I feel nothing but shame for visiting a prostitute 

Dear Bel,

More than 18 years ago, I did something that remains one of the biggest regrets of my life.

I’m still struggling to come to terms with events that unfolded one night in Holland — which I consider to be appalling, careless, irresponsible and immoral. It ruined an otherwise enjoyable time at university.

It was a field trip. I was 21, single, exhausted (having barely slept for two days on the coach journey from the UK) and under the influence of several drinks.

Visiting a prostitute was not the sort of thing I’d ever thought of and while I was not the only one to act in such a way that night, the toxic shame / trauma / humiliation is proving impossible to erase 

At the suggestion of friends, we ventured into the city’s red light district. In no way (on my part at least) was it pre-meditated, but I’m sure you can imagine what happened next, and while protection was used, it still seems a moment of reckless madness — especially as it was my first time.

Visiting a prostitute was not the sort of thing I’d ever thought of and while I was not the only one to act in such a way that night, the toxic shame / trauma / humiliation is proving impossible to erase.

The circumstances of the woman could have been highly questionable (although she was Dutch, older than me and working in a ‘club’ rather than a window) and this compounds the angst.

I am disgusted with myself for both the action itself and my lack of strength of character. I try to push the episode to the back of my mind (not successfully), but worry how to tackle it for future relationships.

I’ve never been able to confide in anybody because my parents would be mortified and my only sibling passed away when I was a teenager. This means I feel isolated, lonely and depressed and it’s becoming more and more corrosive.

I just don’t want it to continue affecting my life. I would love to fall in love, settle down, start a family, but am terrified of the reaction if I were to tell a partner. If this proved to be a major reason for any subsequent separation, it would compound the guilt, shame and regret.

I’ve also become distant from friends (particularly those from university), as I’m scared of them telling others of what happened. To be honest, I’m jealous of their happy family lives with children — which I dream of having, while fearing what sort of role model I’d be for a young boy or girl.

Deep down, I believe I’m not a bad person and that what happened does not reflect my approach to, or view of, women, but it has hugely eroded my self-esteem and I fear that it will continue to haunt me.


Let me start by assuring you that your letter leaves me in no doubt that, if ever you are to be blessed with a child, you will be a most excellent role model.

For what does this letter reveal above all? A man on the cusp of becoming 40 who thinks very deeply about moral issues — so much so that he is still tormented by a single mistake he made 18 years ago.

A man who is self-critical to an inordinate degree. A man whose action on that long-ago night in a Dutch city was inspired by not one of the seven deadly sins — certainly not lust — but by peer pressure and booze.

Man must be lenient with his soul in her weaknesses and imperfections and suffer her failings as he suffers those of others, but he must not become idle, and must encourage himself to better things.

St Seraphim of Sarov (1754-1833, Russian Orthodox Saint)

A man who has said ‘mea culpa’ (I am guilty) so many times the phrase has lost all meaning — and so needs re-examining.

I hope I will not shock you too much if I say that I am not in the least bit appalled by your story. As a woman, I have always disliked the idea of prostitution, while admitting that it’s not called ‘the oldest profession’ for nothing.

I was once in a television debate with a representative of a collective of prostitutes, who made her case for women choosing to do as they wished with their bodies. I most certainly did not — and do not — agree this should mean prostitution, but she had the right to state the view.

But, anyway, that woman would probably suggest you think of the Dutch lady you met as earning a living and worthy of respect for her autonomy.

I offer that thought as a corrective for you to consider — because this is the moment when you have to start turning your head around. To that end I would like you to find out about cognitive behavioural therapy with a view to seeking help — if you haven’t done so already. This obsessive re-running of one night, one mistake, in a loop in your head is really unhealthy.

A man I know very well indeed — a perfectly upright pillar of society — had a similar experience at the end of the Sixties, but in Paris. Being a sensible person, he just put it down to growing up, to curiosity and his loneliness at the time — and then just got on with his life.

A key omission in this letter is whether you have had successful sexual encounters since that night. This I would like to know because it has such a bearing on your state of mind. I beg you to think of what happened to you as within the bounds of normality — if by that we are talking about loveless sex.

Some men expect sex after paying for dinner, you know — so how is that so much worse than what you experienced?

Please find somebody to talk to — and/or accept me as your confessor, bowing your head and saying: ‘This is over.’ 

Am I right to reject these hellish guests? 

Dear Bel,

I am extremely lucky to own a comfortable home in a tourist destination. However, my income is limited and I economise — for example, minimal heating!

