Dilemmas: I love him, but I don't want him around

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Before Eileen's

husband retired she got used to an independent life, and having the house to herself. Now he is under her feet all day, and is driving her mad. When she asks him

to go out now and again, or if she goes out herself, he says that she

doesn't love him, which isn't true. How can

she cope?

WHAT VIRGINIA SAYS

It's said that fish and guests go off in three days, and though Eileen's husband isn't a guest, she must feel he's rather like one after years and years away from home, from 9am to 5pm and longer. There's no question that when you're used to solitude, as Eileen is, the merest creak of a footstep from someone else in the house can drive you crazy, even if he has a separate room.

Just the steps on the stairs as he goes to make a cup of coffee can fill you with rage, and a feeling of being under threat. Is he going to pop his head round the door? Separate rooms are one thing, if there's the space, but even that can feel claustrophobic to someone who is used to having the house to herself. It's not that you want to go dancing naked round the place with a feather duster in your hand, but total solitude gives you the feeling that if you wanted to you'd be able to. You can pop out to the shops without having to warn someone you'll be out. You can make phone calls without dreading that your partner may pick up the phone in the middle of a conversation, or, worse, be on the phone when you want to make a call. You can decide whether you want lunch or not; you can eat a bacon sandwich in the kitchen standing up, using up the last piece of bacon, without worrying that he, too, may want something to eat. You can go for a walk without having to ask, politely, whether he'd like to come too, when you're longing for a solitary stroll.

Independence is a selfish life, but it can become like an addiction, and the presence of someone else can make you feel so claustrophobic that resentment can take over your very existence.

Eileen's husband will have none of these feelings. He'll be used to living with people around him all day - secretaries, managers, messengers. The idea of solitude is alien. And he, in his turn, will be missing the hustle and bustle of an office. No wonder he's always around her, driving her nuts. He needs non-stop communication, to feel that he exists. No wonder, when she goes out, he feels lost and lonely. No wonder, when she asks him to go out, he feels isolated and rejected.

Adjustments are needed on both sides, and compromises need to be made, neither of which will be satisfactory to the other person until they have established some kind of modus vivendi, which may, after a lifetime of solitude and work, take years to achieve.

A friend of mine, on holiday with her husband, begged him to take the children out for an afternoon and leave her on her own, just to mooch about, but was met with anger and refusal. He just couldn't understand that she really needed some space of her own. She said she would do the same for him, but as the pleasures of solitude were alien to him, he just thought she was crazy.

The desire for company is understood by most people; the desire for solitude is not something that everyone can comprehend. When an anthropologist friend was living with a remote tribe and wanted to get away on his own now and again, a member of the tribe would always be sent with him, much to his fury, because they assumed that if he wanted to be on his own he must be unhappy.

Eileen needs to give up some solitude to do things with her husband, but however little he can empathise with her feelings, he has to understand that she needs to be on her own and go out now and again. Most women understand a husband's desire to go out with the boys, or go fishing or to football, without having any comprehension of what the fun of it is, and without taking offence; similarly men have to realise that women, particularly, need time and space to be on their own - and there's nothing personal in it.

WHAT READERS SAY

Eileen needs her own space

Our circumstances seem very much the same as Eileen and her husband; until I retired last year I worked very hard and was often away. My wife is very independent.

However, I was fortunate to have received some good advice just before I retired, which was: do not expect your wife to get your lunch for you just because you are at home all day. We have followed that suggestion and added to it, having studies in different rooms left empty by our grown- up children. We have breakfast (a newspaper each is essential) and dinner together, but do not see much of each other during the day.

So my advice to the husband is: give Eileen some space, sort out your own lunch, find something to occupy you, and establish your work-station in a room in the house that keeps you from getting under Eileen's feet. You will find retirement is wonderful; and Eileen may, too.

PETER LOW

Buxton, Derbyshire

This is crisis management

Eileen's recently retired husband is in a state similar to bereavement: he has lost his job, his status, and his workplace friends.

Eileen has lost her personal status, her home territory is proscribed, and her loved husband has become a daytime stranger - with whom she has to relate for at least an extra 2,000 hours a year.

She should plan a den for him and a parlour for herself (most Victorian women had one, to get away from their husbands). And obtain an adult education prospectus (courses start about now) and persuade her husband to join a liberal studies course so he can discuss his ideas with like-minded people. Eileen also benefits by getting time for herself.

JOHN HURSEY

Stelling Minnis, Canterbury

Separate bedrooms would help

I fully sympathise - my husband retired 15 years ago. People like Eileen are full spirits and need their space. I tried really hard at "togetherness" but knew it wasn't going to work, so we moved to separate bedrooms - at least you get nine or ten hours to read or listen to the radio or sleep and wake up when you want. You can always make love during the daytime (when most folk are out at work).

You have only one life, so live it without being joined at the hip.

RITA COOPER

Stevenage, Hertfordshire

Next Week's Dilemma

Dear Virginia,

I have a boyfriend who I love very much and have been seeing for five years. I have always been faithful to him. We are going to get married next year. But when he was away recently I went to a party, got drunk and found myself in bed with someone I didn't even know. I cannot stop feeling so guilty. I don't know what to do.Should I tell my boyfriend what happened?

Yours sincerely, Stella

Anyone who has advice quoted will be sent an bouquet. Send letters and dilemmas to Virginia Ironside, `The Independent', 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL, fax 0171-293 2182, or e-mail: dilemmas@independent. co.uk - giving a postal address for the bouquet.

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