BEL MOONEY: All I want is someone to love

Every person has certain qualities … in their heart which are awkward, disturbing, negative. One of your sacred duties is to exercise kindness towards them.

From Anam Cara by John O’Donohue (Irish poet and priest, 1956–2008)

Dear Bel,

I want some reassurance — or perhaps a bit of a shove.

My life’s in a rut: I have just got my PhD, so it should be a happy time, but I’m struggling to find a job. And, after nearly 20 years in full-time education (I’m 26), perhaps I’m struggling with the real world in general, which seems so serious and uncaring.

In the past year, I’ve had 20 interviews and have made countless applications besides these, but despite help on how to succeed at interviews, I’ve not made much progress so far.

I’ve been working part-time at a High Street retailer but, being rather shy and sometimes disorganised, perhaps wasn’t best suited to retail. I’ve just been told that once the temporary contract expires, I needn’t re-apply.

This wasn’t a job I wanted for ever, but it’s a blow to my self-esteem, which I’ve often struggled with despite academic achievements. Mind, having had counselling (two counsellors, one therapist) and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), I’m slightly more self-confident than I used to be.

More or less dependent on my parents and on benefits, I don’t have the same emotional support network at home that I had when I was at uni, and I slightly rue having done the PhD, even though I’m proud of having done it. The rejections and lack of progress are getting me down, and I blame myself for not having put more effort in at work (I thought I was doing OK, but it seems not) or in interviews.

Moreover, I’ve never been in a relationship or even had sex — in fact, I’ve never kissed anyone. This bothers me, perhaps more than the work situation.

I really want to love and be loved — just want someone to cuddle, as much as anything. Though a shy, only child who finds people difficult, I did join university societies, and have continued socialising through volunteering and interest groups.

My attempts to ask women out have not been successful (low self-esteem doesn’t help!) and I’ve upset girls by trying too hard.

I get carried away, thinking about the life I’m going to have with someone, before I even know if they like me. This means I go too fast and push things with messages and gifts — despite being told by friends and counsellors not to do this. Then I’m hurt.

I wish I could go on a date to get some confidence — although then I may just end up getting over-attached too early. Can you give me some words of encouragement? I tell myself to be patient, but I’m beginning to lose hope.


This long email made me quail since your double problem seems almost unanswerable.

The first thing I’d have suggested, to deal with multiple problems of self-esteem, isolation, employment and love, would have been a course of serious counselling. Yet you have tried that three times.

To be as romantically/sexually inexperienced as you are at the age of 26 must be very hard indeed and I have nothing but sympathy for you

To be as romantically/sexually inexperienced as you are at the age of 26 must be very hard indeed and I have nothing but sympathy for you

Of course, seeing a therapist is rarely an immediate solution to long-term problems, yet persistence (and the right counsellor) can certainly pay off. Yet ‘pay’ is an important word here — because it isn’t cheap and you are clearly not well-off.

So it’s hard for me to take the easy way out and recommend ‘the talking cure’ — even if it does sound to me that some sessions with a psychotherapist specialising in CBT would benefit. This seeks to alter the way you think about present difficulties, in order to bring about change in the way you behave.

AND FINALLY… It’s good to make do and mend

Darning is a skill I learned at my grandmother’s knee. I can see her now, with the wooden mushroom in the heel of Grandad’s socks as she carefully mended them.

People had to do that in the Fifties. But 55 years later her training hasn’t left me — hence my new project. The (expletive-deleted) moths have attacked some of my favourite jumpers and cardigans. So I have been darning once more, proud of the super-neat mends which give the woollies more life.

I’m in a frugal mood, you see, and don’t want to spend money on clothes. I like my old stuff!

So far, I’ve darned two jumpers and three cardigans. But the ‘making do and mending’ doesn’t stop there. A few months ago, I visited a posh boutique that sold embellished knitwear. You know, velvet and lace trims, fancy buttons, cute elbow patches and so on.

I tried some on, thinking: ‘I can do this.’ So now an old lipstick pink cardigan is trimmed with black lace and classy buttons, and my beloved purple cashmere cardigan (how those moths adored it!) is about to be transformed with an embroidered flower over every single munch-hole. I’m also going to trim an old Victorian chair with new braid . . . which IKEA can’t equal. All this turns watching TV into creative time.

As I sewed on Thursday night I was thinking about relationships. Our throwaway society distresses me greatly: furniture, gadgets and human loves seem so easily discarded — swiped away with ease.

What happened to trying to fix things? Continuing to care for them when the gloss has worn off — or the moths of boredom have made holes?

Obviously, you have to want to address a troubled relationship if you go to counselling. You have to want to mend it — and even if sometimes the result of that effort is a positive parting rather than vicious conflict, the whole point is the trying.

Yes, making do and mending is my motto. The finished result can never be the same. But sometimes it can be better.

