The tortured passion of Anna Karenina for Count Vronsky proves more gripping than any tale of happy-ever-after, as it's fuelled by exhilarating jeopardy.

QUESTION: In my late 20s I had an affair with a married man. It was the most passionate, painful and amazing thing that happened to me. I ended it after a year because of guilt but nothing in the 20 years since has come close to that intensity. I ended three perfectly good relationships because they couldn’t match it. I’m terrified I’m chasing phantoms - what should I do?


ANSWER: The terrifying thing about thwarted passion is that it often takes an even greater hold than the gratified kind. Twenty years ago, you pointed yourself at someone you couldn’t keep, so you never lived through the gentle re-adjustments that happen with fully-fledged relationships.

The intensity of your attraction was never diluted by the routines of domestic life. You didn’t row over money, mess or children’s bath times. You didn’t have enough time together for his features to become over-familiar or the animal magnetism to fade into something more human and fond.

You have allowed the sex to become so enshrined in your memory that no mortal man can equal that voltage. Furthermore, this fledgling romance had all the thrilling, operatic allure of the illicit. You threw yourself into an impossible situation at an impressionable age when everything seemed like a torrid novel.

There’s a reason why most of the great love stories of literature are concerned with affairs. The tortured passion of Anna Karenina for Count Vronsky proves more gripping than any tale of happy-ever-after, as it’s fuelled by exhilarating jeopardy.

But back here in real life, do you want your relationships to be constantly overshadowed by grief and hazard? These dramas wear your heart out in the end. I don’t know if you practised a form of self-sabotaage by ending three good relationships, but it seems probable.

It’s time to admit you’ve placed a highly destructive myth at the heart of your emotional life. You need to look back at that affair and acknowledge what would have happened if you hadn’t ended it. You would have shouldered the guilt of finishing his marriage, and watched him grow old and careworn, with diminished libido.

I wonder if you’ve glimpsed him since things ended? It can be helpful to see ex-lovers because they have often changed and lost their allure. Wham! In a second their grip on your heart is gone. A short course in counselling could be useful, too.

I’m not telling you to accept second-best - you deserve a passionate relationship. But a step towards emotional maturity is the realisation that an assiduous lover is sexier and more valuable than a withholding, part-time one.

It’s time to relinquish your phantom and find a flesh-and-blood man who loves you in the here and now. - Daily Mail