Caroline West-Meads: ‘I’m worried that he’ll hurt her again’

Ask CarolineQ. My mother, who has been divorced for 20 years, recently dropped a bombshell, saying she wants to get back together with my father. My sister and I are terrified that she will just get hurt all over again. Dad left her for another woman when we were in our early 20s. It was his third affair. Our mum was devastated. She came close to a nervous breakdown and had to give up work. We had to look after her, and at times it was very frightening because she was so close to the edge.

Eventually, however, we got her on antidepressants and into counselling and she came through it and managed to rebuild her life. She did a degree and became a primary school teacher. She still works at 65 and now has lots of friends. But, apart from a couple of brief relationships, she has remained single. She says that our father, who is 68, was the great love of her life. However, my sister and I don’t trust him. He continued to have affairs throughout his second marriage – until his wife turned the tables on him and left him for another man two years ago.

We have talked to him and told him that we think he is just lonely. But he swears that he has learnt from his second wife leaving how much he hurt our mum. He says that he made a terrible mistake and has always regretted it. Our mum is so happy, but we just fear that he will end up hurting her again. What should we do?

A. Yes, people can change and learn from their mistakes – but has he really? He may still love your mum and may even have regrets. But he never loved her enough to put her needs before his desire to have affairs. I suspect, as you say, that he might just be lonely, fear ending up on his own and be tempted by a familiar relationship with a woman who clearly still adores him. I think it is significant that he didn’t express regret until he was the one who was hurt.

Some people would say don’t interfere but, actually, given how devastated your mum was before, you are right to want to protect her. So tell your dad exactly how close to the edge your mum came, spare him no details. Insist that if he wants to make another go of it he must have counselling first (try to address his reasons for constant infidelity. Be clear that if he hurts her again, you and your sister will never forgive him. I do also wonder, though, why your mum holds such a candle for your dad. It could be that her own father was not such a good role model and that she has learnt to have low expectations of men.

If your dad really is the love of her life she may be happier with him than alone, even if the relationship is flawed. She might, however, find that if this becomes reality, underneath she will be too angry with him for the relationship to flourish. Express your concerns to her, and ask if she would consider further counselling to explore these issues.

‘Is he really ill… or just ghosting me?’

Q. I met a guy online a couple of months ago and we started chatting a lot via WhatsApp and getting on really well. He suggested that we meet in person – then the day before he sent me a really apologetic message saying that he was ill and could we postpone it a week.

However, the following week he sent another very apologetic message saying that he was still ill and needed to postpone again. I didn’t reply because I felt he was messing me around. I have been ghosted in the past so I’m very cautious. However, before this he had seemed genuine and a lot of fun. He hasn’t contacted me since and I’ve been wondering, should I get in touch and ask him if he still wants to meet?

A. I would give him the benefit of the doubt. I understand your caution, but at this stage you’re not really invested in the relationship and you only stand to lose a couple of hours. As you didn’t reply, I suspect that he thought you didn’t believe him. If he was genuinely ill, he might have also felt that you were a little unsympathetic. So get in touch and say that you were worried he was just making excuses but that you hope he is better. Ask if he would still like to meet.

Always go on a first date with the moderate expectation of having an interesting conversation with someone new rather than pinning all your hopes on meeting someone special. Maybe have lunch near a place that you would like to visit – then if he turns out to be a waste of time, you can still have a nice afternoon alone. Make sure you meet him in a public place until you get to know him better.