Advice hijack!

This is from an idea I hit on with Bish training: whenever we read some especially bad response in an advice column, we’ll write our own reply. That’s all. No moaning about the official answer or attacking the editorial standards of the original publication, just a replacement answer offered in the hope that we can be a bit smarter and more sympathetic…

From Dear Mariella

I’m 23 and have had a pretty bad run with men for most of my life. I’ve never been in a serious relationship. After wild times last year (starting university, drinking, one-night stands), I began seeing a friend of a friend casually. Then we started spending quality time together – eating out, cinema, etc. I asked whether we were a couple and he told me he couldn’t take the relationship any further. I feel so inexperienced and I can’t put aside the fear that he didn’t want to be with me because there’s something wrong with me. It’s the darkest of times at the moment, and any help would be greatly appreciated.

I don’t know whether this will read as reassuring or terrifying, but no one is as experienced with relationships as they’d like to be. However much you’ve lived through (and I’d say that the wild year of uni and period of dating you describe are nowhere near enough to count as a “bad run”, so you can go a bit easier on the self-criticism), love and sex have a brilliant way of slamming you with some unexpected dilemma or disaster.

Things didn’t work out with this guy, and that’s absolutely fine. A long-term relationship demands a lot of pieces all coming together at more-or-less the same time: mutual attraction, shared aims and ambitions, joint ethics and beliefs. For whatever reason, your ex didn’t see things going the same way as you did. That doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you, just that you weren’t right for each other. And from your letter, it doesn’t sound as though you’re all that cut up about losing him: I think you might be grieving the end of the relationship more than you’re mourning the absence of this man.

You say you’ve never been in a serious relationship, but many of the best relationships start out as downright frivolous – friendships in which attraction takes hold and blooms, and where the desire to be with the other person gradually develops from a weekly date to a daily habit to, maybe, something you both want all the time for the entire foreseeable future. Not every relationship will turn out like that, of course – but that doesn’t make you a failure, it just means that you’re smart enough to figure out what does and doesn’t work.

For now, concentrate on meeting people, doing interesting things, having fun (though not one night stands, as they don’t seem to work for you), and, most importantly, working out what it is that you want from life besides that elusive serious relationship. Because once you’ve got some idea of where you want to go, you may find that the people you take with you fall into place quite painlessly. Good luck.