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BEL MOONEY: Will my husband ever stop eyeing up women?

Dear Bel,

This might seem trivial but, to me, it’s huge. When I met my husband 15 years ago, like most men he looked at other women. I didn’t like it. My ex-husband had left me after an affair.

We got on and married fairly quickly. After a few years, I grew confident and looked attractive.

Fast forward: now I’m 60 and my husband 65, this ‘problem’ seems to have got worse. Walking down the street, in the car, shopping, in restaurants or pubs — my husband stares at other women. It makes me feel uncomfortable and embarrassed.

Last week, while chatting in the street, he saw a woman walking by (they’re always blonde) and actually turned his back on me and watched her. Then he pretended to be talking about a building. When she’d gone, he just turned back and carried on talking.

Years ago he always told me I looked nice but never pays me compliments any more. At my daughter’s wedding last year I had lots of nice comments from guests and family but nothing from him. It makes me feel upset, angry, unattractive, old and unwanted.

I try everything to look nice and exercise, but am currently half a stone overweight. I’ve had Botox and have my nails and hair done regularly. I’ve even lightened my hair but he hasn’t even mentioned it.

I wonder if he’s frustrated because we haven’t had sex in three and a half years. The last time we tried he found it difficult to keep an erection so now we don’t bother — although we kiss and cuddle and he tells me he loves me.

I’ve tried talking to him but he just gets cross, defensive and says I’m paranoid. It turns into a huge row.

We have a holiday coming up and I’m partly dreading it as I know he’ll stare at other women the whole time. I know he wouldn’t have an affair or leave me, so is this something I just have to accept?

CATHY

This week, Bel advises a woman whose husband has a straying eye – and who never gives her compliments anymore 

Oh, can I be the first to volunteer to buy this guy some blinkers?

Some readers may wonder why I have chosen this email, when people are afflicted by grief, chronic illness, loneliness, the pain of divorce, overwhelming jealousy at an affair discovered, acute family problems and so on.

Thought of the day 

But man, proud man,

Dressed in a little brief authority,

Most ignorant of what he’s most assured — His glassy essence — like an angry ape Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven

As makes the angels weep.

From Measure For Measure by William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

 

Such issues have been staples of this column — and yet here you are, being made miserable by a husband with a roving eye. And it matters to you — therefore it matters to me. The world is full of small problems which can push somebody over the edge into depression or worse. Yes, it often really is the last straw that proves too much for the most stalwart of camels.

When we’re children a mean jibe from a classmate can linger in the memory for decades, still making confidence wilt.

When you’re long married a bit of husbandly banter about (say) bingo wings can prompt miserable mental pictures of a lonely old age. ‘I didn’t mean any harm’ he may protest. No, mate — but you did it.

I would wish you more resilience, Cathy, but your first husband opened a wound when he left — one that has never healed.

Conscious of being a stone heavier than you’d like to be (me too!), you take care of your appearance, but long for some praise from the man you love. What is wrong with that?

Many of us experience a dip in confidence post-menopause and I’m afraid it continues as wrinkles increasingly take their toll.

It’s all very well for female writers to advise us to embrace age and love who we are but, in practice, confidence can be shattered if the old man seems to be lusting after that gorgeous 40-year-old old across the street. And it’s hard to get it back.

What can be done? It is vital to understand that looking is not necessarily lusting.

Admiring good looks is human — and can be perfectly harmless. But if your man really does behave as you describe, it borders on the ill-mannered, as well as being inconsiderate to you.

I imagine the conversations you’ve had consisted of you getting upset and even berating him. I do sympathise, but that is not going to work.

As for compliments… when we go out these days I always ask my husband, ‘How do I look?’ He says, ‘Great’ or ‘Lovely’, of course. So don’t wait to be told. Offer the man his darn script!

Instead of making yourself so vulnerable, can you try to act cool?

What would happen if, on holiday, you point out beautiful people of both sexes? ‘Look, that girl is prettier than a model’ and ‘Hey, that sexy bloke reminds me of a young Steve McQueen’ is a fun game to play — and he might up his game if he sees you admiring other men.

If you’re anxious and insecure it will show on your face, so don’t be a victim here. Tell yourself you’re gorgeous and make him notice it, too.

 Should I heed the call of the North?

Dear Bel,

I’m GOING round in circles. I have two children, the eldest about to start school this September and a third on the way. I grew up on the coast up North but, like my three other siblings, moved South for work.

However, my sister has moved back since flexible working now means she can commute South every now and again.

