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Bel Mooney answers readers’ emotional questions

Love asks us to enjoy our life

For nothing good can come of death.

‘Who is alive?’ I ask.

Those who are born of love

Rumi (13th-century Persian poet, Islamic scholar and mystic)

Dear Bel,

There is no one else to say or write this to.

I am ridiculous. I have wasted years and years making myself miserable and thinking there’s no point to my life.

It’s the usual story: I loved someone dearly, a wonderful man who meant the world to me, but he was not my husband.

When we first met, we were all young, married (both still are) and he imprinted himself on me. We became lovers for two years.

Afterwards I became the bunny boiler Ex, texted, phoned all hours, emailed . . . for years.

He was kind and said he had deep feelings for me, but didn’t love me. But I kept going. Eventually, I wore myself out and managed to stop.

He and his family went on to become very successful: Dubai, Switzerland, homes abroad etc. My husband and I went on a different road and life became a struggle (it still is). We lost money and even our home.

I dreamed my great love might come on his white charger and take me away from everything and we would ride off together into a wonderful sunset.

You must be shaking your head. No matter — I shake mine as well. But still I miss him and the double-edged sword called hope is still there. No, not to ‘ride off’ with me, but maybe just for him to come and say hello again.

Every year I’ve sent him a birthday card, taking ages to find the right one. This year I wrote out three, unable to choose.

Then, I was looking for a stamp when I came across something I cut out of your page years ago.

It said that when you come to a place in the road where there are two paths, stop and breathe. So I did and then tore the cards up. But sometimes not doing anything is the hardest part.

When I tell you that I have a beautiful daughter who loves me, a dutiful son, two wonderful grandsons and a husband who cares, you’ll advise me to appreciate what I have. I do. But his birthday is tomorrow and I love him.

ROSEMARY

Bel Mooney answers readers’ questions on emotional and relationship problems. This week looks at exes, and awkward wedding invites with estranged family members

The other day, giving a talk about this column, I said there’s not much difference in the end between the doomed passion of Anna Karenina for her handsome Vronsky in Tolstoy’s great novel and ‘the agony of a woman who writes telling me she is in love with a man who is not her husband.’

At the time I had not yet read your email. The American novelist William Faulkner wrote: ‘The only thing worth writing about is the conflict in the human heart.’

The greatest love poetry and the most powerful novels have this at their core — and so does a heartfelt letter like yours, full of the perennial foolishness and agony of unrequited love.

You second-guess my response, saying I’ll shake my head in reproof — but this only happened once as I read your letter. It came where you write ‘thinking there’s no point to my life’.

The misery I can understand, the longing, even the hopeful fantasies, but I won’t collude in the self-pity of that awful phrase — not when I read your list of the caring people in your life.

You know as well as I that there is every point to your life. To allow yourself even that single breath of self-indulgent negativity is a betrayal of all those who love you. I’m sorry, I’ve no time for it.

But I do feel sympathy for your honesty in writing as you have. I think I understand about unrequited love, although it’s not something I’ve ever experienced.

But devotion is real — and it always moves me to read of men and women who display it, even (say) after death. What’s more, I know there are some beloved people who enter your heart at a particular time and lodge there for ever. 

I have one such romantic memory myself and thinking of that long-past love still fills me with warmth. But not with mawkish wistfulness. No, no, no. There’s no time for that.

I am a realist — and so must you be. It’s essential to break this cycle of maundering sentimentality. The affair ended, but your feelings for this ‘kind’ man remained locked in that moment, like a mosquito in a bubble of resin that solidified to become amber, 30 million years ago, imprisoning it for ever.

Your ex went away; therefore you were never able to become bored, never running the risk of finding his laugh annoying or his breath a bit pongy after too much to drink the night before, never noticing he’s developed a paunch or slack jowls.

No, your romantic dreams remained fixed, and the only thing you had left was your rage that he had called it off. Obsessive passion turned you into a terrible person, the ‘bunny boiler’ (the Glenn Close character in Fatal Attraction) who came close to real harassment.

You’re lucky he remained tolerant — and that your poor husband didn’t change the locks. (Surely he must have known something was wrong? How awful for him.) 

But now you have to decide to face the future like an adult and remake your life with a whole heart. Vow not to send any more birthday cards. He doesn’t want them, so imagine him sighing as he opens the envelope. Do you want that?

You made the right decision this year, so let it be a precedent.

You say, ‘I love him’, but precisely who do you love? Your fantasy — or a real man, with all faults, who can’t ride horses?

The truth is, you don’t even know your old lover any more, so focus. Think of him as a fossil — beautiful, precious, but very dead.

 I don’t want my dad at my wedding

Dear Bel,

I am 21 — raised by my mum and her ex-partner. He came into my life when I was two and took me on as his own, changing my life and mum’s for the better.

