Some years back, my partner and I moved abroad for a new life in a new country. Having another gay couple as neighbours helped us settle.
They live in the States but have a second home here. I’m in my late 40s, my partner early 50s. A little older, one of them is from this country, the other American.
Their long-term plan is to retire here. The American (call him Ray) is quite a star over there (we didn’t know, and have no interest in celebrity status), but what impressed me was his kindness and attitude toward others.
‘Give people a break if they’re mean to you,’ he’d always say and I liked that because I realised I could be too quick to get p****d off with people when I should really go easier on them. To be honest, I think I put him on a bit of a pedestal.
Last time we saw Ray, we were all at the pool, happy to catch up as we hadn’t seen him or his partner since the previous summer. Suddenly, a guy (good looking, nice physique) appears whom our friend already knows — and just butts into the conversation. We don’t mind, but Ray literally turns his back on us.
We didn’t want to just walk off so stood there like a couple of lemons assuming he’d introduce us. But he just started flirting with this guy then, realising we were still there, turned, said ‘Bye’ — then continued his conversation with the ‘hot guy’.
At the time I found it amusing. My partner didn’t. Now I agree. It was rude. Ray must feel he’s some big movie star everyone fawns over.
We just saw him as a lovely neighbour we’d struck up a genuine friendship with. Right now they’re at their holiday home again and have asked to meet up.
My partner isn’t too keen, but I don’t want to ‘ghost’ them because they did help me in the early days. But Ray’s message implies they want to meet up because they have lots of questions about retiring here.
My partner says they don’t give a s*** about us, they just want to get what they can from us. I think he’s right, but what a dilemma… I would love their friendship if they wanted us for the people we are and not for useful information.
We’re genuinely busy. I work full time and my partner runs the business we set up together. Any spare time is so precious and not to be wasted on people who don’t care about us.
Ray’s initial message was so nice but our response explaining that we’d love to meet up but forgive us for the delay in reply because we’ve been so busy was just met with a short, curt ‘Great’. It leaves us feeling…well, reduced. What is your take on this?
This week Bel advises a reader who asks if she should make amends with her famous neighbour who was rude to her
My ‘take’ is pretty uncomplicated, and I think it may come as a relief to you although perhaps not to your partner.
I’ll prefix it by saying that, in general, my rule of thumb to get through this life contentedly is not to take offence, not to fall out with people, not to harbour resentment — but to munch on a chill pill, and remember every hour of every day that when this life ends, all our petty offences and inability to forgive others become worms to eat the soul.
Which is to say, just look, Mickael, because the wisest advice is right there in your letter!
Your neighbour Ray used to say ‘Give people a break when they are mean to you’ — and you truly admired him because of that attitude and his kindness. So what exactly changed?
It was just one incident, wasn’t it? There you were, happily catching up at the pool, when along came that ‘hot guy’ . . . and bingo, Ray started to flirt and forgot about you two.
Yes, it was rude — no question. But might you do the same? Have you ever been guilty of such a social lapse because something grabbed your attention? I know I have.
Thought of the week
To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour
from Auguries of Innocence by William Blake (English poet and painter 1757-1827)
Most of us say, or do, the wrong thing from time to time. Anyway, ‘hot guy’ sounds enough to grab anybody’s gaze, even mine. But now, because of that one discourtesy, weighing it as a major crime, your partner has turned himself into judge and jury, refused any mitigation of the good times and deeds you’ve all shared, and passed sentence.
He’s decided that Ray and his partner are appalling people who just want to use you, but don’t ‘care’ about you one bit. There is no evidence for this, but you have gone along with a sad (and surely wrongheaded) negation of the ‘genuine friendship’ that went before.
Petulantly telling Ray you’re too busy to see them right away will just rebound on you, so you must put it right as soon as possible.
How do you know he didn’t feel ‘reduced’ by your lack of welcoming bonhomie?
How do you know they don’t feel really anxious at the thought of retirement and permanent relocation and are desperate for your encouragement?
For that matter, how do you know ‘hot guy’ wasn’t somebody with an acute, private problem or hurt that required Ray’s full warmth for just those moments? You don’t. All you know is that because of that quick, casual discourtesy, you and your partner have taken umbrage and chosen to remain resentfully in its shadow.
No, no, no, you can’t go on like this. It will spoil your future. Please, give yourselves a break and open some wine with those guys.
I’m ashamed of Mum’s blame game
Can you help a woman at the end of her tether?
In February, my brother died at 50 from a very rare, well-developed cancer. My parents, in their 70s, can’t accept it. He was their favourite — the one who agreed with them on everything.
