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The lovely lovings and the hateful hates…

Dear Mom,

Recently I slept with an old friend of mine. I am separated, he is divorced. I have not had sex like that in a long time, and was pleasantly surprised at the passion we both "seemed" to have for each other at the time. Anyways, I live several hours away from him, so its not like we have opportunity to get together on a regular basis. My question though is with his behavior afterwards -- he started making all these rules up, like telling me what he wanted vs what he didn't want, and then several days later on the phone told me that he had a deep interest in another woman who is still married. What's up with this guy??


My dear Cat,

This man is, I am afraid, all too typically avoiding telling you the truth - he doesn't see your night of passion as anything more than that, a brief encounter which you both enjoyed a great deal but which he has no intention of turning into anything resembling a relationship. It would have been lovely if he had had the honesty to tell you afterwards, or even before (though that's probably too much to expect) that all he wanted was string-free sex with you. Instead, he is clearly signalling his lack of serious intentions by imposing conditions you would, I hope, be too proud to meet (what he wants and doesn't want) and then, for good measure, telling you about his infatuation for a married woman.

This is absolutely classic Commitment-Phobic 101. In future, ladies, any time a man uses the "I have a deep interest in a married woman" line, it means that he is never going to want to seriously pursue a relationship with you. One of my exes used this on me many years ago -- his married woman was called Maria, a concert pianist whose jealous husband had broken several of her fingers, raped her and got her pregnant, which meant, as an observant Catholic, that she could now never leave the father of her child. Even at the young age of 25, this seemed a fairly baroque story to me. But Maria's presence, hovering over us, was always the Reason He Couldn't Commit -- and as far as I know, he's still resolutely single.

So you have three choices, if you want to keep your sanity and avoid him messing still further with your head:
a) keep him as what the Americans so picturesquely call a "fuck-buddy", by swiftly making up a reason for his benefit as to why you will never want a serious relationship with him

b) let the friendship lapse

c) lose touch with him for several months and then restart the friendship as if the sex interlude had never happened.
Only you can decide which is more important to you: the friendship or the sex. But do remember, the most important factor of all, as always, should be keeping your feet on the ground and not allowing a man to sweep you off balance. As I say in "Jane Austen's Guide To Dating": KEEP YOURSELF GROUNDED. What really happens when someone sweeps you off your feet? You lose your balance and he's still standing up. Is that what you want to happen at the start of a relationship?

Good luck, Cat! I know how hard it is when you have fantastic sex with an unreliable man -- it can be like a drug that he then withholds, making you crave it still more. I am very happy for your sake that he lives several hours' away from you.

Best wishes,


Dear Mom,

So over three months ago, I meet a guy through a mutual interest. It turns out we know some of the same people. I agree to have coffee with him (my exact words were "sure, but no funny business"). Of course he is showing all the signs that he would love to have some fun in the bedroom. I know, in retrospect, that at this time he had been broken up for all of four days (his girlfriend (for who he had lust at first sight) had dumped him by text and gone back to her ex). I stay firmly on the friend side of things, because I never dive in head first. He gets very ill and we start to spend a lot of time together, becoming so close that it wasn't unusual for us to sleep curled up together in the same bed... he got so depressed over that time that one of his friends stopped talking to him for two months. Obviously my empathy kicked in and I started the slow descent into madness (I think they call it love).

So his health improves and after much deliberating over guilt and sex on his part, we had a for lack of a better word "fling", problem was that he started to develop some serious un-fling like behaviour with me, things that you would do with a partner and not your f***buddy. Now while all this was happening I had in my head the knowledge that he wasn't going to be in a serious relationship for a few months, his reasons being that he had so much going on health and workwise that he couldn't give it his all... So all this is going on until a few weeks ago, when I ask him why he's so busy (again), and he tells me (through an instant message no less) that he met someone one week previously and he's making it exclusive (a shorter darker gentile version of me, same age same career, who he thinks he knows so well after just one conversation).

So he's always contradicting himself: he lusts after me, shows signs of love, keeps his distance, and then drops me suddenly. I was confused, I was hurt, I said so and got accused of trying to lay a guilt trip, we didn't speak for four days after arguing, until he popped up on my instant messenger with a one word message "alright". After all that s**t, all he has to say is "alright"?

And now we're back on speaking terms... he's being as nice to me as he was before.... and if you looked at him you wouldn't know what's happened. But in the aftermath I know that he succumbed to alcohol at least once (which he quit seriously for health reasons), he injured himself through over exertion again, he's not seeing eye to eye with his new girlfriend and is getting pretty annoyed that one of our mutual friends keeps talking to her, and that every time I've seen him since he was the one to suggest the meeting.

So what on earth is going on in that 32-year-old brain? And how should I act? Should I keep my distance, and remain unavailable? Should I play subtle mind games with him (the sadist in me really wants to)... I'm confused, help!


