Does history repeat itself? In the early 1970s, my father started an affair with an American lady, C, in his office. She’d been sent to the UK because of a liaison with a married man. Dad would invite C to our home at weekends as she was lonely.
At the time, we four children were 14, 13, 11 and six. She was 27. In the end, he moved into a flat with C — and we accepted the situation and visited them.
Sadly, Dad died three years later after a long illness. Nearly 16 then, I visited him at the flat with Mum before he died. It meant so much that he told her how very sorry he was for how he had hurt her. Mum fell to pieces after he died.
Thought of the day
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate;
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.
From Sonnet 18 by William Shakespeare.
In 1977, aged 20, I married my husband and we had two children. He became seriously ill in 1985 and was in intensive care. After a whole year, he finally returned to work — a really tough time for us all. In 1990, we had our third child and I was so proud of our happy family.
This all changed 20 years ago when a divorcee, M, came into our lives. She became involved with one of my husband’s activities and he started to behave differently — drinking more and finding excuses to help out M.
We argued so much about her and when I found a hidden second mobile, I asked him to leave. Our two eldest were at university so it was just me and the youngest (13) at home. I really struggled, but six months later was getting much stronger.
Eventually, he asked if we could try again. I agreed, but obviously she had to go. It took a long time — and what happened still hurts — but 15 years later I couldn’t be happier with our relationship of 43 years.
Now our youngest son, who married in May 2018 (after a six-year courtship), left his wife in January because of a woman, R, at work. Like his father, he has been cruel in words and deeds. It has tipped me over the edge, as my son seemed like another person.
In March, he apologised to his wife, made promises, booked couple counselling, said he’d end it with R and look for a new job. All positive. A week later, my daughter-in-law saw an explicit sex text between our son and R. He now says he wants R, not his wife.
I’m trying to be so careful, as I don’t want to alienate him. He says he’s fine and before the lockdown was planning to go away with R. But our daughter-in-law lives round the corner and is in a bad way. Her mum is miles away, so I’ve been trying to support her.
It is all such a mess. How much should I be involved?
This week Bel advises a reader who is afraid her son’s extra-marital affair is a result of his own father’s cheating
Your first question is very interesting and something I was discussing with my daughter on the telephone recently.
A friend had been dumped (which didn’t bother her at all!) by a chap she’d been seeing whose father had been habitually unfaithful.
She wondered if the chap’s inability to sustain relationships (at the age of nearly 50) was due to his disillusionment with his parents. All his instincts convince him that love is neither true nor lasting.
In your longer letter, you explain that your son, aged 13, regularly stayed with his father while he was seeing M, so who knows what lasting effect that had?
It could have inculcated an idea that life is tough and people get hurt but, you know, chaps have to do their thing. Entering puberty must surely have played its part. With all the changes going on around him, plus those in his own body, he probably had no choice but to toughen up.
You must have confided in him and he saw how you suffered, but later watched you put your marriage back together. I am sure he was glad, but perhaps some damage had been done.
I know that’s all speculation, but in telling me three stories — those of your father, your husband and your son — you identify a pattern, rather like a Greek tragedy.
But the really important question comes at the end. You know your son has behaved very badly and hate the fact that he’s reminding you of the father who ruined your mother’s life. Nevertheless, he remains your son, for better for worse.
That ‘better’ surely includes doing all you can to support his wronged wife and hoping a good pattern may be repeated — and that he goes back to her as your husband did to you.
You don’t mention any children, which is a relief. I would do all you can to give emotional support to your daughter-in-law, show a cool interest in your son’s life, but make it clear to him that you refuse to take sides. It may not last with R. He may return to his wife — in which case all your own experience will be needed in helping them put their life back together, in pain but with forgiveness.
My female friend keeps ignoring me
A work colleague and I became friends very quickly. I am 33 and she is 29. I spent lots of time offering my help with her various problems and when she was just feeling down.
For example, she had a problem with a boyfriend break-up so I introduced her to one of my friends. I used to buy her chocolates, listen and keep her secrets.
In return, she chatted to me and helped my confidence, so I even took her out for lunch to say thank you. I used to stick up for her when our colleagues were bad-mouthing her behind her back to me.
She was made redundant so contact between us was made more difficult. When she left the office, she forgot some belongings, so I picked them up, took them home and she collected them from my house because she felt she could trust me.
Since then, I have been struggling with the lockdown. So I asked her if she would chat, but communication has stopped for two weeks. I’m afraid she has past form when it comes to delays in contacting me.
