Steady yourself and see
That it is your own thinking
That darkens your world…

John O'Donohue (Irish poet and philosopher, 1956-2008)

I long for love but she treats me like a doormat



22:00 GMT, 12 October 2012


I’m single, in my mid-50s. Nearly 18 months ago I got back in touch with a lady called Liz, after a gap of 25 years.

We met in our teens and were friends for about 15 years.

She’s pretty, clever, cultured, sweet-natured and it was love at first sight for me. But I lacked self-esteem and never felt able to tell her how I felt.

I thought about her often after we lost touch and never met any other woman anywhere near her. On the few occasions I did meet someone I liked, fate always seemed to intervene against me.

'Not even a kiss on the lips. She says she reserves that for someone she loves, and I'm not her boyfriend'

'Not even a kiss on the lips. She says she reserves that for someone she loves, and I'm not her boyfriend'

I’m now quite wealthy, sporty, physically very fit, although of average looks.

When I found Liz again I discovered she’d been divorced for many years, after a very short, late marriage, and had a teenage daughter.

After the nasty divorce, her ex-husband stayed very close to their daughter, who prefers him, much to Liz’s despair.

When we met I immediately told her how I felt about her years ago, that I still felt the same and wanted to see her regularly to renew our friendship and hopefully more.

After a while she told me that things could work between us but she isn’t looking for a relationship at the moment and nothing would happen until after her daughter left home in several years time.

Nevertheless, we’ve seen each other a lot, been on holiday several times and she calls me virtually every day.

She’s often upset about her difficult daughter and money, and I provide much emotional and practical support. I pay for our activities together and sometimes we feel as close as any couple, but she won’t let things go beyond a hug.

Not even a kiss on the lips. She says she reserves that for someone she loves, and I’m not her boyfriend.

She knows I love her and want a full relationship, hopefully leading to marriage. There must be something wrong with me as we’re close, but she won’t take things further.

She says she’s a free spirit and treasures her independent interest in the arts.

Financially she can’t sustain her lifestyle and is continually bailed out by her family, who are quite wealthy. She has little interest in planning for her long-term future.

My emotions are in a terrible state over our failure to develop our relationship and my fears that we never will, but I haven’t told Liz as I don’t want to frighten her off with the intensity of my feelings.

Despite my desire to be with her, I’ve felt desolate when we’re together yet sleep apart.

Recently I’ve felt that the situation is hopeless and that she’ll never have romantic feelings for me.

I cannot face life without her and I have no interest in dating other women. It’s been so bad that I’ve been thinking the only way out of this never-ending despair is to end my life.

I’m in the process of making my will and leaving her enough to be financially secure for life. I’d welcome your thoughts.


This is a sad story, but it’s not the first time I have read it. More than once before, a middle-aged man has written to me about a similar unrequited love.

One of my responses is usually to worry that the poor chap will end up being carelessly exploited by a lady who finds it convenient to be adored, and has no problem accepting lovely holidays and gifts, without giving anything back except moans about money.

Bluntly, it seems to me that a woman who phones needily, takes all that a man can give, holds out faint hopes for the future, then retorts that she reserves kisses on the lips for ‘someone she loves’ — is really not much better than the jailer who willingly administers torture on a helpless captive.

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If your daughter-in-law isn't strong enough to insist on a wonderful holiday, there is little you – or anybody else – can do. She must be responsible for her own destiny. (Posed by models)

But even though he has a good, safe job and lots of leave, he never wants to go on holiday — while she does.

He is very dictatorial, so I try not to discuss things with him.

He always thinks his view is the right one — but when once I said this to him, he didn’t like it one bit and refused to discuss it with me.

I have not visited them for four years (although I am welcome) because I do not want to witness his lack of affection for her.

They sleep in separate rooms because he snores — and I wish he would seek help with this problem.

Togetherness and closeness is so important in a marriage. It’s not just me who thinks she is unhappy — others who have visited them have noticed.

Please suggest something I can do, as I love her to bits.


How refreshing to have the mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationship honoured in this way, because so many letters say the opposite.

