Ask Fiona: I've met someone new but he's younger than me
Columnist and trained counsellor Fiona Caine offers her perspective on family dramas, emotional issues and dysfunctional relationships. This week: loneliness, confidence and horrible bosses
AFTER my divorce, I began to suffer from nerves and depression very badly.
I went to the hospital and they set up a support group for people with depression and anxiety where I met a man who has similar problems.
After one of the meetings, he asked me to go for a drink – which I did, and since he's given me a lift to the group with him.
Last week, when I got out of the car, he said he wouldn't change me for the world.
I'm pretty sure he likes me, but as I'm a lot older than him (five years), I don't want to make a fool of myself.
I thought, maybe, I could ask him for a meal at my house, but my home isn't posh and he might get the wrong idea.
FIONA SAYS: What wrong idea might that be?
That you like this man sufficiently to invite him to your home for a meal?
Or that your home isn't featured as a centre spread in Homes & Gardens?
He has shown you, by his comment and his interest, that he likes you and, honestly, five years is nothing.
It may be that he doesn't want to push things with you because he is aware of your issues, and of course he may be nervous about being rejected, especially as he has problems of his own.
He may need an indication from you that you're interested and that you wouldn't dismiss him if he suggested taking things further.
With both of you lacking confidence, you could spend a long time trying to second guess one another and getting nowhere, so take the plunge and invite him in for coffee next time he gives you a lift.
Don't assume, if he refuses, that he's not interested – he may genuinely have to be somewhere else. Just suggest that maybe he'd like to take you up on your offer the next time.
I need someone to talk to
I'M a single parent with a few issues that get me down from time to time.
There's nothing particularly serious, but what I really need is someone to talk to who knows what I am going through.
I don't mean a special friend, just someone I could chat to and share some of the stupid little problems with.
I am quite lonely and the few friends and family I do have are all happily married.
Any ideas as to where I could get to know someone who'd understand?
FIONA SAYS: There are a number of groups for single parents around and I'd strongly recommend you consider joining one of these.
Gingerbread (gingerbread.org.uk), for example, has groups throughout the UK plus an online forum where you can chat to people in the same position as you, as does its Northern Irish branch, Gingerbread Northern Ireland (www.gingerbreadni.org).
One Parent Families Scotland (www.opfs.org.uk) also provides support across the nation and has some support groups as well. There is also a helpline you can contact for advice.
These are national organisations, but you may find there are small local independent groups. Your GP or health visitor may be able to advise you on these or else your local library.
Finally, don't discount your married friends – they may not be in the same position as you, but I'm sure you'd find them willing to try and help.
My boss doesn't do her fair share
MY manager is making my life an absolute misery – she does nothing at all, all day and passes everything over to me.
I can't cope with it all, but she does absolutely nothing to help and recently, when the work load really built up, she persuaded her boss to appoint an additional member of staff.
The new woman is a friend of hers and so, of course, does next to nothing too – which now means I've got even more work to cover.
When I complained to the boss, he just called her in and told her to sort it out!
Of course, she was furious and now makes things even worse for me.
It's making me really depressed and that's upsetting my family, but I can't just leave this firm as we need the money.
FIONA SAYS: Under normal circumstances, I'd be suggesting you try and talk to your manager and see if you can't sort things out.
Clearly, in this case, that wouldn't work – nor would my next suggestion, which would have been to take it to her boss because that too failed you.
In my opinion, your employer showed very poor judgement by simply passing the matter back to your manager and it would seem human resources issues aren't being handled well at your firm.
If there is a union representative then try asking them for help – assuming you're a member but, if there isn't, you're going to need outside help.
I suggest you contact ACAS (the Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service – www.acas.org.uk) and ask their advice – they offer online help and a phone line you can use.
Your manager is taking advantage of you and you might have a legal case against the company, however, I understand you might not want to rock the boat as you need your job.
I would ask around locally for other opportunities – there might be another job somewhere you would be properly valued.
I like a boy and it's distracting me from my exams
WHEN I did my A levels a couple of years back, my boyfriend broke up with me just before the exams.
I was in a right state and didn't do as well as I was expected to, but still managed to get a place at university, where I am now.
I'm coming up to exams again soon and I'm really worried because I can't concentrate or think straight.
It's because I'm hopelessly attracted to a guy who doesn't seem to know I even exist.
People have noticed how down and depressed I am and I know I need to get rid of these thoughts because otherwise they will jeopardise my degree results.
I just don't know how.
FIONA SAYS: If he doesn't know you exist, why don't you make the first move?
Could it be that, with a painful relationship in your past, you are only too aware of how you react when things go wrong?
And could that be at the heart of your anxiety generally?
I can't help but wonder if there isn't a deep-rooted concern about your own academic abilities behind all this and that you're afraid of failure.
It's almost as if you're preparing the ground in advance for not doing as well in your exams as other people might expect.
Try to be completely honest with yourself and make sure you are not using your feelings for this guy as a means of justification for any possible failure on your part.
Your university almost certainly has a student counselling service – talk to them about your feelings and try to accept that you can only ever do your best in exams; you don't need this guy as an excuse.
Regardless of the outcome, you have done well to get this far – have more confidence in yourself.