But now I am frustrated because I can see that she is very active on social media, including with some of the same work colleagues who were bad-mouthing her to me. What would your advice be?
This is one of those short emails which seems very simple but, I suspect, conceals much more unhappiness than it reveals. You put as the subject of your email, ‘Selfish former work colleague’ which suggests that your only issue is with her failure to think of others.
She may indeed be very selfish, yet surely it is much more than her alleged character defects that bother you? You sound so wounded, so disappointed, so lost — and very lonely, too. You say you are ‘struggling with the lockdown’ — which I take to mean more than it actually says.
Do you live alone? I fear there’s something here which perhaps makes you more vulnerable than many people — perhaps something in your past history?
More from Bel Mooney for the Daily Mail…
You’ve skirted round your emotional connection with this young woman, but most people reading your words will assume you fell in love with her pretty quickly.
You are probably a shy man — one who finds the often-brutal casualness of modern social life very hard to join in with. I doubt you are the sort of chap who ‘swipes left’ very often or who believes he can attract women by means of looks and personality. Instead you tried to be kind to a young colleague to whom you were powerfully attracted.
You gave her gifts, listened to her woes, basked in the attention (her easy chats) which helped your confidence.
I’m guessing you were really quite desperate to become indispensable. I also suspect you went to sleep thinking about her and woke each morning looking forward to seeing her at work. You know you did all the running, but you were prepared to put up with it because you loved her company — and (in truth) hoped for love.
There’s nothing to be ashamed of in any of that, even if the sad suspicion that you were being used is now making you thoroughly miserable.
She may even be just the lovely lady you thought she was, with no intention to hurt anybody. But that was then and it’s over.
It does you no good at all to follow her on social media when she is ignoring you. I feel very sorry for you, yet I believe you have to accept that this person only wanted you as a friend when it was convenient because you worked together.
Now she has moved on and I advise you to do your best to accept that. You feel angry/hurt that she has easy exchanges with those others from work — and yet I have to warn you that perhaps your naked intensity of feeling for her has finally put all brakes on any wish to contact you.
I feel so mean even writing that, but I hate the thought of you continuing to delude yourself that this friendship has any place to go.
I hope for your sake the lockdown ends soon and you can return to work. Until then, you might consider having some online counselling. For example, Relate (relate.org.uk) runs telephone, webcam and live chat services, which may be useful if you have difficulty in forming relationships.
And try hard to counter your lockdown blues by keeping active. Exercise, read, cook, tidy up, make a pile of clothes for the charity shop — anything to keep you away from that phone and her hurtful silence.
And finally… Spring is on hold — but be patient
I wanted a lovely spring-like May time quotation for the column, but now it’s grey outside and my newly planted Nicotiana is getting bashed by rain.
I’m glad I didn’t dig out my summer clothes — but made an old friend giggle when I solemnly intoned, ‘Ne’r cast a clout ’til May is out’ like some wise old bumpkin-biddy dispensing ancient wisdom.
But of course, Shakespeare knew it all — that ‘rough winds’ in May can destroy the buds which would have become glorious blossom, while late frosts make a mockery of our premature summer togs.
Bel answers readers’ questions on emotional and relationship problems each week.
Write to Bel Mooney, Daily Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TT, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
A pseudonym will be used if you wish.
Bel reads all letters but regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence.
I remember May lambing times on my first husband’s farm when the nights were bitter, the fields white with frost, but the animals warm and safe in the barn.
All the old myths and customs around spring, in so many cultures, are about new life, sexual activity (dancing around the maypole, anyone?) and renewal — but this year it’s harder than ever to believe in that.
Everything feels so static, our emotions forced to be as locked down as our actions, otherwise we’d go mad.
I’m reminded of some lines from the poet T.S. Eliot:
I have heard the key,
Turn in the door once and turn once only;
We think of the key, each in his prison,
Thinking of the key…
That quote is from The Waste Land — a title that seems fitting. I keep hearing how friends feel strangely bleak and empty as they wait, wait, wait. A colleague emailed: ‘This really is a strange time. One day I feel fine and the next a creeping anxiety — with no rhyme or reason for the change.’
I’m sure many of you recognise that. And even though I’m used to being isolated at home, I’m now longing to break out — like a prisoner scaling a wall.
Yet we must be patient a while longer. Meanwhile, I’m renewed daily by all your lovely comments, and if you want to see me making the best of things, check out mailplus.co.uk/tv/feel-well-with-bel