“Wife of 22 years or new-ish lover? Help me make a choice!” Thoughtful Advice from a Psychoanalytic Perspective. No Glib Life Tips.

Slowly sinking into hopeless depression, I hate my despicable situation. I’m 46, in a 22-year relationship with the most attractive woman. We have three children: 15, 17 and 20. When the kids came I loved every minute but it was tough on our relationship. She felt isolated and lonely and the arguments started — with her constantly threatening to take the kids away.

I put all my time and energy into working and made our house fantastic to make her happy. But I always gave in to pacify her, so she wouldn’t want to leave. Over the years, this was to be the catalyst for my gradually disliking her and wanting to leave myself — even though I still love her dearly.

My main problem was our sex life. I was and still am highly sexed. She never was — always a problem but early on I was blinded by love. We’ve had many rows, discussions and even silence, so I’ve left her alone — but can’t hide my disappointment. I was faithful, despite chances of sex with other women.

At my age I began to think about the time passing. I recently worked for someone I had an instant connection to. Over a few weeks, we grew close and discussed my relationship. I expressed my unhappiness and my plan to leave when my youngest was 18.

I really liked this woman. Despite her terrible time with her ex, she was so gentle and understanding.

The job ended, she hinted at no-strings fun and so it began. It seemed perfect — until she told me she had a date. We’d agreed she would remain free to find a suitable man, but it hit me like a ton of bricks.

I realised I’d fallen for her — and everything changed from fun to heartache. I couldn’t bear the thought of losing this woman to someone else. It wasn’t just sex. She was my soulmate. She felt the same and didn’t go.

I left my partner and am now living with my mother — my head completely messed up. Having wanted freedom, I never stopped to think of its effect on everyone I loved. I hate myself for lying.

No one knows about my lady-friend. My turmoil begins with this choice: either go back and give my partner time to change her ways — or choose life with this new woman. I find my partner more sexually attractive than the new lady, but she touches my soul.

My children understand I need time to sort things with Mum — but I’m desperate. Knowing I must say goodbye to one of the ladies makes me cry. I tried Relate but they could see I wasn’t fit to be there, so I’m about to see the doctor to get some counselling.

In a perfect world I’d return to my family, but I’m afraid things will just go back to the way they were and I’ll have lost my soulmate.

Please help me make the right choice

This letter first appeared in the Daily Mail. 

My Thoughts:

The first line of your letter is the clearest and most honest (though you are not ‘slowly sinking’, you have sunk). You are depressed and hopeless, you say. Then you launch into great confusion. Your wife is ‘most attractive’, a bizarre description of a person. You ‘loved every minute’ of the children’s presence, though you say your wife was isolated and lonely and you were arguing to such a degree that she threatened to leave. You ‘gave in’ in order to make her stay and then began ‘disliking’ her, though you ‘love her dearly’. Sex was ‘always a problem’ and you told your new lover that you were unhappy and planned to leave your wife.

It sounds as though your relationship with your wife was fraught with problems all along and that it was never a rewarding relationship for you. You give the impression of having been crushed by your long marriage and you say fairly straightforwardly that you felt rejected physically. It was apparently a pretty sadomasochistic relationship, one in which you were always trying to please and appease an angry, depressed and castrating figure. You have stayed in the hope that things would somehow improve (i.e. that she would completely change) and you are now considering going back in the hope that she will have magically changed during your absence.

It is fascinating, of course, that you are now living with your mother. It seems likely that she is the template for this woman who cannot be pleased but in whose thrall you must remain at all costs. However, you don’t say this so I’m guessing. But your relationship with the second woman, your ‘lady-friend’ (back to the odd language regarding women – ‘most attractive’ wife), became serious when she too threatened to leave you. Your fear of losing these women seems to be the very thing that keeps you in the relationship, not the quality of the relationship but the anxiety surrounding loss. You now say you hate yourself and your ‘despicable situation’ as though you are guilty of some terrible crime that came out of nowhere. Why do you hate yourself for working hard for many years at a rewardless marriage? Why do you take 100% of the responsibility for what went wrong?

The guilt you feel seems to be part of your masochism. It seems possible that your mother demanded a lot of you and always left you feeling that you had failed, that you might lose her love and care by your failure to please her. Then, having failed, you punish yourself for not being good enough, feel guilty about your own shortcomings, never standing back to see that pleasing her was a fantasy, she would never be pleased. You perhaps grew up believing that if you could do enough then she would finally transform and accept and love you. That is, that you could change her by your behaviour. She perhaps encouraged you to believe this (of course, she may have believed it herself) thereby trapping you in an endless effort to try harder, be better.