   

More from Bel Mooney for the Daily Mail…

Now the company I work for would be happy with the same; I submitted a flexible working request and it was approved. I have lived in the South for 17 years now. My partner’s family are not far away.

I can’t stop thinking about moving back close to my parents and sister. Of course, it would be expensive and stressful to move and I am not sure it would be the best thing for us, or my career. I don’t know if my husband would settle and worry that my own children would end up moving away as we all did.

But, sometimes, I am lonely where we live. I find raising a family without my own nearby very hard.

And even though I have ‘Mum friends’ and we try to find time to do things together, it’s not quite the same as the familiarity of my own family.

Unfortunately, I struggle to get along with my husband’s parents, although they are wonderful with our children.

Truly, I want to be happy where I am but miss the laughter and love of family — which no amount of video calls seem to help with.

Your thoughts, please?

NANCY

This kind of problem crops up every so often — presenting a really tough dilemma. To move or not to move depends on so many factors — and can often require real sacrifice.

You might make a particular choice for the sake of a beloved partner, but that doesn’t necessarily turn out well.

Years ago I agreed to move from the home I adored to one I didn’t, for the sake of my (then) husband. I swear it nearly broke my heart. Might that be the situation your husband would find himself in, if you achieved your own dream of a move back to where you feel you belong?

I bring your husband into the discussion right away because you have two families now. You miss the family you were raised in, even though your homesickness could be just a tad sentimental — since we change over years and have to let our relatives do so too, even if the shifts in character turn out disappointing or annoying.

Then there is the newer family you have created in love: husband and two children, with another baby soon to join this unit. Both these families are your ‘own’.

I sympathise entirely with your longing to be near to your mother, as my children and I were lucky enough to have that proximity for so many years.

I’m sure you feel a permanent sense of loss because distance prevents that beloved grandmother from spending much quality time with your children. But I’m glad you acknowledge your in-laws’ devotion.

But a significant omission from your email is whether you’ve talked it all through with your husband, as a possible move must have been in your mind.

You say you don’t know if he would settle or whether the move would be good for ‘us’ — and so I fear you may not have levelled with him. I hope I’m not right.

Have you considered this mood might currently be made worse because of the swirling emotions of pregnancy? You need to practise deep breathing and be sure inner agitation isn’t raising stress.

We both know that nothing can happen without your husband’s full support and agreement. In the future you would need to be armed with as many positive reasons as possible for moving house, but always ready to understand that being close to his family has an equal claim for him.

Yes, it is hard. If I were you I’d focus on the new life you are carrying, and on being sure the other two are ready for nursery and infants. Visit your family as often as you can (of course) and be sure to listen to your husband’s feelings as you expect him to listen to yours. Build up relationships with those ‘Mum-friends’ — some might prove more important than you know.

Try to put your homesickness in perspective, because it would be sad if a dream were to tarnish your life as an adult.

 And finally…No one has ownership of empathy

Something I read recently has really bothered me, because of what it implied about empathy. For a magazine piece, the journalist Caitlin Moran interviewed the Rev Richard Coles, man of God and media personality, who was retiring from his parish.

I like Richard Coles, loved his music when (way back) he was half of The Communards, and very much enjoyed the article.

Contact Bel 

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.

But this bit troubled me. Looking at their lovely garden, Moran described the premature death of Coles’s partner David, and commented: ‘Wholly inappropriately — this is not my sorrow — I find myself stroking David and Richard’s dachshunds, Daisy and Pongo, and crying. I can see why Coles is leaving this place. David is everywhere. And yet . . . gone.’

What does, ‘this is not my sorrow’ mean? Why should Moran describe gentle compassion for Richard’s grief as in any way ‘wholly inappropriate’? Why does she sound so awkwardly embarrassed that stroking those beloved dogs triggered real tears of sympathy?

Nowadays publishers and writers know to their cost that obsessive identity politics has led to a shocking belief that experience can be ‘owned’ — and those who have not shared it can’t possibly begin to understand, therefore have no right to feel empathy.

From this comes the absurd but narrow notion of ‘cultural appropriation’ — meaning only black people can write about black characters, only Mexicans can write about Mexican food or experiences, or in acting that only disabled actors should play disabled characters.

Such straitjacketing of imagination denies the possibility of empathy. That’s why I was so disturbed that Caitlin (clearly a warm, caring person) should express the extraordinary view that grief can be ‘owned’ and so her instinctive emotion was ‘inappropriate’.

For me the ideal for humanity is expressed by poet W.H. Auden — of a civilised world ‘where one could weep because another wept’.

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