Virginia Ironside's Dilemmas: What do I get for my son's new (and difficult) fiancée?

"As I write this, my heart sinks as I witness the inner hippie coming out in me"

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The Independent Online

Dear Virginia,

My son has just got engaged and recently he’s been bringing his fiancée round to get to know the family. Our problem is that we can’t feel anything for her. She is from a different background to ours, which we don’t mind, but it does mean she has different values to us. She also has quite a temper and can go into a sulk if things don’t go her way. She recently snapped at my husband, which really upset him. My son seems oblivious to all this but should I mention it, so he knows our feelings before he gets married?

Yours sincerely,


Virginia says...

Recently, I was going through my books to chuck some of them out and came across a much-thumbed copy of The Road Less Travelled by M Scott Peck. I was about to throw it into the charity pile, with a sneering, sophisticated laugh, telling myself I’d grown out of such pseudo-spiritual tosh, but I then re-read it, and something he writes would be very apt for you, Deborah, to bear in mind.

“Genuine love is volitional rather than emotional. The person who truly loves does so because of a decision to love. This person has made a commitment to loving, whether or not the loving feeling is present. If it is, so much the better; but if it isn’t, the commitment to love, the will to love, still stands and is still exercised.”

You have only two options in the face of the situation with your son. To tell him you think he’s making a terrible mistake and confess you can’t stand his fiancée. Or to make a decision to change your mind about her and look for the good in her.

As I write this, my heart sinks as I witness the inner hippie coming out in me, a band of flowers round my hair and full of peace and love, but my advice isn’t all based on wafty good nature.

It’s actually a lot easier and more sensible to take this compassionate view. If you write down every nice thing about your future daughter-in-law and try to understand her bad behaviour – which I bet is based a great deal on fear of the fact that you are of a different culture to her and she feels very uncertain around you – she will feel the warmth coming from you and her behaviour will start to change dramatically.

Presumably, your son isn’t an idiot. He doesn’t love this woman because she’s vile. Admittedly, no doubt his own feelings are coloured by sexual attraction, which yours aren’t, but even so there must be some things about her that he admires and cherishes. Can you find out what they are? (And you’ll have to find a subtler way of asking him than “What on earth do you see in her?”) Once you start to see your future daughter-in-law through his eyes, you’ll see another side to her.

I’m not saying that she isn’t rude and difficult. But she must be other things as well. Perhaps she is brave? Perhaps she has an original and spontaneous side you haven’t yet seen? Dig around and find something nice about her. Give a great deal of weight to the idea that she’s not horrible, she’s frightened. Focus on that and soon other lovable characteristics things will appear, I’m sure. 

Love isn’t all about feelings, by any means. It can, quite cold-bloodedly, be fostered and fed if you’re willing to try hard enough. And if you find that impossible, then simply love her because you love your son.


Readers say...

Have you made her welcome?

If by “different” you mean “inferior”, or “common”, then there is no way you can address this without offending your son, however tactful you attempt to be. His loyalty will lie with her, because he loves her and intends to marry her. He won’t obediently ditch her because you find her disagreeable. Her occasional rudeness may be the result of her not being made to feel genuinely welcome, perhaps. Are you pursing your lips every time she says “serviette”, or refers to lunch as dinner? If so, desist for your son’s sake and look for her positive attributes.

Rachel Davies

by email


Give it time

I cringe to think about it now, but I didn’t think much of my daughter-in-law when I first met her – nearly 20 years ago now. It took time, but now I love her dearly and think of her as a true friend. I’m not really sure what changed, but young people can be inconsiderate – or sometimes just a bit gauche and socially awkward – and older ones, especially mothers, perhaps, a bit judgemental. And she is mother to my lovely grandchildren. So my advice would be to give it time – you don’t know her and can’t be expected to fall head over heels, as your son has. You both love him, so keep an open mind and take it from there.

Name and address supplied


You won’t change his mind

I don’t think that you should say anything to your son – for the simple reason that I feel sure that he’s aware of your feelings already. Talking to him about it would bring it out into the open, but it seems unlikely that he will have failed to notice your disenchantment with his fiancée, when he has been bringing her round to see how you all get along. He will be quite aware that her “values” are not chiming with yours, and that she has managed to upset his father. And I would guess that her view of you may not be entirely complimentary, either.

What do you expect to achieve by drawing his attention to this? He’s not going to change his mind and call off the wedding because of anything you say, however much you wish he would. All you will have done is make things awkward between your son and yourselves. So, do your best to hide your feelings, and to find some common ground with your future daughter-in-law – there must be some. Hopefully, she will meet you halfway and you can all learn to get along. 

Maria Christou

London N7

Next week's dilemma

My husband and I have been in the acting business all our lives, and although we’ve just been able to make a living, we know how hard it can be. Now our only daughter, who’s 18, wants to follow in our footsteps and we’re desperate to discourage her.

The truth is that she’s not very good, and there’s no chance she’ll be able to make any headway. And long periods of “rest” wouldn’t suit her. When we suggest it might not be the right thing for her to do, she says that we followed our hearts, so why can’t she? Is there any way we can get her to change her mind?

Yours sincerely,



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