Now you say you are in a position of making a choice and you are unsurprisingly paralysed. This is an omnipotent fantasy in which you assume all the responsibility and face all the guilt. Neither partner can really satisfy you but you must choose one or the other in this strange God-like way. And this power terrifies you, makes you desperate. Whichever way you turn the wrath and misery of one of these mother figures (both keeping you in by threatening to leave you) will be wreaked upon you. In an effort not to acknowledge your own chronic vulnerability at the hands of these three (I think) controlling women, you imagine yourself in complete control.

Of course, you say you are depressed, hopeless and desperate. You have been to Relate and you tried to counselling. These facts suggest that you are well on your way to understanding that the problem is your own. You feel buffeted by fate, conspired against by circumstance, pushed into a corner. However, you have carefully constructed all these dynamics from the point of marrying someone whose sexual needs did not match your own and who early on began to blame you for her state of mind. I would suggest that understanding your early relationship with your mother and allowing yourself to be vulnerable and in chaos, seeing the reality that you don’t have ultimate power over the lives of your women (terrifyingly) and that you need help yourself (as opposed to choosing which of them to ‘help’) might be a good start.

NB. it’s interesting that you chose to write your original letter to an older woman who would be likely to smack your bottom, tell you how selfish you are and send you back to your wife. More masochism in the face of a castrating woman.

Proper Advice by Skype or email: anna@blundy.com

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“I’m 67, have no enthusiasm for life and wear hearing aids. Don’t tell me to join an art group.” Thoughtful Advice, No Glib Life Tips

I am 67, retired and have a loving husband but little enthusiasm for anything. I went to art school in the 1960s, which were the best years of my life. I tried to qualify but two attempts at degrees failed due to problems with grants. I ended up working in the NHS for over 20 years. I could join an art group, but so many paint kittens and harbour scenes – not for me! I have good art knowledge. I volunteer at a nationally recognised gallery as a room steward once a week. I also have fibromyalgia and wear hearing aids which make me feel quite isolated.


This problem first appeared in The Observer

My thoughts:

This probably isn’t your whole letter, but it is nonetheless fascinating that you have written this to a newspaper advice columnist. At first glance it is very difficult to know what you are asking, or what you are asking for. Are you asking for permission to paint freely? For praise for your hard work and achievements? For pity for your ‘failed’ attempts at a degree? Or admonishment for same?

You list your achievements and failures in a dismissive way, as though you feel there’s nothing to be done. It feels less like a plea for help than an announcement that there is no help to be had. You anticipate what the columnist might suggest and dismiss her as yet unspoken platitudes out of hand. You imagine that any advice will, so to speak, fall on deaf ears.

And it is your last sentence that I think contains the plea for help. You feel isolated. It seems you’ve felt isolated since leaving art school without a degree. Your husband’s love, your 20 year career, your volunteering and your ‘good art knowledge’ have not penetrated your sense of isolation. If I suggested, as you suspect your reader will, that you ‘join an art group’ you would not be able to hear that as encouragement or as support. You would hear it as criticism and denigration. You would hear; ‘Your painting is so rubbish that you should join some crap art group.’ You can’t imagine someone valuing you enough to suggest you do a degree now or, really, enough to hear what you’re trying to say at all. You yourself refuse to hear it, refuse to have any sympathy for your sense of pointlessness and isolation.

There is anger in your letter. Anger at the grants system that failed you, at the fools who paint kittens, at those who fail to recognise your knowledge and qualifications. You seem angry too that you ‘ended up’ working in the NHS, as though someone made you do it against your will, you were powerless to resist. You want to blame someone else, to shirk responsibility for your own life. There is a sense that things are unfair, that you’ve been hard done by. It’s interesting that you work as a room steward – a job that requires you to be vigilant, to make sure others obey the rules. It sounds as though you feel you have obeyed the rules all your life, only to find that nobody is going to reward you (or nationally recognise you) for it. Perhaps you were brought up to believe that obedience would be rewarded and you are finding that to have been a cruel lie.

Your whole letter sounds like a response to someone saying; ‘What have you ever really done? You’re such a failure! You should join some old ladies’ art group.’ You then reply with what is almost a demand for recognition, a defence against perceived attack. You project all your negative feeling about yourself into others, assume it to be there in reality and then defend yourself against all your own slights by saying; ‘It’s not my fault!’

There is a feeling that you are waiting for this national recognition to come to you, but you feel that making an effort to find it might be construed as weak or needy. Perhaps enthusiasm itself, which you say you lack, might be weak and needy, linked to the kitten painters.

