Unlucky in love, I don’t have the kids I wanted so much. Three years ago, I was thinking of returning to Italy when I re-established contact with an ex-colleague and her adorable daughter. I’d first met them when I arrived here 12 years ago.
I quickly became close to the daughter — in fact, I thought I’d be a father-figure, helping her with maths etc.
I spoilt her a bit. She loved reading but her single mum didn’t buy her many books. So I did — and stationery, other things, and a contribution to her laptop.
She phoned each day. We spent much time together and her mum (always knowing her daughter was safe) also started to come around more, as she was furloughed. It was lovely. Last September, the girl told me I should walk her down the aisle when she gets married. But ten days later she asked an odd question: ‘If anything happens can I keep all my things?’ (Things that I had bought).
Then she said she’d be out of touch for a while to prepare for tests — even though I usually helped her with work.
Two weeks later I felt she was more distant. She’d got a ‘boyfriend’ (a good thing as this was her first and both her mum and I encouraged her) and I met him.
Then she stopped phoning and I asked if I’d done something wrong. She said she was ‘busy, busy, busy’. I asked her mum who said there was nothing wrong.
But after a month of ignored texts I asked again. This time the girl told me directly we were friends no longer. She’d been ‘ghosting’ me (that is, cutting off all communication suddenly).
You can imagine my surprise. I didn’t take it well. Her mum said I’d misunderstood, that they talk a lot about me and everything would be fine.
On Christmas Eve, the daughter called me to wish me Happy Christmas, so I asked again why she was treating me like I never existed. She said she needed to get rid of people but some were difficult to lose, as they are her mum’s friends.
That was the last I heard. She never showed any empathy even if she knew she had hurt me badly. I’d gone from walking her down the aisle to being no one.
Can you help me understand?
This week Bel answers a question from a man who was cut off after being a father-figure to an ex-colleague's daughter
Oh dear, I fear you have never before encountered the casual cruelty of teenagers.
As many a parent will tell you, they can shoot from the hip, then step over your wounded body on their way out to meet friends, scrutinising their phone as they go.
They don’t necessarily intend to be mean; it is just a part of cutting free from the apron strings. Suddenly the delightful child who needed you and thought time with you was fun realises that ‘Mum’s friends’ are faintly embarrassing oldsters who cramp their style. It can be brutal.
And many a teenager proves short on ‘empathy’ simply because they find life such a struggle that all their pity is used up on themselves.
It’s bad enough for family, but you were in a strange, rather sad situation that left you very vulnerable.
To be honest, these days there are quite a lot of people who would worry at an older, unmarried man spending a great deal of time with a teenage girl, and buying her lots of gifts.
You are very clear in your full letter that you longed to be a father-figure, but unfortunately we live in a suspicious world and I find it absolutely believable that the girl (how old is she? 16ish?) and her new boyfriend talked and decided your slight obsession with her was . . . well . . . weird.
This will sound horribly unfair — but honestly, you owe it to yourself to take it on board.
Three years ago, you were thinking of leaving England to return home, then this mother and daughter came into your life — and transformed it. They made you feel like a family, didn’t they?
It was enchanting to be needed by a blossoming girl, whom you could help with schoolwork and useful things such as books — just as you had dreamt of doing with your own children.
Thought of the day
I note the obvious differences
Between each sort and type
But we are more alike, my friends,
Than we are unalike.
From Human Family by Maya Angelou
(American poet, 1928-2014)
You grew to love the girl — and when she fantasised about you walking her down the aisle it must have touched your heart.
But she was growing and changing and once the boyfriends come along there is no time for adoring (and easily exploitable) old men.
I have no idea of your age, but to teenagers, 40 is pretty old. It’s sad for you, but you must have made things so much worse with all your texts and calls, which became increasingly desperate and made you more likely to be ghosted.
When you write, ‘I didn’t take it well’ — my heart goes out to you, but I regret to say you must have made yourself look fond and foolish. What next? You must realise that you and this girl were never actually ‘friends’ — and it is time now to build a real life, with proper friends.
You say nothing about your social life (and Lord knows, it’s been taken away from us all) but now is the time to look forward and think how you want 2021 to shape. You may even take up your plan of returning to Italy.
But remember, it’s never too late to find love, if you face outwards to the world afresh.
I fear I’ve failed my suffering family
I am 54 and have been married for 34 years, with two children aged 20 and 25. My husband hasn’t been easy to live with, coming from a dysfunctional family and being abused by his alcoholic father.
Our relationship has been volatile at times, but we have endured — and love each other very much.