When I was about 14 or 15 he moved abroad, but we’re in daily contact and I’m always flying to see him. Nothing has changed.

I learned that my biological dad has other kids — family I didn’t know about — and at 16 decided to get in contact with the family I’d missed out on. I started visiting every week.

It became obvious he was very aggressive and manipulative — shouting at my younger half-brothers for getting excited when I got there and making them go to another room or bed.

He’d hardly talk to me while he played on his Xbox and after about a year I saw no point in going. He’d also lied and told me Mum wouldn’t let him see me, when it was me who had no interest.

In November 2016, he rang to say happy birthday and that he’d bring a card. He’s ten minutes away.

But, like all the earlier years, nothing. Until the other day — when he called, furious because I hadn’t made contact. He said I should come and look after my half-brothers — but didn’t ask me how I was.

And finally 

Goodbye to summer and old friends… 

It happens twice yearly — the ritual of dragging the bags from under the bed to swap the clothes in my wardrobe, summer to winter and back.

I just got round to the chore — packing away the silk dress I bought for my favourite niece’s wedding in 2002 and wore to another union this summer. Some of these garments are old mates: ‘Bye, pink linen skirt, see you in the spring! I didn’t wear you once this summer, Indian dress (but I’m sure I will next year. )

Away with the delicate cardis; out with the chunky ones. So it goes . . . as the seasons turn and I become a year older.

This time, it was more melancholy than usual as I put away pastel jeans and took out the cords, because I’d just heard the sad news that another friend had died of cancer — on nearly the same day that we lost lovely Sue, three years ago.

Both women were born in 1946, like me; both were present when Robin and I married ten years ago.

When a friend dies you want to raise your fist to the sky and shout, ‘Too soon!’ — and yet life isn’t a parking meter into which we pay for allotted time, is it? Accepting providence, you can only vow to cherish your days to the full — for the sake of those you loved who no longer have that privilege.

Last October, for my 70th, our chum Big Al the Biker gave me a simple present: a photo in a frame.

It shows him and Sue and my husband Robin and I, sitting in our leathers on the grass on a summer’s day, our motorcycles parked behind. He said it was a reminder to me to seize the time.

And now that picture stands on the windowsill right next to my desk, doing its job.

So as I unpack velvets, woollens, thick leggings to tuck into boots, I remember Sue and Victoria, their conversation and warmth on winter evenings when candles flickered and wine glowed ruby-red. And I’m grateful.

I’m planning to marry next November. The man I call Dad, who brought me up, will walk me down the aisle — he has the right to, as he’s always been there for me.

Do you think there is any possible way to have my younger brothers at my wedding, but not my biological father?

OLIVIA

A friend once sprang a question on me: ‘Do you believe in unconditional love?’ That thought cropped up again when another friend told me her son has behaved so appallingly she doesn’t know if she likes him any more.

We agreed that love needs replenishing if it is to be drawn on, rather like the deposit in a bank.

Reading your letter, it occurs to me the same question can be applied to duty. I often talk about our duty to parents, in the knowledge this also depends on behaviour. It can’t be unconditional. Who can go on loving any family member if they behave so badly that the love and/or sense of obligation dwindles and dies?

In this case, your biological father was never there for you and I do not think you have one iota of love for him — or even any sense of duty. How can you?

He never earned it, as your stepfather did — and the strength of that connection has been proved by your ongoing relationship, even though he is no longer with your mother.

You only made contact with your biological father again because you wanted to meet your half-brothers. It wasn’t because you had any yearning for him. I wish you had said how old these brothers are — because that would make my reply much easier. If they are still very young (why else would he suggest you look after them?) I doubt he would allow them to go to your wedding.

In that case, the choice would be yours: if you want them to attend, you would have to put up with his presence, too. Have you discussed this with your mother? And have you asked your stepfather what his feelings would be? Surely their answers would loom large as you try to make up your mind.

If the boys are older, I see no reason why you shouldn’t give them a role on the day — ‘Junior Ushers’, for example — as an excuse for not inviting your biological father. It would surely be worth a try.

Will he make a fuss? Would you have to invite the mother of your half-brothers? It seems to me that if you are planning a big wedding the situation would be easier, because their presence would be ‘diluted’ by all the other people.

But if it’s to be a smaller ‘do’, then I fear that neither you, your mother nor your stepfather will be made happy by your biological father’s presence.

In the past, when this situation has arisen in the column (as it always will!) I know I have invoked duty and forgiveness and reconciliation. But, you know, I’m not feeling it here.

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 bel.mooney@dailymail.co.uk. A pseudonym will be used if you wish. Bel reads all letters but regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence.

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