I realise worse things are going on in the world, but my feelings have been well and truly hurt. My husband and I have been together nearly 30 years, married for 25. It was passionate initially, but has now settled into companionship.
I’ve always felt he didn’t truly love me. It’s a second marriage for us both; we had children by our first spouses and then together. When we met we were months into marital splits, our partners having left us for others. He seemed more upset than I did. Neither marriage had been good.
Very quickly I became pregnant. He was shocked, but seemed pleased, as was I. A mutual friend took me aside and said I should be wary as my then boyfriend was someone likely to take up with someone else before really getting over the ex. He said he didn’t want me to get hurt, but feared I’d be dumped.
I told my boyfriend about this conversation and he was furious, saying this guy had always disliked him and his family. He assured me there was no truth in the suggestion. So we married.
But a few months ago in a casual conversation, not even an argument, he admitted that had his ex-wife asked him to go back to her, he would have done, even though I’d have been left abandoned and pregnant.
He said you don’t get over a ten-year marriage in a few months and he’d have gone back to her to prioritise his older children — as what you don’t have, you don’t miss. Meaning our unborn child!
When I said this hurt and I wish he’d never told me, he said it hardly mattered as it didn’t happen anyway — because his ex didn’t ask him back.
Now I just feel I was the back-up plan, second best and our entire relationship and the longevity of it has been based on a lie.
He remains quite happily unconcerned at how it’s made me feel, but it gnaws away at me and I can’t see a way forward.
This week Bel Mooney advises a woman who asks whether she was always her husband’s back-up option
There is nothing at all trivial about the hurt human beings have always been ready to inflict on one another.
Sometimes it’s deliberate and cold, sometimes truly cruel. Other times the hurt is carelessly dished out, as if it didn’t really matter.
Thought of the day
Mma Ramotswe looked up at the ceiling. What could she do? People treated her like one of those agony aunts in the newspapers — they expected her to make their decisions for them. This woman was obviously troubled but she did not see what she could do for her, other than advise her to give one boyfriend up.
from Tea Time For The Traditionally Built by Alexander McCall Smith
That’s what your husband has done, and I am not surprised you feel you can’t get over it. In fact, I feel indignant on your behalf because it all seems so unnecessary. What on earth possessed the man to be so brutally honest? First, perhaps you should consider the exact content of that casual conversation. Then think hard about something — anything — which might have prompted this strange confession.
Do things truly ever come out of the blue? Somehow I don’t think so — and nor did Freud.
I’m asking whether something triggered his brooding about the past. Has he had any problems with health (physical or mental) recently? Is he worried about something? Has something happened within his first family to upset his equilibrium? I imagine he is in regular touch with those adult children, so wonder if somebody said something to make him reflect on what his life would have been like had that first marriage not broken up, instigated by his first wife.
Many men are poor at communicating their thoughts and feelings, which is why I ask these questions.
This whole episode may not be so much about you and your relationship, but more about him at this point in his life. I know it won’t seem that way to you, but it’s worth a few thoughts. That is one ‘way forward’. The second is to realise that you ‘rescued’ him from loneliness and loss all those years ago, but the woman who caused that hurt has remained frozen in time ever since: his lost love.
You don’t want to hear that, but it expresses a truth about humans — that an emotion can remain ‘stuck’, and repeat itself like a broken record.
Maybe a part of him hankers after that long-gone state of victimhood, when all his emotions were highly tuned and ‘real’ — in contrast to the ordinary, companionable, rather humdrum present.
Getting older can be quite depressing; some people react by sending their daydreams spiralling backwards towards a reality that’s preferred to the present.
You say he’s ‘unconcerned’, yet men can be obtuse. If I were you, I’d talk to him again, not as somebody hurt and upset (i.e. a victim) but as a wife who wants to know if he has been unhappy for the past 30 years (i.e. someone in control) or, if not, what’s wrong now? Don’t be fobbed off.
I simply don’t believe he never loved you, or that he saw you as ‘second-best’. He’s just all over the place, and the way forward is to find out what’s going on.
The world’s gone stark raving mad!
Oh please will you help me to understand the world I am living in at the moment? I’m no longer young — not really, except in spirit. But how do you cope when the world drives you mad? It’s a serious question.
I open a newspaper to read that John Allan, former president of the CBI, complimented a mid-ranking CBI manager on her dress.
More from Bel Mooney for the Daily Mail…
She complained to her boss, who passed the complaint to the director-general, Dame Carolyn Fairbairn, who viewed it as ‘wholly inappropriate, demeaning and objectifying.’ What!?
