BEL MOONEY: How do I tell my family I'm dating a divorced dad-of-three?

Dear Bel,

I’m 27 and need advice about whether, and how, I should tell my parents about my older boyfriend, who is divorced with three young children. We met at work two years ago. I was instantly attracted to him, despite his age (he’s 41) and circumstances.

We both have successful careers. He sees his children every weekend — an attentive and loving father — while still making time for us.

He adores and respects me and has never done anything to make me doubt his love. Early on, I told my mum about him but she was instantly dismissive. She said: ‘How could we ever have this person at family gatherings knowing he has children he’s abandoned?’

Unable to cope with family disapproval, I finished with him. But as we work together this was futile and we’ve since gained acceptance by work colleagues and younger post-university friends. Everyone sees how happy we are. The only missing piece is my family.

My parents are still madly in love after 30 years. My older brother is married with a baby; my middle brother has actually met my boyfriend (he’s in the same industry) and I’m 99 per cent sure he knows what’s going on. Since I’m so close to my family and we have a loving, supportive relationship, my mum would be devastated to know I’d kept all of this from her for so long.

But she has such delusional dreams of me marrying a Swiss billionaire that I just can’t face her disappointment. While stable and successful, my boyfriend is a bit rough around the edges, while I’m the privately educated middle-class cliché.

Keeping this from them is tearing me up inside. While my boyfriend is extremely patient, we’ve agreed that I either need to let them know or we end it, as we can’t do ordinary things like go on holiday.

I don’t want to lose him as I believe I’ve found the person to make me happy for the rest of my life. But I just don’t know how to tell my family, or how to be strong enough to withstand their disapproval and disappointment when I do.

While I’m confident and happy in my social, professional and love life, my family’s wonderful trait of being extremely opinionated turns me (the baby) into a little mouse when I’m around them.

I worry about this every day and know I need to be strong and tell them. But how do I do it?


This week Bel Mooney advises a woman on how to tell her family she is seeing an older divorced dad of three

This week Bel Mooney advises a woman on how to tell her family she is seeing an older divorced dad of three

Forgive me, but I find it hard to understand why a successful career woman of 27 is afraid of telling her parents about her two-year relationship with a decent man; indeed, why a family described in such glowing terms should sound, to an outsider, insufferably domineering.

Anybody would think we were living in a past age, where parental approval was paramount and depended on wealth, status and class.

Of course, all loving parents want the very best for their children and dread them falling for somebody who will drag them down, ill-treat them or prove unfaithful. I understand that. But it’s not for parents to dictate or to make judgments; when you first told your mother about your chap, her response was pretty dreadful.

Thought of the day 

While on the shop and street I gazed

My body of a sudden blazed;

And twenty minutes more or less

It seemed, so great my happiness,

That I was blessed and could bless.

From Vacillation by W.B. Yeats (Irish poet, 1865 – 1939)

Yes, she would say she had your interests at heart because few mothers want their girls to fall for an older divorced man with kids; a partner with ‘baggage’ can make life complicated.

But her brutal dismissal led to this two-year secrecy. Had you been stronger, you would have talked it through further at the time and told her you intend to work out your own destiny.

As it was, it was the weakness you confess to that led to this impasse. I think you know that — so you have to do something about it as soon as possible. Your boyfriend is just 14 years older than you and a loving father as well as a successful man. You love each other. What on earth is wrong with any of that? The age gap is nothing compared with some.

But you mention that he is ‘rough around the edges’ (whatever that means), the clear implication being that your family is rather snobbish. Your mother sounds like any bossy, ambitious Mama in Jane Austen — and frankly I don’t think she should be allowed to cherish these damaging ‘delusional dreams’ any longer.

If you are so truly ‘close’ to your ‘wonderful’ family, Samantha, you should be able to talk to them and tell them what you want. If you can’t, then I’m afraid the closeness is as delusional as your mother’s fantasies.

It’s absurd that you are still skulking around, afraid to go on holiday!

Giving her the benefit of the doubt, assuming she wants the best for you, it’s for you to let her know unequivocally how good your man is, how you see a future with him (and a child of your own?) and how happy you are.

How else is she going to know? It’s time for you to stop being a little mouse — start to be a real woman and stand up for the man you love.


Dear Bel,

My mum died just over nine years ago. She’d been married to my stepdad for 30 years. Before she died she inherited a substantial amount of money from an aunt of mine.

