Life

Ask Fiona: A man I dated won't stop sending me letters – how can I get this to stop?

Columnist and trained counsellor Fiona Caine advises a woman who's being harassed by an ex, and a couple considering sperm donation

Writing continuous letters to someone who doesn't want them is harassment and should be reported to the police

I WENT out with a man for about six months some three years ago, but I finished the relationship with him because I felt increasingly uncomfortable about him. Since then, he has kept sending me letters, postcards or cards at least once a week – sometimes more – and I am sick of it. At first, I sent them back, but now I know he's moved and I don't know where to, as he doesn't put his address on them. When they first started coming, I sent him a letter asking him to please stop and that I'm not interested but he took no notice. I then went to a solicitor, who sent him two letters demanding that he stop but this didn't work either.

I'm increasingly uncomfortable about it. I went to the police but they won't do anything because the letters aren't threatening. I went back to the solicitor but the woman I originally saw has left and the new man clearly wasn't interested, and it was clear he really didn't want to help. I know I could just bin the letters, but I shouldn't have to. Even companies aren't allowed to write to you every month and I just want it stopped.

CC

FIONA SAYS: This man has been writing to you for three years, and while his letters are not malicious, they have become a nuisance and cause annoyance and anxiety. The laws on harassment, though, would make it difficult for the police to judge when to act. It's usually defined as unwanted behaviour which offends you, or which makes you feel humiliated or intimidated. In your case, I suspect the police have decided that whilst it has annoyed you, this constant barrage of letters has neither humiliated you nor intimidated you. However, it's not really their job to decide that. Harassment is both a criminal and a civil offence, but the police might be reluctant to prosecute if they think there is little likelihood of a conviction. It's the job of the courts to decide if something is harassment under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.

The courts will look at whether most people or a reasonable person would think the behaviour amounts to harassment. I think I'm a reasonable person and, to me, this seems like harassment, so I think you need to start building a case.

If you haven't already done so, put everything you receive from this man to one side – a box at the bottom of the wardrobe, for example, where you don't have to look at it. Try and keep them in date order - the postmarks should be enough evidence. Once you've got a reasonable pile, then phone your local police station and make an appointment to see an officer. Tell them you believe you are the victim of harassment and that you would like to discuss it with someone.

Hopefully, when the police see the volume and frequency of the letters etc, they will consider it sufficient to prosecute. If they don't though, don't despair, as you still have the option of taking an action in the civil courts. The court can make an order or injunction that this man must stop his harassment of you and if that doesn't stop him, then he will have committed a criminal offence for which he can be prosecuted. If you decide to take court action, then I'd strongly recommend you get advice from an experienced legal adviser - but that doesn't mean you have to go back to the disinterested solicitor. I'd suggest that instead you contact a Citizens Advice local office. They can help you prepare a case and any paperwork that's needed; it may be that someone from Citizens Advice can even come with you to court. I do hope you succeed in getting this man stopped. His obsessive behaviour is not acceptable.

CAN I CANCEL HOLIDAY PLANS WITH MY FRIEND NOW THAT I'VE GOT A BOYFRIEND?

Earlier this year, my friend and I spent a lot of time together deciding where we would go and what we wanted to do on our holiday. We made our booking and have been looking forward d to our get-away of a couple of weeks in Spain.

Since then, though, my life has changed completely. I've met and fallen in love with a wonderful man, who also wants to take me away on holiday. Because of work, I cannot afford two breaks away. I really want to go with the man I love but I'm worried about letting my friend down.

Should I stick with the original plan or do you think she'll understand? It's not like she's never been away on her own before.

WR

FIONA SAYS: If this is a good friend who knows about your romance, then I'm sure she'd understand, but I suspect she'd still feel hurt. It wasn't as if your arrangement was a last-minute deal, it was something you planned together. So, regardless of whether she's able or willing to go on her own, she was probably looking forward to time away with you. A friendship isn't something that you can just pick up then drop again when something better comes along – it requires as much attention and care as any other relationship. If you don't go with your friend, does she have anyone else who could take your place? Talk to your friend and explain the situation to her. If there is someone else she gets along well with and who is happy to go with her, then offer to pay for the transfer of tickets.

It's still a risk that your friend will be hurt though, so I just hope this man really is worth risking a friendship for. Are you sure you can't wait until you have more holiday/money available to go away with him?

SHOULD WE USE MY PARTNER'S BROTHER'S SPERM?

My partner and I have been together for nearly two years now, and I've been so happy with him and with his two daughters, when they visit us. So, it came as a big shock to me when he told me that when he was married before, he'd had a vasectomy.

He didn't think I'd mind – but I find I really do, and as much as I love my stepdaughters, they don't live with us and aren't enough for me.

We've started to discuss him having the operation reversed but understand that the chances aren't too good. His brother has said he would donate his sperm if we want, but I'm a little unsure about this. I suppose we'd use a syringe or something but is it OK and is it legal? We don't want to ask our GP, in case it isn't.

NN

FIONA SAYS: It isn't illegal and it happens quite often, but that doesn't make it the right thing to do. What you propose is potentially complicated and could have a lot of emotional repercussions for everyone involved.

Have you considered the future? What if the brother decided he wanted to be recognised as the child's father? What if something happened to your husband and the brother decided to lay claim to the child? What would happen if you and your partner separated? And what will you say to the child when it's older about the relationship?

Do go and discuss things with your GP. For a start, the reversal for vasectomy is very much more successful than it used to be, although the success rate does decrease the longer it's left after the initial operation.

If it doesn't work for you then you might want to consider a proper treatment centre, with an anonymous donor who has been properly screened and tested for sexually transmitted diseases.

HOW CAN I CONVINCE MY PARTNER TO COMMIT MORE?

For two years now, I've been going out with a man who was widowed five years ago and left with two teenagers to bring up. He's a bit older than me and is, I think, the love of my life, but I don't think he feels as strongly as I do.

He's got lots of great qualities, but he is also brutally honest and he told me right at the start that he would never marry or live with anyone again, and he has stuck by this.

As far as he is concerned, his children come first, and while I can understand this, I can't say I like it. He knows I would like more from him, and I've broken up with him twice over this, but I miss him so much that I go back to him.

Can you think of any way in which I could get him to be more committed?

NS

FIONA SAYS: If this man is as brutally honest as you say, then I think you already know the answer to this. Despite you breaking this relationship off, he still hasn't changed his mind, so it doesn't look like he ever will.

I am sorry to say it, but I think you have to decide if this is enough for you – and it it's not then perhaps it's time to face the fact and move on. I imagine he is happy with his life and this easy-going, uncommitted relationship, but he's not really giving you a lot of love or support.

Rather than drift back together the next time you split up, you need to make a real effort to look elsewhere and build new relationships that give you the commitment you want and need.

:: If you have a problem you need help with, email Fiona by writing to help@askfiona.net for advice. All letters are treated in complete confidence and, to protect this privacy, Fiona is unable to pass on your messages to other readers. Fiona regrets that she cannot enter into personal correspondence.

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