auntie ag & uncle ony

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I keep on starting affairs with men and feeling happy and optimistic and then they turn out to be ghastly and are horrible to me.

Leonora, Suffolk

Uncle Ony: Many things could be at the root of this: the most likely being a sense of unworthiness caused by bad parenting, leading you to manifest repeated disappointment and rejection; or a lack of understanding of ego-boundaries causing doomed attempts to forge your identity only through relationships with others. The only solution is to begin the slow, painful, but rewarding process of therapy. There are no quick fixes.

Auntie Ag: Hmmm. Can I give you a little tip, darling? Try approaching the men as if you were buying a house. Would you take one look at a flat, declare it was marvellous, and invest all your money in it? No. Anyone with any sense would view it many times with a pessimistic mind, ferreting out every possible disadvantage before even beginning the process of buying it. Do yourself a check list. Available? Addiction free? Honourable? Courteous? Keen? Shaping up well on the consistency front? And if there's too many crosses, pull out. Call me unromantic, darling, but it's saved me no end of trouble.

Is it bad form not to remain friends with an ex?

Ian, Dunfermline

Uncle Ony: It is interesting, Ian, that your concern should be with external "form" rather than inner recovery. It is not what other people think that is important, but making sure that wounds are cleaned, and allowed to heal, leaving you free to form new bonds without holding on to old hurts. It is impossible to form such a healthy healing break without maintaining close and honest contact with your ex-partner.

Auntie Ag: There should be a range of terms for ex-partners, perhaps, for the sake of argument based on the cutlery box. The spoon: the ex whom you chucked, who still wants to be with you and keeps wanting to talk about it and crying. The fork: the ex with whom the break-up was mutual and with whom you sleep occasionally to cheer each other up till you both meet someone new. The knife: a partner who chucked you and leaves you feeling a prat every time you have anything to do with them. Friendship must never be confused with any of the items in the box, and only ever takes place between forks when enough time has elapsed to ensure they are forks without, as it were, the forking.

Is it socially acceptable to pretend you cooked a dinner party yourself when you had it catered? The wife of a friend of mine who doesn't work is always making digs about how disorganised I am when I cook supper, which I am, but only because I always work so late. Last night I went to supper with them. Everyone was saying how delicious her food was and yet how effortlessly it had been served. I felt like throwing up in the table decoration. Then I went into the kitchen and saw the caterers' packaging in the bin! I was too polite to say anything.

Melanie, Islington

Uncle Ony: The issue here is not etiquette, but envy: your friend's wife feels insecure because you have a career which she doesn't; you are envious of what you perceive as an easy life. Communication is the answer. Invite her out for a drink, explain all this to her, and watch your dinner parties proceed on a friendlier footing.

Auntie Ag: Of course it's socially acceptable darling: but making digs about another woman's dinner parties being disorganised is off-limits and deserves to be punished. Next time you're at one of her "home cooked" suppers simply murmur: "Angel! Delicious, you must give me the recipe - or should I say, the bar code!"

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