All the anger and bluster is a fairly flimsy defence against helplessness. Your short life summary is perhaps a kind of ‘was that it?’ question – an acknowledgement that you are coming to the end of your life and a rage against inevitable annihilation. The idea that someone might say; ‘But that doesn’t have to be it! You can join an art group!’ is, of course, utterly absurd in the face of mortality. This anger and disappointment that you obeyed the rules as your parents required but have not been granted immortality is overwhelming.

I suspect that the feelings of isolation and being cut off from the rest of the world, the art students who qualified, the people visiting the gallery, the art group members, are feelings you have always lived with, perhaps as a result of not being the preferred sibling, of not receiving deserved praise, or of not truly being heard (re. now not hearing). You have therefore isolated yourself with a superior stance whilst on some level longing to be allowed to be ordinary.

It is allowing yourself to be an ordinary woman of 67, with the achievements and failures you have had, the life you chose of your own free will, that is now your task – one you are loathe to take on. But you’ve written, and you’ve wondered (albeit very defensively) if you might reach out into the unknown, allow yourself to be helped with this transition, break your isolation. You have taken the first step and I bet it took some courage. You’ll need more.

Proper Advice via Skype or Email: anna@blundy.com

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“How can I make the RIGHT decision about my life and get out of this paralysis?” Thoughtful Advice, No Glib Life Tips

“Six months ago I lost my job and haven’t yet found anything substantial to replace it. About the same time my husband experienced stress-related heart problems.

He wasn’t enjoying his job due to internal politics. He decided it was time to leave and found two part-time jobs.

With one young son and a large mortgage, we worked out we could just about survive with only one of us earning regularly — though we knew it would be tight.

I was hoping to embark on some training and also look after our son full-time at home.

But then a few weeks ago my husband lost one of the new jobs because of unexpected cutbacks.

Now we have half a job between us and not nearly enough money to cover the mortgage, let alone living expenses. We already have a lodger.

My husband and I have always wanted to work together. Perhaps this is our chance.

We could sell our house, downsize and set up on our own running a counselling business or retreat. The problem is where. We have to think about our son’s schooling and two sets of parents (we are only children).

We could go near Birmingham where I went to university, Cornwall where my parents live or France (my husband is half-French), but we’d be saying goodbye to friendships and all that we love about living in a capital city. I loathe making such decisions. Knowing where my paralysis comes from doesn’t make it any easier.

When I was seven, I asked to be sent to boarding school. My parents agreed, but I hated it and wanted to go back home.

They told me I had to stay because it had been my idea. I took on board the message that bad decisions are irreversible — once made, you have to live with the consequences.

Now I’m terrified we’ll make a wrong decision again, only this time it won’t just be me, but also my husband and son who have to suffer.

My indecision drives my husband mad. I spend ages weighing up pros and cons, get passionate about one idea and sound definite.

He takes longer to think about things, but starts to warm to the idea. By then I’ve started to pick holes in that solution and moved to the next thought. So we go round in circles.

Time isn’t on our side. Our savings are dwindling. We’re excited about the opportunities our predicament might open up and relish the opportunity to step away from the treadmill and follow our dreams.

But if we have any chance of turning our dreams into reality and making the leap, I need to get over my indecision and seize the day.

I just don’t know how to do that. How can I find a way through the impasse?”

This problem first appeared in the Daily Mail.

My Thoughts: 

There is a fascinating fragmentation to this letter. As you seem to half know, your mind is all over the place, the letter is all over the place. No jobs, two jobs, half a job. France, Cornwall, Birmingham, this business, that business, two sets of parents, our son’s school. This could be our chance. Or it could be a disaster.

On the one hand you seem to have a fantasy that you have all the choice in the world, could go anywhere. On the other hand you seem to have no choice whatsoever, you’re so bound to existing burdens – lodger, son, mortgage etc.

You are keen to let the reader know that you are not a slacker, that you are working hard and doing your best, making ends meet by every means possible. You seem to expect a rather strict and impatient voice (presumably that of the parents who made you stay at boarding school) saying; ‘Well, for goodness sake get a lodger.’ Or; ‘Take the leap, what are you waiting for?’ Or; ‘Are you mad? You have a son to care for.’ All versions of the voice are rather bullying and lack real thought or understanding.

You take full responsibility for your boarding school decision but, in fact, you were bullied at a very young age, probably not for the first time. You interpret this bullying as ‘tough love’, as a lesson you learnt the hard way. You were told that this kind of cruelty was, in fact, care and you have now confused the two.

