Columnist and trained counsellor Fiona Caine offers her perspective on family dramas, emotional issues and dysfunctional relationships. This week: drifting apart, periods and what constitutes ‘manliness’
QUESTION: For the last three years I’ve worked for a large company where I was quite happy.
Recently though, one of the men there has started making comments about my lack of sexual experience.
I don’t know why as I’ve never discussed such things with him, or indeed anyone else. Whenever he makes these comments, other people start laughing and I find it very embarrassing and hurtful.
Now one of the girls has started joining in and she’s started spreading hurtful gossip about me too. It’s got to the point that I now dread going to work and have started looking for a new job.
FIONA SAYS: This makes me so angry – it’s nothing short of sexual harassment and bullying!
If the behaviour is either meant to, or has the effect of, either violating your dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment, then the law says it’s sexual harassment.
I know you feel that you would rather run away from the hurt and embarrassment these stupid people are causing, but please don’t.
You have done nothing wrong and it would be a shame to move from a job that you otherwise seem to enjoy.
Ask for an appointment to see your manager with your company’s human resources manager.
If you’re part of a union, ask your union representative to be present as well, or see them privately.
Keep a record of what’s being said, by whom and when and take the details with you to the meeting.
It is the responsibility of the company to put a stop to this and, if it continues, then you can raise a formal grievance or even make a claim through an employment tribunal.
These people are insensitive idiots who seem to think it’s funny to make cheap jokes at another people’s expense. Well, it’s not and it’s time they learned otherwise.
QUESTION: My boyfriend and I have been together for nine years and although he’s kind and I believe I love him, I feel our relationship isn’t all it should be.
Our sex life used to be great and we’d talk and plan our future together but, over the past year, we’ve rarely made love at all and I can’t remember when we last sat and really talked.
He’s stopped staying over at my flat and, when I go to his place, he finds an excuse to sleep in the spare room.
He’s dropped a few hints about getting married, but I’ve not committed myself as I’m beginning to wonder if this is as good as it’s ever going to be.
After nine years with him I don’t want things to fall apart, but I’m 31 and the thought of starting over is just awful.
Do you think I should be worried?
FIONA SAYS: It doesn’t really matter what I think because you are worried – otherwise you wouldn’t have written to me. In fact, I think there is a great deal to be concerned about here.
Rather than growing closer together, you two seem to be drifting apart and you don’t give me many clues here as to why.
You say he talks about marriage, but you also say you seem to talk less, so while he still wants you, the fact he doesn’t talk will almost certainly be contributing to your uncertainty.
Clearly you don’t want to make a mistake, but unless you talk openly with one another about what has changed then marrying would, I feel, be a big mistake.
What do you want from this relationship, and what does he want? If all he’s looking for is companionship and you’re happy with that, fine, but you indicate you’re looking for a more physical relationship than that.
I’m surprised, for example, that you haven’t discussed why he moves into his spare room when you stay over, and have you asked him why he doesn’t stay at your flat anymore?
It may well be that something has made him lack confidence in himself – does he feel he doesn’t satisfy you? Is he under pressure at work? Is that making him tired and stressed?
Unless you can start being more open with each other, I don’t think you’re ever going to be happy. While the thought of starting again after nine years together feels an enormous hurdle to get over, it’s not as big a leap as it would be to get out of a failed marriage.
You’re still young and if you were to build up your social life again, and take up any and all social opportunities that present themselves, you would start to meet new people.
If what your current boyfriend is prepared to offer isn’t enough, you will need to be brave and make the break.
Otherwise you could drift like this for several more years feeling less and less happy as time passes, but even more unwilling to move on.
QUESTION: Am I normal? My periods started about eight months ago, just after my thirteenth birthday, and they’re still not regular like my friend’s.
Sometimes I bleed a lot and sometimes there is hardly anything, and sometimes nothing at all.
My mum says it’s normal, but I still don’t feel sure and I think I need more advice.
I don’t want to go to the doctor though because my GP is a man.
FIONA SAYS: You have really only just started having periods and it can take a few years before a regular pattern is established.
Certainly for the first year, periods are often irregular and hard to predict, but it’s a good idea to keep track of them by noting them down in a diary.
That way, if things change radically – if, for example, after you’ve established a regular cycle and it suddenly becomes irregular again – you will know immediately.
In the early days, there is a great deal of variation in the amount you bleed as well as the frequency.
If you don’t think you can face talking to someone, visit FPA.org.uk and search for ‘Periods’, where you’ll find a really useful leaflet you can download.
If you still have questions after that, do please make an appointment with a doctor or nurse. Your GP practice should let you see a female doctor or, perhaps, a nurse practitioner.
Make a list of all the things you’re concerned about so you don’t miss anything and don’t be embarrassed as they will all be perfectly natural concerns they’ve heard before.
QUESTION: My dad shaves every day, sometimes twice, and he says it’s because he’s a ‘manly man’.
My boyfriend never seems to need to shave and he told me sometimes he only does so once a week.
He’s 19 and, if he’s not ‘manly’, I’m afraid he might be gay and not know it.
FIONA SAYS: I think your father may have confused you as to what constitutes manliness.
Being hairy doesn’t have anything to do with sexual inclination – one of my gay friends is so ‘hairy’ that he shaves twice a day.
Please stop worrying and count yourself lucky to have found yourself an attractive man whose face doesn’t feel like sandpaper by five in the afternoon.
Write to Fiona Caine c/o Elise Brewerton, 1000 Lakeside, North Harbour, Portsmouth PO6 3EN or firstname.lastname@example.org. Fiona regrets that she cannot enter into personal correspondence, nor pass letters on to other readers.