Virginia Ironside: Being sent away to live with boys is no preparation for adult life

Click to follow
The Independent Online

To any woman who's been involved with a man who had the misfortune to be sent away to public school, Professor Leonard's research will come as no surprise. Because we can assume that, since there aren't that many all-boy day schools, and that most boarding schools are private, the men in question are those creatures who have been sent away from home far, far, too young for there not to be some sort of damaging impact on their mental health.

No wonder more of them suffer from "malaise" or depression than boys sent to mixed schools! No wonder so many of them are, as their wives complain, so emotionally unavailable. A child who's had a bad experience of early separation is not going to be letting his emotions run free very easily. And certainly, having suffered this kind of trauma in his youth (by being wrenched from his loving family) he is not likely to find it easy to love or trust anyone ever again.

Nor, after enforced sharing at school, often in large dormitories, will he find it easy not to regard isolation – in his den or immersed in his hobbies as something of a necessary antidote to his past.

And though women are pretty much of a mystery to every man, how very much more mysterious they must seem to boys brought up in the world of public schools. From an early age, they are denied the education of studying females' peculiar giggly behaviour with other girls, experience first hand the early results of the symptoms of PMT, come to terms with, often, their mixture of ruthlessness and vulnerability – and discover – well, up to a point – how they work. And how surprising it must be for them to discover that while their male friends at school find farting, jokes about bums and sex hilarious, and regard paying attention to how they look ludicrously girly, women, when they come across them later, just don't share the same sense of humour, and nor do they appreciate their partner developing a growing beer belly or hairs growing out of their nostrils. Why do girls at single-sex schools not have the same depression and marriage-failure rates? Partly because girls are not usually sent away so young, and partly because girls generally are more adaptable than men.

Many men, like Jonathan Aitken and Jeffrey Archer, who've attended both prison and public school, say that they are very similar. Neither are experiences likely to make a person feel more loved, secure, tolerant and happy in their own skin – ingredients that really do help make relationships work.