This is the root of the problem, I think. You fear the cruel, harsh judgment of your own mind whichever decision you take. There is no care or understanding available for you, no space for real thought. This is why the way you think seems to get you nowhere. It is designed to stop you making a decision, for paralysis, with all its disadvantages is at least a place of relative safety – you cannot face the really powerful attack you’d face if you actually made the wrong decision.

Your cruel internal voice (harsh super ego) is saying; ‘Oh, pull yourself together and get on with it,’ but it could and will say worse if you make decisions and things go badly. So, this is as safe as it gets – bits of your mind thrown out all over the place, circular kind of hamster-in-a-wheel thinking, always getting you nowhere, but, at least, fending off attack, abandonment, isolation.

Your mind is a place of punishment and what you might call ‘rationale’, but that rationale is actually just an attempt to strip emotional things of emotions in order to keep safe. There is no gentleness or warmth for yourself in there, no forgiveness.

The whole thing reminds me of Klein’s good breast/bad breast. So, the infant adores the first, the feeding breast that comes and comforts and he or she hates the second, the abandoning, cruel breast that denies him/her sustenance. A major developmental leap is when the baby unites the two as one real and separate person. Many people never make that leap – if you get too much bad breast then you have to continue to imagine the good breast as separate to keep it safe from the cruelty of bad breast. They CAN’T be the same person. It’s what creates the ‘us and them’ mentality so beloved of people who can’t be ambivalent, often because of early neglect and the need to protect the good breast.

So, lecture finished, you seem to feel that if a decision isn’t 100% right then it must be wrong. You can’t be ambivalent about your choices, feel that it’s an okay decision, might all go wrong but is worth a bash – it has advantages (good breast) and disadvantages (bad breast). This is intolerable in your mind. Your one story about your parents (and I would not root all your problems in this, it’s more of a screen memory, a good example of how you were brought up) suggests that you experienced quite a lot of bad breast – were perhaps fed to a schedule, not when you yourself were hungry, were perhaps neglected in the name of good parenting. You were an only child so it’s not unlikely that you were left alone to ‘rest’ or sleep or whatever, when you needed company.

Now, therefore, the ‘right’ decision is a Platonic ideal, something so perfect that it cannot be criticised or have any bad breast about it at all. This is impossible in real life, so all decisions must be wrong. You are stuck and paralysed. But you’re safe – you still haven’t lost the Platonic good breast, the ideal of warmth and love that might, if you can get it, protect you from bad breast – loneliness, abandonment and failure.

Only by integrating the two, feeling ambivalent about your parents (I bet you either completely idealise them or absolutely hate them or, perhaps, idealise one and hate the other), understanding that all decisions are both good and bad, will you be able to take the risk of offending your all-powerful ego ideal and making an ordinary decision that will result in neither triumph nor disaster, but a bit of both.

Good advice via Skype or email: anna@blundy.com

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“Raped when I was 18, I can’t move on with my life.” Proper Advice from a Psychoanalytic Perspective

I was attacked by a man while on holiday when I was 18. The holiday had only just begun, so I told no one and hid my bruises. Strange as it may sound, I refused to think about it. I had just finished school and I wanted to live life. It’s only recently, as all my friends are graduating with degrees and I’m working as a cleaner in a hotel, that I have thought about it. I dislike the choices I have made and I’m not sure if this is as a result of what happened. I wanted to be an actress, a human rights activist, a writer… but I feel he took everything away from me. I never would have expected to feel so worthless, so pointless. I don’t know who I am any more, or who I was. I can’t even use the word to describe what happened to me. I feel ashamed that I was drunk and didn’t do anything to stop it. I just want to find a way to feel happy again, and find myself, but I don’t know how.


This letter appeared first in the Observer


My thoughts:

If you were a friend and were telling me this I would say the kinds of thing the columnist you wrote to probably said. I’d say you already know what’s wrong and what you’d really like to change, you’ve been brave enough to write and you now need to be brave again and enrol at a university, go to the police about the attack and get a therapist to help you deal with the thoughts and feelings stemming from the attack. This would all be good advice.

However, I think there is more going on here, more that you don’t say, including the word ‘rape’ (the inability to name what happened is very regressed, somehow, from a time when you wouldn’t have known what to call that).  When the attack happened you were drunk and it was the beginning of a holiday. You didn’t report it or tell anyone. The fact of your silence and your shame at being drunk suggests that you were already cowed, were perhaps already depressed. The worthlessness and pointlessness you describe may well have been present before you were raped.