He was also the one that never visited on Mother’s Day but got away with it. He also caused family problems when we were younger, but never mind.
More from Bel Mooney for the Daily Mail…
I think they need something to blame his loss on. Sadly, it’s his girlfriend of 17 years. They blame her, sometimes for causing the cancer (don’t ask) but mainly for ‘neglecting’ him, not making him go to the doctor, not feeding him enough vegetables. Crazy nonsense.
His girlfriend remains devastated by his death; they were a quiet couple who spent 24/7 together.
Mother won’t let it drop, though. There’s a constant daily barrage of nasty texts I try to ignore. She sends more so I end up biting back.
I’ve considered cutting ties with my parents, partly because it’s affecting my mental health, and partly because of how they have treated a grieving woman.
I’m ashamed and disgusted. I’ve told them I can’t change what they think but please just keep it to yourself — but she won’t.
I get accused of ‘siding’ with his girlfriend and being naive, even stupid, and told I obviously don’t care about my brother dying. Mother wants to talk about his death every day — no other conversation any more. I’ve suggested talking about his life — but no.
My blood pressure is through the roof and I am in my 50s and menopausal, too. I do not know how best to deal with it.
Grief affects people in so many different ways and even many months after the sad event it can knock you off your feet like a rogue wave at the seaside.
Like you, I hate the fact that your parents, especially your mother, are irrationally ‘blaming’ your late brother’s partner for his death.
But you identify the reason when you tell me they always idolised him, whatever he did or did not do. I have no doubt that a part of your mother screamed inside herself, ‘Why did you have to die? Why did you have to leave us?’ — full of rage at his death.
Such anger is very, very common. The bereaved person is angry with death, God, the universe, the doctors, cancer . . . but also with the dead loved one for not evading mortality and so sparing them pain. Selfish in a way, yes. But again, normal.
One way to deflect helpless grief and rage is to shift the ‘blame’ as your parents have. I suspect they didn’t much care for their son’s partner all along — par for the course with too-doting parents. She took him from them once and now (they rage) she’s done so again, by not preventing his death.
It’s all horribly sad (for them) and cruel (to her) — and you are quite right to resist it and stand with your ‘sister-in-law’. But now your resistance to your parents is taking a punishing toll on you, and so you must give yourself a break for a while — not ‘cut ties’ but minimise contact.
Rising to her carping is the worst thing, but how can you help it while also struggling with the menopause?
It wouldn’t do any harm to block your mother’s number from your mobile phone to avoid those hysterical texts, while retaining the ability to call her on a landline. Is that possible to do?
It certainly sounds as if your mother needs counselling to help her with her grief, so do investigate the services offered by the bereavement charity CRUSE (cruse.org.uk), telling her you absolutely sympathise with her and that these people will respect her pain.
Let her know you flatly refuse to listen to any more abuse of your brother’s grieving partner, but will certainly give that person who shared your brother’s life any support she needs.
If then your mother says she won’t speak to you, then so be it . . . for now. It won’t last. She needs help and so do you, but since you can’t help each other, step back.
And finally… why rejoice is now my middle name
Let me disclose the gifts reserved for age,’ wrote T. S. Eliot in his marvellous, testing, inspiring set of poems called Four Quartets — but sadly continued with a list of negatives enough to make you want to give up.
Older age was nothing but a diminishment of the senses, ‘rage at human folly’, shame about things you did wrong, and so on.
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 totally understand the fury at folly (do not get me started on woke lunacy or the state of our universities), but the rest . . .? No, I can happily report that age is not necessarily like that — not if you refuse to give in.
The years swing round quickly and delivered me yesterday to the latest stage of my prime. Knowing me, I may well be feeling a tad bleary when you’re reading this — after celebrating with family and friends.
I also spent a jolly time with some London friends earlier in the week and we all raised a glass to being here, still ready to enjoy life after the grim time all of us have shared. Rejoice is my middle name.
I make few concessions to reaching 75, other than to tone down my home-applied hair colour — having decided I was starting to resemble a carrot past its sell-by date. No longer do I go in for shorter skirts or high heels, but otherwise my style doesn’t change. Why should it?
With the confidence of a woman who’s seen much of life, I challenge ageism in all its forms — but there’s a lot of it about.
For example, a couple of little BBC birds told me that Radio 4 (to name but one) isn’t keen on giving airtime to people like me because they want ‘fresh, young voices’.
But what if we lost all birth certificates and identified age with liveliness, clear sight and wisdom — not numbers? I’d give your box-ticking ‘wokette’ a run for her money with fresh, fearless questioning radicalism.
You want ‘diversity’? How’s about listening to the oldsters who stay forever young?