Unfortunately, our children have perhaps suffered as a result of our relationship. Our stunning, intelligent daughter has become a heroin addict after years of cannabis abuse and our son has developed a cannabis habit, too.
Eight months ago, my husband was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and is suffering. He feels he’s been a failure: we have nothing much materially and he carries guilt for his daughter.
I feel history has repeated itself. My parents have been together for 65 years, adore each other, and my mother put my father (a complex but wonderful man) first when we were young. I have one brother who is sensible and successful, but my elder brother committed suicide at 30, leaving a gaping hole in the family.
I developed a drink problem which persisted throughout my 20s. Depression has been a factor in my brother, me and my daughter. My mother and I are living parallel lives, with men whose needs we perhaps put first.
I am my husband’s carer, and my mother has to make a heart-rending decision about putting Dad into care, as he has Parkinson’s, and she cannot manage.
But they promised each other they wouldn’t put the other into a care home. Both of us are in emotional turmoil, trying to keep our partners alive.
I feel I have failed my children, and I’m heartbroken at my parents’ situation, and I feel desperately sorry for my husband.
I know I have to be strong but there is so much pain and I don’t know how I will manage.
More from Bel Mooney for the Daily Mail...
You are so desperately burdened with pain there cannot be a reader who doesn’t join me in expressing deep sympathy for your troubles.
In a way, there is nothing more to say than that — nor have you asked me a specific question.
But your letter is a reminder that many unhappy souls carry a weight of sorrow, anxiety and/or guilt — perhaps putting our own into perspective.
What’s more, each one of us may be required, at some stage, to understand and accept that there is nothing else to do but endure.
You’ve tried to make sense of the patterns within your two families. Your husband’s horrific background must have made him very vulnerable, needy and self-centred. Doubtless you identified something similar within each other; no wonder you clung together against the world.
You are devastatingly honest to wonder, with hindsight, whether one result of this love was (in effect) to exclude your two children from your imprisoning circle of mutual need.
Who can say? I am sure you have examined ways of tackling both children’s drug problems, so I doubt there is any point in me going online to suggest websites because it is easy to do.
I can see that right now you might lack the energy because you are so wrapped up with the parallel situations you and your mother find yourselves in.
That is totally understandable — but can I gently suggest that you have an arguably greater duty towards the young living than to the older dying?
That will seem like blasphemy to those who stick rigidly to the contentious (and obviously untrue) mantra: all lives have equal value.
Grieve as you will, you cannot arrest the course of mortality — but your children are only 20 and 25 so you could focus on turning your burning sense of failure into a determination to help them.
This is perhaps your greatest test and I wish you the strength to face it. Because it is too late to change the complicated past but you might save your own mental health by concentrating on theirs.
And finally... We’re itching to make the Great Escape!
Almost March, almost March — and may those famous winds blow us out of damn lockdown sooner than Boris and the boffins say. Always a rebellious schoolgirl, then a perpetually questioning adult, now in my glorious, heel-kicking 70s I find I still want to kick down doors, crying ‘Freedom!’
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 [email protected]
Names are changed to protect identities.
Bel reads all letters but regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence.
Spring gets you that way. The PM gave us a ‘crocus of hope’ — and I thought, ‘Only one, Boris?’
We’ve got plenty in our garden and they’re nodding their own golden heads, bidding me to start real life again.
I want to get on a train to London, walk into the Daily Mail office, see colleagues, go to a cool restaurant for lunch (the one I love is called The Wolseley), pop into a shop and try on dresses . . . oh, you know the kind of thing.
It’s not that I did that very often in pre-lockdown times —because I love our quiet life in the country. But I need choice. So I doubt I’ll be actually waiting for Big Daddy to tell me I can go out, as if I were a kid begging to stay up late.
One of the driving philosophies of this column (from its beginning in 2007) has been that all of us have agency — in other words, we can take control of our lives.
I’ve never said it’s easy (on the contrary), just that when we believe it’s possible, when we tell ourselves life is short, when we assert our power to change . . . why then we can start to be our best selves.
‘Seize the time’ was a rallying cry when I was a student. Ageing and death reminds you of its urgency.
So now, like millions of others, I’m itching for the Great Escape. And, frankly, I’ve never needed young Matt Hancock’s permission to see my family.
Who’s going to wait for somebody else to open the door? Common sense and an independent spirit tell this vaccinated old rebel that Spring has sprung — and so we should spring ourselves from chokey.
Where’s Steve McQueen when I need him?