You say you hid your bruises. I wonder if you were already hiding emotional bruising of some kind. The way you say it suggests that it felt like a normal thing to do. You are now a cleaner. I wonder what cleaning means to you. You obviously see it is a lowly occupation, something degrading, somehow befitting your degraded state. The things you say you wanted to be are all high-profile jobs in which one is clearly seen, speaks confidently, is not forgotten. Your hiding the attack and hiding yourself away from the world, cleaning up after other people’s sexual antics (in my fantasy) seems to me indicative of something that predated the rape. It’s also interesting that what has inspired you to regret your choices is envy of your friends’ relative success.

You feel the rapist stole your personality, your sense of yourself before the attack and, obviously, after it. However, you say that you are ashamed that you were drunk and didn’t fight back. It is that shame that you were not, in the moment, the person you would like to have been or hoped you were, that has perhaps been so annihilating – your fear of having been somehow complicit. I am not suggesting for a moment that you were complicit, that drunkenness gives anyone license to attack you or that you could or should have fought back, I’m just trying to point out that it is your guilt and shame at not having lived up to a fantasy of yourself that seems to have stripped you of your ability to succeed. Your own suspicions about yourself. Perhaps you feel you can’t now go on to enact other fantasies of yourself and make them real – that of being an actress etc.

However, I suspect the rapist confirmed your unconscious view of yourself and it is this that is so overwhelming. It’s complicated because, of course, rape is deeply traumatic and can leave people with all kinds of psychological symptoms. Perhaps, as you say, the way you feel now is solely related to the attack and work with a rape counsellor would help you to move on from this very stuck period of your life. However, I would want to look further back at the development of the girl who, having been attacked, felt that cover up and denial would be the easiest course of action.

Proper Advice via Skype or email: anna@blundy.com

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“When will my boyfriend tell me he loves me?” Proper Advice from a Psychoanalytic Perspective

I have been more than friends with a lovely man for well over a year now, yet he still hasn’t made our relationship public, called me his girlfriend or told me that he loves me. We are a couple in everything but name, but in front of our friends he won’t show me any affection. He is a naturally very shy and private person, and things have developed so much between us over the past year or so that I feel I shouldn’t complain. I know he cares about me a lot, but he was completely heartbroken by his previous girlfriend, who was also his only serious relationship before we got together. I’m scared, though, that he doesn’t love me – and surely after all this time he’d know if he did? It’s not that he does love me and can’t say it: we talked about it a little bit recently and he seems very confused about what love is. He says he feels differently about me to how he did about his previous girlfriend (who he was crazy about), but he says that’s a good thing. I’m not so sure: I know he loved her, and while I don’t want him to be all obsessive about me like that, I don’t want to hang on waiting forever for him to fall in love with me. He often says that it’s either me or no one, which doesn’t make me feel great (being a girl, I naturally take everything the wrong way). How long am I meant to wait for him, and how do I know if it’s time to move on? PS I am 26 and he is 28.

This letter first appeared in the Observer.

My Thoughts:

I’ll go back to the beginning in a minute, but there is one shocking stand-out line in this letter and it is bracketed in order, apparently, to hide it. ‘Being a girl, I naturally take everything the wrong way.’ It sounds as though you have been brought up to believe that your thoughts and feelings are invalid, that your feelings should be automatically discredited on the basis of your gender. From that standpoint it is hardly surprising that you have no idea what to think or feel about your boyfriend’s lack of commitment.

The most glaring thing in this letter is that you say what you want this man to feel about you and how you’d like him to express it. You do not say what you feel about him or how you express that. You are passive but you want him to be active. Perhaps what you related to in him, however, was his passivity since you apparently share it.

You are asking, as many people do, what the rules are. You are so unable to trust yourself, to decide anything on the basis of how you feel that you are asking how one ought to behave. How long should you wait? When is it time to move on and what are the signs? Of course, part of you may be aware that there are no rules and this is perhaps very frightening to you. Your lover (I assume you are having sex with this person) is not obeying the rules you have on your wall chart – declare love within a year of a relationship and go public. You are wondering, therefore, if it is you who are not obeying certain unknown rules that perhaps a newspaper columnist will know.

The essential problem, however, is that you are unable to want or need anything, to think or feel anything as regards this man without feeling guilty and invalidated. You seem to have very little sense of autonomy. So, back to the beginning.