Dear Nicola,

You will never succeed in 'playing subtle mind games' with this man because he will always be infinitely better at them than you. It's what he lives for. He uses everyone he comes into contact with and likes to keep them on strings even when he's moved onto the next target. Clearly, he lives for drama and confusion and when there isn't any -- when he's started settling down with you -- he has to throw a spanner into the works straight away.

To be fair, he did warn you, didn't he? The break-up that was only 4 days old, the depression, the mixed signals... it was never going to be plain sailing. Draw a line under it, don't see him any more, don't answer him if he rings or texts (because he probably will try to suck you back in), take a break from dating, and pamper yourself for a while. You're bound to be drained, as you've spent quite a while pouring your energy into someone else, who sounds like a bottomless hole when it comes to attention. Don't blame yourself -- men like this are very good at getting what they want -- but watch the signs and next time you start falling for someone, make sure he's giving you nice clear unmixed signals -- and isn't fresh from a break-up with someone else!

Best wishes,


Dear Mom,

Help, I've done it again. I fell for yet another goth (another ex-military one with a penchant for wearing dresses and heavy makeup). Actually, he fell for me first, I only figured it out in December at a friend's club night when he kept finding excuses to whip me (the month before he did admit that he'd want to date me and pushed me into staying at the party till 11 in the morning, but I am extremely dumb in this area). I knew that he had post-traumatic stress disorder, a lot of shrapnel still in him and just over 5% body fat (now I compare pictures from November with this month's he looks a lot thinner in the face). It was going good for a few weeks, although he was under a lot of stress at work, we were getting close (the stupid man even let out the L word in the heat of the moment)... then he has a little relapse... and about a week later he cut it off, saying that we have no future, that I can go on with my life, that he's living in the past, food tastes like ash and water stagnant.. (although I think this may have more to do with speed than ptsd).

I said bull***t to this, he can't avoid me forever, and his reply was that he'd talk it through with me the following Saturday. He showed up and avoided the issue all night, tried to tell me he was in love with his best friend (this is the man incapable of love, who's said in the past that she's his best friend and he never date her because he would ruin her (he never said this to me I just heard him telling others)). Now he's using drunken behaviour on my part (behaviour which he once had no problem with and actually encouraged) as an excuse to stay far away, saying that I caused him shame (although I never shamed myself enough to get myself uninvited to half the after parties in the East Midlands (apparantly he freaked out a lot of people whilst intoxicated))... He appears to exhibit all the signs of borderline personality disorder to boot.

How do I get myself into these situations? I feel like I'm living in a soap opera.


Dear Nicola,

Your letters are inspiring in me a great deal of nostalgia for my roaring twenties and early thirties. The drama! The unreliable men! The drunken fights, the storming outs, the walks along Regent's Park Canal as dawn was breaking, stomping along in my DMs, sobbing desperately, black eyeliner running down my face… the endless waits, the broken dates, the conversations with the flying plates, the lovely lovings and the hateful hates…

Oh, what fun those times were. In retrospect. Because when I was living through them, the lovely highs were fabulous, but those terrible lows were even worse. And even now, I remember the pain some of those unreliable men caused me much more than I do the excitement when they showed me some interest. Not to mention that they caused me to write poetry that, if anyone found it, would force me to kill them immediately.

So here is my question: how old are you? Because what should happen to young people who love the drama and mess of one chaotic not-quite-relationship after another is that eventually, it palls on you. The pattern fades away gradually, to be replaced by a more stable and consistent one. In my late twenties, I met someone and fell into a long-term relationship with him. He was reliable in some ways - he was more than happy to live with me, be faithful, plan for the future -- but absolutely unreliable in others, which in the end caused me to leave him. I wanted more stability. My next boyfriend was more responsible than the one before; and the one after him was so damn responsible that I settled down with him and his cats once and for all. The whole process -- from men who couldn't commit to meeting me in a pub the next day, to one who wanted to marry me -- took about ten years.

It doesn't happen overnight. But, as you grow older and wiser and look after yourself a little bit better, it does happen, if you let it. That's why I'm asking how old you are. If you're any older than your early thirties and you're still living with this amount of chaos, you've let the pattern take you over. It's become an addiction you need to kick. This amount of drama will stop you accomplishing any of your other goals in life. Focus on them instead. Throw your considerable energies into them, and you'll be amazed at how much they blossom and thrive after being neglected for one (admittedly sexy-sounding) messed-up man after another.

And if you're still in your twenties? Hell, have fun (as long as you're keeping yourself safe). But just keep an eye on the clock. Full-on emotional drama is for the young. That runny black eyeliner looks fantastic when you're twenty-five and sobbing your heart out. It doesn't work so well when you're forty-five.

Oh yes, and don't worry that settling down with someone who wants to be with you will inevitably be a long slow descent into utter boredom. Two people with a flair for the dramatic will always find something new to squabble about. Trust me on that.

Best wishes,


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