There are layers in your email, but I’d hope that successful therapy would be able to address the crippling self-doubt which is surely the root cause. To be frank, I also wish you hadn’t taken the PhD route, since I doubt the wisdom of putting off ‘real life’ — unless a person is truly academic.

It’s hard enough for first-class graduates from top-flight universities to get good jobs nowadays and I feel very sorry for them indeed.

But, look, you’re allowed to be proud of what you’ve achieved, even if (reading between the lines) your own parents are questioning the use of time and money. On the job front, what can I say, other than that you have to keep trying? There’s no choice.

You’re wise to have taken advice about interview technique, but perhaps study websites, too (for example, because there’s plenty of good counsel out there.

Do read widely as well. Last week, I mentioned a book called The Storyteller’s Secret, by the American inspirational speaker Carmine Gallo. Containing plenty of useful advice, it’s about how successful people got where they are, and I found it really uplifting. Much shorter is Paul Arden’s It’s Not How Good You Are, But How Good You Want To Be. Try it.

To be as romantically/sexually inexperienced as you are at the age of 26 must be very hard indeed and I have nothing but sympathy for you. You’ve tried to socialise (full marks for that), but deter girls by being too keen. Yet when people have given you advice on this front, you haven’t listened!

Listen Luke: if you fall into a great big hole in the road, you make sure to walk around it next time — right? So use the discipline that your PhD required and stop making the same mistakes.

I had to edit the latter part of your email, but (since you want ‘a bit of a shove’) I have to tell you I found it a bit wimpy and self-indulgent. For example, you exclaimed ‘Sigh’ — when nobody puts that in a letter they want to be read seriously.

You have to snap out of self-pity, consider the girls you fancy (to be blunt, don’t punch above your weight), make friends of both genders, discipline your neediness, and focus on jobs.

Since you can’t go back to the shop, try anything else — because the worst thing would be for you to mope at home. Every action, every face you see, every book you read, every smile you give to a person in a shop . . . all these take you forward. One step at a time.

Should I leave my dying husband? 

Dear Bel,

How can I go on? I’ve been with my husband for 22 years. He left his wife and two kids for me — although I did not want this. We subsequently had a son, now 19. Without going into details, I put the child up for adoption at the time, but couldn’t go through with it.

Now my son and his father haven’t uttered a word to each other for at least a year. My husband has two older children and indeed two grandchildren. My problem is that I have been in love — for the past 40 years — with a man who is 23 years older than me and lost his wife two years ago, so is now available.

My husband has been at death’s door for 11 years and I don’t know how long I can go on living with a man just because he’s dying — but whom I loathe.

Do I leave in order to find happiness with the man I love for the rest of his life? Or stay with my husband waiting for him to die? I am hurting and feel so unhappy.


Reading your message, it sounds to me as if you react passively to events, never taking control.

This tendency has an unfortunate habit of turning people into victims, but they in turn create other victims by being incapable of acting with honesty and strength.

You were having an affair with an older married man and simultaneously started another relationship with a different married man.

That one left his wife and children for you — although you ‘didn’t want this’. So why did you let him inflict pain on his family? And then marry him in such bad faith?

Shockingly, you put your own child — his son — up for adoption, but didn’t ‘go through with it’. Why? Was it because you had already decided you didn’t love ‘the child’s’ father? To be absolutely honest, having read to that point, I started to find this loveless story of deception pretty horrible.

Darning is a skill I learned at my grandmother’s knee. I can see her now, with the wooden mushroom in the heel of Grandad’s socks as she carefully mended them

Darning is a skill I learned at my grandmother’s knee. I can see her now, with the wooden mushroom in the heel of Grandad’s socks as she carefully mended them

To be clear — it’s not your admission of the 23-year-old love affair, but the dismissive way you speak of your husband and son.

You don’t say why you ‘loathe’ the man who loved you enough to leave his family and is now very ill (‘at death’s door’ — a very flippant, even callous, way to describe his condition).

Nor why he and your son are not speaking. I’d have liked some inkling as to why this family is so miserable. Or, should I say, so dysfunctional?

What to do? Yes, the choice is hard — and you don’t say whether the widower is willing to take you on.

Perhaps you should start by trying to make things right between your son and his father. This wouldn’t be about you, but about their relationship. If you are going to leave the man, he will need family. To that end, you should also make sure he’s in close touch with his older children and, if not, try to make that right, too.

It may well be beyond you, yet just thinking about how to make his life better, even though you ‘loathe’ him, will be good for you. Kindness is good therapy. No matter how he has treated you (and there may well be reason for your dislike, other than loving somebody else), illness is hardly his fault.

To cut to the chase — surely it would be despicable to stay with a hated husband, ‘waiting for him to die’? Haven’t enough lies have been told, enough damage done?

If I were you, I would do as I suggest, find out if your other man wants you, make sure everything is in place for your husband’s welfare, then leave.  

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