The first line is an accusation. Here are some things this man has not done and that you want him to do. ‘He still hasn’t’ as though you have waited long enough for this unreasonable behaviour of his to stop. But this is very passive, no? Have you told him you love him, called him your boyfriend and made the relationship public? Have you told him you’d like him to do these things? You say ‘I feel I shouldn’t complain’ and yet you are complaining. Just not to him. I would also question the word complain. This has a tinge of misogyny about it just like your bracketed comment. If you ask for something then you are somehow whining and unreasonable (and female?). Was this your experience at home with your family, I wonder?

You sound baffled by his behaviour at the same time as excusing it. So, his reasons for reticence are, apparently, that he’s shy and heartbroken, confused about love. As far as I can make out he is being fairly clear – he’s confused and has been hurt. You seem to suspect that more is going on than he’s prepared to tell you. So, instead of looking at yourself and what you are and are not willing to put up with in a relationship, you are scrutinising him and waiting for him to change.

Textbook error. The only person who might change is you. Or, at least, that’s the only thing you have any control over or insight into. We cannot know what he’s thinking apart from taking what he says at face value. If there are hidden thoughts then no newspaper columnist is going to reveal them to you. But what are your hidden thoughts? It seems you feel that he should be in control of the situation because he is a man. His thoughts and feelings are to be taken seriously, considered and analysed. Yours are merely to be dismissed.

From what you say it sounds as though you are very hurt by your boyfriend’s lack of demonstrative love and very jealous of the way he felt or feels about his ex-girlfriend. You want things from him that he is not prepared to give and you wonder whether the fault lies with you. You seem extremely unconfident and extremely reliant on this man for your self-esteem, as though he might bestow it on you with his love or keep it from you in withholding his love. You entire value seems to rest with him.

I imagine this isn’t the first time you’ve felt worthless and deprived of something you want but can’t ask for, or feel you may be wrong even for wanting. My suspicion is that one or both of your parents neglected you in a faintly benign way – they seemed nice enough but weren’t properly interested in you or engaged with you, such that you felt perhaps it was your fault or that perhaps they were engaged and you were misinterpreting it. I also strongly suspect you have a brother with whom at least one of them (probably dad) was engaged.

Neither I nor anybody else has any clue what your boyfriend will do in the future (and he probably doesn’t know either). What he won’t do is change into someone else. Do you want him like this or not? That’s the question.

Proper advice by Skype or email: anna@blundy.com

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“I’m worried my relationship with the sweet shop owner may be illegal.” Proper Advice from a Psychoanalytic Perspective

I am 15. I am in love with an older man. He works at a sweet shop and I’m not sure how old he is. We met last year when I was hungry and went to buy sweets, but then realised I only had 2p, so he gave them to me for free. He was really kind and generous, and the next time I went in we got chatting and got on really well. I came back again the next day and have never looked back. But now things are looking more serious and I’m worried that our relationship may not be entirely legal. I’m worried that if I confront him I’ll lose everything. I think I love him, but though he enjoys our relationship, I’m not sure he feels the same. I haven’t told my parents or friends because I’m worried that they’ll judge me. Should I tell him or would that spoil things? Have I gone too far? I’m worried about how people will view me, but I don’t want to end things because I love him so much. I don’t think I could ever love anyone as much as this again.

This first appeared in the Observer

My thoughts:

On first reading this letter sounds as though it is written by an adult pretending to be a child. Would an underage girl or boy write to a national broadsheet asking for this kind of help? Would such a person write things like ‘entirely legal’? There is something odd about being hungry and going to buy sweets – why state that you are hungry? It’s as though the act needs justifying. How odd then to go to the shop with no money, or, rather, how odd to state the exact and pitiful amount you had with you – 2p. How odd to call it a ‘sweet shop’ – sounds very old-fashioned.

However, if you really are 15, then what does come across loud and clear is your acute vulnerability and the fact that you are young for your age, unworldly and, by the sounds of it, not getting a lot of care at home. You seem to feel you lack the resources needed to be out in the world, you are hungry for sweetness but, far from being ‘for free’, the price is high – illegal sex. There is something about the hunger and the fear of losing everything, of feeling the need to point out to an adult that what he is doing may be illegal that points to domestic neglect. Also, the idealisation of a person who gave you free sweets suggests that you live off the merest scraps of affection and offer your love in return.

It hardly needs saying that this is in no way an equal relationship and you are aware of this – though you are in love, he may only be enjoying himself, you say. He is older than you, so much so that you apparently haven’t dared ask his age for fear of finding out. He is offering sweets in return for your affection and, if what is happening is illegal, we must assume, for sex. You don’t mention the sex explicitly and from the way you describe the situation it is not what’s important to you – it is the fact that the wants you, that he is generous towards you and enjoys your company. There is a distinct feeling that this is unusual in your life.

