the wine website  Fine Wine Sellers (finewine.sellers.co.uk)