Life & Culture

Ask Hilary: My friend's having an affair

Agony aunt Hilary Freeman advises a disapproving friend and a mum who's worried her son's singing won't sound good at his barmitzvah.


Q My best friend is having an affair with a married man and I think it’s dreadful. She even baby-sat for his kids last week, while he went out with his wife. I want to be a sympathetic friend to my best friend and be there for her when she needs to talk about it but I don’t know what to advise her because I think what she is doing is so wrong. She told me she is falling in love with him and that he has told her the same but I think he is just using her. What should I do?


A What is it that you find so dreadful? Is it what you see as the immorality of having an affair with a married man, or the fact that your friend is being used and will get hurt? It’s not clear from your question. The reason I ask is because, before you do or say anything, you need to be sure who or what you’re upset about. On the one hand, you profess deep concern for your friend. On the other, you appear to be judging her.

Being a best friend can be tough sometimes, because it means having to sit by and watch a car crash in slow motion. You can see that this situation isn’t a good one, and you know it’s all going to end in tears, but you’re not the one who’s caught up in the throes of passion. Painful as it is, we have to allow other people to make their own mistakes and learn their own lessons, whether or not we approve.

That doesn’t mean that you can’t express an opinion. By all means point out that you don’t think this is a good idea, and why not. But don’t keep going on about it.

Judge your friend too harshly and she’ll feel that she can’t confide in you. It might even be you, rather than her married lover, who she stops seeing. If you want to continue being friends, you need to state your case and then take a step backwards. She’ll need you as a shoulder to cry on when it all goes pear-shaped, which it almost inevitably will.

But if your moral standards are too high to allow you to do this, then perhaps you need to walk away now and find a friend who would never do anything you don’t approve of.


Q My son’s barmitzvah is a year off. But I am already having sleepless nights about it. I’m not worried about his ability to learn his Torah portion, the problem is that he is completely tone deaf and his singing voice is awful. Think of the very worst contestants on Britain’s Got Talent. I’m worried that people might laugh and he will feel humiliated. And also that this will put him off ever wanting to take part in a shul service. What can I do?


A Let me tell you a true story — and I hope my brother won’t mind being mentioned in this column. For he is not just tone deaf, but profoundly deaf, from birth. I remember that concerns were expressed around the time of his barmitzvah that he would not be able to sing his part, and there was even a suggestion that the chazan could teach him how to “sing by numbers”, which would have been both incredibly difficult and would not have given my brother any appreciation or enjoyment either.

In the end, he did it in his own voice. No, it wasn’t tuneful, but it was a fantastic achievement and everybody was incredibly proud of him.

Your son may not be deaf, but people will not laugh at him because he doesn’t sing like Pavarotti, or even Harry Styles. In fact, by far the biggest threat to his self-esteem is you.

You are so self-conscious about his lack of musical ability that you’re forgetting about what’s really important. Barmitzvahs are not auditions for The X Factor. Some barmitzvah boys sing well, others don’t; it doesn’t matter a jot. As a parent, you should be proud of your son, of his ability to memorise his portion, to stand up in synagogue and be the man he has become.

I hope you haven’t told him he is tone deaf with an awful singing voice. If you have, please don’t keep on telling him. A boy turning 13 has enough to feel self-conscious about without a vote of uncertainty from his parent.

He needs your support to build his confidence. But if he is already aware of his musical shortcomings, and worried about how this will affect his barmitzvah, then ask your synagogue for help. They may be able to teach him a technique and, if not, there’s no reason why he can’t recite his portion, instead of trying to sing it.

Contact Hilary via email at, anonymously or not. Or write to her at 28 St Albans Lane, London NW11 7QE

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