You are ashamed of the sexual element of the relationship and haven’t told your friends. You suggest you might confront your lover. With what? He presumably knows he’s having sex with you. He presumably knows your age. It sounds to me as though you are very uncomfortable with the sex (after all, you have written) but worry that if you withdraw it then you will lose the friendship and love you value so much. You relieve your abuser (yes) entirely of responsibility, wondering if you have gone too far. You? He has, by the sounds of it, committed statutory rape.

You don’t state your gender. If you are also male then perhaps your reluctance to tell friends, your fear about whether or not the relationship is allowed, your wish to confront your lover/abuser about the relationship, might have something to do with shame and fear around coming out. You may fear being judged for your sexuality and have conflated that with fear of being judged about the age gap and, perhaps, his status. ‘He works in a sweet shop’ is stated immediately and must be important in some way. It’s unclear whether this puts him in high or low esteem in your view but, I suspect, low.

However, male or female, the reality is that you are paying for affection with sex and you feel there is something wrong with that (illegal – but you’re using the word to express something about your feelings as well as the social facts). You fear that you have not much besides your body to offer and, like the hunger, lack of resources and gratitude at the beginning of the letter, this points to neglect, at the very least, at home.

I would like to know about your relationship with your father and whether you see any parallels there – do you feel unloved by him, that you have to produce something in order to secure his affection, that you can’t talk to him about what is honestly going on with you? You don’t say and I have no idea, but you need to ask yourself what it is about the relationship that might be harshly judged by your friends and parents, why you are afraid to talk to your lover and whether or not you are willing to continue to provide sex in return for what you really want – someone who is ‘kind and generous’ to you. (The fact that you have written suggests strongly that you want this to stop but don’t want to lose your friend).

Yes, the relationship is illegal, as you know. However, there are plenty of 15 year olds having sex with someone a few years older than they are and not feeling the need to write to a newspaper columnist about it. You are really scared and isolated and, despite your saying you love this man, you clearly do not feel cared for and protected by him or anyone else. Perhaps you might find someone you really trust (friend, teacher, doctor?) and seek some help that might keep you safe and build your, entirely absent here, confidence?

The very short answer would be – stop letting this person abuse you because it is making you feel insecure, unhappy and scared. Then have a look at what help you might be able to get in terms of improving your confidence.

Proper Advice via email or Skype: anna@blundy.com

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“I’m 18 and having an affair with my married ex-teacher. It’s ruining my life.” Proper Advice from a Psychoanalytic Perspective

“I feel I’ve reached breaking point and cannot go on. I’m 18 and, over the summer, became embroiled in an affair with a much older man, who was once my teacher.

We developed a close friendship at school, but it was strictly platonic. Afterwards, we met as friends but, after a few meetings, became lovers.

I’d had a mad crush on him at school, and so at first could not quite believe that he was finally ‘mine’. Now pain has overtaken pleasure, leaving me feeling confused and lonely.

He has a wife and child. I’m not a horrible home-wrecker after cheap thrills, but I couldn’t control how I felt about him.

I’m racked by guilt because of his child – but not his wife, wrong as that may be. I despise her because she has him and there is nothing I can do about it. I love this wonderful man, too – when I’m with him I feel so complete.

However, the affair is ruining my life. I’d planned to go to university, but decided not to bother because I felt too depressed and unstable to contemplate study.

I hope to go next year, but I worry that I’ve consigned myself to yet another year with him and will feel worse and worse. I find it hard to concentrate on anything but him.

I’ve watched my friends move away to uni, and they have made new friends and are having the time of their lives.

Meanwhile, I am hurting badly. My parents are angry because I am often out for hours – meeting up with him (saying I’m with friends), when I should be looking for a job.

My heart aches; I can’t see any future for myself that does not involve him.

He says we have to give things time until his son is a little older and then – if we are still in love – see what happens.

He says we should just appreciate what an amazing relationship we have.

However, I feel as though my life’s on hold – while he’s had his youth and fun, and is now settled. I’m desperate for commitment, but I can’t walk away because I love him too much.

The thought of life without him is unbearable. I don’t blame him because it was me who instigated the affair, and it’s obviously had adverse effects on his life as well. But I feel my youth has been taken away from me.

He gets upset and jealous if I mention other boys, although he says he knows he can’t stop me from seeing someone else.

But I’m not interested and find myself longing to have his child, though I know this would only make things 1,000 times worse.

I have no one to talk to. No one would understand. They’d accuse me of having a sleazy fling, whereas our relationship is built on love.

