WOMEN AND MEN
My friend Carol bought a pair of mock-croc boots recently which I really liked. I couldn't help myself and bought an identical pair without telling her. I thought it would be OK, because I wouldn't ever wear them where she was going to be. The other night we were both at a party: Carol was wearing the boots and I wasn't. Then, to my horror a mutual friend came up and said, "Oh Carol you've got the same boots as Lucy, what a bloody nerve." The upshot has been that neither Carol nor the mutual friend are speaking to me now.

Lucy, Liverpool

Uncle Ony: The ethics of copying or borrowing friends' clothes - which we therapists call "Wardrobe Mistress Syndrome" - is something which comes up more than one would expect in my work with clients. So much so that I am considering producing a paper on the subject. You must ask yourself which aspects of Carol you wish were your own, to the extent that you are prepared to "buy a piece" of her in the form of the boots, and also why you feel it necessary to conceal your "theft". I think you will find your two friends' withdrawal is self-protective - to avoid more of their "selves" being appropriated by you. You need to see a therapist to help develop your own authority.

Aunt Ag: Oh for God's sake, darling. So you bought the same stupid boots. I mean, who cares?

I feel I am shopping in response to a deep need inside me. Whenever I shop I think it will satisfy my craving. But I just discover more things that I need. I buy a leopardskin mini, then feel I need leopardskin trousers also, and possibly a little scarf to set them off. Then I feel I need to get into this season's Red Story, and begin to think about dress and jacket sets in toasted strawberry boucle. I'm broke, but it's almost as if I have a need to own all clothes, and am trying to reach a point where I have a representative of each type in my wardrobe.

Tabitha, Clapham

Uncle Ony: Yes, you see, the syndrome you describe is what is known as "surrogate hunting". As primitive creatures we hunted, but now food is readily available through supermarkets and other outlets. These days for the "hunter-gatherer" personality - of which yours is a classic example - that urge is sublimated into consumerism: obsessive shopping, phantom holiday choosing through brochures or fantasy house-hunting through estate agents' details. You must find a way to give your hunter-gatherer interest a more healthy outlet. Have you thought about shooting or foxhunting?

Aunt Ag: (Ony, Do the initials P and C really not suggest anything other than divine young constables in uniform to you?) Ugh! Tell me about it. Why oh why can't we own all clothes? Don't you find, though, darling that you sometimes reach little plateaus of satiety where you feel if you buy any more clothes you'll be sick? I think the trick is a) to pan these interludes out as long as you can and b) try to find a good and professional bank manager who understands that if you don't have enough clothes you'll never find anyone to pay off your overdraft. If neither works, then the only way is to observe a total exclusion zone within two miles of all shops and a blanket ban on mail order. Cauchemar, angel.

Since my wife had our baby three months ago she has put on a stone and a half. I do love her but I think if I'd met her at the weight she is now I would not have fancied her enough to start going out with her. I began by dropping hints and teasing her about her weight, but she just went all huffy. Then I started to talk to her directly about how off-putting I found the extra weight and suggesting she go on a diet and take up aerobics, but she just gets furious and says she has enough on her plate looking after the baby and that I should help out her more. I think she's going to put more and more weight on and end up as a fat person and it isn't fair on me.

Nicholas, Salisbury

Uncle Ony: You do have my sympathy. Although one promises to love for better, for worse I often feel that "Wilt thou keep thy figure?" ought to be built into the marriage vows. How about trying to make the idea of losing weight a "fun", shared thing for your wife? Offer to do the cooking, give her a list for the shopping and serve light calorie -counted meals (Lean Cuisines only take a few minutes in the microwave) so you can control what she eats. Take up some exercise, too, and make sure all three of you go off walking or cycling in the evenings and at weekends, so she isn't allowed to sit around like a couch potato. Following a healthy diet and getting plenty of exercise is the safest way to slim.

Aunt Ag: ( It's a good job they didn't build " wilt thou keep thy hair?" into your marriage vows, Ony darling, isn't it?) I never cease to be amazed at how self indulgent, arrogant and selfish men continue to be. How would you feel if you spent nine months waddling around feeling like a she- walrus with your wife's baby inside you and, then spent three months feeding it, changing it and taking care of it, at which point your wife complained that your figure was no longer up to her exacting standards and tried to starve you and make you jump around in a leotard in the evenings. If you really want to make your wife look more gorgeous, you moron, start by making her feel more gorgeous. Buck her up, take her out, and give her a hand with your baby, instead of undermining her in this cowardly, arrogant and repulsive manner.

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