Are your friends all freeloaders who never return your books? Or perhaps you've become phone phobic and can't talk to them anyway? Never mind - Aunty Ag and Uncle Ony will sort it all out
I have a friend who regularly has to stay away from home for work purposes for several days and nights, in a very unhomely situation. I have made him welcome and he regularly uses our house as a refuge and shares our meals. I am very happy with the situation, but my spouse (who doesn't dislike him) is becoming increasingly intolerant of his frequent presence, especially the lack of contributions - not so much as an occasional bottle of wine or even a bottle of milk! I value the friendship and look forward to seeing him but hate to see my spouse unhappy. How do I alter the situation without causing offence?

Distressed, somewhere in the UK

Aunty Ag: Unless this friend is totally impoverished, the way to get round the non-existent contributions is an easy one. Book yourself in for something nice like a massage or a facial after work one day when you know he's on his way over, then call him and trill: "I'm so sorry, but I'm going to be late tonight! Could you be an angel and sort out dinner? House keys are under the mat, the supermarket is just down the road, second on the left. Oh, and do pick up some wine too! And while you're there we need some milk/loo rolls/orange juice/a new fridge" etc. Frankly, if this doesn't get a meal out of him, he is an unashamed freeloader and you should think hard about being so generous. However, food bills aside, I do think your spouse has a certain amount of reason on his side. He has been very patient up to now. To at least give him a break, why not put your spare room out of action by starting a major redecoration project? Decorating can take an awfully long time if you go about it in the right way.

Uncle Ony: Your husband's status as Dominant Male is being eroded by the constant presence of this other chap. His territory is being usurped. If you plan to keep this arrangement up you will need to bolster his self- esteem in other ways. To make him feel he is still master in his own house, never contradict him, defer to his decisions, don't ask him to help with the housework and always let him do the driving.

I work in sales and spend most of my time at work either on the phone itself, or using an extension of it such as e-mail, fax, voice-mail etc. For some reason, when I'm not at work, I really hate getting in touch with anyone at all via any of these means. Even when I'm speaking to friends, I find it impossible to chat in a relaxed manner on the phone; I just want to get my message over as quickly as possible and escape. I think it must be because I associate such things with work. How can I get over this phobia?

Lisa, Spalding

Aunty Ag:But this phobia is charming. You can keep in touch with all your friends by writing Jane Austen-esque letters which they will prize in the way one cannot prize an e-mail. And when the time comes for someone to write your biography, all your life will be laid out in perfect order - or at least, the parts you wish to reveal. All you have to do is cultivate the correct archly ironic tone and away you go.

Uncle Ony: Separating work from life is something that many people find increasingly difficult in today's world. But if you do not force yourself to keep up with your friends you will find yourself not only lonely but laughed at (like elderly persons who cannot cope with answering machines and try to talk to them as if they were a person). Try building up gradually: phone a friend and chat breezily on topics of general interest for three minutes, then build up to four, then five, until you can manage an hour and a half like most women.

How can you tactfully get books back from people you've lent them to? Sometimes I feel like I'm running a library.

Mags, via e-mail

Aunty Ag: Write your name in them before letting them out. A proud signature on the frontispiece is a great guilt trigger for naughty "permanent borrow" types.

Uncle Ony: Unless it is a valuable first edition, why would you want it back? Books should be circulated, enjoyed and shared, not put away on a shelf and left to gather dust. Encourage your friends not to return your books, but to pass them on to others!

Send your problems to Aunty Ag and Uncle Ony at the Independent on Sunday, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL or agony@independent.co.uk

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