When Mum died, my siblings and I didn’t press our stepdad about the inheritance because we presumed his estate would be shared among the four of us and his two children.

You can imagine my dismay when he recently said his son will get the house and his daughter the money. He is in his mid-80s, becoming frail but in sound mind (I think).

This is a man I loved and considered to be my dad. When Mum was dying she sought reassurance from me and my sister that we’d look after him. This was an easy promise.

We both asked him to give us away when we married and he is grandad to our children. My sister died this year and now the promise lies with me. My two brothers don’t have the same relationship with him, although it’s cordial.

My stepdad’s son only visits when he wants money — he’s had at least £50,000 in the past 11 years.

His daughter lives many miles away and although she rings him weekly, sees him once a year.

I live 60 miles away but see him regularly and talk on the phone every week. I organised his food deliveries during lockdown.

What should I do? Just leave it and let Mum’s inheritance and everything she put into their marriage go to his children? Surely the moral thing would be for it to be shared between his children and me and my brothers?

I intend to seek legal advice. What saddens me most is that it seems the man I regarded as my dad is not the same man I loved and respected.


This is a horrible situation and I understand why you’re upset. Wills have always caused trouble and your mother should certainly have ensured you and your siblings were written into her will.

But of course, she trusted her husband, just as you did. Divorce and second marriage can make things hideously complicated. People and circumstances change, so wills do need to be kept up to date — all readers please note.

It’s annoying when virtuous souls say ‘but it’s only money’. Of course money matters, (a) because of the help it can give the present and next generations, and (b) because of its symbolic value.

You touch on this when you mention ‘all that she put into the marriage’. You feel your mother’s whole life-legacy of hard work and love for the family is being betrayed.

You say you intend to take legal advice and that’s sensible; only a solicitor can advise you. What you have to deal with in the meantime is your hurt and disillusionment.

I’d like to know the circumstances in which your stepdad spoke to you recently about the will. Was it on the phone? How did the subject come up?

It would surely be a good thing for you to visit him as soon as possible, say you’ve been thinking about what he said and show you are visibly upset.

Let him know how much you love him, how proud you were when he gave you away in marriage, what a lovely grandad he’s been — and how hurt you are that he is considering abandoning you in this way.

Explain that you think of this in terms of his affection for you.

Do you have any relationship with his daughter? Might you talk to her? The thing is, you have no means of knowing what (if any) emotional pressure has been put on him by his own children.

Going way back in time, if it was he who ended his first marriage (perhaps because he’d met your mother?) it could be that he has been feeling guilty ever since, aware that in taking on your mother’s four children he inevitably neglected his own.

Why else would he make a will so blatantly unfair?

You will have to hear him out. If he clams up stubbornly, at least you’ll have tried. I wish you the best of luck.


And finally… Memories still to be cherished

Do you ever think of people who pass briefly through your life, yet make a huge impression? It’s like falling in love; you think you will know them for ever; then they are gone.

Fifty-three years ago, in August 1967, I attended the Yeats Summer School in Sligo, Ireland. My boyfriend Philip drove me there, we camped behind the sand dunes in endless rain and I spent my days learning about my favourite poet while long-suffering Phil did … what? I never asked.

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.

On the week-long course, I became friends with two fascinating people, an Oxford University undergraduate called Denise, and David, a U.S. postgraduate at Cambridge with whom I fell a little in love.

We talked about art and poetry, climbed hills, caroused, and (lectures ended) all piled into Phil’s old banger and drove to Dublin, sleeping in the car and at the YWCA.

The days of no money, high ideals, passion and hopes. At 20, I was convinced I’d connect with new friends for ever.

Two months later, back at University College London, I met the man I was to be with for 35 years and ditched Phil.

Five months later, I was married (in our second year) and the memories of Sligo were lost in the excitement of a new life. It’s hard for the email and social media generation to realise it took effort to keep in touch back then. So I never saw Denise and David again.

Then recently, my oldest schoolfriend dug out a letter kept since 1967. In youthful handwriting, I enthused about romantic days in Ireland and the wonderful people I’d met. And there were the names.

Denise Riley became a distinguished academic and prize-winning poet, whose poem about the death of her son (A Part Song) is one of the finest I have ever read. 

David Esterly became one of the world’s finest woodcarvers (and a talented writer) and died last year. So that’s it. A flash of memory — re-found, untouched by age. 

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