Mr Allan is said to have felt ‘mortified’ and apologised to the woman involved. His words have been called, ‘stupid, awful, insensitive and insulting’ and he was decried as being ‘of a certain generation and one of those people who sadly just didn’t quite get it.’ Surely he just wanted to say something nice?
Then I read that the Labour MP Stella Creasy was under investigation from social services. Apparently, some troll had reported her because he didn’t agree with her political views, felt this would harm her children and that they should be taken from her. What!?
Instead of her local council just dismissing this person, she was the subject of a safe-guarding review and the ‘complaint’ will be on her record for ever.
Please Bel, tell me I haven’t fallen down some rabbit hole. What with male-bodied trans people winning races competing as women and depriving female competitors of huge sums of money, I seem to feel angry every day, and just don’t understand how the world has changed. It gets me down. How to cope?
I love the fact you’re asking me when I have the same problem! A friend once suggested I solve it by not reading a daily newspaper, but I pointed out that since I (a) love and (b) contribute to the Daily Mail, that is an impossible ask.
Nevertheless there are days when you wonder if you are tumbling down into an Alice in Wonderland burrow where the Mad Hatter says: ‘If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn’t.’
Thinking of your point about sport, that sounds horribly familiar — just like the White Queen’s statement: ‘Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.’
As you say, coping with a world which has changed at a dizzying speed does become a problem for older people. But it does for many younger people, too — the less noisy ones who are starting to object to the fact an aggressive minority of activists set the agenda in schools, universities and institutions, and achieve this by intimidating all voices of sanity.
Of course, much of this is due to the influence of social media, which we’re stuck with. The world was so much easier and more pleasant without it. People take offence at the slightest thing, don’t they? (I call them the ‘huffended’.) We can’t know the precise circumstances of the case you mention because so much depends on tone and expression, but in theory I agree with you.
Personally, I love being paid compliments and rather wistfully remember being flirted with . Back then we didn’t get our knickers in a twist about everything. We were confident, robust, tolerant free-thinkers who also knew how to have a lot of fun, too.
But we have to deal with the world as it is. Otherwise you can end up in a permanent state of frustration and rage.
Your uncut email offered one way to cope, since its overall tone was light-hearted. Like Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, you seem to be saying, ‘Lord, what fools these mortals be.’ Making fun of fashionable wokeries is one way of coping.
Another way is to realise that nothing lasts for ever. Fads and fancies come and go, yet core values do stay the same.
Here today, gone tomorrow politicians, social media nasties, shrieking students thinking the world is interested in their idiotic pronoun obsession — all of them fade to nothingness besides the things we truly value, like friends and family.
We have to chill out and remember the world has not gone mad, it’s just that there are just a lot of nutcases on the loose. So try to relax … Mind you, since I value King, country, Christianity, conservatism (small c) and sound common sense, I’ll continue to rant as often as I can!
And finally… My secret source of inspiration
Some of you may have noticed that at the top of the column I often use a quotation from the work of that marvellous writer, Alexander McCall Smith, especially his long-running series of books: The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency.
Bel answers readers’ questions on emotional and relationship problems each week.
Write to Bel Mooney, Daily Mail, 9 Derry Street, London W8 5hy, or email [email protected].
Names are changed to protect identities.
Bel reads all letters but regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence.
I also admire his Isabel Dalhousie and 44 Scotland Street series. But for me the stories of the kind, chubby detective Precious Ramotswe, her husband, the gentle mechanic Mr J.L.B. Matekoni, and her spiky assistant Grace Makutsi reveal more about the human spirit than any number of more ‘difficult’ and consciously literary novels.
Why feel so passionately about 22 novels set in Botswana, spinning stories about the lives of a small group of local people — their jokes, problems, entanglements, and ways of being happy? I’ve loved every one — yet what have they to do with the problems that come into this age?
The answer is — everything.
In these tender, funny, perceptive novels the great McCall Smith demonstrates the power of imagination and proves that art has nothing to do with race, class or gender — and everything to do with the miracle of shared humanity, which can transport you to Botswana and enable you to feel you belong.
How glorious that the former Professor of Medical Law at the University of Edinburgh can so fully inhabit the soul of his female creation Mma Ramotswe and present her to all of us as a force for good in the world.
The books are full of gems to carry in your heart. Two simple examples: ‘When you are with somebody you love, the smallest, smallest things can be important, so amusing, because love transforms the world, everything’. And, ‘…that is what redeems us, that is what makes our pain and sorrow bearable — this giving of love to others, this sharing of the heart’.
I could fill this whole section with passages from these enchanting books which are imbued, above all, with a spirit of compassion, tolerance and forgiveness. I find them a joyful inspiration for this column.