I’m not eating or sleeping and I’m considering making an appointment to see my doctor for depression if things do not get better. Please help.”

This letter first appeared in the Daily Mirror.

My thoughts:

It’s easy to plough in here with a diagnosis of unresolved Oedipus Complex – you have succeeded in seducing father away from mother but have inevitably ended up feeling at once guilty and abused. Part of you, I think, knows this. You have said you are at ‘breaking point’ and ‘cannot go on’. You end by wondering about seeking help for depression and clearly you do feel completely helpless, as if you have started something you do not understand.

You say ‘embroiled’ as though it was some sort of an accident. ‘Strictly platonic’ makes it obvious this was never platonic – you may not have had a physical relationship at school but you say you had a ‘mad crush’ on him, so your intentions, if not his, were clear. What does seem to have shocked you though is that it actually happened.

While Oedipal desires are a normal part of development, the disturbance around the desires being acted out is overwhelming, as with incest. You are 18, so nothing illegal is going on, but abuse is happening nonetheless. The father figure you desired decided to have sex with you and the reality of this has made you very depressed and frightened. It has made you feel completely worthless – you’ve lost education, friends and career and made this man the centre of your world, though he is married and has a child with someone else (a mother figure).

It’s possible to speculate about your parents’ relationship with each other and with you – perhaps you are closer to your dad and feel punished by your mum. This might explain why you feel no guilt towards the wife. You do, however, identify with the child who may lose a father. Perhaps your dad left for someone else and you would prefer to act out being the someone else than face the painful reality of being one of the ones left behind?

You don’t say these things, so I’m guessing, but it is clear that you hoped for fulfillment in this affair and have found emptiness, like a child who desires closeness with a parent but is petrified and ruined when met with abuse, perhaps disguised as love.

You say you are not a ‘horrible home-wrecker after cheap thrills’ as though you imagine other women might be – did your father have a girlfriend you perceived in this way? That might have been an easy way of blaming someone other than your father for whatever it is he may have done. (Speculation, obviously).

In the case of this teacher, you do explicitly say ‘I don’t blame him’ because you claim started the affair. Alone? With no invitation? Yet you say your youth has been taken away from you. By whom? The way you blame yourself entirely and yet feel buffeted by fate at the same time is interesting here. Anything, apparently, rather than blame your cowardly abuser.

This unwillingness to blame him is classic behaviour for someone in an abusive relationship – it’s easier to imagine things are your fault or that the fates are conspiring against you than it is to see that the person who is supposed to love you is manipulative, domineering and abusive. If this man was as wonderful as you try to persuade us he is, he would have insisted you go to university and end the relationship with him. Or, if it is what you and he both want as an adult couple, he would leave his wife and start a new family with you.

However, I don’t think that is what you want. You sound horrified, in fact, that the relationship has taken the shape that it has, that the secrecy and lies, consfusion, shame and guilt (again, typical in survivors of childhood sexual abuse) has made you wholly reliant on him, isolated and old before your time.

This is a confusing letter because it is tempting to treat you as an adult, persuade you of your own autonomy, that denying it is an infantile defence and that you need to take responsibility for your actions and see through the fantasy of helplessness. However, if you were three years younger it would be a police case and all your symptoms – depression, not eating (on the self-harm spectrum), insomnia, confusion, guilt, worthlessness, shame, desperate reliance on your aggressor – would be seen as symptoms of childhood sexual abuse.

Despite the adult nature of your letter, your symptoms and your efforts to excuse the appalling behaviour of this man who should probably not be a teacher, suggest to me that you are more in need of the kind of help an abused child might need.

Certainly, it’s obvious that you need to end this relationship, tell your parents and friends about it, get a place at university and move on with your life away from this man who would like to dominate you entirely. I’m sure the newspaper columnist you wrote to said the same. However, as always, this is far easier said than done. If you felt powerful enough to act you would have done so. It has taken all the courage you have to write for help and that is as much as you can manage at the moment.

The desire to have the teacher’s baby (have your father’s baby once you have seduced him away from your mother – a toddler’s fantasy) is a fantasy based in early childhood desire. A fantasy it would be disastrous to act out. Indeed the whole relationship is a disastrous acting out of early Oedipal desires, one in which this older man should not have colluded.

It would not be a bad idea to go to the doctor, but for some therapy and counseling rather than anti-depressants which might further pathologise you when the problem is the abuse you are suffering. This is a subtly abusive relationship from which you need to free yourself and you will have to look closely at what you really wanted from this relationship in the first place in order to get free. Probably your father’s love.
Proper Advice via Skype or email: anna@blundy.com

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