DEAR FIONA: How do I win over my girlfriend’s disapproving parents?

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Columnist and trained counsellor Fiona Caine offers her perspective for a woman who lies about her lifestyle to her friends and a man who feels rejected by his partner’s parents.

QUESTION: My girlfriend’s parents really don’t like me. They’ve made no secret of the fact they think I am too old for their daughter – she’s 24 and I am 33.

They don’t like the fact I’m self-employed and would much rather I had a steady job they could relate to.

I love her very much and want to marry her but, although she tells me she loves me, she also doesn’t want to upset her parents. It seems really old-fashioned but I’m wondering if I should talk to them and ask for her hand in marriage?

Either that, or perhaps we should just elope?

DEAR FIONA: If you really want to upset her parents, eloping would be the way to go. Aside from depriving them of the chance to go to their daughter’s wedding, it would confirm any suspicions they might have about you.

Although you don’t need ‘permission’ from her parents, asking for their support might be an ideal opportunity for you to convince them you are both serious about each other.

Explain to them, as you have to me, that you love each other and want to get married. Politely say you’d rather do this with their support than without it, but only if they raise objections do you need to add that you are both prepared go ahead either way.

Try to stay calm and don’t be drawn into an argument. Once they see you genuinely care for their daughter and that she is happy, I am sure they will come around.

QUESTION: I’ve been lying to my friends about my life and I don’t know how to stop.

I know it’s childish and stupid and, at 24, it’s time I grew up and told the truth, but I just don’t know how to get myself out of the mess I’m in.

They think I have a steady boyfriend – who they want to meet – and that I have great holidays abroad and another circle of interesting friends.

None of that’s true and I know that, sooner or later, I am going to be found out. I can’t tell anyone what I have been doing because no one would ever trust me again.

FIONA SAYS: People who lie like this tend to do so because they think their life is too dull to be interesting to other people. Generally, they’re not serious lies and they’re rarely intended to hurt others, but they start from insecurity and a lack of confidence.

Instead of making you feel more secure, they erode what little confidence you have and make you feel scared and vulnerable in case you’re found out.

In your case, fortunately, you’ve recognised you have a problem and need help. That’s a big step forward in itself.

You don’t want to lose your existing friends, I’m sure, but it might be helpful to start finding new ones. That may seem scary at first, but start small.

Join an evening class, a walking group – anywhere where people you don’t know mix together and talk. With these new people, commit yourself to always telling the truth about yourself.

If you do find yourself telling a lie, out yourself immediately – you can make a joke out of it by laughing and saying something like, ‘Actually, that’s not true. Really I’m...’

In time, hopefully, you’ll have enough going on in your life that you won’t feel the need to exaggerate and make things up. Meanwhile, if you really feel you can’t tell your old friends the truth right away, tell them you’ve dumped the boyfriend and, if they ask questions, say you’d rather not talk about it. The non-existent ‘interesting friends’ can go with him.

Book yourself an interesting holiday – perhaps go somewhere really exotic. If you can’t afford that, volunteer for a charity project of some kind – that should give you plenty to talk about and you won’t need to make up stories as there will be plenty to tell.

If all this sounds like too much and you feel you can’t get this process started by yourself, please talk to your GP about the possibility of getting some counselling help.

Your GP won’t judge you, nor will any counsellor you see, as what you’re doing is symptomatic of a serious lack of confidence.

Finally, if any of your old friends question you about things you’ve said in the past, just say: ‘That was when I was with my ex and I’d rather not talk about it.’

I’m sure that, in time, you won’t feel the need to tell lies about yourself anymore.

QUESTION: My boyfriend and I are both 18 and, for the past 10 months, we’ve been trying for a baby.

We’ve not used any contraception but I’m still not pregnant and he says I might be sterile. He thinks I should have tests and this has really got me worried.

I don’t know what I’ll do if we can’t have a family, because we love each other very much and it would really hurt us both. Could I be sterile?

FIONA SAYS: Why does your boyfriend think you’re the one that might be sterile when it could just as easily be him?

If you’ve only been trying for 10 months it’s probably too soon for testing, but you could talk to your doctor to see if they think it’s worthwhile you having a check-up.

Take details of your periods and get them to help you work out the best time for you to conceive, if you’re sure that’s what you really want.

You’re both only 18 and having children is a huge commitment. It becomes increasingly difficult to fulfil your dreams and ambitions once you have to bear their needs in mind.

So, even if having children is important to you, be sure there is nothing else you want to do before settling down.

QUESTION: I love my boyfriend but he has a really annoying habit – he sniffs all the time.

This might seem petty, but it drives me crazy. My sister used to do this constantly too and I had to share a room with her. Now, having left home and got myself into a proper relationship, it seems a cruel joke that he’s a sniffer too.

I’ve not really said anything to him about it yet as our relationship is still fairly new, but I know that any day now I am just going to explode.

FIONA SAYS: Quite often people who sniff a lot have an allergic reaction to something – could it be you?

It’s possible that you are wearing something, perhaps a perfume, that’s triggering an allergic reaction in people close to you. It could, of course, be a coincidence or it could be a nervous habit.

If you explode at your boyfriend for his sniffing you’re going to upset your relationship, so try not to snap. Instead, suggest he might need to consider seeing a doctor.

He may well be unaware of the problem, especially if he’s been doing it for a long time, so it will probably take time and tact for him to learn how to suppress it.

Write to Fiona Caine c/o Elise Brewerton, 1000 Lakeside, North Harbour, Portsmouth PO6 3EN or Fiona regrets that she cannot enter into personal correspondence, nor pass letters on to other readers.

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