As someone who was a devoted d-in-l for many years (continuing after divorce, of course) and who adores my own d-in-l, I know how rewarding this bond can be — most beautifully expressed by Ruth in the Old Testament, who clung to her mother-in-law Naomi, even after her husband’s death.

Sadly, that love may be all you can offer, as it’s hard to see what you can do to help.

In the same postbag I had a long email from a lady called Candace, worried sick about her friend, whose husband shows her no intimacy — and, worse, increasing disrespect.

She asks: ‘Besides trying to be supportive and listening to her (and giving her lots of hugs), is there anything else that I can suggest I think it would be much easier if she didn’t love him so much.’

At first I wondered if Candace was actually writing about her own situation, but something tells me she’s genuinely anxious about her friend — who has asked her husband to go to counselling, tried talking, and even racy undies. All to no avail.

So even though I usually try to be positive and practical, there’s really no counsel I can give. Candace will be forced to go on supporting her friend and witnessing whatever happens.

And I’m afraid, Margaret, I feel the same about you and your daughter-in-law.

The obvious advice would be for you to talk properly to your son, but that’s not going to happen, for the reasons you give.

After all, you haven’t even had a real conversation with your daughter-in-law, but are projecting your remembered unhappiness in your own marriage on to her. Which may or may not be a true reflection of the situation.

I think two things: first, that you really should try to explore these matters with her, and second, that you should visit them at home. Surely it’s not fair to expect her always to make the journey to you

If you were to spend a weekend with them now and then you’d have more grounds for your concern, and might even be brave enough to have a word with him.

So what if he tells you to mind your own business You used to change this pompous man’s dirty nappy, after all — and focusing on that image might help you feel less intimidated.

The truth is, if your daughter-in-law isn’t strong enough to insist on a wonderful holiday, there is little you — or anybody else — can do. Like Candace’s friend, she must be responsible for her own destiny.

And finally… Why feelings leave sex in the shade

It was strange to find myself on stage at the Cheltenham Literature Festival on my actual birthday (last Monday — and thank you for all the good wishes) talking about the nature of love.

I was on a panel with novelists Ruth Padel, Annalena McAlfee and Alex Preston — and fascinating it was.

Introducing my chosen literary extract (from George Eliot’s Middlemarch) I mentioned that, reaching 66, I am convinced that the only two kinds of love which really interest me are family love (parents and children) and the kind of married love that endures, even if imperfect.

The night before I’d been on another panel, this time talking about Erotica. What a contrast it was — and the audience was larger! As we know, sex sells.

The other panel members were a feisty, brilliant young journalist and activist called Bidisha, the poet (and novelist) Ruth Padel (again), and Dr Brooke Magnanti, the scientist who used to call herself ‘Belle de Jour’ — and whose experiences as a call girl became notorious.


Bel answers readers’ questions on emotional and relationship problems each week.

Write to: Bel Mooney, Daily Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TT, or e-mail [email protected]

A pseudonym will be used if you wish.

Bel reads all letters, but regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence.

(I was less than kind about her in this newspaper, but she made no mention of that — which is all to her credit.)

We talked about Fifty Shades Of Grey, why the trilogy has been such a success, and chose other examples of erotica — and the discussion was all good, knockabout fun.

The trouble is, the dark underbelly, where the erotic slides into the pornographic, is hard to discuss in those circumstances, yet that’s what really concerns me.

And in the end, thinking about erotica, I find myself feeling slightly bored. After all, no matter how inventive, sex is repetitive.

But love… that’s a different matter. Love is endlessly various, endlessly painful and joyous, endlessly interesting. Love can destroy, but it is also salvation.

As I told the audience, writing this problem page exposes me to much anguish, but also to some celebrations. Which is all the stuff of the greatest literature, like Middlemarch and Anna Karenina.

In 1969 writer Enid Bagnold opined: ‘It’s not until sex has died out between a man and a woman that they can really love.’ Richard (today’s main letter) wouldn’t agree. But it’s a good talking point.