Ask Fiona: I'm lonely in my home since my husband died
Columnist and trained counsellor Fiona Caine answers another set of reader dilemmas...
I am 78 and have lived alone since my husband died four years ago. I made the decision to stay in the house we'd shared together for over 40 years. It was hard at first, being around the places and things that we'd shared because they reminded me constantly that he was gone. However, these things also gave me great memories, which helped me through the difficult times.
I will always miss him – but feel that I can now move on from grieving. I also realise that, at times, I feel quite lonely rattling around this house on my own. I don't want to move, so I have been wondering if I should share my home with someone.
Ideally, I would like this to be with a friend, but they are all settled and living in their own homes quite happily. I have no family to speak of, other than a cousin in Canada and he's wrapped up in running a big company. I have also thought about renting a room to a student but am worried about the age difference.
I don't really need the money, it's the company I feel I need. Can you tell me how I find someone trustworthy to share my home?
FIONA SAYS: Before I do, are you certain that this is what you really want to do? Sharing your home will require you to make some key decisions and a few compromises. Will you charge rent and, if so, how much? How will you share the cost of bills? What will you do in the event of a dispute?
In terms of compromises, could you cope with having less privacy? How would you feel if they decide to bring family, friends or lovers back to your house? What if they become ill – will you take care of them, and would you expect them to do this for you?
You should also be aware that people are often on their best behaviour at the start of things like this, and that bad or annoying habits will often surface after a while. Would you put up with these, or confront them over it?
I say these things not to put you off but to get you to start thinking about the possible consequences of sharing your home – and if loneliness is your main worry, perhaps consider tackling this first.
If you are able, get involved in more outside activities. It doesn't matter what these are, just that they introduce you to new people. If you increase your contact with other people, you may realise that you don't need to share your home.
However, if after this you still feel that you'd like the company and security of someone sharing your house, I suggest you talk firstly to your friends. It's possible one of them may welcome the change or may know someone else who is suitable.
Like you, I am not sure about the student option, as I think they are unlikely to provide the companionship you need. If you change your mind however, universities and colleges usually have a list of students looking for accommodation and language schools are always looking for host families.
For the latter, you can usually ask for more mature students (some run classes for retirees) and opt for short-term only. This way, any character clashes won't last too long, though schools will re-home students if it doesn't work out.
Another option is a home share agency, these look to pair elderly people with others needing accommodation, in return for some degree of home help. However, these agencies are a new concept and usually charge a monthly fee – I don't know that much about them and am also not sure what their safeguarding processes are, so please do consider things carefully.
For more information and advice, I suggest you contact Age UK (ageuk.org.uk) on 0800 055 6112. This charity offers guidance on a range of issues and can refer you to appropriate local help and activities. It also has several other resources, including a befriending service, that you may find useful.
HUSBAND SAID HE'S NEVER LOVED ME
SEVEN years ago, I married a man that I thought would be my lifelong partner. He was kind, strong, supportive, and attractive. My friends were all happy for me to have landed such a catch!
The years in between have been good, we had a lot in common and enjoyed doing lots of things together. Our sex life was unremarkable, in fact at times he seemed to just not want to do it – but we were happy, or so it seemed.
Over the last year, we have started to disagree a bit, mainly about the issue of children. I would love to start a family but, whenever I have brought up the subject, he has got twitchy and changed the subject.
For the past couple of months, I have been trying to get him to really talk about it, but if I push too hard, he gets angry. Last week, he finally boiled over and said that he never wants to have children. When I asked him why, he said that although he cares for me, he's not sure that he ever loved me.
By this point I was shocked and angry so lashed out and asked why the hell he had married me. When he said it was because I had seemed lonely, I just sat down and cried. How could he be so unfeeling?
He's since said that he doesn't want a divorce, but I'm not sure I can stay with him after this. Part of me wants to kick him out now as I feel I no longer know this man, but at the same time, I do have feelings for him, and I am also afraid to be on my own again. Why has he done this to me – I am so confused?
FIONA SAYS: Anyone would be confused by this strange situation. For whatever reason, your husband has maintained the facade of a happy marriage and concealed his true feelings for seven years. He's only revealed them when he was forced to do so, because of the issue of children. In doing so, he has hurt you and probably damaged whatever trust there had been between you. As for his motives for this bizarre behaviour, who knows?
It is possible that he was genuinely happy simply being married to you, and that love and children were not important to him. However, if that was the case, a more honest and caring person would have made these feelings known a lot sooner and spared you some of this pain.
It could be that he did once love you but has now fallen out of love for whatever reason – has anything happened recently that might have triggered this? A depression perhaps or an illness?
I wonder also whether the appearance of a happy marriage might have been a convenient way for him to conceal uncertainty about something else, perhaps his sexuality. I could speculate forever, but if you or he have any hopes of retrieving something from this relationship, you need to talk. You both need to be honest about your respective needs in this marriage, only then can you decide whether it is worth saving.
I need to warn you, though, it is never easy to find a compromise about having children. A Relate counsellor (relate.org.uk) could help with the process though.
MY SON ONLY WANTS TO PROTEST
My son is just about to finish his first year at university. He's a bright lad but seems to waste most of his time protesting about social issues, rather than studying. Over the past year or so, he's joined marches about climate change, Black Lives Matter, third world debt and poverty.
I know these are serious issues, but I do worry that he is wrecking his chances of getting his degree. I have tried to talk to him about it, but he will not listen. He says he does enough studying. What can I do to make him see how important his studies are?
FIONA SAYS: I suspect he's fully aware of how important his studies are, just as he's aware of the very real social issues facing the world, so please try not to judge him too harshly. In fact, why not be proud?
At a time when many young people are disenfranchised in society today, with little interest in key issues, it is genuinely refreshing to hear of someone passionate about things. The fact that he is prepared to stand up and be counted is admirable and it is this passion that is likely to see him do well in whatever he does in later life.
So please try not to worry too much, I suspect you have a son who will be going places!
FRIEND THINKS I FANCY HER BOYFRIEND
A FRIEND of mine has been seeing a guy for about three years, they get on well together and I am happy for them. However, when I mentioned in video chat recently that I liked him, she got angry and hung up.
I called her back right away and have been calling her every day for a week, but she will not answer. She's obviously avoiding me, but I don't know why.
I didn't mean that I fancied her boyfriend – only that he's a good man and she's lucky to have him. I hate the idea that I have lost a good friend over this. What should I do?
FIONA SAYS: It was possibly a bit tactless saying you ‘liked' him, but I also wonder whether your friend's overreaction is because her relationship is not as great as it appears?
If you want to rescue your friendship, you are going to have to find a way to contact her. If she won't pick up calls or video chats, try email or a good old-fashioned letter – or failing that, perhaps go and visit her?
When you do make contact, apologise, and make it clear that you were not expressing any interest in her boyfriend, only that you meant to say how good they were together. If she's the good friend you claim, she should be willing to accept this, if she isn't, it's very sad but you will just have to move on.