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BEL MOONEY: Should I interfere with the arguing next door?

Dear Bel,

Two years ago I moved next to some elderly neighbours in their 80s. I’ve been aware how Beryl constantly shouts and screams at Keith all day — very easy to hear. When she stops and speaks she’s all sweetness and light but clearly highly strung and on edge. I’m sure Keith isn’t perfect, but her constant berating must be exhausting.

Thought of the day 

My love-thoughts are like summer grass

In these long days of rain:

No sooner scythed and raked away

But they come again,

Fiercely alive with all the coarse

green energies of pain.

Anonymous Japanese poem, early 8th century BC  

He will knock on my door with a gift of something from his greenhouse and likes to stand and chat. When he does pop over (I never invite him in) he usually has a bit of a moan about Beryl going on.

I say anything positive I can think of to boost his mood. And I then have a bit of a banter to set him off in a better frame of mind, I hope.

However yesterday when he knocked with more salad, he said Beryl was screaming at him because she could not work out how to use the shower. They’ve lived there many years. He said: ‘She keeps forgetting things.’

I said maybe she should see a doctor, but he replied there’s no way she would. One of their two daughters calls almost daily, so I suggested he speak of his worries. He replied: ‘Oh I never tell them what’s going on.’ I only have a very nodding acquaintance with the daughters, so my dilemma is this: the neighbours are clearly in a progressive fragile state.

The daughters may be aware from their own observations, but do I risk my good neighbour relationship by going behind Keith’s back, catching the daughter when she visits and having a word. Or do I just keep trying to encourage him to speak to them and hope nothing untoward happens in the meantime?

Alison  

This week Bel advises a reader who asks whether she should interfere with the arguing next door

Of course every problem featured in this column is unique to the person who writes, but once in a while I decide to ‘wrap’ two together, because they resonate.

So I’m introducing you to Helen, whose problem is similar. Both of you want to be good neighbours but worry about interference.

So here is Helen’s letter:

‘I live in a small village on my own (my choice) with my son and daughter living a good way away. In this South Coast town a lady I’m friendly with has a gentle husband diagnosed with dementia.

‘She claimed all available benefits — and goes shopping, to the salon, lunch with friends etc, while her poor husband is at home living on chocolate and the odd microwave meal.

‘I often make him lunch or dinner and she is not the slightest bid embarrassed by this, on the contrary, quite grateful. She would do anybody a favour but basic kindness towards her husband is totally missing. It’s starting to get to me. My children say it’s not my problem. How can someone like that lady sleep at night?’

Both you, Alison, and Helen are in a situation where you are worrying about the home life of a male neighbour rather at the mercy of a wife who seems less than kind.

Both of you are drawn to step in with some caring attention yourselves and feel protective of the men. There could be deeper motives — which would be understandable, since each of you is alone.

But never mind that, the question for all of us is how far one can attempt to intervene in a situation — whether with family, friend or neighbour — which seems worrying or unacceptable. Helen’s daughters say her neighbours’ problems are not her problem. Is this true?

I disagree with those adult children, because we are all on this earth together and should care about our neighbours. ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ is an essential part of Christian teaching, making absolute sense in societies where people met outside and shared dependency, for example at the well.

Today we are more remote from each other, yet most would think it a duty to report if somebody within a household was being ill-treated. That’s not quite the case here. Alison thinks the gentleman is being bullied and berated and Helen suspects selfish neglect.

In both cases I’d suggest no good comes from letting a situation fester. Perhaps Helen could suggest she cook a daily meal for her neighbour, but give his wife the bill for all food. In that way it becomes a sort of job as well as a good deed.

Resentment and judgement is not useful, even if understandable. Better to be even more hands-on, if possible. Within the great religions good deeds carried out in good faith are blessings.

The situation with Alison’s neighbour is more complex because the onset of dementia would certainly be one explanation for those moods and shouting. Talking to the daughter is surely the only way forward — and I don’t think anybody would regard that as unduly interfering.

It would be ‘going behind Keith’s back’ but acting with responsible kindness to share your concerns.

It could be that Beryl is indeed in need of a diagnosis; therefore her daughters have the right to know — and certainly a duty to see beneath the surface of their parents’ life together. So a quiet word is a good idea.

In general, what do we think? Reaching out to help a neighbour is surely a good thing in principle, but it must be done with tact and genuine grace.

I’m worried about life after Mum 

Dear Bel

I’m 60 this year and feel lonely! I never left my parents’ home and worked with Dad in the family business (two small shops).

He died in 2012 and I retired in 2016 because I could manage with my savings and pension. Since then I’ve cared for my mum, diagnosed with vascular dementia in 2019, who went into care last November when her condition worsened.