Each year, I have visitors to whom I offer delicious meals, large bedrooms and a warm welcome. Some give me a contribution; others don¿t. And it¿s all fine

Each year, I have visitors to whom I offer delicious meals, large bedrooms and a warm welcome. Some give me a contribution; others don’t. And it’s all fine

Each year, I have visitors to whom I offer delicious meals, large bedrooms and a warm welcome. Some give me a contribution; others don’t. And it’s all fine.

But one wealthy retired couple (I’m related to him) drive me insane. I’m not the sort to be brusque and outspoken, so they leave me silently fuming.

As they arrive, they deposit stuff all over my sitting room. They have the use of a large guest room which they trash, draping wet towels over my furniture and leaving watermark rings on the bedside tables. Once, the wife decided her husband was snoring too loudly, and moved into the second guest room — without asking.

And finally… When just one minute is priceless

I was on holiday when the marvellous charity Child Bereavement UK launched its new awareness and fundraising campaign. I’ve only just caught up and so I’m sitting writing this in tears.

Please don’t let that put you off. For the tears which open hearts and minds to the human condition must be shed as often as possible in order that we may grow.

The campaign, One More Minute, consists of a series of short films designed to encourage people to start talking about bereavement. The films are as uplifting as they are moving.

Contributors include children, young people and families supported by Child Bereavement UK, as well as bereaved celebrity friends of the charity, including Mary Berry and the actor Jason Watkins, whose two-year-old daughter Maude died in 2011.

Rio Ferdinand, bringing up three children on his own after losing his wife to cancer, is there: he visited Child Bereavement UK as part of his BBC documentary Rio Ferdinand: Being Mum And Dad. Ben and Marina Fogle reflect on their stillborn baby, while Prince William also provides a message in one of the films.

This is a subject many people find too unbearable to contemplate, but every year child bereavement is experienced by thousands of families in the UK.

To find out more look at the charity’s website (childbereavementuk.org), where you’ll find a link to the powerful testimonies.

I hope you might perhaps feel moved to support the charity —and here I must also mention the Child Death Helpline (which I helped launch nationally in 1995) for instant telephone support by trained bereaved parents: call 0800 282 986 or 0808 800 6019 if using a mobile.

I’m passionate about people understanding bereavement, so that they can be more helpful to those who endure pain and loss. And it occurs to me that the One More Minute campaign can have resonance in all our lives.

For if you are bogged down in a quarrel, just imagine the loss of the person who is annoying or upsetting you — and take that precious minute to make things better.

My washing machine is used without a request and they leave lights on day and night. To say I have to bite my tongue from the moment of their arrival to that of their departure is an understatement! They make me physically exhausted and quivering mentally.

I once texted to ask if they’d be back for dinner after sightseeing. The curt reply was: ‘A light supper would be acceptable’!

Recently, I had the inevitable phone call. A fortnight before their proposed ten-day visit I received instructions. For the first time, I said ‘No’. Now I’m consumed by guilt and feel really uncomfortable for refusing their third holiday with me in a year.

My relation does discreetly leave me a contribution towards their stay — far less than the cost of a B&B. To be honest, I feel like an old family retainer and not like a family member opening her own home. Now communications have ceased. Am I wrong to be upset? How should I have played it?


You amaze me, you really do. The only conclusion I can draw is that you are a far, far, nicer person than I could ever hope to be.

Please pause for a moment and think about all the lovely meals you have cooked for people, the bed linen you have changed, the electricity bills you have paid.

Your uncut letter leaves me in no doubt you love your home and offering hospitality equally. So stop this self-flagellation and remember all the delightful times you have shared in the special place you inhabit.

I know you recognise that you have been taken advantage of. Not many people would put up with repeated visits, with no consideration shown at all.

I am blessed with many friends, but can think of one couple only whom I love (I mean, really love) having to stay — and their maximum visit is always two or three nights. They are thoughtful, independent, reticent, fun, generous and the very best of friends… totally unlike this couple who have imposed themselves on you twice already this year.

It’s extraordinary to me they imagined for a second that they would be welcome across your threshold for the third time this year — for ten whole days!

To me the very suggestion shows a complete lack of empathy. Look, they get on your nerves, treat you badly, exploit your good will — so why on earth are you ‘upset’?

In your position I’d be opening a half bottle of fizz and toasting an escape from wet towels, untidiness, lights left on and high-handed behaviour.

I’d be giving thanks for escaping feeling like a poor ‘retainer.’ I think you ‘played it’ exactly right — thinking about your own needs for the first time and turning these people down.

You never know, it might do them a favour. They might have to exercise minds, imaginations and current accounts to think of new places, new experiences. So well done you! 

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