Virginia Ironside's Dilemmas: Will my untidy daughter ever get a man?

This reader brought up his daughter alone after the death of his wife. Should he interpret the state of her student digs as evidence of his parental failures?


Dear Virginia,

I’ve brought up my daughter alone since my wife died several years ago. Now she’s in her first year at university and visiting her I was saddened to see her lavatory in a shocking state, her bed clothes filthy and her room full of old food. Despite everything spent on her education, she obviously didn't learn any ordinary domestic life skills. Who could teach her now? As a man, I’m worried that any potential boyfriend will turn away from my daughter when he sees how she lives and she’ll never get a permanent partner.


Yours sincerely,


Virginia says...

It's understandable to imagine that just because your daughter has left home that she is a fully formed adult, completely set in her ways, without any possibility of changing. But in fact most people of your daughter's age are in an incredible state of flux. They fall in love with unsuitable people, take unsuitable drugs, get drunk and live (like your daughter) in squalor. And then, come about early thirties, they're hoovering their flats, checking the sell-by dates on their food, showering obsessively and paying the rent on time. Indeed, sometimes they'll come round to their parents' places and tick them off for leaving the lights on or not changing the sheets.

Perhaps your daughter's messy as a reaction against the way her private education taught her. Perhaps she's just giving messiness a go, having never been messy before. Perhaps she's going out with some man who's said her room is too tidy and she's too obsessive and she's being a total slob in order to look cool.

It could be that she's terribly depressed. I have to say that's a possibility. One sign of depression is that people do "let themselves go". But if she manages to look nice and attractive when she goes out, it's unlikely. (Surely you've known people who've been perfectly turned out, and when you see how they live you wonder how on earth it's possible?) As for not getting a partner, have you ever known anyone who's fallen wildly in love and yet, on seeing the state of their room, has turned on his or her heel declaring, "well, though I love them, now I've seen the state of their room, the scales have fallen from my eyes!"

Love, you may remember from the old days, is blind. It's also deaf and has no sense of smell. Or, if it does, it will distort everything associated with your daughter so cleverly that even the pong of rotting food will turn to seductive perfume in the lover's nose.

I think you're just suffering from anxiety because your daughter's left home. You fear that without you she'll be completely unable to operate. You think she'll go to pieces, fall down a dark emotional well, and end up gibbering in a cardboard box under a bridge on the Thames. But honestly, that's what every parent thinks when a child leaves home. The idea that they might be able to cope without you is not only worrying but also, be honest, rather insulting. It means you're redundant. I think that may be your real worry – not that she'll never get a bloke.

Readers say...

Have a little faith

It may surprise you to learn this, but domestic activities are no longer a primary concern for most women – particularly young women who are away from home for the first time! Chances are your wife's passing did have a severe effect on your daughter, but a messy student room is not cause for alarm. My room was a tip while I was at university and I'm now happily living with a man who has not seen fit to ditch me because of my lacklustre cleaning skills. Have a little faith in your fellow man – and in your daughter.

Sarah, by email

Get up to date

I have never seen a well-kept kitchen/bedroom/bathroom in student accommodation in the four years I have been here. To assume she will live in that state for the rest of her life is an overreaction. What I find baffling and, quite frankly, insulting is your assumption that no man will want her as she lacks the domestic skills apparently needed to find a boyfriend or husband. We live in a different age and you should see more reasons for someone to love your daughter than her ability to cook and clean.

Rebecca, by email

Next week's dilemma

Dear Virginia,

My daughter started going out with a man two years ago. She's now 17, but though she's moved out to live with him nearby, she returns at weekends to get her washing done and re-connect with the family. Unfortunately the boyfriend comes too. He is from a very unstable background, has little education, he smokes, takes a bottle of wine up to their bedroom, and is rude to our sons. My husband's got a serious illness and has scant time for the way the two lovers carry on. How can I resolve this situation without making it worse?

Yours sincerely,


What would you advise Helen to do?

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