Thankfully, I can take her out each week. The last couple of years were stressful. It’s only since Mum went into care I’ve slept properly.

I don’t think I’m depressed, but in a rut, with regrets about not taking chances when I was younger.

I think my neighbour, a divorcee with grown-up children, likes me, but I have no feelings except friendship. I contacted a girl in her late 20s on Facebook I knew from work. I think she liked me.

Most women my age have been married and younger girls may be looking for someone . . . I worry about it. I’m also dreading when Mum dies. I couldn’t have had better parents.

Friends have drifted away. I have a sister miles away who says I’ve been over-protected by Mum and Dad — probably true.

I saw a counsellor who said I had a passive-aggressive nature as I get socially anxious. He told me to get involved in groups for hobbies I enjoy. He said to go in at the deep end.

I went to the photography club for a while but didn’t take to it. I’ll try going back to the golf club where I was a member. I did intend to re-join in 2016 but started to get back and knee pain so put it on hold. I walk most days on my own. Can you advise?

MARK

The time you spent taking care of your mother must have been tiring and rewarding in equal measure, and the decision that she needed professional care has ‘liberated’ you to consider what to do with the rest of your life.

I so sympathise with your dread of her death, yet the fact that you mention it signals an awareness that you must look ahead.

   

More from Bel Mooney for the Daily Mail…

You’ve clearly been thinking a lot about your past life and feeling very sad to be facing the future alone. Of course this may not happen. It is never too late to find a partner (which is not the same as suggesting that it’s easy), but we must face the truth: you are painfully out of practice at developing relationships.

Let’s think about friends and jolly acquaintances first. That counsellor gave good advice, of course. Sometimes people will dismiss the suggestion of joining clubs etc as an advice columnist’s cliché, but what else can we suggest?

If you want to meet people you have to make an effort to go where they are, and common interests (like golf) are a classic way to interest with others.

But you do have to be patient. His suggestion that you are ‘passive-aggressive’ is interesting, if a catch-all. If I were you I wouldn’t dwell on it (because that won’t help), but start these activities again with a new resolution.

Honestly, if you are going for walks it must surely be time to play golf again? No one else can help you with this. You have to make a real effort.

Now to romantic possibilities — since what you most yearn for is a relationship with a woman.

I’ll be frank and tell you a warning note sounded in my brain at your mention of the young acquaintance in her late 20s.

No, Mark, ‘younger girls’ are NOT ‘looking for someone’ of 60. Oh, relationships with very large age gaps can, of course, develop very successfully. But you’re indulging in a harmful fantasy if you think ‘girls’ are actively looking for such a relationship.

You reject your nice neighbour out of hand — and I suspect that’s because you think she is too old. I’m sensing a common romantic delusion here.

So if I were you, I’d ditch that word ‘girl’ from your vocabulary and understand that forming a companionable friendship with a woman near your own age, by sharing pleasant talk and activities, would be the way forward. I wish you luck.

And finally…Domestic violence is no joke

I made a misjudgement. That’s why I’m flagging an email from Richard J, taking me to task for a sentence in last week’s main reply to ‘Fred’. It said, ‘Your loyal, loving Filipina wife kicked you and threw a vase when she found out about your lying and cheating. Go Mia!’ with no sympathy for that husband.

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 [email protected]

A pseudonym will be used if you wish.

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

Richard asks: ‘Are you certain that cheating is something that justifies bringing violence into a relationship?’

Some of you will think he is taking a light-hearted remark too far — but I agree with him. Let Richard explain:

‘I am a male victim of domestic violence. I didn’t cheat. I never would. But my ex-wife believed I deserved it, too. She had mental health issues.

‘In her eyes, that rage — and violence — was deserved. I was a man so it couldn’t be domestic violence, right? Wrong.

‘Unfortunately, too much of society dismisses this violence. It’s seen as a joke. Or an assumption is made that the man “deserved it”. And that perception — promoted by you — helps reassure female offenders that what they are doing is okay.’

I’d like to direct Richard to my column dated March 20, in the Mail Online archive. The letter’s headline said: ‘My son’s wife is a violent, abusive bully’ — and in the reply I tackled this issue, writing, ‘. . . although many more women than men suffer domestic violence, in the year ending March 2019, 4.2 per cent of men aged 16 to 59 years had experienced domestic abuse compared with 8.4 per cent of women (ONS).

‘It may seem surprising . . . that a man (being physically stronger) would allow himself to be on the receiving end of physical violence . . . but you have to understand how a person’s mind can be taken over, cowed and damaged by a stronger personality.’

I mentioned, ‘the excellent Mankind Initiative (mankind.org.uk), the UK’s principal charity set up to help men escape domestic violence. Their helpline is 01823 334244’. So there you are, Richard. I’m sorry.  


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